The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference released its conference schedule this week, a welcome sign that college basketball is right around the corner. The top highlight for many will be the debut of Iona’s new head coach Rick Pitino. However, there are a handful of other games on the schedule that will excite fans of the MAAC and mid-major fans alike.
December 8, 2020 - Rick Pitino’s Coaching Debut (Iona at Saint Peter’s)
Coach Pitino faces one of his toughest challenges in his coaching career as he inherits an Iona Gaels team that finished last season with a 12-17 mark, including a 9-11 finish in MAAC play. Pitino’s squad will look a lot different from that team, though. Not only did the top three scorers from last year graduate, the Gaels welcome a huge recruiting class featuring eight players. Three of those eight were ranked in the top 100 junior college players last season. Pitino’s effect on recruiting has been felt immediately. How will this translate to on-court success? They’ll find out quickly in conference play, as they face Saint Peter’s, who finished just one game behind conference champion Siena last season.
December 11, 2020 - Battle of Last Year’s Top Two Teams (Saint Peter’s at Siena)
Siena was named the conference champion for the 2019-2020 season following the cancellation of the MAAC Championships because of COVID-19. As mentioned above, Saint Peter’s was only one game behind in the final standings. The two squads split last year’s contests, each protecting their home courts. Saint Peter’s fans were pining for a rematch in the MAAC conference championship game, but that game of course, will never come. Both Siena (Jalen Pickett, 15.1 ppg) and Saint Peter’s (KC Ndefo, 8.5 ppg) return their top scorers. Ndefo’s offensive stats won’t blow you away, but his 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game will, as they were enough to earn him Defensive Player of the Year honors last season.
January 22, 2021 and March 5, 2020 - A Rivalry Continues (Manhattan vs. Iona)
About eight miles separate these two teams, and when it comes to these two, familiarity breeds contempt. Pitino is no stranger to rivalry games, having coached at Kentucky and Louisville. The stadiums might not be as big but the feelings of contempt for one another will feel familiar. Iona and Manhattan have enjoyed the most success in MAAC history, but Iona has dominated the series as of late, winning nine of the last 10 contests. That lone loss came in last year’s contest, though. With Pitino coaching, it will bring more fire to this already popular rivalry.
January 19, 2021 and March 2, 2021 - Battle of The Bridge (Niagara vs. Canisius)
These two teams have been playing basketball against each other since 1904. Now, 116 years later, the rivalry shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the rivalry in basketball turned into a rivalry between the schools. Starting in 2006, the winner of the most games between the two schools in all sports is awarded the “Battle of The Bridge Canal Cup.” Canisius finished last season second to last in the MAAC, but showed the rivalry doesn’t care about records, as they beat Niagara in both games last season. Niagara, while they lost both rivalry games and finished in the middle of the pack in conference play, managed to go 2-2 against Siena and Saint Peter’s, the top two teams a year ago.