The race for the MAAC Player of the Year Award could be as open as the league's crazy sprint to a title. After Iona's dominating run through the league last season, which led to an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament as the Gaels were upset by Loyola (MD) in the conference tournament, every team has question marks and an opportunity to capitalize.
Last season's top player, Iona's Scott Machado, graduated, along with two other All-MAAC First Team players in Machado's teammate Mike Glover and Fairfield's Rakim Sanders leaving the cupboard a little empty, but not bare.
Teams in the MAAC are compensating by bringing in talented transfers and junior college players. Ashton Pankey - from Maryland to Manhattan, and Curtis Dennis - from Toledo to Iona, both transferred this offseason and could make a big impact. (Pankey needs to have his waiver approved first.) Also, former St. John's guard Nurideen Lindsey, who transferred in 2011-12 at midseason will be eligible for Rider in December.
Here are 10 returning players that should make a big impact on their teams and the title race in the MAAC this season.
10. Harold Washington, Canisius - When you play for a team that went 5-25 and won just one conference game last season it is easy to get lost in the shuffle, even if you're scoring 17 points per game. The senior guard will hopefully help make Jim Baron's transition back to the bench a smooth one.
9. Emmy Andujar, Manhattan - The numbers themselves - 8.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game - don't really speak to what this 6'5" swingman from the Bronx can do. Adujar only played 26.2 minutes per game last season because of Steve Masiello's active defensive style. Expect him to improve on his multifaceted game during his sophomore season and help the Jaspers battle for the top spot in the league standings. With his ball-handling and rebounding skills Andujar is a one-man fast break waiting to happen and that can help Manhattan's offense this season.
8. Dylon Cormier, Loyola (MD) - Cormier made a big improvement from his freshman to sophomore season and it paid off in a second team All-MAAC selection. He averaged 13.4 points per game and did so while scoring at a very efficient rate, mostly because as a 6'2" guard he shot 52.4 percent on two-point attempts. Now he'll have to keep it up as the Greyhounds move into the favorite position in the league.
7. Derek Needham, Fairfield - Lots of people love Needham, but his turnovers cause a lot of concern considering he doesn't give the Stags much in terms of points (11.8 points in 30.2 minutes per game). Needham turned the ball over 2.9 times per game last season along with 3.4 assists per game. Fairfield is going to need even more from him in 2012-13 after the departure of Sanders. While Sydney Johnson's Princeton Offense calls for relatively equal ball distribution, Needham will be one of the key cogs. Needham is an excellent defender and was one of the reasons Fairfield ranked 11th in the nation, and first in the MAAC in defensive steal percentage last season.
6. Sean Armand, Iona - The Gaels don't return much and what that does is open up a huge opportunity for Armand, one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball last season. Whether it was draining 10 threes at Madison Square Garden against Siena or scoring 25 points in a loss to Loyola (MD), it is obvious that Armand has the talent to put the ball in the basket. He only scored 9.5 points per game in 2011-12 because of spotty playing time and the fact that there just weren't enough shots to go around. Well, now Armand is going to be one of the "guys" for Iona and how he adjusts will make a big impact in the MAAC title race. Armand probably won't shoot 46.2 percent from three again this season, but the next guy on this list should be able to get him a bunch of open looks.
5. Lamont "Momo" Jones, Iona - After transferring from Arizona Jones was part of a dynamic backcourt that carried the Gaels to an at-large bid and an epic collapse against BYU. Jones is often thought of as a player that dominates the ball, but last season he used fewer possessions while on the court than Glover or Machado. They're gone and it's time for Jones to show what he's got, especially as a playmaker. He'll be given the keys to Tim Cluess' up-tempo attack and will have to find a way to get more than three assists per game if Iona is going to be successful. Part of that means integrating a whole new cast of teammates too, which could make this one of the most difficult assignments in the league.
4. Juan'ya Green, Niagara - Green burst onto the scene as a freshman last season and averaged 17.7 points per game. The 6'3" guard from Philadelphia, PA is part of a youth movement amongst the Purple Eagles that has Niagara poised to start challenging the league's top teams in the near future. Green scored in double-figures in his final eight games of last season and Niagara went 5-3. He'll have to keep scoring for his team to be successful, but he's also a key distributor and led Niagara with 4.5 assists per game. How he balances those two responsibilities will determine how Niagara does this season.
3. Erik Etherly, Loyola (MD) - Two things make the Greyhounds forward unique compared to everyone that has come before him on this list. The first is that he's 6'7" in a league dominated by guards. The second is that he is one of three returning All-MAAC First Team players. Etherly scored 13.7 points and grabbed 7.5 rebounds per game last season. Last season Etherly benefited from having another big body, 6'10", on the low block with him. Walker graduated, which should leave more touches for Etherly. He'll probably be paired up with former Xavier forward in the frontcourt instead this season.
2. George Beamon, Manhattan - The Jaspers came out of nowhere to be one of the most competitive teams in the league in 2011-12. A lot of that had to do with Masiello taking over the team, but also the competitive nature and desire of their star, Beamon. After spending countless hours running steps in the Bronx during the offseason Beamon came back and raised his scoring average from 16.3 points to 19.0 points per game while playing almost five fewer minutes per game. Beamon didn't score fewer than 10 points in any game last season. The one contest he missed due to injury the Jaspers lost by 18, to Columbia. Defenses are going to be even more focused on shutting him down this season, so hopefully Beamon has prepared even harder for his senior campaign.
1. O.D. Anosike, Siena - A double-double machine, Anosike gives the Saints the ability to play with anyone in the MAAC. He averaged 15.0 points and 12.5 rebounds per game last season. There are some weaknesses in his game. He shot just 56.1 percent from the line, but that's nitpicking. Anosike also helps out on the defensive end, where he had 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game last season. At 6'8" in the MAAC though that second number should be higher. He'll be the focal point of Siena's attack as the Saints try to keep pace with Loyola (MD), Manhattan and the rest of the league.