Monday, December 5, 2016

MAAC Monday: First month/opening weekend review, stat leaders, power rankings

Micah Seaborn has stepped up as Monmouth's primary second option behind Justin Robinson as Hawks opened MAAC play with 2-0 start. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Our second season of MAAC Monday returns today with the traditional three-segment breakdown, focusing initially on what each team has done through the first month of the season and the mostly concluded opening weekend of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play. Secondly, we'll provide stat leaders across the conference before closing with our first edition of power rankings for the current season. Without any further ado, we catch you up on each of the 11 teams in the conference, doing so in the order that each was picked in the MAAC preseason coaches' poll released this past October:

Monmouth - When last we saw the Hawks, it was in late March after their dream season; one that saw 28 victories against a spectrum of opponents ranging from Notre Dame to Cornell, came to an end in the National Invitation Tournament at the hands of eventual NIT champion George Washington. All talk of an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament has dissipated this time around after Monmouth was defeated by both South Carolina and Syracuse in November, and that actually puts King Rice's team in a better place both physically and mentally. Without having to worry about the resume distraction that greeted the Hawks at every turn a year ago, it allows the MAAC favorites to go out and take care of business each night and focus on getting through league play as the top choice to cut down the nets in Albany, something they have already done with wins over Quinnipiac and Canisius. Renewed focus usually breeds stronger confidence, and this group will almost certainly prove that as the year goes on.

Siena - The Saints were without Lavon Long for three games at the start of the season, losing the player Jimmy Patsos affectionately calls "The Terminator" to suspension. To add to that, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Nico Clareth is still not yet 100 percent after undergoing offseason knee surgery, but after erupting for 33 points off the bench in Saturday's win over Fairfield, the Baltimore native seems to be rounding into top form at the most opportune of times. Siena, as they usually are, has already been tested sternly in the non-conference schedule, taking on Kansas, George Washington and St. Bonaventure; not to mention losing a deceptively strong road game at SEFCU Arena in the annual Albany Cup. The MAAC opener against Fairfield went in the Saints' favor, and they now look to join Monmouth as the only teams to emerge from league play's opening round undefeated when they travel to Rider tonight.

Iona - The Gaels were able to dispel an 0-2 start with a commanding performance in the Great Alaska Shootout, which saw an earlier defeat to Nevada avenged on a neutral floor with Jon Severe's game-winning layup in the final seconds. A convincing road win at Saint Peter's gave the reigning champions an added momentum boost heading into their home opener, but any substantial progress was significantly halted in yesterday's 74-58 loss to Niagara, a defeat Severe called "a bad game for everybody." Head coach Tim Cluess admitted Iona is still far away from where they should be, and singled out a lack of team communication, which had been largely prevalent on the road in November, as one of the determining factors in the biggest upset of the weekend. Forward Taylor Bessick echoed Cluess' sentiment, citing the Gaels were unprepared and had taken the matchup with the unheralded Purple Eagles lightly due to Iona's historic dominance on their home floor at the Hynes Athletics Center. While all is not lost, a lot must be rebuilt as non-conference play resumes this Wednesday with a trip to reigning Northeast Conference champion Fairleigh Dickinson.

Saint Peter's - The Peacocks may be the biggest surprise of the first month of the season, and not because their 4-3 record is ahead of where they were a year ago. In each of their four wins, Saint Peter's has scored 80 or more points, a crowning achievement for a program known primarily for its grinding and methodical defense before its scoring output. Regardless, John Dunne has ridden the hot hand of Quadir Welton to a strong start, getting steadfast contributions from fellow veterans Trevis Wyche and Chazz Patterson to supplement his all-MAAC forward. The Peacocks have also possessed a potent and deep bench through the first month of the season, something they will need immensely during an upcoming two-game road trip against Houston Baptist and Maryland.

Fairfield - Head coach Sydney Johnson has openly praised his team's 5-2 start on social media, and rightfully so.

Junior guard and dark horse Player of the Year contender Tyler Nelson made quite the splash in the first game of the MAAC season, exploding for 38 points in the Stags' win at Rider, and Amadou Sidibe has made the most out of his final year to date, tallying four consecutive double-doubles and leading the MAAC with over 11 rebounds per game. To top that off, Jerome Segura has blossomed into an all-conference-caliber point guard, while Jonathan Kasibabu and Matija Milin have served as powerful complements to Nelson and sophomore marksman Curtis Cobb. What makes Fairfield's record even more impressive is the Stags' outside shooting in the absence of Jerry Johnson Jr., their long-range specialist who is still nursing an injury that has held him out of the lineup all year thus far. The season is only one-third complete, but after seven games, their coach's oft-repeated proclamation rings true: The future is bright.

