Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Men's Preseason Poll: Iona, then Fairfield

Here's how MAAC coaches predicted the order of finish for men's teams, first-place votes in parentheses, with total point count (10 for a first-place vote, one for a 10th-place vote):

1. Iona (8) 97
2. Fairfield (2) 92
3. Loyola 76
4. Rider 71
5. Saint Peter's 52
6. Siena 44
7. Niagara 42
8. Manhattan 33
9. Canisius 25
10. Marist 18

ANALYSIS: No surprise here, either, about the league's top pick. And, coaches did their voting before the recent NCAA ruling that granted Arizona transfer guard Lamont "Momo" Jones immediate eligibility at Iona.

But the race shouldn't be a runaway. Defending regular-season champs Fairfield has three starters returning, plus replacements via the transfer route that could surpass the accomplishments of the two players lost to graduation from a year ago.

It's enough for league commissioner Rich Ensor to be justifiably speculating that this could be a rare year that the conference has an at-large invitee to the NCAA tournament, along with its automatic representative.

But the sentiment here is that the gap between the top two teams and the next two, if not the next three, teams isn't as large as the voting indicates. Iona and Fairfield ot every first- or second-place vote except one by league coaches.

The lone second-place vote that didn't go to Iona or Fairfield went to preseason No. 3 Loyola, which recently got a positive NCAA ruling on power forward Jordan Latham, a 6-8 bruiser, who becomes immediately eligiblel and joins an already strong front line.

Rider, too, has a strong returning class plus a much-hyped transfer in guard Jeff Jones, formerly at Virginia.

Surprise teams? There could be a few, most-notably Rider, Saint Peter's and, eventually, Niagara.

Jones should give Rider some much needed firepower on a team that already had pretty much everything else it needed.

Saint Peter's, which won last season's post-season tournament to advance to the NCAA's, has some quality new pieces in place, including offensive-minded junior college transfer 6-7 forward Karee Ferguson and a quality transfer in guard Chris Prescott (formerly at St. Joseph's).

And, Niagara has just about everyone of significance returning, including redshirt freshman guard Antoine Mason, who averaged 16.7 points through three games last season before a foot injury kept him out the remainder of last season. And, two of the team's better players are just joining the program. Coach Joe Mihalich raves about freshman guard Juan'ya Green. And, then, there's 6-5 freshman swingman Josh Turner, who was recruited by several A-10 programs, who was a late addition to Niagara but doesn't become eligible, due to academic issues, until after the first semester. If the Purple Eales can handle the transition of several new players, they could be a late-season factor.

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