You've got questions, we've got answers, women's division.
Here are some burning questions as the MAAC women's season approaches, and your hoopscribe's attempt at answers.
What team will win the regular-season championship?
Hard to go against a team that has won every year since gas prices were under $1.50 a gallon. Of course that would be Marist, also the unanimous choice of league coaches in their annual preseason poll. But, it says here, Marist isn't quite as strong as it was when it went through the league season with a perfect 18-0 record last season. Not only did it lose Player of the Year Erica Allenspach, but suffered an unexpected loss with the transfer departure of 6-4 forward Kate Oliver. The Red Foxes replace Oliver with another transfer, 6-1 Kristina Danella from UMass, who had 22 points in the program's annual Red/White scrimmage recently.
The better question might be what team has the best chance to, potentially, end Marist's string of regular-season titles? The answer here is Loyola, with two all-league caliber players in junior point guard Katie Sheahin and senior swingperson Mariam McKenzie as well as emerging 6-1 forward junior Alyssa Southerland.
The thing Marist has over everyone else, though, is talented depth. The Red Foxes legitimately went nine or 10 players deep last season and appear to have that kind of bench firepower again this year.
Can the MAAC send two teams to the NCAA tournament?
Not likely, since it has only happened once. But, it could. Last year, for instance ... if Marist had lost in the conference tournament, the MAAC would have had an automatic qualifier other than Marist and, then, the Red Foxes would have been rated high enough in the Ratings Percentage Index to have gotten an at-large situation. Marist, by now, has a strong enough national reputation and plays a strong enough non-league schedule to ensure a high RPI rating that it would get strong consideration for an at-large berth provided it finishes something like 24-6 in regular-season play.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This original post mistakenly indicated that there has never been an at-large NCAA team from the MAAC. A loyal and educated follower, Mid-Major Fan, was kind enough to point out that the 2000-01 season's Fairfield team, which suffered a 70-68 loss to Siena in the conference tournament's championship game, also received a much-deserved at-large invitation that season.
Will there be a surprise team in the conference?
We'll go with two, Iona and Siena.
The Gaels had five straight seasons of at least 18 overall victories before finishing 11-20 last season. Place much of that on the early season loss of point guard Suzi Fregosi, for whom the program had no replacement. Fregosi is back at full strength this year, surrounded by a talented cast, and there's no discounting how important Fregosi is in terms of leadership and running the team on the floor.
As for Siena, it finished 11-7 in league play last year and lost three starters. But replacements are all but unknown around the conference, for now. Junior post player Lily Grinci has had an impact when healthy, but has rarely been at full strength her first two seasons. She's healthy now and has been exceptional in the preseason. Another post, 6-1 sophomore Clara Sole-Anglada, has also been a positive revelation in the preseason after getting limited minutes last season. The Saints have more depth and more athleticism than in recent years and should at least duplicate last season's record.
It's easy to pick Marist's Corielle Yarde, a senior guard who had a big-time breakout game in the NCAA tournament's second round last season when she scored 25 points and had 12 rebounds in a 71-66 loss to Duke. And, Yarde is the league's preseason Player of the Year.
Your hoopscribe, though, has a preference for Loyola's Sheahin, the do-everything point guard who not only led the conference in assists last seson but was No. 2 nationally in steals per game and, like Yarde, played her best late in the season against strong opponents.
We'll go with Fregosi, one of our favorites to watch. She is as good a true pass-first point guard as we've seen in the league in several years. In a recent exhibition game she had 11 assists against just two turnovers. She is often overlooked because she rarely scores, but all she does is run the offense and make teammates better. If Iona returns to 18+ victories again this season, Fregosi will be the primary reason.
Who makes the post-season all-star team?
Based on last-year's performances, this is pretty easy right now: Corielle Yarde of Marist, Katie Sheahin and Miriam McKenzie of Loyola, Taryn Johnson of Fairfield and Kristina Ford of Iona.
What transfer will have the most impact this season?
While men's teams in the conference have enough quality all stars to fill an all-star team, it's a relative rarity for women's teams to attract quality transfer players. But, Marist has a good one in Kristina Danella, a 6-1 forward who played two seasons as a starter at UMass where she averaged more than 12 points per game.
Top incoming freshman?
It would be easy to designate guard Kayla Hoohuli of Canisius, who is believed to be the first Parade Magazine All-American to attend a MAAC school. But, Hoohuli isn't all the way back from a high school injury and may be limited early in the season.
So, we'll go with Fairfield freshman Felicia DaCruz, a 5-7 point guard who not only has drawn raves so far for her passing ability but for a long-range shooting touch. DaCruz is expected to crack the Lady Stags' starting lineup and allow senior Desire Pina to move back to off-guard.