Monday, February 26, 2018

MAAC Monday, Part I: WBB award and tournament predictions

Just as it was a year ago, our final MAAC Monday of the season is a two-part edition as the field and pairings have been set for the 2018 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Men's and Women's Basketball Championships, held once again at Albany's Times Union Center beginning Thursday morning. Before we offer our speculation and predictions on how the bracket will unfold, we first apologize for our lack of women's basketball coverage to this point compared to past seasons, and attempt to make up for some of it by taking a closer look at who will be honored with conference recognitions in Friday's award show:

Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Victoria Rampado, Niagara (20.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 45% FG, 83% FT)
Who Will Win: Rampado

The fifth-year senior has been virtually unstoppable for the Purple Eagles this season, leading the MAAC in scoring and finishing a close second in the conference in rebounding. Although Niagara finished sixth in the regular season, Rampado was a full nine points and four rebounds clear of her next closest teammate in each category, which begs the question of just where Jada Pierce's team would be without the leadership of her Canadian veteran.

Rookie of the Year
Who Should Win: Toyosi Abiola, Iona (11.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG)
Who Will Win: Abiola

Losing Marina Lizarazu has proven to be a major hurdle for Iona to overcome just two years after cutting down the nets and reaching the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament, but in Abiola, Billi Chambers (née Godsey) has found a potential program-changing freshman in a similar vein to how her predecessor, Tony Bozzella struck gold two years in a row with Damika Martinez and Joy Adams. Abiola is lightyears ahead of her fellow freshmen, and should win this award going away.

Sixth Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Alexis Lewis, Iona (14.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, 2.0 SPG)
Who Will Win: Lewis

Initially, our first thought was to champion Manhattan's Gabby Cajou, who has made excellent strides as a sophomore while learning from one of the MAAC's best point guards in Amani Tatum, but then we looked at the stats across the conference and saw Lewis only started eight games for Iona. Once thought of as a Player of the Year contender, the junior has done for the Gaels what David Laury did for Tim Cluess in his junior year: Make a transition to a reserve capacity for the greater good while maintaining an impact worthy of a star player. Lewis still ranks in the top ten among the conference in both scoring and rebounding, and asserts herself just as much on the defensive end, which makes her selection here a no-brainer.

Defensive Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Stella Johnson, Rider (6.1 RPG, 2.5 SPG)
Who Will Win: Paula Strautmane, Quinnipiac (4.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 1.8 SPG)

Johnson has done it all for Rider this season and deserves to be recognized as such, but with Rampado taking home Player of the Year, Quinnipiac needs to be recognized for the amount of players that have banded together to produce an immovable object. And after being snubbed for this award last season, Strautmane makes up for it this year with her versatility to both alter shots and jump-start the Bobcat transition game, something that gets overlooked far too often.

Coach of the Year
Who Should Win: Tricia Fabbri, Quinnipiac
Who Will Win: Fabbri

If you have followed us over the years, you know our reverence of Quinnipiac's legendary mentor and her seemingly effortless work to keep her dominant program atop the mid-major landscape. Going into the season, the one question on everyone's minds was this: After reaching the Sweet 16 last year, just what would the Bobcats do for an encore? The answer was a 19-game win streak to go into Albany, with only three of those victories coming by less than 11 points as Quinnipiac ran its record in MAAC games; including tournament contests, to a truly unbelievable 96-14. Nothing else needs to be said other than the following three words: Fearless. Focused. Fabbri.

First Team All-MAAC
Victoria Rampado, Niagara (Player of the Year)
Samantha Cooper, Fairfield
Jen Fay, Quinnipiac
Rebekah Hand, Marist
Aryn McClure, Quinnipiac

Second Team All-MAAC
Alana Gilmer, Marist
Kayla Grimme, Manhattan
Stella Johnson, Rider
Alexis Lewis, Iona
Kollyns Scarbrough, Siena

Third Team All-MAAC
Maura Fitzpatrick, Marist

Sara Hinriksdottir, Canisius
Kamila Hoskova, Rider
Kaylee Stroemple, Niagara
Amani Tatum, Manhattan

MAAC All-Rookie Team
Toyosi Abiola, Iona
Willow Duffell, Marist
Jayden Eggleston, Iona
Jaiden Morris, Rider
Danielle Sanderlin, Canisius

MAAC Tournament Predictions (bracket graphic via Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)
First Round
Canisius over Monmouth
Manhattan over Iona
Niagara over Saint Peter's

Quinnipiac over Canisius
Marist over Manhattan
Siena over Niagara
Rider over Fairfield

Quinnipiac over Rider
Marist over Siena

Quinnipiac over Marist

Most Valuable Player: Jen Fay, Quinnipiac

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