Kevin Baggett has guided Rider into position as one of MAAC's stronger teams going into conference season, highlighted by buzzer-beating victory at Penn State. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
MAAC Monday returns on this Christmas Day for the first time in the 2017-18 season, retaining the same three-segment format in which it was presented to you last year. For today's edition, the opening section will consist of a non-conference review in place of the standard advanced stats, before the traditional stat leaders and power rankings comprise the latter two parts of our weekly digest. With Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play tipping off Thursday night in Connecticut, as Fairfield and Quinnipiac are the first two league members to contest home games, allow us to get you caught up to speed on how each school in the conference has done, with teams being listed in the order in which they were picked in October's preseason coaches' poll:
Iona - At 6-6 on the year, the Gaels have overachieved compared to the majority of the league during the non-conference season, doing so with four players averaging 10 or more points per game, keeping right in line with Tim Cluess' trademark offensive firepower. Iona had started the season 1-4, but wins in four straight games before a close loss against St. John's at Madison Square Garden were able to right the ship, as was a commanding road win at Holy Cross in which the Gaels shot 20-for-37 from distance. Rickey McGill has surpassed expectations on both sides of the basketball, and continues to make plays while Zach Lewis and Deyshonee Much reprise the formidable perimeter attack in New Rochelle. While E.J. Crawford continues to work on becoming more of an interior weapon for Cluess, fifth-year senior TK Edogi has lived up to expectations as the successor to Jordan Washington in the post, and Roland Griffin's recovery from a sprained ankle has gone smoothly over the past two weeks to project a more positive outlook to the two-time reigning champions, who begin the conference slate with the Western New York trip to Niagara and Canisius this weekend.
Manhattan - The Jaspers head into their MAAC opener Saturday against Fairfield at 5-7 on the year, but with three losses by a grand total of seven points, they could just as easily be 8-4. Regardless of record, Steve Masiello is encouraged by the product his team has put forward this season, finding similar parallels in the 2013-14 championship outfit that won 25 games and found ways to compete without its best effort. Such a resilient style was on display this past Wednesday, when Manhattan held Hofstra to just 32 percent shooting in a 63-61 victory. On the season, the three-point line has become a greater point of emphasis in Riverdale this year, with opposing teams managing just a 33 percent clip from beyond the arc against the Jaspers, whose offense has taken the expected boost from Rich Williams' return and turned it into a team-leading 13.5 points per game. Through the non-league season, Aaron Walker has developed into more of an all-around talent as a sophomore, showing a greater proficiency from long range while increasing the already high marks he has earned for on-ball defense. Speaking of the longtime Manhattan calling card, Pauly Paulicap and his conference-leading 2.8 blocks per game have given Masiello the rim protector the program has craved since the graduations of Rhamel Brown and Ashton Pankey, and not at a more opportune time.
Monmouth - Given the Hawks' imposing non-conference schedule, the overall record was not something by which King Rice's team should be judged by, especially coming off the massive roster turnover from last year's second straight regular season championship. Therefore, 4-8 is not so much a handicap as it may be to some other teams across the nation, but instead, it has given Rice the time and space to coach up some of the younger players on his roster. Moreover, two of those games; against UConn and Hofstra, were instances that easily could have gone Monmouth's way if not for late-game officiating (UConn) and an incredibly fortuitous tip off a missed free throw (Hofstra), which means the Hawks have performed admirably well under circumstances beyond their control. Throw in Micah Seaborn's recovery from an early-season respite, and Rice has a team that is ready to roll heading into Thursday's league opener against Quinnipiac. Freshman Deion Hammond has shown an equal proficiency from both sides of the three-point line to become the team's second option behind Seaborn, and Austin Tilghman has picked up where Justin Robinson left off at the point guard spot, even throwing in a triple-double against Yale for good measure. The best quality Monmouth possesses moving forward is one where on any given night, anyone can step up and carry the team, with Louie Pillari's career-high 24 points in the aforementioned Yale game being Exhibit A.
