Despite being several months away from the MAAC basketball season, the feeling amongst fans, media, and coaches seems to be the same -- This year, the MAAC is Iona’s conference to lose. Although Iona was the heavy favorites and regular season champions the last two years, they were not able to overcome their archrival Manhattan College in either of the last two MAAC championship games. The two consecutive NIT appearances have left a bad taste in the Gaels' mouth. This extra motivation should have Iona poised to capture the MAAC regular season title for the third consecutive year. The question remains, how will the rest of the MAAC shake out?
Last season, the MAAC had one of its worst collective seasons in years finishing 22nd amongst 32 NCAA Division-I conferences. It was only the third time in the last 10 seasons that the conference fell below the 'middle of the pack' mark, which created a huge gap between the top echelon MAAC teams and the bottom of the pack.
This season, with several big name players returning, and many impact players coming back from injury, the MAAC should prove to be much more competitive. It is anticipated that a handful of teams will be fighting for the top seeds in the conference tournament. That said, who besides Iona has a legitimate chance of securing a top seed in the MAAC Tournament and making a run at the title?
Because this league is going to be so tight, it’s nearly impossible to confidently pick teams 1 through 11 based solely on knowledge of returning players, transfer reports, and incoming freshman’s high school and AAU stats. Instead, we evaluated the potential of each of the 11 teams heading into the 2015-16 season. In doing so we were able to more confidently pick a range of where they may finish in the standings come March. This system not only helps us predict the final standings but also identified which teams had the most unknowns and questions surrounding them leading up to the season. Here is a look at how our predictions broke down:
As you can see Iona is clearly the favorite and is predicted to finish no lower than 2nd place. With the likes of A.J. English, Isaiah Williams and MAAC rookie of the year Schadrac Casimir coming back it appears to be a lock. Although it is presumed that they will finish 1st by at least a game or two, we have to respect the "Anything Can Happen in The MAAC" mantra and project a possible slip into second place for the Gaels. By the same token – we feel that Rider is the only team that has the pieces in place to steal the regular season crown from the Gaels. Rider will return impact seniors in Teddy Okereafor, Zedric Sadler and Shawn Valentine.
Here is where it gets really tight. From spots 2 through 10, we project 4 or 5 possible teams finishing in each seed. While possible contenders, Rider can also slip as far as 4th place with teams like Monmouth, Canisius, Manhattan and Siena all in the mix this year. We have Monmouth and Canisius tabbed at 2nd-5th and 3rd-6th respectively both with a 3 place range of uncertainty. Manhattan and Siena are a little more of a mystery heading into this season. For Manhattan, we have to honor the fact that they have been to 3 consecutive MAAC championships under head coach Steve Masiello (all after losing significant contributors from each of the prior seasons). As such, we have them pegged as high as 2nd place. However, we do not know who will be the go-to scorer now that Ashton Pankey, and Emmy Andjuar are both playing professional basketball overseas, dropping the Jaspers' possible finish as low as 7th place (The largest range / uncertainty of any team).
Similarly the departure of Javion Ogunyemi to BU seemed to be a major blow to Siena… that is... until he decided to transfer back to Siena on August 12th (before stepping foot on the court for Boston University.) It is unclear at this time whether or not he will be able to play immediately for the Saints or if he will be forced to redshirt. The difference between having a veteran forward who knows Siena Head Coach, Jimmy Patsos’ system on the court and having him on the bench is a major part of the 5 place level of uncertainty for indicated for the Saints.
After that, it opens up a little bit with Quinnipiac looking like the "best of the rest" with a possible finish as high as 5th place. Marist and Fairfield have the next highest upside with project maximum finishes of 7th place and a projected low end of 10 and 11 respectively. We expect St. Peter’s and Niagara to duke it out for the final two spots. However, it is always hard to ever look past SPU head coach John Dunn’s team on the schedule. The Peacocks have a top projected finish of 9th place. Finally Niagara lost over half of their team in the offseason to graduation and transfers. While that is a tough blow for any program, they did have a busy offseason bringing in several proven Division-I and junior college transfers. We have their potential upside tabbed at 8th place, but who knows, if they are able to mesh during the non-conference portion of their schedule, a group of experienced guys could be exactly what Niagara needs to sneak up the standings.
While it is clear that it is entirely unclear how the 2015-16 MAAC season will shake out - one thing that is for certain - we are in for what appears to be one of the most competitive MAAC regular seasons in years.