Wednesday, July 25, 2012

First Look: Predicted Order for Coming Season

Your local newsstands will have a significant absence soon when the college basketball preview annuals come off the presses.

The Sporting News' publication, for which your Hoopscribe produced the MAAC preview for the last dozen, or so, years will no longer be published.

Bad news for some college basketball fans, but good news for MAAC followers of this blog. The Sporting News required its correspondents to withhold preseason information that might appear in their magazine. It meant that your blogger could only provide scant preview material until after the annual preview magazine was on sale for several weeks.

But, since that's no longer the case, we can speculate at will about the upcoming season. And, we'll start right now with an very early men's preview ... mostly predictions with some comments on my expected order of finished ... followed by the same treatment for women's teams.

And, later, as the season approaches ... probably early October ... we'll do large individual previews on every program.

So, let's begin with the men's early prediction, subject to change as the season approaches. But, here's one view as of right now.

Just a word before we get started ... there doesn't appear to be a clear-cut favorite like Iona last season, Fairfield in 2010-11 or Siena in the three seasons before that. The coming season's regular-season title should be as tightly contested as any at least in the last six or seven years.

The top eight programs all have legitimate hopes to finish in the top six and avoid the post-season tournament's play-in round, with at least the top six teams in the predictions below harboring dreams of contending for the regular-season crown. And, even this scribe's picks for the bottom two, Rider and Saint Peter's, are more than capable of better than that.

1. LOYOLA (13-5, 2nd place in regular season last year): Gone are role-players 6-foot-10 center Shane Walker to graduation and 6-foot-4 reserve guard Justin Drummond via transfer to Toledo. The Greyhounds have everyone else back, including 6-foot-7 Player of the Year candidate forward Erik Etherly and more-than-adequate replacement for Walker with 6-8, 250-pound bruiser Jordan Latham, a transfer from Xavier who got experience as a back-up last year. Plus, there's a strong recruiting class coming in.

2. MANHATTAN (12-6, tied for third last season): The only significant loss is 6-1 guard Kidani Brutus, last season's fourth-leading scorer. Everyone else is back from a deep, athletic roster that used an up-tempo attack to turn around a program that struggled for several years previously. Senior swingman George Beamon led the conference in scoring last year, and probably will again this year. Sophomore Emmy Andjuar was one of the top freshmen in the conference last year, junior Rhamel Brown is a shot-blocking force inside and junior guard Mike Alvarado, who late-season absence was sorely felt last year, is back and is one of the conference's best point guards.

3. SIENA (8-10, tied for sixth last season): The league's top over-achiever last year, the Saints lose guard Kyle Downey, its second-leading scorer, to graduation and only role players otherwise. Back are Player of the Year candidate 6-7 senior forward O.D. Anosike, the nation's leading rebounder in 2011-12, and Rakeem Brookins, a 5-10 sophomore who averaged 9.0 ppg. two years ago but missed all of last season with back issues. He'll join last season's frosh revelation Evan Hymes in the backcourt, and Anosike will get much help inside from 6-8 forwards Imoh Silas and Lionel Gomis, both originally from Africa who had to sit out last season with eligibility issues; and 6-9 junior Davis Martens, who missed last season after hip surgery.

4. NIAGARA (8-10, tied for sixth last season): This prediction could change based on the health of 6-foot-8 inside bruiser Devon White, who is immediately eligible after a transfer from La Salle. White is the missing inside piece to a team of talented perimeter players. He had Achilles tendon surgery this spring, but reports indicate he could be ready relatively early this season. Otherwise, no significant losses and one of the best perimeter groups (sophs Juan'ya Green, Antoine Mason, Ameen Tanksley and junior Marvin Jordan), as well as developing forward 6-7 soph Joe Thomas should all be better.

5. IONA (15-3, first last season): Player of the Year Scott Machado and first-team all-star forward Mike Glover, two of the program's all-timers, are gone. But, the Gaels not only have some very talented players returning in long-range sniper Sean Armand and Momo Jones, but have added what might be an unprecedented nine new players. The best of the newcomers appear to be DeSean Anderson, a 6-8 junior power forward who came in from Los Angeles Trade Technical Junior College, Curtis Dennis, a 6-5 senior wing who transferred in from Toledo (12.7 ppg. last season) and is immediately eligible; DeShawn Gomez, a 6-2 point guard from Antelope Valley Junior College, and David Laury, a multi-skilled 6-8 power forward who previously played at Lamar State College and becomes eligible after the first semester. If chemistry develops, so too should Iona's chances to do better than this.

6. CANISIUS (1-17, 10th last season): The Golden Griffins are poised to make one of the biggest positive turnarounds on the Division I level this season as three transfers who were in the program become eligible for this season. They are 6-10, 280-pound senior center Freddy Asprilla (4.9 points, 4.9 rebounds as a junior at Kansas State), 6-10 junior Jordan Heath (14.7, 7.2 at NAIA Robert Weslyan) and 6-3 senior guard Isaac Sosa (8.0 ppg. as a junior at Central Florida). They might be joined this season by new coach Jim Baron's son, junior guard Billy Baron (13 ppg., 4.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists last season at Rhode Island), who has applied for a waiver to play immediately. Back are 6-1 senior guard Harold Washington (17.0 ppg. last season) and solid inside player 6-6 junior Chris Manhertz.

7. FAIRFIELD (12-6, tied for third last year): Hard to pick the Stags this low, particularly with as talented a perimeter trio as senior guards Derek Needham, Colin Nickerson and Desmond Wade and junior 6-5 forward Maurice Barrow. But, Fairfield doesn't have a single returning player with any college game experience taller than 6-5. Four freshman ranging from 6-6 to 6-10 are joining the program, along with 7-footer Vincent Van Nes, who red-shirted last season. The likelihood is that the team will find some inside help from its young players and remain competitive.

8. MARIST (7-11, 8th last season): OK, my very strong guess is that Marist will find a way to finish higher than this. The team is still young (its best player, Chavaughn Lewis, is a sophomore as is its point guard, Isaiah Morton), and there isn't a lot of inside help for 6-10 junior Adam Kemp. And, Kemp suffered an off-season foot injury and there's a question about whether he'll be full strength early. Still, despite all the youth the Red Foxes finished 7-3 down the stretch last year. There's certainly enough here to finish in the top five or six, but the feeling is that Marist's best will come a year from now.

9. RIDER (10-8, 5th last season): The loss of coach Tommy Dempsey to Binghamton won't help, nor will  the loss of three of last season's top four scorers. Much of the scoring load, though, will be shouldered by exciting newcomer, 6-3 sophomore transfer guard Nurideen Lindsey, a transfer from St. John's, who averaged 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game in the first semester last season. The Broncs also have standout junior forward Daniel Stewart and senior point guard Jonathon Thompson back. That the Broncs would be picked this low is indicative of how much talent and balance exists in the league for the coming season. Rider could finish in the top five as easily as this low.

10. SAINT PETER'S (4-14, 9th last season): Two years after a senior-laden group went to the NCAA tournament, the Peacocks are finding out how difficult it is to lose that many talented players at once. Still, this won't be the typical bottom-dweller, and Saint Peter's could easily finish higher than this with senior center rugged Darius Conley anchoring the middle and getting help from some talented transfers, including sophomore guard Desi Washington, whose 13.1 ppg. average led Delaware State two years ago, and 6-6 forward Pat Jackson, who previously played at Kansas State.

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