We recently predicted the order of finish for men's and women's basketball teams. Now, it's time for more predictions.
So, here are some questions, and one person's answers about happenings throughout the league this season. We'll start first on the women's side...
Q: WHAT TEAM IS MOST LIKELY TO WIN THIS YEAR'S REGULAR-SEASON TITLE?
A: Hmmmmmm .... maybe Marist?
Of course, Marist. Nine straight regular-season crowns and counting. Like death and taxes, this has become one of life's certainties. There's more than enough returning, along with the addition of Vanderbilt transfer 6-foot-3 inside force Tori Jarosz, to ensure that the streak continues.
Q: WHAT TEAM IS MOST LIKELY TO CHALLENGE?
A: Take your pick. Any of the next six teams in your Hoopscribe's recent predictions, are as likely to finish second or seventh this season. But, if we have to pick one ... we'll go with Niagara, which took Marist to double overtime in a regular-season game and into single overtime in the MAAC tournament's semifinal round last season. With just about every key player returning, Niagara looks like the league's second-best team right now.
A: WHAT TEAM IS MOST LIKELY TO SURPRISE?
Q: Easy one here: Rider. The Broncs had the best non-conference record (albeit, the schedule wasn't overly challenging) of any conference team a year ago and, then, some injuries and a key academic suspension hindered the team in league play.Just about everyone is back, plus Rider adds two other very good players in Shereen Lightbourne, a small forward who missed 2011-12 with a preseason knee injury; and redshirt freshman point guard Manon Pellet. It wouldn't surprise us at all if Rider, with a long history of sub-.500 records, finishes in the top three of this year's standings.
Q: WHAT PLAYERS WILL BE THIS YEAR'S FIRST-TEAM ALL STARS?
A: Siena's senior center Lily Grinci, Loyola's senior guard Katie Sheahin, Iona's sophomore guard Damika Martinez, Niagara's junior point guard Kayla Stroman, and Rider's junior swingperson MyNeshia McKenzie.
Q: WHO WILL BE THIS SEASON'S BREAKOUT PLAYER?
A: We like Christelle Akon-Akech, the 5-foot-10 junior guard/forward from Fairfield whose quickness and athleticism allows her to go past defenders almost at will. Yet her game, this past season, had developed beyond just athletic skill. With some graduation losses, the Stags will have a need for her to produce, and she did whenever she got the chance last year.
Q: WHO IS THE MAAC'S BEST REBOUNDER?
A: Hard to look beyond Rider's MyNeshia McKenzie, a 5-11 junior who led the conference in rebounding this past season.
Q: WHO IS THE MAAC'S BEST 3-POINT SHOOTER?
A: Again, statistics tell the story. Sophomore Meghan McGuinness of Niagara hit 53-of-115 last season, a 46.1 percentage. Had she attempted enough shots to qualify for the national leaders her percentage would have been good enough to lead all Division I players.
Q: WHO IS THE MAAC's BEST SCORER?
A: Another easy answer: Iona's dynamic sophomore guard Damika Martinez, whose 16.1 point per game average last season made her the first freshman ever to lead the conference in scoring.
Q: WHO IS THE MAAC'S TOP NEWCOMER?
A: We'll go with Marist's Tori Jarosz, the 6-foot-3 inside player who is a transfer from Vanderbilt where she only played 15 minutes as a freshman in the 2010-11 season, but had eight rebounds over that short time. She should immediately be one of the top two or three inside players in the league and gives the Red Foxes an in-the-paint dimension they didn't have this past season.
Q: WHO WILL BE THE MAAC'S TOP FRESHMAN?
A: Almost impossible to predict. Not many would have predicted Iona's Martinez to have as good a year as she did this past season. Freshmen need not only talent, but an opportunity to play. And, admittedly, your Hoopscribe hasn't seen the majority of incoming freshmen play during their high school/AAU years. We'll go with two here: guard Emily Weber of Canisius, a 5-10 long-range shooter who joins a program that places a premium on outside shooting;, and Manon Pellet, a redshirt freshman point guard for Rider, which has an opening to fill there.
Q: WHO IS THE MAAC'S MOST-OVERLOOKED PLAYER?
A: Kristine Best of Marist doesn't score a lot of points, but she is a standout floor leader at the point guard position. Probably forgotten by many after only playing six games last season before recurring hip problems forced her to redshirt to return as a fifth-year senior for the coming season. She doesn't score a lot (3.2 ppg. last season), but had a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio when she was on the court.
Q: WHO WILL BE THE MAAC'S PLAYER OF THE YEAR?
A: Barring a total surprise, it will be a three-player race: Siena's senior center Lily Grenci, Loyola's senior guard Katie Sheahin and Iona's sophomore guard Damika Martinez. We'll knock Martinez out of contention right away. League coaches, who do the voting, always favor upperclassmen when voting for awards. So, unless Martinez does something phenomenal, it will likely come down to Grenci and Sheahin. Our choice will be Sheahin, one of the league's most-versatile players who will probably need to be more productive than Grenci for her respective team to have success.