2021 MAAC Men’s Basketball Conference Preview

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: Iona

2020-21 Record: 12-6 (6-3 MAAC)

Coach: Rick Pitino (2nd year, 12-6 record)

Rick Pitino’s first season with the Gaels was certainly a rollercoaster. Iona was unable to really get into a rhythm during the regular season due to two significant COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the team. The team only played nine conference games, but their best basketball came at the end of the year.

Iona ran the table in the postseason, winning four straight games on its way to taking the 2021 MAAC Men’s Basketball Championship, earning an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. In their first round matchup against the two-seeded University of Alabama, the Gaels nearly pulled off the upset. Iona only trailed by one at halftime, but the Crimson Tide pulled away in the second half to win by 13. 

Nelly Junior Joseph, the 6-foot-9 forward who averaged 11.4 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game in 15 starts last season, will be expected to assume a bigger role for the Gaels. The recipient of the 2020-21 MAAC Rookie of Year award was once again rewarded for his contributions, being named to the Preseason All-MAAC First Team.

Keep an eye on the Gaels’ ability to replace the production of Isaiah Ross and Asante Gist, who have now graduated. The backcourt duo was dominant last season, combining for 31.8 points per game (44.6% of Iona’s offense).

Two potential replacements that could be the starting backcourt for Iona have come through the transfer portal. Tyson Jolly, a six-foot-four graduate student from SMU, was limited to just eight games last season. In those eight games, Jolly averaged 14.5 points per game. The Gaels also added Elijah Joiner, a six-foot-three-inch guard from Tulsa who averaged 11.3 points per game and 4.2 assists per game in 22 starts.

I expect the standings to be tight at the top near the end of the season, with the Gaels being my pick to win the MAAC. Iona is the most talented team in the conference from top to bottom, and Rick Pitino will get the most out of his squad.

Conference Record Prediction: 14-6

Games Vs. Marist: December 1st (H), January 21st (A)

2: Saint Peter’s

2020-21 Record: 14-11 (10-8 MAAC)

Coach: Shaheen Holloway (4th Year, 42-44)

After finishing the regular season with a top three record in the MAAC, the Peacocks were unable to translate that success to the postseason. Regardless, Saint Peter’s will acquire those same expectations going into the 2021-22 season.

The Peacocks bring back a majority of their rotation from a year ago. The most notable of those is six-foot-four forward KC Ndefo, who is arguably the best two-way player in the conference. After winning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and being placed to the All-MAAC First Team last season, Ndefo was chosen as the Preseason Player of the Year.

Daryl Banks III, a six-foot-three guard who averaged 11 points per game last season, was named to the Preseason All-MAAC Second Team. Banks will be relied upon as a perimeter scorer, shooting 35.7% from the field and 37.4% from three during the 2020-21 season.

Head coach Shaheen Holloway will also get back six-foot guard Matthew Lee, who is known for his playmaking ability. The junior from San Juan, Puerto Rico averaged 7.9 points per game and 3.6 assists per game (ranked third in the MAAC) last season. If Lee can increase his scoring, we could be looking at one of the better point guards in the conference. 

Whenever you mention Saint Peter’s, you have to include the combination of Fousseyni and Hassan Drame. The twins will look to continue using their length in order to impact the game on the inside.

The Peacocks have one the deepest teams in the conference. If Saint Peter’s can get enough support behind the play of KC Ndefo and Daryl Banks III, they certainly have enough to compete with anyone in the MAAC. Holloway is an excellent coach, and will lead his team through a successful season.

Conference Record Prediction: 13-7

Games Vs. Marist: January 2nd (H), February 6th (A)

3: Rider

2020-21 Record: 6-17 (5-13 MAAC)

Coach: Kevin Baggett (10th Year, 147-133)

The Broncs are one of the teams looking to bounce back after a disappointing 2020-21 season. Utilizing home court advantage will be a point of emphasis for Rider this season, as the Brocns were only 1-7 in conference games played at Alumni Gymnasium last year.

Dwight Murray Jr. is the standout player for Rider, as he was named to the All-MAAC Second Team after leading the Broncs with 15.8 points per game, six rebounds per game, and 4.1 assists per game last season. The six-foot guard is expected to have another successful season, as Murray was named to the Preseason All-MAAC First Team.

Dimencio Vaughn, who played in 16 games for Ole Miss last season, is making his return to Lawrenceville as a graduate student. The 6-foot-5 forward is only two years removed from being named to the All-MAAC First Team after scoring a team-high 14.8 points per game during the 2019/2020 season. Vaughn was selected to the Preseason All-MAAC Second Team heading into this upcoming season.

Forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson will look to provide a dominant paint presence in his third season with the Broncs. The senior from Delta State, Nigeria averaged 7.7 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game last season. Baggett will also be reliant on Allen Powell being a contributor on the offensive end. The six-foot-two guard will look to build upon his former average of 8.3 points per game on 40.5% shooting from the field and a league-best 44% shooting from three.

One player to keep an eye on is guard Corey McKeithan, who has now fully recovered from a torn ACL. The sophomore from Windsor, Connecticut could be a major contributor for the Broncs playing alongside Murray in the backcourt. 

After finishing at the bottom of the conference last season, Rider could be ready to make a huge jump. With a much improved roster, mainly down to the return of Dimencio Vaughn, I believe Kevin Baggett is ready to lead the Broncs to another winning season.

Conference Record Prediction: 12-8

Games Vs. Marist: December 5th (A), January 9th (H)

4: Marist

2020-21 Record: 12-9 (10-8)

Coach: John Dunne (4th Year, 31-51)

The Red Foxes were a team that surprised a lot of people, finishing fourth in the MAAC. While the team was unable to get past the quarterfinals in the MAAC tournament, a lot of positives can be taken away from last season.

Ricardo Wright, a guard from Eustis, Florida, has a chance to be one of more effective pure scorers in the conference. The sophomore was excellent in his first season with the Red Foxes, averaging a team-high 11 points per game on 38.2% shooting from the field and 32.7% shooting from three. Wright was selected to the Preseason All-MAAC Third Team going into this season.

Another major storyline for the Red Foxes is the return of 6-foot-8 center Jordan Jones. The graduate student is back after averaging 9.4 points per game, averaging a 59.1% shooting percentage, and 5.4 rebounds per game. Besides his ability to score and rebound the basketball, Jones is also one of the best rim protectors in the MAAC. The big man averaged 1.9 blocks per game last season, which ranked third in the conference. 

A major x-factor for Marist is forward Braden Bell. While the senior from Rowlett, Texas only averaged 7.1 points per game last season, he has the capability of scoring in bunches. Bell had a season-high 16 points against Binghampton on December 5th.

Many were caught off guard by the success of Marist last season. It would have been difficult to find anyone who truly believed the Red Foxes were capable of having a winning season. John Dunne has a group of guys who know how to play with each other, and that cannot go unnoticed. Marist will continue to build off of last season, once again finishing in the top four of the conference. 

Conference Record Prediction: 12-8

5: Monmouth 

2020-21 Record: 12-8 (12-6 MAAC)

Coach: King Rice (11th Year, 161-154)

Monmouth had plenty of success during the 2020-21 season, becoming a co-champion alongside Siena following 12 conference victories during the regular season. King Rice, who is tied for the longest tenured coach in the conference, will be looking for many of the same results this year.

The most notable of the returning players for Monmouth is 6-foot-5 guard George Papas, who is back in West Long Branch for his fifth collegiate season. King Rice will rely on the graduate student to be a leader for the Hawks, both on and off the floor. Papas was named to the Preseason All-MAAC First Team after averaging 12.4 points per game last season.

One of the keys for Monmouth will revolve around how they replace the contributions of Deion Hammond and Melik Martin, who both graduated last year. The duo played a crucial role in the success of the team last season, combining for 29.3 PPG (38.5% of Monmouth’s offense) and 9.5 rebounds per game. 

Shavar Reynolds Jr., who is coming in as a graduate student from Seton Hall, will look to provide secondary scoring alongside Papas. Reynolds averaged 7.7 PPG on 44.6% shooting from the field and 37.9% from three in 27 games for the Pirates last season. 

Walker Miller, a forward from Greensboro, North Carolina, has a chance to be one of the more dominant post players in the conference. Miller is joining the Hawks after playing for four years at the University of North Carolina. 

It will be difficult for Monmouth to replicate the success they found during the regular season last year. The loss of Deion Hammond and Melik Martin is immense, but Preseason All-MAAC Third Team selection Shavar Reynolds Jr. will add another offensive threat to this squad. With all of that being said, George Papas and King Rice will lead the Hawks to another top five finish.

