MAAC Men’s Preview: Can Marist Prove Everyone Wrong?

This year’s Basketball Week features staff writers Jonathan Kinane and Christian DeBlock, diving to into MAAC history to preview the season for every team on the men’s and women’s sides. Here’s Christian’s conference preview, in which he also discusses just how Marist will fare in their matchups against the 10 MAAC foes.

1: Siena

2019-20 Record: 20-10 (15-5 MAAC)

Coach: Carmen Maciariello (2nd year, 20-10 record)

The Saints come into this season as reigning regular season champions, and the most important thing is the fact they bring back two of their best players. Junior six-foot-4-inch guard Jalen Pickett and senior six-foot-seven-inch guard/forward Manny Camper were picked in the preseason All-MAAC First Team, and their leadership will be key for this team to have similar success this season. It is also important to mention that Pickett was a unanimous decision for 2020-2021 Men’s Preseason Player of the Year after averaging 15.1 points per game on a 45.8 percentage from the field last year.

The departures of forward Elijah Burns and guard Donald Carey certainly hurts the depth of the rotation, but head coach Carmen Maciariello has talented transfers coming in that can make an impact immediately. Graduate student and Belmont transfer, Nick Hopkins, will give Siena another offensive threat off the bench, as his 39 percentage from three last season will definitely give this team another weapon from the perimeter. Graduate student Harrison Curry and junior Dana Tate Jr. are two power forwards joining the program who could replicate similar prodicton lost from Burns as well. 

Two sophomores who may have a bigger role on this team this season are Gary Harris Jr. and Jordan King. Both guards played less than 20 minutes a night last season, but they combined for 10 points per game on 37.6 percent shooting from the field. If both of them can show improvement from last season, that will definitely make it easier for Pickett to show why he is the best player in the conference. 

Losing two of their starters will force other guys to step up and become main contributors this season. Siena has two of the five best players in the MAAC, and that will propel them to another season at the top of the conference. 

Conference Record Prediction: 15-5

Games Vs. Marist: March 5-6

2: Monmouth

2019-20 Record: 18-13 (12-8 MAAC)

Coach: King Rice (10th year, 149-146 record)

After finishing fourth in the MAAC last season, Monmouth will be looking to improve and be one of the legitimate contenders for the regular season title. Where this team finishes will come down to the play of guard Deion Hammond. The six-foot-four-inch senior was picked in the preseason All-MAAC First Team, and his leadership will be key for the success of the team. His 16.3 points per game on 41.3 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three last season was one of the better stattlines in the conference. If Hammond can replicate similar numbers this season, the team will have every chance to be near the top of standings. 

His responsibility will become even more paramount with the departures of two of their starters from a year ago. Six-foot-3-inch guard Ray Salnave transferred to DePaul University after becoming the second leading scorer with 14.5 points per game last season. Six-foot-eight-inch redshirt senior Mustapha Traoere left the team as one of Monmouth’s main rim protectors as well. Replacing two players who had significant roles will not be easy, but one transfer has an interesting connection that could really give this team a lift. 

Former Chattanooga player, now redshirt sophomore, Donovann Toatley is eligible to play after sitting out last season. The five-foot-nine-inch guard played with Hammond back in high school. If both players can quickly re-establish the chemistry they had back in the day, the team will have another important option offensively. 

While he was known for his infamous dunk in a blowout lost at Kansas, senior George Papas will be an x-factor that could really uplift this Monmouth team to another level. Throughout his college career, the six-foot-five-inch guard has been considered a scoring option off the bench. Head coach King Rice will likely have inserted the senior into the starting five, so it will be very interesting to see if he can improve his scoring from 8.5 points per game last year. A few different teams could finish second in MAAC, but I believe Monmouth will come out of the pack behind the spectacular play of their star guard.

Conference Record Prediction: 13-7

Game Vs. Marist: February 5-6 @ Monmouth

3: Saint Peter’s

2019-20 Record: 18-12 (14-6 MAAC)

Coach: Shaheen Holloway (3rd Year, 28-34 record)

The Peacocks had one of the deepest rotations in the MAAC last season, leading to their 14-6 record in conference play. Head coach Shaheen Holloway found ways to use everyone on the team, as 13 players played at least ten minutes per game. While nobody averaged double digits last year, the team had the ability to get a scoring outburst from anyone on any given night. 

