Thinking out loud about the upcoming season, or what can also be considered the latest installment of "ATM," or Around The MAAC....
- Best non-conference game of the upcoming season?
There are some good ones ... Iona at Purdue (Nov. 17), Marist at Kentucky (Nov. 11), Manhattan at Syracuse (Nov. 14) ... but, my personal preference is on Nov. 14 when Providence comes to Bridgeport, Conn., to play at Fairfield in the Arena at Harbor Yard. The Friars are coached by former Fairfield coach Ed Cooley. It was part of his release agreement from his contract with Fairfield that he bring his new team in for a Fairfield home game. Cooley, whose work took a struggling program to last season's regular-season MAAC championship, is on record as saying the game isn't one he is looking forward to ... but the rest of us await with great anticipation.
- Not much doubt that the expectations are that Iona's 6-foot-7 senior forward Mike Glover will be the conference's best player this season. How good is he? Your hoopscribe saw him play four times in person last year and several other times either on TV or through the magic of video streaming via the internet. It says here (with the backing of at least one other conference coach) that Glover will be the next player from the conference to have a meaningful NBA career.
- Surprise players in the MAAC this season? We'll take two on the men's side: Iona's Ra'Shad James, a 6-1 guard, and Siena's Kyle Downey, a 6-2 guard. James, a junior, sat out last season after transferring from Division II St. Thomas Aquinas. By more than one account he was often the best guard on the floor at Iona practices last season, and that's saying a mouthful considering the team also has first-team all-MAAC preseason pick Scott Machado in place. Downey, a senior, has played through a string of injuries the past two seasons, but has shown flashes of his ability. No one works harder, and he returned this season fully healthy and in great condition. Siena needs to find some offense, and Downey is more than capable.
- Surprise women's player? We'll just name one, based on some preseason practice observations: Siena's 6-1 sophomore forward Clara Sole Anglada. She did flash her skills with a 12-point, 8-rebound effort in one game last year, but otherwise was a very lightly used reserve as she spent much of the year adjusting to cultural, language and athletic differences (she came to Siena from Spain). But your hoopscribe has rarely seen the level of improvement she has made from freshman to sophomore season, and she will be a significant factor for the Saints this year.
- Just when you thought it would be a two-team (Iona, Fairfield) race for the men's regular-season championship ... Loyola got an unexpected boost that very well could push the Greyhounds from being a solid team into legitimate contention. That came with last week's NCAA ruling that 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward Jordan Latham, a Baltimore native and transfer from Xavier, would not have to sit out this season as per traditional transfer rules but that his "hardship" application had been accepted. Latham is the type athletic big man that rarely lands in the MAAC, and if he is indeed a significant contributor, Loyola might have the conference's best front line as he joins 6-10 center Shane Walker and 6-7 forward Erik Etherly.
- Best women's player this season? It would be hard to discount Corielle Yarde of Marist, but your hoopscribe will opt for Loyola's Katie Sheahin, a 5-10 junior guard. Sheahin, originally a shooting guard, got moved to the point late in her freshman year and played the position full time for the first time last season. Did she handle it well? How about 13.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 blocks and a per-game steal average of 3.4 that was second-best nationally? If nothing else, she is the conference's most-versatile player.
- It is a year of transfers joining men's teams, for the upcoming season and one of them could very easily lead the conference in scoring. The guess here is that Rakim Sanders of Fairfield, who played three seasons at Boston College previously, will have the highest scoring average among first-year eligible transfers. But the choice here to be the conference's top scorer is junior swingman George Beamon of Manhattan, whose entire career thus far has been with the Jaspers.
- Biggest surprise team on the women's side? It would be easy to identify Canisius or Siena, both with emerging young players, to exceed expectations. but the choice here is that Rider will show considerable improvement off last season's 5-23 overall record. The Broncs have nearly every player of significance returning, although they'll be without last year's top scorer, small forward Shereen Lightbourne (knee injury) for the season. Rider does have the conference's biggest front line, and have emerging standout to fill Lightbourne's role in sophomore McNeshia McKenzie. It needs either senior Alyssa Parsons, who played there last year after two major knee injuries earlier in her career, to step or for incoming international freshman Kornelija Valiuskyte of Lithuania to contribute early.
- Look for the Canisius women to also rebound after a down season a year ago. The Golden Griffins endured having four freshmen play considerable minutes last season (all four won at least one Rookie of the Week award), and the conventional wisdom about freshmen is that they eventually become sophomores. That maturity should help the Griffs greatly, along with a much-hyped incoming first-year player, 5-7 guard Kayla Hoohuli, one of 40 players nationally last season picked as a Parade Magazine All-American. The Griffs might not win this year's conference title, but they'll be a strong contender in the subsequent two seasons.
- The Saint Peter's men's team finished fourth in last season's standings and, then, won the conference's post-season tournament to advance to the NCAA tournament. It was a storybook year for the program, one that returned a considerable level of interest to the men's team. But, four senior starters are gone from a year ago. Still, don't expect the Peacocks to fall too far, if at all. A strong group of incoming players, and some returning reserves whose minutes were limited by injuries a year ago, should help out. Look for Chris Prescott, a 6-2 guard transfer from St. Joseph's, to pick up much of the scoring load with other newcomers 6-7 junior college transfer Karee Ferguson and 5-9 freshman point guard Lamin Fulton to be strong contributors. And, Blaise Ffrench and Chris Burke, both sophomore guards who battled injuries last season, should be in the playing group. But, it didn't help that 6-4 guard Steven Samuels, one of the league's better defenders last season, was recently dismissed from the program.