2013-14 Mid-Major Conference Preview: MAAC

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The MAAC lost a key member, but added two additional members for the 2013-14 season. Will the product on the court change and who should we expect to rise to the top once again in one of the mid-major ranks most talented conferences?

As we march towards November 8 and the official start of the 2013-14 basketball season, Mid-Major Madness will be bringing you conference previews on a regular basis to get you ready for tip-off. We'll also be highlighting these conferences and speaking with experts and coaches on our weekly podcast.

The MAAC has grown into one of the more enjoyable mid-major conferences to watch over the past couple of years. Loyola (MD) moves on to the more geographically pleasing Patriot League and the MAAC decided to tighten up their footprint by adding Monmouth and Quinnipiac from the NEC. Will it be a traditional power or a conference newcomer who will take the title in 2013-14?

1. Iona Gaels
Last Year:
20-14 (11-7), 4th MAAC, MAAC Tournament Champion, NCAA First Round
Departures: Lamont Jones (22.6 ppg), Taaj Ridley (8.2 ppg, 5.6 rebounds), Curtis Dennis (3.8 ppg), Shawn Jackson (Transfer, 1.8 ppg), Nyandigisi Moikobu (1.7 ppg)
Key Returners: Sean Armand (16.6 ppg, 3 apg), David Laury (13.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg), Tre Bowman (8.3 ppg)

Tim Cluess has got the Gaels to the NCAA tournament two years in a row and aims to make it three for the first time in school history with a talented squad. Despite losing one of the nation's top scorers in MoMo Jones, the Gaels still bring back a lot of talent and a key transfer will help to supplement their losses. Sean Armand is a talented scorer who put up 16 points per game last year, despite sharing the ball with Jones. JUCO transfer David Laury also busted onto the scene averaging a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds per game. Rutgers transfer Mike Poole should boost the Gaels right away and expect former Iowa State Cyclone Tavon Sledge to step up at the point guard position.

It won't be an easy road for the Gaels to capture a back-to-back MAAC title, but expect Iona to be the favorite for the conference's auto bid to the "Big Dance".

2. Canisius Golden Griffins
Last Year:
20-14 (11-7), 5th MAAC, CIT 3rd Round
Departures: Harold Washington (13.8 ppg), Isaac Sosa (11.6 ppg), Freddy Asprilla (2.3 ppg), Tyrel Edwards (0.7 pgg), Reggie Groves (3.5 ppg), Jermaine Johnson
Key Returners: Billy Baron (17.2 ppg), Jordan Heath (9 ppg, 6 rpg), Chris Manhertz (7.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg)

The Golden Griffins were one of the nation's most impressive turnaround stories in Jim Baron's first year. Coming off a 5-25 year, Canisius went 20-14 a year ago and made some noise in the CIT. Canisius does leave behind some key pieces in Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa, but a lot of talent remains in Buffalo. The coach's son Billy Baron has developed into one of the country's top three point shooters and could challenge for the MAAC scoring title this year. Jordan Heath and Chris Manhertz developed into a good frontcourt combo combining for over 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game last year. Baron's squad will also get a boost from former Liberty Flame and Stetson Hatter Chris Perez, who is eligible immediately. The 6'3 Perez is coming off a 15 point per game season at Stetson and should be an immediate impact for the Griffins.

3. Manhattan Jaspers
Last Year:
14-18 (9-9), 6th MAAC
Departures: Mohamed Koita (3.4 ppg), Ryan McCoy (TR 0.9 ppg), Roberto Colonette (3.6 ppg)
Key Returners: Rhamel Brown (11.4 ppg, 7 rpg), Michael Alvarado (8.4 ppg), George Beamon (13.4 ppg)

Manhattan might be MAAC's most unchanged team and their designation of being on top of the conferences's preseason coaches poll shows that. More or less every key contributor is back including reigning Defensive Player of the Year 6'7 Rhamel Brown who should improve upon his 11 points, 7 rebound per game numbers from a year ago. George Beamon is also back after missing most of last season with an ankle injury and receiving a medical hardship waiver. Complementing the Jasper's solid core are newcomers Richard Williams and Carlton Allen. The 6'5 Allen turned down conference rivals Saint Peter's and Canisius, as well as Hofstra, Kent State, and Saint Bonaventure. Maryland transfer Ashton Pankey should also contribute.

