Questions and some answers (OK, call them semi-educated guesses) about a variety of men's basketball-related expectations for the coming season.
Q: WHAT TEAM WILL WIN THE REGULAR-SEASON TITLE?
A. The MAAC should be a league former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle would love ... one full of parity. And, much of that will be near the top. Loyola and Manhattan look like, from here, to be the early front-runners. But, Siena, Niagara, Iona, and even, possibly, Canisius won't be too far behind. The guess here, though, is Loyola, which lost two very good role players from a year ago but appear to have decent replacements.
Q: WHAT TEAM HAS THE BEST CHANCE TO CATCH THE TOP TEAM?
A: Since, a few blog postings back, we picked Manhattan as this year's second-place finisher ... it's not a surprise to think it could be the Jaspers. Manhattan has just about everyone back from a team that lacked only a real good two-way post player. That might be coming with 6-foot-9, 230-pounder Andy Pankey, who started 20 games at Maryland last year (4.7 points, 4.9 rebounds) and should be a real force at this level. Manhattan and Pankey have applied for a waiver so the big man can be eligible this season, but they still await a ruling from the NCAA. If Pankey is eligible this season, Manhattan will most definitely be more than a legitimate contender. If not, well, Pankey will still have three years of eligibility beginning in the 2013-14 season.
Q: WHAT TEAM IS MOST LIKELY TO BE A POSITIVE SURPRISE THIS SEASON?
A: Again, many candidates. But, we'll go with Canisius and that would be a nice resurgence for a program that needs to start showing a few more signs of competitive life. Things haven't exactly been golden for the Golden Griffins in a very long time. How long? The last better-than-.500 overall record came in the 2000-01 season (20-11). The last winning ledger in league play came in the 1998-99 season (11-7). And, last year's won-loss records, both league and overall (1-17, 5-25), were the program's worst since it joined the MAAC in 1989. So, why the optimism? A new coach (Jim Baron), for one. But, mostly, a new cast of talented players in three quality transfers and some solid returnees. If things mesh, Canisius could be looking at one of the best positive turnarounds in the country.
Q: WHAT PLAYERS WILL LIKELY BE FIRST-TEAM ALL STARS?
A: Many talented incoming transfers are eligible this year, and it's always tough to figure how they'll perform. The likelihood is that one, maybe two, will definitely contend for first-team recognition, but we'll stick to returning conference players: Siena's senior center O.D. Anosike, Loyola's senior forward Erik Etherly; Manhattan's senior guard George Beamon; Fairfield's senior guard Derek Needham and Iona's senior guard Momo Jones.
Q: WHO WILL BE THIS YEAR'S BREAKOUT PLAYER?
A: We'll go with Siena's sophomore 6-5 swingman Rob Poole, who had an inconsistent freshman season but, on his good nights, looked capable of doing plenty. Poole is a multi-dimensional player who can shoot, handle the ball reasonably well and pass like a point guard. He played behind senior guard Kyle Downey mostly a year ago, but will have a much-expanded role this season.
Q: WHO IS THE MAAC'S BEST REBOUNDER?
A: Almost no need to ask that question. Of course it's Siena's Anosike, whose 12.8 rebounds per game last season not only led the MAAC but also led the nation. He became just the second conference player to ever lead all Division I players (Darren Phillip of Fairfield was the other).
Q: WHO IS THE MAAC'S BEST 3-POINT SHOOTER?
A: Again, this one is pretty obvious. Junior guard Sean Armand ranks with the best nationally, and he showed why in one particular December game against Siena when he made a conference record 11 treys. His 46.2 percent bonus-shot accuracy would have been fifth-best nationally had he just four more made treys (national leaders need a minimum of 2.5 made three-pointers per game).
Q: WHO IS THE MAAC'S BEST SCORER?
A: We've got a pretty good track record on this one, having picked Manhattan's George Beamon, as far back as last summer, to be the 2011-12 conference scoring leader, and he delivered with a 19.0 ppg. average. Beamon is back to defend that statistical category's title, and his role pretty much remains the same: score, score, score. So, we'll go with Beamon, again.
Q: WHO WILL BE THE MAAC'S TOP NEWCOMER?
A: Many, many candidates for this. We'll go with Rider's 6-3 guard Nurideen Lindsey, a transfer from St. John's where he averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds per game through first-semester games this past season. He becomes eligible after first-semester games in mid-December this season. If not Lindsey, then another guard, Desi Washington at Saint Peter's who sat out last season as a transfer from Delaware State.
Q: WHO WILL BE THE MAAC'S TOP FRESHMAN?
A: After a slew of freshmen had impacts this past season, few conference teams appear to have the need this season for major contributions from true freshmen, particularly with so many incoming transfers becoming eligible. So, call this a "future" pick. We like 6-foot-7 freshman forward Phil Valenti, who was the Rochester area's high school Player of the Year after averaging 25 points and 11 rebounds as a senior this past season at Aquinas H.S.
Q: WHO IS THE MAAC'S MOST-OVERLOOKED PLAYER?
A: Manhattan's junior guard Mike Alvarado. Not a great scorer, but he does that well enough. He's just the prototypical tough New York City-bred point guard, who really knows how to run a team and make it better. It was no coincidence that the Jaspers were 2-2 down the stretch of regular-season play and, then, lost their first round game of the MAAC's post-season tournament when Alvarado wasn't able to play due to an eye injury.
Q: WHO WILL BE THIS SEASON'S PLAYER OF THE YEAR?
A: The conference's leading scorer (Beamon) and rebounder (Anosike) are both back and both will be major candidates for the award. But, the choice here is Loyola's Erik Etherly, who appears likely to even expand his role after a season in which he averaged 13.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and shot 53 percent from the field. He went out strong, putting up 19 points and seven rebounds in a first-round NCAA loss to Ohio State.