MAAC contenders counting on transfers to make major impact

Now that Lamont “Momo” Jones has been granted a hardship waiver and is eligible to play immediately at Iona after transferring from Arizona, the Gaels join a group of three MAAC teams that are going to be relying on majors conference transfers next season.

How Momo Jones, Rakim Sanders (Boston College to Fairfield) and Jeff Jones (Virginia to Rider) transfer their skills to a different level of basketball is going to go a long way towards determining which team earns an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

When he was at Virginia, Jeff Jones was fantastically efficient offensively (with a 116.8 offensive rating his junior season). But his usage was much lower than the other two. Jones was more a cog in a machine with the Cavaliers. His turnover rate was microscopic and he almost never fouled anyone, but he couldn’t convince Tony Bennett to give him significant playing time.

So it was off to Rider. Now Jones is going to get the opportunity to be a focal point of the offense and to play a lot. The Broncs need someone who can take over Justin Robinson’s role in the rotation and Jones seems ideally suited for it. If he can maintain his offensive numbers and show the consistent outside shot he did at UVA (40-92, 43.5% in 2009-10) he should be a huge asset for Tommy Dempsey’s club.

Lamont Jones and Sanders, on the other hand, both used a high number of possessions, even when they were playing for major conference teams. Last season Momo did enough right to finish with a decent offensive rating (100.2), even while finishing with just a 1.3 assist-turnover ratio. Momo’s free throw and three-point shooting improved dramatically from his freshman to sophomore seasons. Presumably in the MAAC he should be able to attack the basket more and his two-point percentage, which dipped 45.3% last season, could go back up and make him an even more dangerous offensive threat.

The key though is how he fits into the Gaels’ rotation. Iona’s backcourt was already pretty stacked before Jones showed up. Now Tim Cluess has one more trick that he can pull out of the bag, but it’ll be a delicate balance to find minutes for all of the talented players he can use to attack opponents. That’s a great problem to have though, and this team is designed to win now.

Finally, for Fairfield, Sanders is actually one of two transfers that will make a big impact for the Stags. Houston transfer Desmond Wade will also play a prominent role in Sydney Johnson’s rotation. Sanders though can provide interior scoring, even at 6’5. In fact, Johnson has to convince Sanders to become the player that during his sophomore season in 2008-09 was a key cog in an Eagles team that went 22-12 and played in the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 12.9 PPG that season, while shooting 53.8% on two-point attempts.

Johnson needs someone who can come in and replace Yorel Hawkins’ 10.1 PPG from last season. Sanders can definitely do it. He should give the Stags a versatile offensive threat, who, if he plays up to his potential, will just make the Fairfield offense much more dangerous than the group that finished fifth in the conference in per possession offensive efficiency (0.992 PPP) last season.

All three teams are trusting these newcomers to make a major conference impact. The one that does it the best should help determine which team is heading to the NCAA Tournament in March.

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