The Jaspers haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since the Luis Flores era in 2004 when they upset fifth seeded Florida. Could this be the breakthrough season for Steve Masiello's squad?

4. Rider Broncs
Last Year: 19-15 (12-6), 2nd MAAC, 2nd Round CIT
Departures: Jonathon Thompson (13.1 ppg), Dera Nd-Ezuma (2.5 ppg), Mark Medley (TR), Jamal Nwaniemeka (TR, 0.8 ppg), Derrick Stewart (0.4 ppg), Nurideen Lindey (PRO 8 ppg)
Key Returners: Anthony Myles (12.4 ppg), Danny Stewart (10.6 ppg)

The Broncs leading scorer Jonathon Thompson has moved on and Nurideen Lindsey left for the pros, but Rider returns a great senior duo in Danny Stewart and Anthony Myles. Rider could be the MAAC's biggest wild card, they have the talent to compete for a conference championship but can they overcome their losses? If the Broncs can't get over the hump in 2013-14 then they'll get a shot in the arm next year from VCU transfer Teddy Okeraefor and Columbia transfer Skylar Scrivano.

5. Fairfield Stags
Last Year:
19-15 (9-9), 7th in MAAC, CIT First Round
Departures: Derek Needham (14.6 ppg), Desmond Wade (6.4 ppg), Colin Nickerson (5.6 ppg), Keith Matthews (TR, 5 ppg)
Key Returners: Maurice Barrow (8.9 ppg), Marcus Gilbert (5.8 ppg), Amadou Sidibe (5.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

Derek Needham and Desmond Wade held down the fort for a team that featured six freshman a year ago. The question is now how will the Stags fair without their senior leaders? A lot of talent remains but Sydney Johnson's squad will need to void a sophomore slump. The biggest question in Bridgeport might just be who will score for the Stags. Derek Needham averaged 14.6 points per game a year ago and no other player was close to double-figures. Amadou Sidbe may be the guy to step up after being named MAAC Rookie of the Year last year and also being named Fairfield's team captain as a freshman. Fairfield also adds Pittsburgh big man Malcolm Gilbert to the fray who will play alongside his brother Marcus. The Stags were the MAAC's toughest team to score against last season and it will need to remain that way for a successful year.

6. Quinnipiac Bobcats
Last Year:
15-16 (11-7 NEC), 6th NEC
Departures: Jamee Jackson (7.9 ppg), Dave Johnson (7.8 ppg), Garvey Young (5.4 ppg), Tariq Carey (TR,1 ppg)
Key Returners: Ike Azotam (13.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Zaid Hearst (10.8 ppg), Ousmane Drame (9.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg)

The Bobcats are the new kids on the block and Tom Moore has slowly been building a quality program in Hamden. Quinnipiac could make some immediate noise in the MAAC with their frontcourt presence of Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame. Few conference teams will be able to contain the Bobcats in the paint. Also look for Zaid Hearst to continue to be a solid scoring presence despite the conference switch. Tom Moore's squad will also get an upgrade at the point guard position as Saint Francis (PA) transfer Umar Shannon joins the Bobcats. Shannon averaged 11 points and 3 assists per game a year ago.