Manhattan - While Steve Masiello is beyond grateful to have his depth back after the rough start the Jaspers endured while attempting a three-peat last season, he has had to navigate the opening month of the year without the services of senior guard Rich Williams. Williams will be back soon, but a roster featuring eight players who are new to Masiello's system has been subjected to inevitable growing pains, experienced profoundly in last week's 47-point loss to West Virginia that saw Manhattan get turned over 40 times by the Mountaineers' stifling pressure defense, not to mention last Friday's MAAC opener against Canisius in which the Jaspers could not hold a 15-point lead. In a winless first weekend to conference play and 2-6 beginning to the year, Zavier Turner has been a bright spot with three 30-point games in eight attempts, fulfilling Masiello's high praise in the offseason. Calvin Crawford seems primed to fill Williams' old role as the high-scoring sixth man, and Zane Waterman has been an excellent mentor to newcomers Zavier Peart and Ahmed Ismail when he has been able to stay out of foul trouble. Manhattan will undoubtedly get it together soon enough, but will have to do so after digging themselves an early hole for the second straight season.

Rider - Whenever Kevin Baggett and the Broncs have been picked toward the middle of the pack, they have usually surprised everyone with a top-tier finish, chief among those results being the runner-up effort spearheaded by Matt Lopez two years ago. Rider has mitigated the loss of Teddy Okereafor with a pair of promising freshmen in point guard Stevie Jordan and swingman Dimencio Vaughn, increasing the supporting cast behind a trio of double-figure scorers in Kahlil Thomas, Xavier Lundy and Jimmie Taylor. The Broncs' first act in MAAC play saw them come up on the losing end against Fairfield, but not before giving the Stags all they could handle on a night where Tyler Nelson set the bar for top individual performances. Rider will look to even the score tonight when they welcome Siena to Alumni Gymnasium, hoping one of the conference's most hostile environments can catch the Saints off guard just enough to create a nine-way tie for second place in the league behind Monmouth.

Marist - This was supposed to be the year that Mike Maker took a larger step out of the cellar, as the Red Foxes now have a firm foundation to go with a proven senior leader in Khallid Hart. Friday's conference opener at McCann Arena was the first indication of promise for Marist, as they were able to defeat Niagara, but a loss to Quinnipiac on Sunday preempted what would have been perhaps the league's best story through one weekend of action. The Red Foxes have a stiff test ahead of them Wednesday against perennial America East contender Albany, but the emergence of Ryan Funk in his sophomore season to become a third scorer alongside Hart and Brian Parker is something that should be monitored more closely as the season goes on. When Maker has a multitude of weapons in his arsenal, he is among the most dangerous tacticians in the MAAC.

Canisius - Reggie Witherspoon escaped a torture chamber of sorts in his baptism to MAAC play, as his Golden Griffins used the calm and patient disposition of their coach to escape a 15-point deficit on the road to walk out of Draddy Gymnasium victorious over Manhattan. Two days later, the Griffs followed that up with a gritty and valiant showing at Monmouth, only losing by six points. The team that had Kentucky on the ropes for ten minutes in their opener has only grown stronger with each passing game, which is Witherspoon's main goal in his first season at the helm. A concern going into the year was who the second scorer would be after Malcolm McMillan graduated, and it has been answered twofold in the form of Jermaine Crumpton and Kassius Robertson, both of whom have bookended Phil Valenti to form a troika of formidable matchups. Crumpton's career-high 26 points led the way in Friday's win, while Robertson has been a revelation, posting back-to-back 20-point games against Manhattan and Monmouth. If Canisius can keep this up throughout the year, a return to the quarterfinals with a first-round bye could be on the horizon.

Quinnipiac - A winless start did little to quell the speculation surrounding Tom Moore, but the Bobcats validated their coach's optimism with a strong showing against Seton Hall and subsequent win against Indiana State in the Advocare Invitational. Quinnipiac faltered against Monmouth on Thursday before gaining their first conference win yesterday against Marist to split a two-game homestand, and the freshman pair of Peter Kiss and Mikey Dixon has accelerated the backcourt transition that was going to be an integral part of how the year would go in Hamden. While the guards have learned on the fly, Chaise Daniels is coming into his own as a potential all-conference big man now that he is healthy and fully recovered from a knee injury that cost him valuable development time during this phase of the season a year ago, and his evolution while shepherding the Bobcat front line has helped Quinnipiac stay the course as they continue on through their journey.

Niagara - The Purple Eagles had lost six of their first seven, including a setback at Marist to begin the MAAC slate on Friday, before yesterday's big win at Iona. Matt Scott has been his usual, stat-stuffing self, but credit needs to go to Kahlil Dukes for emerging as the best point guard Monteagle Ridge has seen since Juan'ya Green spent his first two years there before transferring to Hofstra. The USC transfer was effusively brilliant against the Gaels, scoring 17 points and dishing out five assists against zero turnovers, a feat made all the more impressive considering it came against the reigning conference champions. Much like nearby rival Canisius, head coach Chris Casey has stressed an objective to simply improve day by day first and foremost, referencing the importance of that taking precedence over ending a near-seven-year winless streak in New Rochelle. Much may not be expected of Niagara this season, but their most recent impression suggests that if they are taken lightly, their opponents may soon come to regret it.

