A.J. English, Iona Sit Atop The MAAC Preseason Rankings

For the second straight season Iona reigned supreme atop the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason poll, picking up 10 of a 11 possible votes for the top spot.

Cluess2_E
Iona head coach Tim Cluess has seen his team be picked the MAAC favorite three times as he enters his sixth season.
Rank Team Points
1 Iona (10) 119
2 Monmouth 105
T-3 Manhattan (1) 91
T-3 Rider 91
5 Siena 84
6 Canisius 67
7 Quinnipiac 49
8 Fairfield 42
9 Saint Peter’s 37
10 Marist 23
11 Niagara 18

The last two times the Gaels have been picked for the league’s top spot under head coach Tim Cluess, they have walked away with the MAAC regular season title. However, in each of those seasons they failed to win the MAAC tournament.

Manhattan has won the MAAC tournament in each of the last two seasons over the Gaels and earned the only other first place vote in the poll. They tied for third with Rider in the coaches poll. The Jaspers welcome a new team, but also return RaShawn Stores for a fifth season of eligibility and senior Shane Richards, as they hope to three-peat as tournament champions.

“I’m very happy with the growth of this team,” Steve Masiello said. “They have a lot of work they need to do and I want them to understand that they are not the last two year’s teams, but that at the end of the day the championship is still in Riverdale.”

Monmouth head coach King Rice said after their loss to Iona in the semifinals that, “we’re coming” for the top teams in the league will have a chance to prove it this season. The coaches seem to agree with the coach who is entering his fifth season and best finish in the MAAC last season, picking them second.

“I think Iona showed us in the [MAAC tournament], that we have a long way to go to get to where they are,” Rice said. “It’s very clear to me and that’s why we worked so hard this summer because we want to be one of the better teams.”

Since their MAAC semifinal loss to the Gaels, the Hawks embarked on a foreign trip to China over the spring, where they won three of their four games. On the trip Rice and his staff were able to see Oklahoma transfer Je’Lon Hornbeak on the floor for the first time in game action. They are also expected to have Micah Seaborn after he had to sit out his first season.

Rider and Manhattan tied in points for third place, the last time two teams tied in the preseason poll was prior to the 2009-10 season. Loyola (MD) and Saint Peter’s tied for fifth place in 2009 with 45 points each. That season, the Peacocks finished fourth and the Greyhounds finished eighth.

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Iona senior A.J. English earned the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year honors, unanimously chosen by the league’s coaches.
Player School Class
Marcus Gilbert Fairfield Sr
Schadrac Casimir Iona Soph
A.J. English* Iona Sr
Justin Robinson Monmouth Jr
Teddy Okereafor Rider Sr

While 11 coaches could not agree on a first place team, it was easy for them to agree on the league’s best player. Iona senior A.J. English earned a unanimous vote for the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year, repeating the feat David Laury accomplished last year.

“I think A.J. English is head and shoulders above anybody in our league,” one head coach said. “A.J. English to me is a pro, an NBA player, in my opinion.”

There has been plenty of preseason hype for the 6’5″ senior, who ranked second in the conference with 20.1 ppg last season. He was recently named the 52nd best player in the country according CBS Sports and has garnered plenty of interest from pro scouts.

English tops the team but he is joined by two fellow seniors, Fairfield’s Marcus Gilbert and Rider’s Teddy Okereafor. Gilbert ranked fifth in the league in scoring last season at 16.4 ppg and head coach Sydney Johnson knows he will be one of the keys for the Stags this coming year.

“Nobody had a better summer than Marcus Gilbert,” Johnson said of the 6’6″ senior who spent two summer sessions at Fairfield. “He was outstanding; start to finish.”

Schadrac Casimir, who won MAAC Rookie of the Year last season, becomes the first sophomore since Fairfield’s Derek Needham in 2010 to make the first team.

wright_siena_layup
Siena junior Marquis Wright earned a spot on the All-MAAC second team.
Player School Class
Isaiah Williams Iona Sr
Shane Richards Manhattan Sr
Khallid Hart Marist Jr
Deon Jones Monmouth Sr
Marquis Wright Siena Jr

The second team All-MAAC is filled with noted upperclassmen including three seniors from the top three contenders. Isaiah Williams missed 12 games last season, but when he did play he showed the ability to score better than almost any of the first team All-MAAC players.

Shane Richards made 38% of his three-point attempts last season and figures to be the Jaspers’ main three-point threat. Rice said that senior Deon Jones has slimmed down over the summer and hopes to get more out of the senior who averaged 12.8 ppg in his second season with the Hawks.

Marist’s Khallid Hart and Siena’s Marquis Wright round out the team, both were All-Rookie teamers as freshmen in 2014, with Hart taking the top rookie award that season.

Last season, Hart suffered a foot injury in November, missed a lengthy amount of time before returning in the middle of January, but averaged 14.7 ppg. Now removed from the injury, the Marist junior will be highlighted this year according to head coach Mike Maker.

“I think Khallid looks fantastic,” Maker said. “I think he is as healthy as he’s been since he won the MAAC Rookie of the Year award.”

Player School Class
Phil Valenti Canisius Jr
RaShawn Stores Manhattan Sr
Emile Blackman Niagara Jr
Jimmie Taylor Rider Jr
Brett Bisping Siena Jr

Rounding out the third team is a group of four juniors highlighted around Manhattan fifth year senior RaShawn Stores, who received a waiver in July to play one more season.

“Stores is a good player in our league and I know he’s that glue guy for Masiello,” one head coach said. “He will be another one of those guys that is an impact guy.”

Brett Bisping, who missed the majority of last season after suffering a right toe injury, is back for the Saints and earns a spot on the third team.

Phil Valenti is the returning leading scorer on a Golden Griffins team that won 18 games a season ago. The Canisius junior said he has worked on strengthening his ankle, which cost him time last season in the final month, but his goal is clear.

“Got to win the MAAC championship, that’s what we’re setting our goals at,” Valenti said. “That’s what’s motivating us each and every one of us.”

Meanwhile, Niagara junior Emile Blackman – who keeps a list of last season’s All-MAAC teams in his wallet – finds himself on the list for the first time. He ranked 11th in scoring (13.5 ppg), 10th in field goal percentage (45.9%) and seventh in three-point field goal percentage (38.3%) last season.

Quinipiac and Saint Peter’s are the only two schools to not have a representative on any of the three All-MAAC teams.

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

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