Fairfield - A three-game losing streak, with two of those defeats coming by a combined three points, is to blame for the Stags' 5-6 mark heading into their MAAC opener against Saint Peter's Thursday, but Sydney Johnson said following a win over LIU Brooklyn two weeks ago that Fairfield was getting closer to the grand vision he had for a team anchored by the production of MAAC Preseason Player of the Year Tyler Nelson, whose 21 points per game are the unquestioned leader on the scoreboard. A factor to monitor as the season goes on will be Johnson's ability to develop Nelson's supporting cast, something that has taken flight early and often with Ferron Flavors, Jr. serving as a reliable outside shot while also getting enough points to rank second behind Nelson, as well as the play of freshman Jesus Cruz, who looks like a potential all-conference player down the road. The loss of Amadou Sidibe has left its biggest mark on the interior, as the Stags have not been the rebounding team they were over the past two seasons. Matija Milin, though, has been the biggest beneficiary of Sidibe's graduation, taking on more of a role alongside Jonathan Kasibabu to be Fairfield's leading rebounder through the non-conference portion of the schedule. Freshman Kevin Senghore-Peterson has made his biggest impact in this category as well, which bodes well for a team that should be firmly in the mix come February.
Niagara - The team with the most upside going into the year is 7-6 going into a juicy conference opener Friday against Iona, one that looks like it could be a shootout after the Purple Eagles showcased an offense averaging nearly 84 points per game over November and December and won three straight to end the non-conference season. Head coach Chris Casey possesses a pair of potential Player of the Year contenders each averaging 20 or more points per game, headlined by senior Matt Scott and his unparalleled stat-stuffer mentality (Scott's 23.9 points per game lead the MAAC, and are backed up by 7.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals per contest) while Kahlil Dukes (21.9 PPG) is the equal opportunity scorer and facilitator that Justin Robinson was for Monmouth over the past two seasons. If Niagara can develop a reputable third scorer, Monteagle Ridge may experience a postseason appearance for the first time since 2013; and so far, Marvin Prochet looks like the safest bet to be just that with his averages of over eight points and just about eight rebounds per game. Dominic Robb and James Towns, not to mention the deceptively strong defense of Chris Barton, only underscore the depth and versatility on a roster that looks like it will be mixing it up among the MAAC's heavyweights as the year goes on.
Siena - A 4-9 start to a season that began on the heels of an appearance in the MAAC championship game has done to quiet the natives in Loudonville, many of whom have grown disillusioned and dissatisfied with head coach Jimmy Patsos, now in his fifth year at the helm. In Patsos' defense, the Saints have had to replace four starters, no easy task for any program, and one that becomes incredibly arduous when each of the four were 1,000-point scorers and vital cogs in the system for Siena. Junior Nico Clareth has reverted into the sixth man after starting earlier in the season, bringing his ever-present spark into the game to the tune of 16.8 points per contest, with Roman Penn and Prince Oduro representing the wave of the future to very respectable results halfway through their rookie campaigns. Ahsante Shivers appears to be taking the next step as a leader, and for all the criticism Evan Fisher has received for his playing time, he has taken on the Brett Bisping role as the Saints' leading rebounder. Any objective Siena fan knew this would be a transition year, but heading into Friday's conference opener at Marist, the pressure will be on to avoid an early misstep in the league schedule.
Rider - A pattern has existed in recent years with the Broncs, one in which their predictions toward the middle of the conference have been surpassed with finishes in the league's top tier, such as their second-place finish in 2014-15 that earned Kevin Baggett Coach of the Year honors while Matt Lopez powered his way to a spot on the all-MAAC first team before tearing his ACL late in the season. At 7-5 on the year, and going into the conference slate with momentum from a Frederick Scott buzzer-beater over Penn State firmly in their back pocket, Rider looks the part as far as contenders are concerned. Now the time has arrived for the Broncs to start acting the part in a MAAC where a clear-cut frontrunner is still lacking, beginning at Canisius on Friday. This year's roster is not only deep, but multifaceted as well. Five players average 10 or more points, including sophomore point guard Stevie Jordan and MAAC Rookie of the Year Jordan Allen, the Broncs' leading scorer at 15.9 points per game. Dimencio Vaughn has rebounded magnificently from a torn ACL last year and offseason arrest this spring, with the aforementioned Scott and sophomore Tyere Marshall combining to average over 23 points and 13 rebounds per game as one of the best interior duos in the league, and one that was certainly not expected to produce this much this quickly. Until proven otherwise, the knock on Rider will be their ability to win in the conference tournament, but the form exhibited by the Broncs to date this season suggests that the proverbial walls could be broken down rather emphatically come March.
