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MAAC Season Preview: Gaels abound in preseason awards

A talented two-way point guard, a skilled forward, an offensive threat and an athletic transfer highlight our list.

NCAA Basketball: MAAC Conference Tournament-Siena vs Iona Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Although the MAAC saw plenty of transfers and players lost to graduation last season, there is more than enough talent on both ends of the bench to go around.

Here are four of the key players, plus the coach to watch during the 2017-18 season:

Backcourt Player of the Year: Rickey McGill (Junior, Iona)

Good guard play separates the good teams from the bad in a transition-heavy, high-scoring conference like the MAAC.

The player that separates Iona from the rest of the conference is Rickey McGill — who is, by nearly every metric, the MAAC’s best point guard at both ends of the floor. Not to pour salt in the wound of the rest of the MAAC, but he could have been in a Manhattan uniform instead, which definitely would have shaken up not only the power rankings, but also the success of either team over the past two seasons.

During his sophomore campaign, McGill averaged 10.5 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting, including a 33.8 percent clip from three. Not to downplay the latter statistic, but McGill was surrounded by the No. 14 three-point shooting team, per KenPom, so he didn’t need to be the go-to scorer all the time.

With that said: As a sophomore, McGill was not only one of two players to average more than five assists per game last season (he averaged 5.1), but also led the MAAC in steals per game by averaging 1.8 per game — including a four-steal showing in the first round of the MAAC Tournament against Rider.

Now that running mates Sam Cassell Jr. and John Severe have graduated, McGill is the cornerstone of the Gaels’ offense. Thankfully for Iona, they have one of the few players in the nation who can say they ran one of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses as an underclassman. Needless to say, McGill will continue filling the stat sheet for the rest of his collegiate career at his current trajectory, and he could work his way into the nation’s shortlist of premier college point guards.

One more fun fact: McGill nailed a three-quarter-court buzzer-beater and a half-court buzzer beater last season. I don’t know if there’s an official stat for this feat, but it’s downright silly, nonetheless.

Frontcourt Player of the Year: Jermaine Crumpton (Senior, Canisius)

With all this talk of guard play, it would be a disservice to overlook Canisius forward Jermaine Crumpton and what he accomplished last season.

On his way to becoming the 37th 1,000-point scorer in Canisius history, Crumpton re-set his personal best for points in a game several times — most notably by a 32-point outing on 11-for-19 shooting against Fairfield. When all was said and done, Crumpton was amongst the conference’s top ten in eFG% (No. 2, at 56.3 percent), points (No. 8, with 539) and points per game (No. 9, with 15.9) — all while getting an All-MAAC Third Team nod. To say he’s an offensive threat would be an understatement, but it seems like he’s flown relatively under-the-radar in a crowded MAAC.

One of the more underrated facets of Crumpton’s game is his aversion to turnovers. His 11.1 turnover percentage over his three-year career ranks sixteenth among MAAC players over the past ten seasons, according to sports-reference.com. When Crumpton has the ball, good things happen.

Most Likely to be a Postseason Hero: Tyler Nelson (Senior, Fairfield)

Imagine averaging close to 20 points per game and being the secondary option on offense. In some ways, this is what Tyler Nelson's junior season entailed. This year, however, Nelson will carry the bulk of the Stags’ offense, as guard Curtis Cobb transferred to UMass at the end of last season.

Taken at face value, his stats from last season were stellar: In his junior campaign, the first-team All-MAAC selection averaged 19.5 points per game on 44.3 percent field goal shooting — including a 39.1 percent clip from beyond the arc. On the national scale, his 1.13 points per possession ranked No. 61 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.

Last season, he was responsible for several of the MAAC’s best offensive performances, including a 38-point explosion at Rider.

Not only that, Nelson was one of the MAAC’s best clutch scorers. Later in the season, Nelson hit this layup against Quinnipiac that sent the game into overtime:

As if that wasn't enough, Nelson hit this game-winning NBA-range three he drained against Canisius one week later:

Long story short, Nelson is definitely someone to double team in a close game (or throughout the game, for that matter). Speaking of close games, Nelson is definitely someone Fairfield fans want to see on the free throw line in crunch time: His 85.6 percent mark from the stripe was No. 80 in the NCAA, per KenPom.

For these reasons, Nelson will be the most lethal player in the MAAC Tournament. His high-volume scoring and propensity to hit big shots on the free throw line or from anywhere on the floor make him a potential one-man wrecking machine in the close confines of a conference tournament.

Transfer of the Year: T.K. Edogi (Senior, Iona)

All MAAC First-Team selection Jordan Washington’s replacement will likely be T.K. Edogi. While his statistics from his junior campaign aren't eye-popping — Edogi averaged 4.2 ppg and 3.7 rpg in a limited role at Tulsa — he earns this distinction because he will have to fill this important role. The Gaels need an interior presence; at 6’8” and 225 pounds, Edogi has a similar physique as Washington.

In order for Iona to get the most out of Edogi, he’ll have to be a willing rebounder. In his lone full season in Tulsa, Edogi grabbed 16.8 and 20.6 percent of offensive and defensive rebounds, respectively, according to his sports-reference.com page. Keep in mind that Edogi shared the floor with one of the AAC’s top offensive rebounders in Martins Igbanu, plus Junior Etou, who was one of the AAC’s best all-around rebounders.

At Iona, Edogi will likely have more touches and opportunities to build on his numbers. With the flashes of potential he showed in Tulsa, he has a good shot.

Coach of the Year: Tim Cluess (Iona)

Tim Cluess might not field as many offers as his Monmouth counterpart King Rice, but his impressive resume puts him amongst the nation’s upper echelon of coaches.

Since taking over for Kevin Willard when he took the Seton Hall job, Cluess has led the Gaels to seven straight 20-win seasons and postseason appearances — including three NCAA Tournament appearances. Most impressively, Cluess has accomplished the unprecedented by leading the Gaels to the MAAC Championship game seven years in a row. Very few coaches can claim those accolades, all while coaching one of the best offenses in the NCAA.

If Cluess can lead Iona to an eighth-straight 20-win season (and possibly more) while replacing three starters from last season, then his name could show up in coaching vacancy rumors. Although with a contract good through the 2020-2021 season, it’s possible Cluess can stick around in New Rochelle.


Honorable Mention:

Nico Clareth (Junior, Siena)

E.J. Crawford (Sophomore, Iona)

Chaise Daniels (Senior, Quinnipiac)

Khalil Dukes (Senior, Niagara)

Nick Griffin (Senior, Saint Peter’s)

Ryan Funk (Junior, Marist)

Brian Parker (Junior, Marist)

Deyshonee Much (Senior, Iona)

Micah Seaborn (Junior, Monmouth)

Aaron Walker (Sophomore, Manhattan)