Six-foot-seven-inch forward KC Ndefo is returning for his junior season after leading the team in scoring with 8.5 points per game. All but one of his appearances came off the bench, yet that role will increase with a few starters departing the team. Ndefo averaged 2.39 blocks per game and 1.42 steals per game, showing his potential to be one of the best defensive wings in the conference. Second-year guards Doug Edert and Daryl Banks III will also see bigger roles after scoring a combined 15.7 points per game in limited playing time. 

The major question for Holloway will revolve around the loss of their starting point guard. After enjoying a season in which he was named the MAAC Rookie of the Year, Aaron Estrada decided to transfer to the University of Oregon. His ability to run the offense and get his teammates quality looks will be desperately missed this season. 

While the team may be able to find a replacement from last season’s roster, one transfer who could get his own shot at the starting spot is six-foot-three-inch guard and graduate student, Tarojae Brake. The former University of Kutztown player averaged 16 points per game, including 2.4 threes per game last season. If Brake can run an offense while also being a legitimate threat from the perimeter, Saint Peter’s will have plenty of depth at the guard position.

Losing Estrada is a pretty big blow for a team that finished second in the conference last season, but Holloway and his coaching staff will replace his production. Saint Peter’s lost four players who started at least 13 games, but the ability to plug in multiple guys at any spot will help this team be one of the most successful in the MAAC.

Conference Record Prediction: 12-8

Game Vs. Marist: February 19-20 @ TBD

4: Iona

2019-20 Record: 12-17 (9-11 MAAC)

Coach: Rick Pitino (1st year)

The hype around this team has grown dramatically since the hire of former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. Iona will be striving to win the conference postseason tournament for the fifth straight season, and having a mentor who has coached on the biggest stage will really lift this team. After finishing seventh in the conference with a record of 9-11 last season, the expectations surrounding this team will be much higher. 

It is important to note that Iona lost some of their best players from a year ago, including E.J. Crawford led the conference in scoring with 18.8 points per game. The six-foot-six-inch guard/forward was the leader of the team, starting all 28 games and playing 36.9 minutes per night. Guard Isiah Washignton and forward Tajuan Agee also departed the team after scoring a combined 26.1 points per game in over 32 minutes per game. Losing three starters is hard enough, but having to do it with a new coach in a different system will lead to a lot of inconsistency. Two transfers who could come in and make an impact right away are junior guard Berrick JeanLouis and junior forward Robert Brown. Both players spent time at New Mexico State prior to joining Iona, so chemistry between both guys could give this team a big lift early into the season.

In a situation like this, Pitino and his coaching staff will need to rely on the leadership from the seniors. The production from guard Isaiah Ross, guard Asante Gist, and forward Dylan van Eyck will likely determine how good this team can really be. The current situation with COVID-19 has hamstrung Iona’s ability to implement a new system, causing the possibility of a slow start when conference play begins. The overall talent of this team will give them every opportunity to improve from last season, but it will only be good enough to finish four in the MAAC.

Conference Record Prediction: 12-8

Game Vs. Marist: February 12-13

5: Niagara

2019-20 Record: 12-20 (9-11 MAAC)

Coach: Greg Paulus (2nd year, 12-20)

The Purple Eagles will look to retain their spot in the top half of the conference after finishing sixth with a record of 9-11 in MAAC play. The biggest factor that will determine how good this Niagra team is depends on the production from six-foot-two-inch guard Marcus Hammond. The junior from Queens, New York was picked in the preseason All-MAAC First Team after averaging 14.3 points per game on 44 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from three.

With most of their key players returning, Niagrra will have a solid chance to quickly regain chemistry they had towards the end of last season. Junior guard Raheem Solomon, who was picked in the preseason All-MAAC Third Team, will look to provide a lot of scoring alongside Hammond. If he increased his scoring from 9.6 points per game, those two players alone could help design one of the best offenses in the conference.