Conference Record Prediction: 11-9

Games Vs. Marist: December 31st (A), January 16th (H)

6: Manhattan

2020-21 Record: 7-13 (6-12 MAAC)

Coach: Steve Masiello (11th Year, 147-160)

The Manhattan Jaspers will be looking to improve this season after finishing with a 6-12 conference record (10th in the MAAC) last season. A positive for the team is that they are one of the few in the MAAC who bring back all of their five starters from a year ago.

Preseason All-MAAC Second Team selection Warren Williams will look to provide a dominant interior presence for the Jaspers. The 6-foot-9 forward will look to be one of the best big men in the conference after averaging 11.5 points per game on 56.8% shooting from the field and 7.3 rebounds per game.

Ant Nelson is back for his second season with the Jaspers after transferring from Seton Hall. The senior from New York was selected to the Preseason All-MAAC Third Team after averaging 13.4 points per game on 37.8 percent shooting from the field and 3.1 assists per game. 

Elijah Buchanan, a six-foot-five guard from the Bronx, returns after scoring 11.4 points per game on 36.5% shooting from the field during the 2020-21 season. The senior has shown flashes of being an excellent two-year player, averaging 1.7 steals per game (3rd in the MAAC) and 1.3 blocks per game (6th in the MAAC) last year.

One player to watch out for is forward Samba Diallo. The senior from Rufisque, Senegal only averaged 6.3 points per game in 25.1 minutes per game last season, but he certainly has the potential to be an effective finisher at the rim. 

Steven Masiello has chemistry with this group of guys, which isn’t something you can say about every team in the conference. Warren Williams, Ant Nelson and the rest of the Jaspers rotation will do enough to finish in the top half of the MAAC.

Conference Record Prediction: 10-10

Games Vs. Marist: January 30th (A), February 25th (H)

7: Fairfield

2020-21 Record: 10-17 (7-11 MAAC)

Coach: Jay Young (3rd Year, 22-37)

The Stags came away from last season with a lot of optimism, making it all the way to the MAAC Championship Game before losing to Iona 60-51. While Fairfield only managed to finish seventh in the regular season, what they did in the postseason shows this team has the ability to compete with anyone. 

Jake Wojcik was excellent in his first season with the Stags following a transfer from the University of Richmond, averaging 13.5 points per game on 41% shooting from the field and 38.2% shooting from three. The senior from San Jose, California has the chance to be one of the more effective permentier shooters in the conference. Wojcik was a Preseason All-MAAC Third Team selection going into this season.

Fairfield also brought back six-foot-four guard Taj Benning, a graduate student from Fair Lawn, New Jersey who averaged 12 points per game on 38.1% shooting from the field and 36.6% shooting from three.

One area of improvement for the Stags will revolve around how they perform at home. Fairfield was only 4-8 at the Webster Bank Arena last year. If the team wants to push towards the top of the conference, they will need to take advantage of playing in front of their fans.

Jay Young and Fairfield surprised a lot of people with how far they got in the postseason. With many of their key players returning, the Stags have a great chance to build off that success. 

Conference Record Prediction: 9-11

Games Vs. Marist: January 7th (A), January 23rd (H)

8: Siena

2020-21 Record: 12-5 (12-4 MAAC)

Coach: Carmen Maciariello (3rd Year, 32-15)

Siena is a team that will be going through a lot of transition amongst their rotation following a dominant 2019-20 campaign. The Saints finished as a co-champion alongside Monmouth last season, but most if not all of their best players have now left the program. 

The team will need to replace their top three scorers from a year ago, as Manny Camper, Jalen Pickett, and Jordan King combined for 39.2 points per game (57.9% of Siena’s offense).

While the Saints lost a majority of their rotation from a year ago, Carmen Maciariello still has a few returning players who can make a major impact. Guard Aidan Carpenter will look to obtain a larger role in the offense after averaging 5.7 points per game in 23.7 minutes per game.

Forward Jackson Stormo is another player who is back after his first season with Siena following a transfer from Pepperdine. The senior from Santa Barbra, California averaged 10.8 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game in 25.2 minutes per game.

The loss of Manny Camper, Jalen Pickett and Jordan King is huge, but Carmen Maciariello is still one of the best coaches in the conference. It may take some time for the Saints to gain some continuity with a completely different group, which could lead to them falling a bit in the standings by the end of the regular season. 

Conference Record Prediction: 8-12

Games Vs. Marist: January 14th (H), February 18th (A)

9: Quinnipiac 

2020-21 Record: 9-13 (7-10 MAAC)

Coach: Baker Dunleavy (5th Year, 52-64)

Quinnipiac will be looking to improve off of last season after finishing eighth in the conference. While the Bobcats were difficult to beat at home (8-5 record at the People’s United Center), most of their struggles came away from home (1-5 road record). 

