By Jon Rothstein
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FIVE QUESTIONS ENTERING THE MAAC
1. HOW WILL GEORGE BEAMON’S RETURN AFFECT MANHATTAN’S CHEMISTRY?
Probably not much at all. The Jaspers got into a groove defensively at the end of last season and went on a remarkable run, winning eight of their last 11 games before losing in the MAAC Tournament finals to Iona. The one thing Manhattan lacked during that time was a scorer that could generate his own offense in a half court setting, and that’s what Beamon — last season’s MAAC Preseason Player of the Year — should bring. The lanky shooting guard missed virtually all of last season with an ankle injury, but should be back at full strength at the start of the season. Beamon joins a foundation of seniors Mike Alvarado and Rhamel Brown along with junior Emmy Andujar and Maryland transfer Ashton Pankey that’s as good as any mid-major team in the country. The question is, how will everyone mesh? It will be interesting to see how much Jaspers coach Steve Masiello opts to use multiple bigs on the floor at the same time. Manhattan has had tremendous success the past two years by playing a frenetic pace defensively and that may be harder to achieve with Andujar, Brown, and Pankey playing major minutes together. Nevertheless, the Jaspers still have several players on their roster that could play and produce at the BCS level as well as quality role guys such as Shane Richards, Rashawn Stores, and C.J. Jones. The time for Manhattan is now. They’re the clear favorite in the MAAC. And it’s not even close.
2. CAN IONA REACH THE NCAA TOURNAMENT FOR THE THIRD CONSECUTIVE SEASON?
Without question. The Gaels won’t have an alpha dog like they did in past years but this team could still very well lead the nation in scoring. There is no Scott Machado, Momo Jones, or Mike Glover on the Iona roster, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t a bevy of talent in New Rochelle. Skilled forward David Laury returns from last year’s squad that reached the NCAA Tournament along with versatile forward Tre Bowman, Tavon Sledge, and sharp shooting senior Sean Armand. Armand has made 191 three-pointers in the past two seasons and is one of the better outside threats the country. He’ll be joined on the perimeter by JUCO transfer Isaiah Williams and Rutgers transfer Mike Poole, who already has been granted a waiver by the NCAA to play immediately this season. Poole’s intangibles and leadership should have an immediate impact and Williams’ range and size at 6-7 make him a perfect fit for Tim Cluess’ high-octane system. Don’t be surprised if the Gaels have five or six players average in double figures. This team has that type of potential balance.
3. WILL SIENA SURVIVE ITS NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE?
If they do, they’ll still be beyond bruised and battered. Jimmy Patsos’ first-year in Albany isn’t going to get started easily. Before MAAC play begins, the Saints will travel to Purdue, La Salle, Cornell, and America East favorite Vermont while also taking part in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. Siena opens the tournament with Memphis and then will play the winner/loser of Saint Joseph’s and LSU. The Saints will also host Hofstra and Fordham at the end of December before diving into league play at the start of 2013. For a team that is coming off three straight losing seasons and will also likely start two freshmen, that’s a tough way to get started.
4. HOW WILL QUINNIPIAC AND MONMOUTH ADJUST TO THE MAAC?
Facilities wise, both will be fine. Both schools have better resources already than current schools in the MAAC and should be able to attract quality recruits and transfers on a regular basis. From a basketball perspective, the Bobcats should be more ready to compete with the upper echelon teams in the MAAC during the upcoming season. Tom Moore has two big men who could play and produce at the Atlantic 10 level in Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame. The 6-9 Drame had 20 rebounds in a game last year against Mount St. Mary’s and Azotam added 21 points and 10 boards in an early season win against Iona. Those two along with guard Zaid Hearst give Quinnipiac a strong base to make the jump from the NEC to the MAAC. Moore is also high Umar Shannon, a fifth-year transfer from St. Francis (PA) that can play immediately. The 5-11 Shannon has averaged in double-figures during every year of his college career and should add quality depth to the Bobcats’ back court along with freshman Kasim Chandler.
5. WHO IS THE SLEEPER?
Marist. The Red Foxes return two potential all-league players in versatile wing Chavaughn Lewis and 6-10 big man Adam Kemp as well as several key role players such as 6-5 wing Jay Bowie. First-year coach Jeff Bower has a core that should be able to finish in the top half of the conference, especially if the Red Foxes get better point guard play. Veteran Isaiah Morton is the team’s incumbent floor general, but red shirt freshman Khallid Hart should add depth at the position. Competing for an NCAA bid may be a bit much to ask in Bower’s first season, but the pieces are in place for Marist to finally turn the corner in the MAAC standings.
MAAC PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
THE SKINNY: A healthy George Beamon makes the Jaspers one of the more formidable mid-major teams in college basketball.
THE SKINNY: Tim Cluess and the Gaels could lead the nation in scoring — again.
THE SKINNY: Billy Baron gives the Golden Griffins a chance to win each time they take the floor.
THE SKINNY: Kevin Baggett has two All-MAAC level players in Anthony Myles and Danny Stewart.
THE SKINNY: Jeff Bower inherits a roster that’s ready to win immediately.
THE SKINNY: St. Francis (PA) transfer Umar Shannon gives the Bobcats some pop in the back court.
THE SKINNY: The Stags are loaded up front, but who plays point guard?
8. ST. PETER’S
THE SKINNY: Fordham transfer Marvin Dominique will be one of the better players in the MAAC.
THE SKINNY: Jimmy Patsos faces a rebuilding year in Albany.
THE SKINNY: Don’t be shocked if Antoine Mason averages more than 20 PPG.
THE SKINNY: King Rice’s squad is bumping up a weight class after spending several years in the NEC.
MAAC PRESEASON FIRST-TEAM
Billy Baron, Canisius
Sean Armand, Iona
Antoine Mason, Niagara
David Laury, Iona
Rhamel Brown, Manhattan
MAAC PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Billy Baron, Canisius
FIVE IMPACT TRANSFERS
Isaiah Williams, Iona (JUCO)
Ashton Pankey, Manhattan (Maryland)
Marvin Dominique, St. Peter’s (Fordham)
Umar Shannon, Quinnipiac (St. Francis PA)
Chris Perez, Canisius (Stetson)
FIVE IMPACT FRESHMEN
Trevis Wyche, St. Peter’s
Joshua James, Monmouth
Kasim Chandler, Quinnpiac
Marquis Wright, Siena
Rich Williams, Manhattan
FIVE UNDER-THE-RADAR FRESHMEN
Steve Smith, Fairfield
Lavon Long, Siena
Maurice White, Siena
Daniel Robinson, Iona
Wesley Myers, Niagara
FIVE BREAKOUT PLAYERS
A.J. English, Iona
Mike Alvarado, Manhattan
Zedric Sadler, Rider
Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield
Josiah Heath, Canisius