One player who could put this team over the top is six-foot-eight-inch senior forward Jordan Cintron, who is currently waiting for his waiver to be approved. If he is available to play this season, he will provide another scoring option and be trusted for rebounds. At Longwood University last year, Cintron averaged 6.2 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game in 29 starts. Redshirt senior Kobi Nwandu from Le Moyne is another transfer who could play a major role for Niagara this year. After sitting out last year, the six-foot-six-inch forward will look to replicate the 16.6 points per game he had two seasons ago. 

With two preseason All-MAAC players on their roster, Niagara could be a team that surprises a lot of people. If Cintron can get his waiver approved and Hammond continues to be one of the best scores in the conference, the Purple Eagles will have enough to finish fifth in the MAAC.

Conference Record Prediction: 10-10

Game Vs. Marist: January 22-23

6: Manhattan

2019-20 Record: 13-18 (8-12 MAAC)

Coach: Steve Masiello (10th year, 140-147 record) 

The Jaspers will be looking to move up in the standings after a ninth place finish in conference play last season. Manhattan was only two games out from getting a first round bye in the conference postseason tournament, so the smallest of margins could drastically change where they finish this year. The team will be without four players who played at least 20 minutes per game last season, so the impact from their best transfers could make or break how good of a team they really are.

Arguably the most exciting newcomer going into this season is former Seton Hall guard Anthony Nelson. The six-foot-four-inch junior only played 12.4 minutes per game, scoring 2.7 points per game and having 2.3 assists per game. Nelson likely will be given the freedom to run the offense by head coach Steve Masiello, but the chemistry between his playmaker and junior guard Samir Stewart will be important to watch. The duo will be sharing the backcourt going into this season, and their ability to mix it up and find ways to get their teammates involved offensively are going to be crucial. 

The impact from the big men of Manhattan could be a major x-factor, with six-foot-seven-inch junior guard transfer Samba Diallo likely becoming a replacement for recently graduated Pauly Paulicap. Junior forward Warren Willaims will also see more playing time at the center, giving Masiello a few different options to control the paint.

Manhattan has a great chance to finish in the top half of the conference, but it will depend on the play of their backcourt. If Nelson and Stewart can create one of the best guard duos in the conference, while taking the sixth place in the MAAC.

Conference Record Prediction: 10-10

Game Vs. Marist: January 8-9 @ Manhattan

7: Quinnipiac

2019-20 Record:15-15 (10-10 MAAC)

Coach: Baker Dunleavy (4th year, 43-51 record)

After finishing fifth in the conference with a 10-10 record in MAAC play, the Bobcats are looking to build off last season. Quinnipaic lost two of their best players from last season, so they will depend on other guys stepping into bigger roles. Guard Rich Kelly and forward Kevin Marfo were clearly the two best players on the team last year, so the depth of the rotation is going to be tested this season. Kelly started all 30 games, averaging 16.7 points per game, including 39.6 percent from three. Murfo led the MAAC in rebounding at 13.3 rebounds per game, along with 10.2 points per game.

Those departures will put a bigger emphasis on six-foot-three-inch junior guard Tyrese Willaims and six-foot-six-inch senior forward Jacob Rigoni being leaders for this team on both ends of the floor. The duo was part of the starting lineup last year, combining for 18.5 points per game. Those numbers will need to increase if Quinnipiac wants to be successful. Head coach Baker Dunleavy will also look for six-foot-nine-inch sophomore forward Elias King to make an impact after transferring from Santa Monica College. The Bobcats are a team that lost a lot of key guys from last season, resulting in possibly a finish in the seventh spot within the conference. 

Conference Record Prediction: 8-12

Games Vs. Marist: January 1-2

8: Canisius

2019-20 Record: 12-20 (7-13 MAAC) 

Coach: Reggie Witherspoon (5th year, 66-65 record)

Another team that a few of their key pieces from last season are the Golden Griffins. Canisius will look to replicate the production that guard Malik Johnson and forward Corey Brown gave to the team last season. At five-foot-10-inches, Johnson did everything for the team, averaging 12.6 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, and 5.9 assists per game. His ability to lead the team was one of the main reasons the team finished with a home record of 7-6. Brown was another guy who was used sparingly, as he only played 15.9 minutes per game. Starting 19 out of the 32 games, the six-foot-eight-inch forward averaged 4.8 points per game on 50.4 percent shooting from the field. 