The major news for the Bobcats is the return of forward Kevin Marfo, who is in Hamden after playing last season at Texas A&M. Marfo was dominant in his most recent season with Quinnipiac, averaging 10.2 points per game and 13.3 rebounds per game (which led the nation) during the 2019-20 campaign. The graduate student from Bergenfield, New Jersey was selected to the Preseason All-MAAC Second Team.

Baker Dunleavy will also retain the services of Jacob Rigoni, a forward who averaged 11.8 points per game on 35.9% shooting from the field and 37.4% shooting from three. Rigoni was also a Preseason All-MAAC Second Team selection.

One potential x-factor for Quinnipiac could revolve around the play of Luis Kortright. The six-foot-three guard had an excellent freshman season with the Bobcats, averaging 10.3 points per game on 35.6% shooting from the field and 35% shooting from three. If Kortright can take his game to the next level in his second year, we could be talking about one of the more effective scorers in the MAAC.

There are certainly reasons to believe Quinnipiac could be a team to watch out for this season. The return of Kevin Marfo combined with Jacob Rigoni coming back for a fifth year gives this team plenty of veteran leadership. If the rest of the rotation can step up for Baker Dunleavy, watch out for the Bobcats.  

Conference Record Prediction: 7-13

Games Vs. Marist: January 28th (A), February 20th (H)

10: Niagara

2020-21 Record: 9-11 (7-9 MAAC)

Coach: Greg Paulus (3rd Year, 21-30)

Greg Paulus and Niagara will look to build off of finishing fifth in the conference last season. How the Purple Eagles perform in close games may determine where they finish in the conference. Niagara will need to make this a point of emphasis after going 3-8 in the conference games decided by ten points or less.

The return of guard Marcus Hammond is maybe the most important news for the Purple Eagles going into this season. Hammond was a Preseason All-MAAC First Team selection after averaging 12.7 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game in 20 games last year.

Greg Paulus will be without his top scorer from a year ago, as redshirt senior Kobi Nwandu finished his collegiate career while averaging 14.6 points per game. 

Raheem Solomon is a player who has the potential to earn a bigger role in the offense this season. The senior from Harford, Connecticut only made one start last season, averaging 8.5 points per game on 36.6% shooting from the field and 34% shooting from three. Watch out for Justin Roberts as well, a 5-foot-10 graduate student who averaged 7.4 points per game last year. 

Niagara has one of the best players in the conference with Marcus Hammond, so where this team goes may come down to other guys producing. If Greg Paulus can get the best out of players like Justin Roberts and Raheem Solomon, the Purple Eagles can make a push for a top half finish in the conference. 

Conference Record Prediction: 6-14

Games Vs. Marist: February 14th (H), March 5th (A)

11: Canisius 

2020-21 Record: 7-6 (7-5 MAAC)

Coach: Reggie Witherspoon (6th Year, 73-71)

Canisius was one of many teams in the country who had a season derailed by positive COVID-19 cases, leading to the Golden Griffins only playing 13 games. With all of that being said, Reggie Witherspoon is ready to lead this team alongside a few veterans in the locker room.

Replacing the production of Majesty Brandon will be crucial for Canisius. The six-foot guard from Bronx, New York, who has now graduated, averaged 12.2 points per game in 24.2 minutes per game last season.

Forward Malek Green is the most notable player returning for the Golden Griffins. The senior from Cincinnati, Ohio averaged 13.2 points per game on 52.9% shooting from the field and 7.2 rebounds per game. Green was selected to the Preseason All-MAAC Third Team going into this season.  

Jordan Henderson is another player who Reggie Witherspoon will rely upon as difference maker on both ends of the floor. The six-foot-five guard averaged 9.3 points per game, 44.5% shooting from the field, and 37.4% shooting from three. Make sure to keep an eye on Ahamadou Fofana, a senior who averaged 8.3 points per game in 26.9 minutes per game.

If Reggie Witherspoon can get the most out of his three seniors, Canisius could make a legitimate push towards an above .500% campaign in the MAAC. 

Conference Record Prediction: 6-14

Games Vs. Marist: February 12th (H), March 3rd (A)

Edited by Sam DiGiovanni & Connor Kurpat

Photo from Marist Athletics

One thought

  1. Another dismal season for men’s basketball…How much longer are we going to stay with Dunne and Murray?

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