Monday, February 27, 2017

MAAC Monday, Part I: WBB award and tournament predictions

The final edition of MAAC Monday for the 2016-17 regular season is a special two-part incarnation that offers a preview of what to expect at the Times Union Center in both the Men's and Women's Basketball Championships, which begin in full stride Thursday morning. Before we take a closer look at the matchups on both sides of the bracket, we offer predictions on who will take home the hardware at Friday's award show:

Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Alexis Lewis, Iona (16.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.8 SPG)
Who Will Win: Lewis

Quinnipiac's success is largely team-driven, and with the Bobcats' two leading scorers just barely averaging ten points per game, their stats will most likely be a red flag here. Robin Perkins is having an excellent season for a resurgent Rider squad, but Lewis has put together a much stronger sophomore campaign after splitting Sixth Player of the Year honors as a freshman a year ago, and has done so in the company of preseason Player of the Year Marina Lizarazu. Lewis' dominance has been an integral part in the Gaels proving that last season's championship run was no fluke, and deserves to be recognized on a larger scale.

Rookie of the Year
Who Should Win: Stella Johnson, Rider (10.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.8 SPG, 51% FG)
Who Will Win: Rebekah Hand, Marist (13.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.0 SPG)

Johnson has been arguably the biggest difference between Rider's No. 7 seed finish last year and a runner-up placing this season, as her arrival has given the Broncs the guard they needed to set Perkins and Julia Duggan up for success. But while she has made the biggest impact, Hand has put up the more impressive numbers on a Marist roster limited to just seven players due to injuries and incoming transfers. Along with her twin sister, Hannah, Rebekah has become the latest result in a line of Brian Giorgis development projects, and MAAC coaches traditionally show their longtime dean a great deal of respect in award voting, so Hand will most likely be the choice here.

Sixth Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Tyese Purvis, Monmouth (10.2 PPG)
Who Will WIn: Purvis

This award is a two-player race between Purvis and Canisius' Maria Welch, and Purvis' superior stat line for a team with a better record wins out. MAAC rules state that players need to start ten games or less to be eligible for this honor, and Purvis makes the cut on the wire with ten starts on her ledger. That qualification will unfortunately cost Quinnipiac's Sarah Shewan an honor she is deserving of, as she started 11 games for the Bobcats.

Defensive Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Aryn McClure, Quinnipiac (8.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.7 BPG)
Who Will Win: McClure

Iona's Karynda DuPree will merit consideration here for her 7.7 rebounds per game and 50 blocked shots, but with Alexis Lewis already receiving Player of the Year honors, MAAC coaches will likely look to spread the wealth, as well they should. Look no further than last season's Rookie of the Year for this honor, though. Blossoming into an interior force for Tricia Fabbri, McClure has become to the Bobcats what Ousmane Drame was to the men's program in Hamden, a defensive monster who can; and will, alter any shot in her path. And what she possesses in rejections, she supplements with her aggressiveness on the defensive end, as noted by her 48 steals, a total seldom registered among forwards. Fellow Quinnipiac sophomore Paula Strautmane would also be a solid choice here, but McClure is simply the class of the field.

Coach of the Year
Who Should Win: Lynn Milligan, Rider (22-7, 16-4 MAAC)
Who Will Win: Milligan

With all due respect to Tricia Fabbri, who has Quinnipiac positioned for a fourth straight championship game appearance while upping her all-time MAAC record to 75-14; including tournament games, this award is no contest. Picked tenth at the start of the season and rumored to perhaps be on the hot seat, Milligan has turned Rider back into a force in the MAAC behind a quartet of double-figure scorers and a defense that yields a scant 60.2 points per game on average. Brian Giorgis would get consideration in any other year as well for riding a seven-player rotation into a winning conference record, but Milligan's turnaround in Lawrenceville outweighs all other candidates this season.

First Team All-MAAC
Alexis Lewis, Iona (Player of the Year)
Jackie Benitez, Siena
Julia Duggan, Rider
Marina Lizarazu, Iona
Victoria Rampado, Niagara

Second Team All-MAAC
Kelsey Carey, Fairfield
Samantha Cooper, Fairfield
Karynda DuPree, Iona
Jen Fay, Quinnipiac
Robin Perkins, Rider

Third Team All-MAAC
Kayla Grimme, Manhattan
Kamila Hoskova, Rider
Adily Martucci, Quinnipiac
Kollyns Scarbrough, Siena
Casey Smith, Fairfield

MAAC All-Rookie Team
Rebekah Hand, Marist (Rookie of the Year)
Morgan Baughman, Niagara

Hannah Hand, Marist
Stella Johnson, Rider
Kayla Shaw, Monmouth

MAAC Tournament Predictions (bracket graphic courtesy of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)

Opening Round 
Niagara over Canisius
Monmouth over Manhattan
Marist over Saint Peter's

Quinnipiac over Niagara
Rider over Monmouth
Marist over Fairfield
Iona over Siena

Quinnipiac over Iona
Marist over Rider

Quinnipiac over Marist

Most Valuable Player: Paula Strautmane, Quinnipiac

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