One player who could propel this team to higher finish in the conference is senior Majesty Brandon, as he was picked in the preseason All-MAAC Second Team. The six-foot guard averaged 13.9 points per game on 41.9 percent from field and 34.3 percent from three. Canisius loves to push the ball in transition with their speed, and Brandon certainly brings that to the table. Junior guard Jordan Henderson and senior forward Scott Hitchon will assume bigger roles as well, combining for 17.5 points per game last season. Under head coach Reginald Witherspoon, Brandon will take the next step in his game and lead Canisius to the eight best record in the MAAC.

Conference Record Prediction: 7-13

Games Vs. Marist: December 11-12 @ Canisius

9: Marist

2019-20 Record: 7-23 (6-14 MAAC) 

Coach: John Dunne (3rd year, 19-42 record)

The Red Foxes are coming off a season in which they finished last in the conference, but there should be some optimism that head coach John Dunne will see some success. Led by redshirt senior guard Micheal Cubbage, this team has a lot of upperclassmen who have experience playing in the MAAC. Six-foot-three-inch junior guard Matt Herasme was one of the best three point shooters last season at 39.9 percent, and his role from the outside will become even more important with the loss of Tyler Sagl. Six-foot-seven-inch Braden Bell is also another guy to watch out for, averaging 8.2 points per game and 38.1 percent from three in only 22.4 minutes per game.

The biggest x-factor for the team’s performance relies on six-foot-seven-inch redshirt junior center Victor Enoh. After sitting out last season, the former University of Memphis player is ready to start at center when the season begins. Six-foot-eight-inch redshirt senior center Jordan Jones also showed glimpses of being a dominant center, giving Dunne the opportunity to play a taller lineup with two centers on the floor. Enoh will be a very impactful player, and the leadership from Cubbage and Herasme will help this team climb to ninth in the conference. 

Conference Record Prediction: 7-13

10: Fairfield

2019-20 Record: 12-20 (8-12 MAAC)

Coach: Jay Young (2nd year, 12-20 record)

After finishing 8-12 in conference play last season, Fairfield will be striving for a record above .500. The Stags lost two starters in guard Landon Taliaferro and forward Vincent Eze, but they still have enough upperclassmen leadership to compete with the best teams in the conference. Senior guard Jesus Cruz and senior guard Taj Benning were two of the teams leading scores from a year ago, combining for 20.8 points per game. Fairfield also brings back six-foot-ten-inch sophomore forward Chris Maidoh, who started 30 out of 31 games while averaging 3.9 points per game.

The team also gets two transfers who sat out last season: redshirt junior guard Caleb Green and redshirt junior forward Tshiefu Ngalakulondi. If both players can come in and make an immediate impact, the overall balance of this team could be really dangerous. Head coach Jay Young will rely on Cruz and Benning to lead this team through a weird season, finishing tenth in the MAAC.

Conference Record Prediction: 7-13

Games Vs. Marist: January 15-16

11: Rider

2019-20 Record: 18-12 (12-8 MAAC)

Coach: Kevin Baggett (9th year, 141-116 record)

 Following a season in which they finished third in the conference, it looks likely that the Broncs will regress more than any team in the MAAC. Four of their starters from a year ago have departed the team, including University of Mississippi transfer Dimencio Vaughn. The six-foot-five-inch guard led the team with 14.8 points per game, and he isn’t the only quality scorer who will no longer be at Rider. Center Tyere Marshall, forward Frederick Scott, and guard Stevie Jordan are all players who averaged double digits last season, leaving space for a lead scorer this season. 

Sophomore Christian Ings will look to lead this young team after averaging 4.9 points per game, 1.9 rebounds per game, and 1.7 assist per game. The six-foot-two-inch guard played in all 30 games last season, including 18 starts. The lack of experience will give transfers like graduate student guard Rodney Henderson Jr., junior guard Dwight Murray Jr., and junior guard Dontrell McQuarter the opportunity to come in and provide a spark. Head coach Kevin Baggett will look to help Ings lead this team after losing so many key pieces, leaving them to finish eleventh in the conference. 

Conference Record Prediction: 6-14

Games Vs. Marist: January 29-30 @ Rider

Edited by Bridget Reilly and Nick Stanziale

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