MAAC Power Rankings – Conference Restart Edition

Whenever anyone asks me about the top teams in the MAAC, I tell them the most important seeds this season are the top five. Having watched plenty of teams on my iPad, on TV and in person it is time to reset the power rankings for the MAAC heading into 18 more games of regular season play.

The importance of the top five seeds this season is that those teams will start tournament play on Saturday in Springfield. Teams 6 through 11 will begin against each other on Thursday night and the last time a team made a four-day run was in 2006 when Keydren Clark led St. Peter’s to the championship game in Albany.

For the all important five I picked: Manhattan, Iona, Canisius, Quinnipiac and Rider – after that I feel the difference between team six and team 11 could be as small a margin as one game in the standings this season. In Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, his projected standings separate the 6th best team and the 11th best team by two games. That is a realistic option for this season.

MAAC Power Rankings

1. Manhattan (7-2 non-conference record, 2-0 in MAAC, best win 86-68 at South Carolina, worst loss 79-75 vs Fordham): All of the pieces are starting to come together for Steve Masiello and his team is all but assured of a postseason berth as long as they meet expectations in MAAC play. The type of berth will be dependent if they maintain the level of their play in non-conference into conference season. While Rhamel Brown has been in more foul trouble to start the year, he is still an impact defender. George Beamon is well on his way to clinching a spot on the first-team All-MAAC. This is Manhattan’s year to dominate the MAAC, KenPom has their chances of going undefeated in conference play at 0.4%. Their first test in conference play comes with a trip to play Quinnipiac on January 9, who might prove to be a tough matchup for the Jaspers.

2. Iona (3-6 non-conference record, 2-0 in MAAC, best win 89-73 vs George Mason, worst loss 80-72 at Nevada): For a team that is still trying to find itself, the Gaels will be a MAAC contender because of their unmatched ability to put the ball in the basket. Senior Sean Armand has taken the next step to be a shooter and shown his ability to drive the ball to the basket. Sophomore A.J. English has been a revelation, picking up where he left off after breaking his wrist in the middle of last season, and looking like an elite scorer. Iona needs David Laury to be the consistent beast he was in Springfield at last year’s tournament and carry it over into the conference season, but he has struggled during the Gaels’ four-game losing streak. Once Laury gets going and this team can rely less on threes – they are currently shooting 44% of their shots from deep – the Gaels will be on the way towards competing for a championship.

3. Canisius (6-5 non-conference record, 2-0 in MAAC, best win 86-85 vs Elon [N], worst loss 67-51 at St Francis Brooklyn): Preseason MAAC player of the year Billy Baron has not disappointed so far this season and the offensive parts around him are putting up numbers at the same rate as last year’s team. The Golden Griffins had a chance to notch a big win for the league at Notre Dame, but couldn’t tilt the end of the game to their advantage. What was impressive was that the Griffs were able to get stops in the final two possessions of regulation, an ability that plagued them last season. Graduate transfer Chris Perez has had an impact as a lock down defender and a complement to Baron’s scoring prowess. Improved defense and the maturation of freshmen Zach Lewis and Phil Valenti will make this team tough to beat in March.

4. Quinnipiac (5-4 non-conference record, 1-1 in MAAC, best win 80-67 at Vermont, worst loss 69-58 at Lehigh): Their combination of Ousmane Drame and Ike Azotam will be tough for MAAC teams to contain, but the offense has been too inconsistent to take a league title over 20 conference games. The Bobcats would like to make their money pushing the ball in transition and getting teams to play quickly, the only issue is the top teams in the league would love to play that way.

Ousmane Drame powered Quinnipiac to their first MAAC victory (Photo Credit - Matt Eisenberg)
Junior Ousmane Drame (left) could prove to be a handful for MAAC opponents in 2014. (Photo Credit: Matt Eisenberg)

“They play very loose,” one opposing coach said. “If they don’t throw it into their bigs, they play a lot of one-on-one on the perimeter and in transition.” That loose play needs guards like Umar Shannon and Shaq Shannon as well as Kasim Chandler to find their rhythm. The best reason Quinnipiac can contend is their plethora of weapons that can rebound and score. Junior Zaid Hearst is arguably one of their best rebounders and scorers and will usually be worried about as a third big option opposite Azotam who plays like a small forward and Drame whose game is mostly back to the basket.

5. Rider (4-5 non-conference record, 2-0 in MAAC, best win 89-88 vs Penn, worst loss 92-78 at Lehigh): For a team that started down 18-2 at Lehigh to open the season, things have certainly been trending in the right direction for second year head coach Kevin Baggett. Freshman Jimmie Taylor III has been a lock at the point guard spot and Zedric Sadler has responded after missing preseason with a knee injury. Last season Baggett was expecting Daniel Stewart to show up as an all-MAAC caliber player, but was disappointed by his inconsistency. Now that he is playing his more natural position at the power forward spot, Stewart has emerged as one of the team’s best offensive weapons. The one concern for the Broncs has to be allowing over 1.20 points per possession in their final two non-conference games, this team will have to learn how to lock down on defense to make a deep run in conference play.