Saint Peter's - John Dunne's latest project at doing a lot with what is perceived to be a little has already performed ahead of schedule with the Peacocks following up their CIT championship to the tune of a 6-5 start. Hardly anyone would have expected Saint Peter's to be above .500 heading into Thursday's league opener against Fairfield, but here is a team that has managed to take Dunne's trademark brand of suffocating defense and unselfish play at the offensive end, and marry the two to positive results. While Nick Griffin has taken the leap he was expected to make as the senior leader on this squad, Davauhnte Turner has stepped into the shoes of Trevis Wyche and become the same double-figure scorer and adept passer that his predecessor was for four years in Jersey City. Quinn Taylor has yielded strong returns as well after being used sparingly last year, while Sam Idowu has complemented him on the front line. The Peacocks have employed a ten-man rotation, and much like Monmouth, possess multiple X-factors that can erupt on any given night. Seasons like this where a prohibitive favorite has yet to emerge are usually those that play into Saint Peter's hands, and this just might be the case this season as well.
Canisius - The Golden Griffins stand 6-7 going into a pivotal opening weekend of MAAC play in which they welcome Rider and Iona into the Koessler Athletic Center, but Reggie Witherspoon's team remains the dynamic offensive threat it was last year. Jermaine Crumpton got the credit he deserved in the preseason by virtue of his first team all-MAAC selection, but sophomore Isaiah Reese has become the more transcendent of the Griffs' two leading scorers, already possessing a triple-double on his ledger to add to an efficient 50 percent shooting clip from the floor and team-leading 6.4 rebounds per game. Freshman Takal Molson appears to be this year's version of what Reese was during his rookie season, as the 6-foot-5 wing has already made his mark for a team whose defense is markedly improved from where it ranked at this point a year ago. Most importantly for Canisius this season, Malik Johnson has become more of a scorer this season to augment his stellar passing (the sophomore point guard averages five assists per game), and Spencer Foley; the other sophomore in a class headlined by Johnson and Reese, has evolved into a lethal shooter and vital scorer to a team whose options are capable of burning anyone.
Marist - Mike Maker has been unable to catch a break in the non-conference season, at least when looking at his Red Foxes' 2-10 record. However, performances such as the near-upset of West Virginia in the Advocare Invitational have gone a long way toward solidifying the potential in Poughkeepsie, and a favorable MAAC opener such as Friday's contest where Marist welcomes Siena into McCann Arena should only help elevate the progression. While Brian Parker, Ryan Funk, and Isaiah Lamb have done what many anticipated they would through the first two months of the season, David Knudsen has been the biggest breakout star for the Red Foxes to date, averaging just over 10 points per game and shooting 37 percent from three-point range. Alexsandar Dozic, the Marshall transfer of whom Maker spoke highly in the offseason, has already established himself as the most successful forward in the coach's four-year tenure, with his best basketball still miles ahead of him. Marist still has a long way to go to get back into the upper echelon of the MAAC, but with their top five players producing at their current levels, a slight uptick remains possible as long as the bench becomes more productive as well.
Quinnipiac - Baker Dunleavy's first season in Hamden has been rife with the peaks and valleys many would expect of a rookie head coach, with inspiring wins at UMass and Columbia being offset by losses to Maine and Lafayette. Regardless, the Bobcats have played better than their 3-9 record indicates they may have, and are on an upswing going into Thursday's conference opener against Monmouth. Cameron Young, who was a victim of being trapped on the depth chart by upperclassmen, has turned into Quinnipiac's leading scorer while Rich Kelly has exceeded even the highest predictions placed in the freshman point guard, demonstrating the ability to score and pass while being thrown into the fire much earlier than most at his position. With Chaise Daniels on a personal leave from the program, opportunities exist in the frontcourt, with Australian sharpshooter Jacob Rigoni making the most of them since Daniels' hiatus (his 20-point game at Columbia even with Daniels on the floor being one of them) alongside incumbent Abdulai Bundu. But for all the promise and potential the Bobcats have, depth will be something to watch carefully in Dunleavy's nine-man rotation, especially in a stretch of four games over eight days early in January.