Scoring Leaders
1) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (21.0 PPG)
2) Matt Scott, Niagara (19.4)
3) Khallid Hart, Marist (19.3)

4) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (18.9)
5) Marquis Wright, Siena (18.0)
6) Quadir Welton, Saint Peter's (17.6)
7) Kassius Robertson, Canisius (16.6)
8) Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius (16.4)
9) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (16.1)
T-10) Curtis Cobb, Fairfield (15.0)
Justin Robinson, Monmouth (15.0)
Micah Seaborn, Monmouth (15.0)

Rebounding Leaders
1) Amadou Sidibe, Fairfield (11.4 RPG)
2) Kahlil Thomas, Rider (9.8)
3) Quadir Welton, Saint Peter's (8.4)
4) Brett Bisping, Siena (8.3)
5) Zane Waterman, Manhattan (7.5)
6) Norville Carey, Rider (6.8)
7) Dominic Robb, Niagara (6.6)
8) Chaise Daniels, Quinnipiac (6.6)
T-9) Taylor Bessick, Iona (6.5)
Chris Brady, Monmouth (6.5)
Matt Scott, Niagara (6.5)

Assist Leaders
1) Justin Robinson, Monmouth (5.6 APG)
2) Jerome Segura, Fairfield (5.0)
3) Marquis Wright, Siena (4.6)
4) Matt Scott, Niagara (3.9)
5) Stevie Jordan, Rider (3.8)
T-6) Rickey McGill, Iona (3.4)
Trevis Wyche, Saint Peter's (3.4)
8) Sam Cassell Jr., Iona (3.3)
9) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (3.3)
T-10) Kiefer Douse, Canisius (3.0)
Khallid Hart, Marist (3.0)
Phil Winston, Quinnipiac (3.0)

Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Chris Brady, Monmouth (.644)
2) Kahlil Thomas, Rider (.607)
3) Jordan Washington, Iona (.597)
4) Quadir Welton, Saint Peter's (.566)
5) Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius (.558)
6) Amadou Sidibe, Fairfield (.550)
7) Brett Bisping, Siena (.516)
T-8) Norville Carey, Rider (.511)
Rickey McGill, Iona (.511)
10) Javion Ogunyemi, Siena (.506)

Free Throw Percentage Leaders
1) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (1.000)
2) Jon Severe, Iona (.938)
3) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (.885)
4) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (.870)
5) Jimmie Taylor, Rider (.833)
6) Reggie Oliver, Quinnipiac (.824)
7) Justin Robinson, Monmouth (.821)
8) Matt Scott, Niagara (.783)
9) Khallid Hart, Marist (.765)
10) Phil Valenti, Canisius (.762)

Three-Point Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius (.609)
2) EJ Crawford, Iona (.571)
T-3) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (.475)
Zavier Turner, Manhattan (.475)
5) Zane Waterman, Manhattan (.458)
6) Calvin Crawford, Manhattan (.450)
T-7) Je'lon Hornbeak, Monmouth (.444)
Kassius Robertson, Canisius (.444)
James Towns, Niagara (.444)
10) Jon Severe, Iona (.442)

Power Rankings
1) Monmouth (6-2, 2-0 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 vs. Canisius (W 94-88)

Next Game: Tuesday 12/6 at Wagner, 7 p.m.

2) Fairfield (5-2, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Saturday 12/3 at Siena (L 80-73)

Next Game: Tuesday 12/6 vs. Bucknell, 7 p.m.

3) Iona (4-3, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 vs. Niagara (L 74-58)

Next Game: Wednesday 12/7 at Fairleigh Dickinson, 7 p.m.

4) Siena (3-5, 1-0 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Saturday 12/3 vs. Fairfield (W 80-73)

Next Game: Monday 12/5 at Rider, 7 p.m.

5) Saint Peter's (4-3, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game: Sunday 12/4 vs. Manhattan (W 84-70)

Next Game: Tuesday 12/7 at Houston Baptist, 8 p.m.

6) Canisius (3-5, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 at Monmouth (L 94-88)

Next Game: Wednesday 12/7 at Boston University, 7:30 p.m.

7) Rider (3-3, 0-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Thursday 12/1 vs. Fairfield (L 76-67)

Next Game: Monday 12/5 vs. Siena, 7 p.m.

8) Quinnipiac (2-5, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 vs. Marist (W 77-63)

Next Game: Wednesday 12/7 vs. Hartford, 7 p.m.

9) Manhattan (2-6, 0-2 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 at Saint Peter's (L 84-70)

Next Game: Tuesday 12/6 at Morgan State, 7 p.m.

10) Niagara (2-6, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 at Iona (W 74-58)

Next Game: Wednesday 12/7 at Kent State, 7 p.m.

11) Marist (4-5, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game: Sunday 12/4 at Quinnipiac (L 77-63)
Next Game: Wednesday 12/7 at Albany, 7 p.m.

1 comment:

  1. Very simple for SIENA,dominate the rebounding like you should
    and improved FOUL SHOOTING will lead to many more victories,
    especially on the road!