(Reminder: all teams that finish 6th or worse this season will have to play in MAAC tournament first round on Thursday)

6. Siena (4-7 non-conference record, 1-1 in MAAC, best win 72-70 vs St. Bonaventure, worst loss 74-62 vs Albany): Jimmy Patsos knew that his team was going to be tested early by what he called a “brutal” schedule. While their record doesn’t scream contender, this team has a chance to disrupt the conference and surprise as they build towards next season. The top reason this team will continue to grow will be from the confidence and development that Patsos gives to his entire freshman class. Marquis Wright and Lavon Long have seen regular time in the starting lineup while Maurice White has been a spark off the bench. The first-year Saints coach has been riding junior Evan Hymes, sophomore Brett Bisping and junior Imoh Silas hard and is starting to see the rewards come out from each. He knows that he will need all his pieces to contend for a better than .500 record in conference play, and they are starting to come together at the right time.

7. St Peter’s (4-5 non-conference record, 0-2 in MAAC, best win 83-80 OT at Seton Hall, worst loss 87-80 at LIU Brooklyn): Fordham transfer Marvin Dominique has been nothing short of sensational for the Peacocks while freshmen Trevis Wyche and Quadir Welton have been anchors at the starting point guard and center spots respectively. The three of them along with junior Desi Washington, who can put up points in bunches, are a big reason why the St. Peter’s offense has been leaps and bounds better than last season’s team.

Dominique_STP
Fordham transfer Marvin Dominique has proven to be one of the MAAC’s best players so far this season for John Dunne’s Peacocks. (photo courtesy: St. Peter’s athletics)

Wyche splits time at point guard with Fairfield transfer Jamel Fields, who has added some depth and toughness to the back court. One key on the offensive end will be if Tyler Gaskins can step up after missing the first three games with a knee injury. If he can get healthy and develop, the Peacocks will have plenty of offense. However, this team needs to learn to defend as well as John Dunne’s teams have in the past. This team is probably the most likely to grab multiple upsets over the top four teams in the league.

8. Monmouth (6-5 non-conference record, 0-2 in MAAC, best win 87-78 vs Fordham, worst loss 79-73 vs Penn):  It will be interesting to see how the Hawks do in MAAC play. They feature six freshmen who play regularly and no seniors. Towson transfer Deon Jones has been an impact player and he and junior Andrew Nicholas present a guard combination that is one of the best in the conference. Max DiLeo could make a run at sixth-man of the year, but he’s one of many bench options for King Rice. If the Hawks can get consistent play from their third and fourth options, they will be a tough team in conference play.

Marist head coach Jeff Bower talks to his team during a timeout.
Marist head coach Jeff Bower’s team has endured plenty of tests before they enter MAAC play.

9. Marist (3-7 non-conference record, 0-2 in MAAC, best win 69-51 vs Bucknell, worst loss 74-67 OT vs Morgan State in St. Thomas): First-year head coach Jeff Bower wanted to test the Red Foxes early and see how they stack up against high level competition. While an 0-9 start was not what he envisioned at the start of the year, the Red Foxes have started to figure out how to get on track as they head to league play. Khallid Hart and T.J. Curry have solidified the back court following Isaiah Morton’s departure and are beginning to complement each other well. Senior captain Adam Kemp has started to find his game on both ends and turned in his first double-double of the year before the holiday break. Junior Chavaughn Lewis has developed into a scorer, while not putting up strong efficiency numbers, but Hart’s ability opens up Lewis’ game in conference play. Senior Jay Bowie has been a rock for the Red Foxes and will need to show more on the scoring end for Marist to make a run. In order to take the next step in the MAAC, they will need junior Manny Thomas to become a reliable bench shooting option and be able to scratch some bench minutes through their big men to make a run in conference play.

10. Fairfield (3-7 non-conference record, 0-2 in MAAC, best win 73-64 at Bucknell, worst loss 59-52 at Loyola-Maryland): The Stags are one of the youngest teams in all of Division I and they tend to show it. The inexperience is one reason why this team endured an eight-game losing streak, the other has been inconsistency on the offensive end. Sophomore Marcus Gilbert is taking a step forward in a similar way to how Juan’ya Green made strides between year one and year two at Niagara. Other than the younger Gilbert, senior Mo Barrow has developed into a favorite for sixth-man of the year with his consistent play off the bench. Head coach Sydney Johnson said he likes having Barrow on the bench because he knows what he brings, however, the rest of the team still needs to find their roles. Sophomore captain Amadou Sidibe has been a disappointment and has come off the bench the last three games, while Malcolm Gilbert has had an impact but fouls too much to have an impact. Freshman K.J. Rose will have to get better at the point guard spot and Doug Chappell shows the potential to be a quality guard, but one has to emerge to become a contender.

11. Niagara (3-8 non-conference record, 1-1 in MAAC, best win 92-81 vs Buffalo, worst loss 85-66 at Penn) One thing we know for sure under Chris Casey is that the Purple Eagles will continue to score. Under the new rules, Niagara is very good at getting to the free throw line and they are able to score at will. Junior Antoine Mason is as good as advertised and may finish the season leading the nation in scoring. Tahjere McCall and Marvin Jordan are capable back court weapons aside from Mason. While there might be a weakness inside, the guard play will continue to be solid and Niagara should be able to pull off plenty of victories in conference play. Freshman Ramone Snowden is likely the candidate to solidify the Purple Eagles inside game.

Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and America East conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

One thought on “MAAC Power Rankings – Conference Restart Edition

  1. Love how Bucknell are best wins for two teams and Lehigh are worst, then Penn is both of the best wins AND one of the worst losses. Obvious disparity in some team’s OOC schedules.

    Like

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