Sunday, July 7, 2013

Early Summer Thoughs On Upcoming Men's Season

I can tell you that the MAAC preview for The Sporting News' College Basketball Annual is complete and submitted.

I can't reveal too many details (TSN requires exclusive "preview rights" until its publication hits the newsstands), but I'll pass along a few preseason thoughts for men's teams ... and, we'll do the same for women in short order.

First, we hope you rush out to grab The Sporting News' college hoops magazine when it comes out (usually in mid-October). I know the deadline is early, and there might still be a player, or two, joining programs before the summer is out. But, it will contain the best-researched, most informative data available right now.

Some thoughts ...


It seems pretty clear that, with 2011-12's leading conference scorer in 6-foot-4 George Beamon returning, getting a real boost in the post from 6-10 Ashton Pankey, a Maryland transfer, and the return of just about every other player of significance, Manhattan will be the preseason choice to win this year's regular-season title just about everywhere.

But it won't be a runaway by any stretch. There are some who think Iona, despite the loss of Momo Jones, the nation's third-leading scorer last season, could be even better. I don't know about that, but everyone of significance other than Momo returns. Plus, sophomore A.J. English, who was having a standout freshman season before a mid-season injury, is also expected to be 100 percent. Forward David Laury, who didn't  become eligible until the second semester last year, is available right from the start this season. There's also an incoming JUCO in 6-7 Isaiah Williams, a slender wing who both scores and rebounds, who will help. Also on the roster is 6-5 guard Kelvin Amayo, who transferred in from Marshall after playing just three games there Amayo is expected to be ineligible this season, but the Gaels have a waiver application for his immediate eligibility, based on, he claims, being misled by the offer of a Marshall scholarship that wasn't available. Another transfer, 6-5 wing Mike Poole, transferred from Rutgers in the aftermath of the firing of coach Mike Rice. Poole is also applying for immediate eligibility. If both he and Amayo get favorable rulings from the NCAA and can play immediately, Iona becomes an even stronger contender.

And, although Canisius lost two standout guards in Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa, the entire front court returns as does senior do-everything guard Billy Baron. And, there's a quality replacement in the backcourt with incoming transfer Chris Perez, who averaged 15.1 points per game at Stetson last season, has graduated and has a year's eligibility which he can use without sitting out a season.


The bottom three picks are Siena, Niagara and Monmouth, but all will be competitive.

Siena has four solid recruits, all of which should get into the playing group plus gets the benefits of new head coach Jim Patsos, an enthusiastic program builder who won't need any time to get acquainted with the league.

Niagara, despite the loss of 15-year head coach Joe Mihalich and five key players since his departure, still has a nice core group of perimeter players coming back.

And Monmouth has a couple of standouts, although it unexpectedly lost two players who still had eligibility remaining.


That would be, in no particular order, Marist, Saint Peter's, Fairfield, Rider, and Quinnipiac.

And, you try to pick an order. They are tightly bunched and any of those five certainly has enough talent to finish in the top five, a standings' position required to avoid a play-in round game in the conference's post-season tournament.


It would be easy just to say that Manhattan's Beamon will pick up where he left off in 2011-12 and reclaim his conference scoring crown. But, Manhattan has considerably more talent now than it did two years ago and Beamon probably won't need to score as much.

The player that can, and will, score plenty is Niagara's Antoine Mason, a 6-foot-3 junior guard. Considering the off-season defections within that program, Mason will be counted on to pick up even more of the scoring load this season and is the choice here not only to led the MAAC in scoring, but to be among the top five scorers nationally.


Iona's David Laury, a 6-8 power forward, averaged 10.3 rebounds per game last season, second-most among MAAC players, most among returnees and could end up leading the league in rebounding this coming season.

But, the best inch-for-inch rebounder the MAAC has seen in several years is 6-foot-6 senior forward Chris Manhertz of Canisius, who averaged 8.7 rebounds per game last season. Manhertz is the proverbial "dirt dog," who does all the often unnoticed little things on the court. There aren't many in any league who play harder, and he rebounds in a big way. If he were three inches taller he'd probably lead the nation in rebounding.


Momo Jones got it last year, although this scribe's choice was Juan'ya Green of Niagara. Jones has graduated, while Green moved on to Hofstra to continue to play for Mihalich. That leaves Billy Baron of Canisius, who was no worst than the league's third-best player, it says here, a year ago.

The competition is gone, and Baron remains one of the most-versatile, quality backcourt performers anywhere. He was No. 3 in the league in scoring last year and lead the conference in assists. Those stats certainly could rise a little this year, but just a duplication of what he did in 2012-13 should be enough for him to be the upcoming season's top MAAC player.


Not much doubt about this one: Iona's Sean Armand, who led the conference with 112 three pointers last season, shooting 40.9 percent from bonus territory.


We can't limit ourselves to just one here, so we'll go with three.

Mike Alvarado, the Manhattan point guard, was the choice here a year ago and he remains undervalued by most observers, simply because he's not a big scorer. Yet, he runs an offense, plays strong defense and scores enough to be a factor.

The other two: Rider's 6-7 forward Daniel Stewart, who averaged 10.6 points and 7.2 rebounds last year (4th among MAAC players) and was the best conference player not picked as a post-season all-star; and, 6-5 senior forward Jay Bowie from Marist. Bowie averaged 9.4 point (52.7 percent from the field) and 4.9 rebounds per game, but only played 18 games after recovering from an early season injury. It's no surprise that Marist, which finished 10-21 overall, won five of its last eight games as Bowie returned to playing shape.


Khalil Hart of Marist. The 6-2 guard looked like a strong candidate to start a year ago before a preseason knee injury kept him out for the season. If he's healthy, he'll be a factor. And, with the graduation loss of starting guard Devin Price, Marist has a need for Hart to contribute.


Lots of candidates from the transfer ranks, including Manhattan's Ashton Pankey, Isaiah Williams at Iona, Chris Perez at Canisius, Sean Grennan at Fairfield, Rayvon Harris at Niagara and Marvin Dominique at Saint Peter's., among others.

But, we'll go with a player who has been with his team for the last two years. The caveat is that the team is new to the MAAC so the player is actually a conference newcomer.

That would be Andrew Nicholas, a 6-foot-6 junior swingman from league addition Monmouth. Nicholas was averaging 13.9 points per game last year through 18 games before a heel injury cost him the rest of the season.

If Nicholas, as expected, is fully healthy he will be one of the MAAC's better players this coming season.


A real tough choice. Success for the predicted top three won't be a surprise. That leaves everyone else and we'll go with a real longshot.

Our choice is Niagara, despite the loss of Mihalich, arguably the league's best coach in recent years, and the early defection of four players who were candidates to be in the starting lineup. But, what's still in place isn't a totally bare cupboard.

Antoine Mason should be among the national scoring leaders this coming season and he can carry the Purple Eagles to a number of victories. The rest of the backcourt is strong, too, with senior Marvin Jordan and sophomore point guard Tahjere McCall, who looks like he's going to become a quality performer. And, then, there's eligible transfer 6-5 swingman Rayvon Harris from Rhode Island, who your Hoopscribe saw practice last season, and was impressed by both his ability to score and rebound. Niagara will be small, but if 6-7 junior Joe Thomas can step up and new head coach Chris Casey can find just one more solid inside player, Niagara will exceed most expectations.

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