7. Marist Red Foxes
Last Year:
10-21 (6-12), 8th MAAC
Departures: Devin Price (13.7 ppg), Dorvell Carter (5 ppg), Jesse Martin (1 ppg), Anell Alexis (TR 3.7 ppg)
Key Returners: Chavaughn Lewis (16.7 ppg), Adam Kemp (10.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg), Jay Bowie (9.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg)

Marist made an unorthodox move this offseason hiring former NBA executive Jeff Bower. Bower filled in as the interim coach for the New Orleans Hornets in 2009-10, but hasn't coached in the college ranks since 1995 when he was an assistant at Marist. The Red Foxes have not had a winning season since Matt Brady led them to a 18-14 season in 2007-08. Bower will have talented scorer Chavaughn Lewis back this year and he may be Marist's best hope for a winning season. Will it be a long road back for the Red Foxes or can Bower be the catalyst they so desperately need?

8. Siena Saints
Last Year:
8-24 (4-14)
Departures: O.D. Anosike (13.3 ppg, 11.4 rpg), Lionel Gomis (TR), Chris Leppanen (TR 1 ppg), Trenity Burdine (TR, 8.2 ppg)
Key Returners: Rob Poole (11.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Evan Hymes (10.6 ppg)

Siena may have made the biggest move this offseason and it was off the court. Loyola may be leaving the MAAC, but their former coach Jimmy Patsos is staying in the conference with the Saints. Siena has an NBA quality arena and their was even some talk about them sneaking in the new Big East Conference. For now those talks are on hold and Patsos has a young squad that he is looking to improve. O.D. Anosike has graduated and is off to the pros, but the rest of Siena's squad is back. Patsos has also brought some former Loyola commits along to Albany, including talented big man Lavon Long.

9. Niagara Purple Eagles
Last Year:
19-14 (13-5) 1st MAAC, NIT 1st Round
Departures: Devon White (5.6 ppg), Scooter Gillette (TR, 3.2 ppg), T.J. Cline (TR, 7.9 ppg), Juan'ya Green (TR, 16.5 ppg), Lawrence Johnson (TR, 0.5 ppg), Ameen Tanksley (TR, 11.3 ppg)
Key Returners: Antoine Mason (18.7 ppg), Marvin Jordan (8.2)

The bottom fell out for Niagara this offseason when head coach Joe Mihalich bolted for Hofstra and took Juan'ya Green and Ameen Tanksley with him. The exodus didn't stop there and now the team that looked to be the MAAC preseason favorite in April has dropped to the bottom of the conference. Leading scorer Antoine Mason stuck around for first year head coach Chris Casey and the Eagles will also get a lift from Monmouth transfer Marcus Ware and Iowa State transfer Cameron Fowler. Casey has also brought in a solid recruiting class with Karonn Davis, Wesley Myers, Dom Reid, Ramone Snowden, and Aaron Bodie.

10. St. Peter's Peacocks
Last Year:
9-21 (3-15), 10th MAAC
Departures: Yvon Raymond (10.4 ppg), Darius Conley (8.3 ppg), Blaise Ffrench (7.2 ppg), Patrick Jackson (3.9 ppg), Karee Ferguson (3.1 ppg), Chris Prescott (2.8 ppg)
Top Returners: Desi Washington (14.6 ppg)

John Dunne is now 72-143 as the head coach in Jersey City and his Peacocks look like they are in for another rough one. Desi Washington and his nearly 15 points per game is back, but the rest of the Peacocks roster is depleted with six seniors moving on, including three of their top four scorers. Don't be surprised if St. Peter's ends the year with single-digit wins for the third year in a row.

11. Monmouth Hawks
Last Year:
10-21 (5-13 NEC)
Departures: Jesse Steale (12.2 ppg), Ed Waite (8.4 ppg), Dion Nesmith (TR 8.1 ppg), Marcus Ware (TR, 6.4 ppg), Gary Cox (2.3 ppg), Mykel Harris (TR)
Key Returners: Andrew Nicholas (13.9 ppg)

It might be a bumpy first trip through the MAAC for the Monmouth Hawks. Many of their key contributors graduated or transferred, including Marcus Ware who bolted for conference rival Niagara. Andrew Nicholas is a nice piece, but his supporting cast may not show up for another year or so. King Rice welcomes seven new freshman to campus, bu this probably won't be the year that the Hawks have their first winning season since 2005-06.

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