1) Matt Scott, Niagara (23.9 PPG)
2) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (21.9)
2) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (21.9)
3) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (21.0)
4) Brian Parker, Marist (17.7)
5) Nico Clareth, Siena (16.8)
6) Isaiah Reese, Canisius (16.0)
T-7) Jordan Allen, Rider (15.9)
T-7) Cameron Young, Quinnipiac (15.9)
9) Micah Seaborn, Monmouth (15.9)
10) Nick Griffin, Saint Peter's (15.8)
1) Marvin Prochet, Niagara (7.8 RPG)
2) Matt Scott, Niagara (7.7)
2) Matt Scott, Niagara (7.7)
T-3) TK Edogi, Iona (7.1)
T-3) Frederick Scott, Rider (7.1)
5) Quinn Taylor, Saint Peter's (7.0)
6) Isaiah Reese, Canisius (6.4)
T-7) Tyere Marshall, Rider (6.2)
T-7) Zane Waterman, Manhattan (6.2)
9) Pauly Paulicap, Manhattan (6.0)
10) Cameron Young, Quinnipiac (5.8)
1) Stevie Jordan, Rider (7.1 APG)
2) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (6.1)
2) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (6.1)
3) Rickey McGill, Iona (5.3)
4) Malik Johnson, Canisius (5.0)
5) Austin Tilghman, Monmouth (4.8)
6) Isaiah Reese, Canisius (4.3)
7) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (3.7)
8) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (3.3)
9) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (3.2)
10) Matt Scott, Niagara (3.1)
Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Isaiah Reese, Canisius (.503)
2) Brian Parker, Marist (.487)
3) Rich Williams, Manhattan (.482)
4) Matt Scott, Niagara (.480)
5) Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius (.477)
6) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (.476)
7) Micah Seaborn, Monmouth (.459)
8) Nick Griffin, Saint Peter's (.449)
9) Stevie Jordan, Rider (.425)
10) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (.406)
Free Throw Percentage Leaders
1) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (.913)
2) Isaiah Lamb, Marist (.886)
3) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (.871)
4) Nico Clareth, Siena (.862)
5) Micah Seaborn, Monmouth (.857)
6) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (.809)
7) E.J. Crawford, Iona (.784)
8) Roman Penn, Siena (.783)
9) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (.763)
10) Austin Tilghman, Monmouth (.745)
Three-Point Field Goal Leaders
1) Micah Seaborn, Monmouth (.479)
2) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (.478)
3) Jordan Allen, Rider (.402)
4) Isaiah Reese, Canisius (.398)
5) Ferron Flavors, Jr., Fairfield (.395)
*NOTE: Criteria for inclusion among the MAAC leaders in the following categories, as indicated on the MAAC website, is as follows:
Field Goal Percentage: Minimum of 5.0 field goals made per game.
Free Throw Percentage/Three-Point Field Goal Percentage: Minimum of 2.5 free throws or three-point field goals made per game.
1) Rider (7-5)
Last Game: Friday 12/22 at Penn State (W 71-70)
Next Game: Friday 12/29 at Canisius, 4:30 p.m.
2) Iona (6-6)
Last Game: Thursday 12/21 at Rhode Island (L 80-74)
Next Game: Friday 12/29 at Niagara, 7 p.m.
3) Niagara (7-6)
Last Game: Saturday 12/23 at Cornell (W 89-86)
Next Game: Friday 12/29 vs. Iona, 7 p.m.
4) Monmouth (4-8)
Last Game: Friday 12/22 at Yale (W 85-64)
Next Game: Thursday 12/28 at Quinnipiac, 7:30 p.m.
5) Manhattan (5-7)
Last Game: Saturday 12/23 at Seton Hall (L 74-62)
Next Game: Saturday 12/30 vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m.
6) Saint Peter's (6-5)
Last Game: Saturday 12/23 vs. St. Francis Brooklyn (W 71-68)
Next Game: Thursday 12/28 at Fairfield, 7 p.m.
7) Canisius (6-7)
Last Game: Friday 12/22 at Robert Morris (W 76-62)
Next Game: Friday 12/29 vs. Rider, 4:30 p.m.
Last Game: Friday 12/22 vs. New Hampshire (W 78-68)
Next Game: Thursday 12/28 vs. Saint Peter's, 7 p.m.
9) Quinnipiac (3-9)
Last Game: Thursday 12/21 at Vermont (L 80-73)
Next Game: Thursday 12/28 vs. Monmouth, 7:30 p.m.
10) Siena (4-9)
Last Game: Friday 12/22 vs. Holy Cross (W 71-65)
Next Game: Friday 12/29 at Marist, 7 p.m.
11) Marist (2-10)
Last Game: Friday 12/22 at Brown (L 90-69)
Next Game: Friday 12/29 vs. Siena, 7 p.m.