As expected, Monmouth was picked first in MAAC preseason poll, but bigger surprises came toward middle and bottom of predictions. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
Much of the expected came to fruition in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's unveiling of their preseason awards and coaches' polls, and that does not take into account the unexpected, of which there were several instances over the course of the night on both the men's and women's sides.
Yes, Monmouth and Quinnipiac; the assumed favorites in the league, were indeed picked to win the regular season, with some of the other contenders close enough to the top spot. But there were other surprises revealed in each ESPN3 telecast, and we present five thoughts for both the men and women as we move closer to the start of the season:
FIVE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL THOUGHTS
1) End of an era?
The fifth-place prediction for Marist is the lowest preseason standing for the Red Foxes since the 2003-04 season, when Brian Giorgis brought the program its first MAAC championship after being picked seventh at this time 13 years ago. The rating snaps a string of twelve straight predictions inside the top three, and eleven in a row of first or second. But looking at the Marist roster, the uncertainty is at its highest point since Giorgis was plucked away from Our Lady of Lourdes High School. With Tori Jarosz and Sydney Coffey having graduated, gaping holes exist in both the offense and experience among the incumbent players. Allie Clement, who was named to the all-MAAC preseason third team, will bolster the lion's share of the opportunities, but her supporting cast must improve in lockstep to keep the perennial favorite near the top.
2) Strautmane underrated
Paula Strautmane made quite the impression in her freshman season for Quinnipiac, taking over the role made popular by Nikoline Ostergaard and Samantha Guastella to lead the Bobcats back to the postseason while also proving she was headed for greater heights. Yet while Aryn McClure captured preseason first team honors on the heels of her Rookie of the Year campaign, Strautmane was uncharacteristically left off the first team and named to the second team. Very few coaches at this level get the most out of their players the way Tricia Fabbri does, and come March, her latest development will turn into the all-league player that will forge another four-year legacy in Hamden.
3) Another Player of the Year at Iona
Unsurprisingly, Marina Lizarazu was selected as the unanimous choice for Preseason Player of the Year, and coming off her virtuoso performance in the MAAC Tournament, it was easy to see why. Lizarazu is the third consecutive Gael to receive this honor, following in the footsteps of Damika Martinez; who was recognized in such a capacity twice, and Joy Adams, further affirming Billi Godsey to be as good a talent evaluator and maximizer as her predecessor, Tony Bozzella. If Lizarazu comes anywhere close to replicating her numbers from last season, a fourth Player of the Year trophy in the past five seasons will be on its way to the Hynes Athletics Center.
4) Health of two veteran forwards
Victoria Rampado, who was named to the preseason all-MAAC first team after being limited to just three games last year, is back at 100 percent for Niagara as the Purple Eagles position themselves for a climb up the standings. On the other side of the coin, Siena is still without Margot Hetzke as she recovers from hip surgery following a concussion that cost her more than half of her sophomore campaign. While the Saints are still deep and experienced without their junior forward, Hetzke's return would go a long way in establishing Ali Jaques' team as a legitimate contender alongside Quinnipiac and Iona.
5) Manhattan may have the most upside
In some ways, it is understandable that the Jaspers were picked in a seventh-place tie, with the coaching acumen of rookie head coach Heather Vulin untested to this point. However, with a roster that returns reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Amani Tatum among a group that also counts two rising stars in juniors Nyasha Irizarry and Kayla Grimme, the argument that Manhattan should be rated higher is also a valid one. Riverdale is certainly home to an intriguing group this season, and if last season's efforts are any indication, the preseason pick should be eclipsed.
FIVE MEN'S BASKETBALL THOUGHTS
1) More love for Siena than anticipated?
Let's clarify that before anyone goes off the deep end. The Saints were almost a lock to be picked second just off the strength of their returning players. What may shock the casual fan is the two first-place votes they received, with Monmouth getting the other nine. In addition, the selections of Brett Bisping and Javion Ogunyemi to the preseason first team make the Saints the only school with multiple players on that list. As if that wasn't enough, Marquis Wright garnered third team recognition, with Nico Clareth and Lavon Long playing to prove their omissions may be more glaring five months from now.
2) Quinnipiac picked next-to-last
For those who have followed the Bobcats over the years, this is uncharted territory. Quinnipiac was expected to take a step back on paper with the losses of Giovanni McLean and James Ford, but the three-headed monster in the frontcourt should be enough to keep Tom Moore's club out of the bottom two. With an influx of new talent in the backcourt alongside Daniel Harris, whom Moore singled out as a "big voice" among his cadre of guards, the winter in Hamden should not be as long as some think it will be, and Moore definitely has the coaching chops to push through the adversity.
3) Some glaring omissions:
The first award decision that raised a couple of eyebrows was Iona's Deyshonee Much only procuring third team honors after a breakout sophomore season established the former Buffalo transfer as perhaps the next great Iona shooter. Head coach Tim Cluess had great things to say when he spoke about Much recently, and the expectations are naturally high. In addition, Fairfield's Tyler Nelson and Saint Peter's Quadir Welton, both of whom were worthy of first team recognition, were instead relegated to the second team. Nelson emerged as the second option behind Marcus Gilbert last year, and should be the face of the Stags as an overachieving young team now takes its next step, while Welton builds on a breakout junior year that ended in his Peacocks finishing in their highest position since winning the MAAC in 2011.
4) Back to the Stags for a second:
Fairfield's stark contrast from their plodding ways into last year's uptempo brand of basketball defined the Stags' resurgence, and head coach Sydney Johnson is cognizant of what needs to be done to maintain the good times. Johnson is a constant optimist in the future of his program, and in the pre-taped interview accompanying the announcement of his team as the fifth-place pick in the preseason poll, the sixth-year head man had this to say:
"Let's stay true to what we're doing and really understand this is the crew that may just break through. I'm hoping it's March 2017."
5) Special things are coming for Justin Robinson
Those were King Rice's words in the wake of his senior point guard being announced as the unanimous Preseason Player of the Year. Robinson, who won the actual hardware at the end of last season, stands to become the first player since Manhattan's Luis Flores; who turned the trick in 2003 and 2004, to repeat as Player of the Year if he is voted the winner again next March. His coach tends to think that last year's 19.3 points per game was simply the prelude to additional success for both Robinson's game and the well-being of his team. "Justin will have a better year, 100 percent," said Rice. "I think the success he had has made him more hungry, and if our mental toughness and chemistry stays where it should, I think you'll see great things from Monmouth basketball this year."