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Masiello in maroon and Baker’s Bobcats win big

Everything we learned from the first week of MAAC Basketball

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Quinnpiac’s Baker Dunleavy
Baker Dunleavy has the Quinnipiac Bobcats at 3-0 for the first time in 28 years.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

When the college basketball season tipped off on Monday, 363 teams had a totally clean slate. This week, the first specs of dust, both positive and negative, broke the clean slate and became the first words of the resumes of every single team. Focusing on the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the 11 teams have had varying starts, so, how do we read into the initial impression given off by the new groups?

When Manhattan parted ways with head coach Steve Masiello just two weeks before the season started, one could definitely have imagined seeing MAAC Preseason Player of the Year Jose Perez, among others, enter the transfer portal. However, one probably didn’t imagine that on opening night, Masiello would be sitting behind his mentor, helping out Rick Pitino and Iona, in an unofficial role.

Meanwhile, on the court that night, Iona picked up a dominant win over Ivy League favorites Penn 78-50. JUCO transfer Daniss Jenkins displayed his impressive athleticism in a player-of-the-game performance that has put the rest of the MAAC on notice. His statline of 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals shows off his versatility, and the variety of ways in which he got his points shows off his dexterity as a scorer.

Quinn Slazinski, who Rick Pitino has demanded more out of over the offseason, had an impressive opening night performance, dropping 16 points and claiming that his confidence was at “an all-time high.”

While Slazinski continued his impressive performances with a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double against Hofstra, it wasn’t enough to win the game for the Gaels. Hofstra’s 3-point shooting was too much for the Gaels to handle, and the Maroon & Gold fell 83-78 in a loud environment on the Island.

With freshman wing Sadiku Ayo already out until December, when backup big man Osborn Shema went down with a concussion and couldn’t play against Hofstra, Rick Pitino was prompted to say “We have no bench.”

Iona’s schedule doesn’t get easier, as the Gaels face Vermont next Friday, but they will have a week to get Shema healthy. Any more slip-ups in the non-conference could cost the Gaels a shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but the fact that they play this schedule in the first place is the only reason that the shot is there.

The award for “Most Encouraging Loss” in the MAAC this week goes to the Rider Broncs for their strong performance against reigning Big East Regular Season Champion Providence 66-65. The Broncs got off to a fast start, leading by as many as 15 points in the first half, but they were just not able to hold off the Friars at the end. Star point guard Dwight Murray had 18 points, including four triples, to lead all scorers. Rider only had three different players attempt a 3-pointer, Murray, Allen Powell and Allen Betrand, but the efficient 9-for-14 shooting effort helped build the lead, and later, keep them in the game.

The Broncs were physically outmatched, with the Friars being able to draw fouls at will on the way to attempting 43 free throws. Despite that, the Broncs hung around.

“I’m proud of how our guys persevered and continued to fight,” coach Kevin Baggett said.

On Saturday, the Broncs handily defeated Division III TCNJ, picking up their first win of the season, but there’s not too much to glean from doing what’s expected of you.

The Broncs’ next two games come in Dublin, against Stetson and Central Arkansas, before their second big test, a game at Rutgers on Nov. 22.

“Why should this year be any different,” cried out MAAC fans when the possibility of an improved Quinnipiac team was brought up. After all, Baker Dunleavy has had talented teams before, but they never succeeded. On opening night, the Bobcats made a statement, going on the road to Rhode Island, and spoiling Archie Miller’s Ram debut.

The difference between this year’s Bobcats team and the previous groups was on display, as despite a poor performance from Matt Balanc, the frontcourt and bench stepped up. Columbia transfer Ike Nweke’s Bobcat debut featured a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double, paving the way for the upset win.

“[Nweke’s] kept us in the game in the first half with his offensive rebounds,” Dunleavy said.

Quinnipiac led by as many as 12 points against Rhode Island and ended up winning 67-62. Luis Kortright came off the bench to lead the Bobcats in scoring with 15, and he put on another good performance on Thursday night.

The Bobcats traveled to Stonehill on Thursday and won a shootout 102-95. Seven different players were in double figures, showing the depth of the scoring options.

The Bobcats visited Central Connecticut this afternoon and prevailed 72-70. They are 3-0 for the first time since the 1994-95 season. They will host Dartmouth on Tuesday.

Fairfield’s first two games showed the world that they have talent, but it will take time to figure out how to use it. The Stags will not go anywhere if Supreme Cook can’t stay out of foul trouble, and that was a problem over the course of the Wake Forest and New Hampshire games.

One thing that wasn’t an issue was Bowling Green transfer Caleb Fields, who averaged 16.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in his first two games as a Stag, shooting 46.2% from deep. Fields has been the most impressive player for the Stags so far. Returners Jake Wojcik and TJ Long haven’t found their 3-point stroke yet, Brycen Goodine has only seen limited minutes, and James Johns was a DNP in the first game.

Fairfield has a deep group of guys that can all give quality minutes, but it’s about finding lineup synergy that won’t allow New Hampshire to shoot 13-for-24 from 3. While the loss to Wake Forest was nothing to be concerned about, the poor defensive display against the Wildcats of New Hampshire is certainly something that raises red flags.

I don’t think anybody knows what the best rotation for the Stags is, but what we do know is that it includes seeing a healthy dose of freshman James Johns Jr, who impressed with 13 points in 21 minutes of his college debut. Jay Young must find the right mix of size, shooting, ball handling, and defense for this group, or else the talent will go to waste.

As Saint Peter’s raised their Elite 8 banner on Monday, a new era began. Freshman Corey Washington’s 18 points and 8 rebounds led the way for the Peacocks en route to a 73-59 win over NJIT.

First-year head coach Bashir Mason has played a very deep bench in his first two games manning the sidelines for SPU, including full 5-for-5 line changes. The win against NJIT was followed up by a putrid offensive display in an 80-44 loss against former head coach Shaheen Holloway’s Seton Hall Pirates.

Foul trouble has been a problem, with 31 fouls per game so far, but these are the growing pains that come with a very young college basketball team early in the season. Expect to see a ton of Juju Murray, as he’s been the only Peacock to score in double figures in both games.

MAAC newcomer Mount St. Mary’s started their season off by shooting 8-for-34 from inside the three point line against West Virginia on the way to an 18-point loss. It’s hard to judge mid-200’s KenPom teams when they play against power conference foes in the first game of the season, but Jalen Benjamin played a strong game in Morgantown.

Dakota Leffew has also come out strong, in a bounce back season for him after struggling to shoot from deep last year. However, the loss to Coppin State was a disappointing one. That’s a game that the Mount should be winning, but some of these days, you just come out and don’t quite play as well as you should.

Binghamton transfer George Tinsley has seen a big role in terms of minutes played, but took just two shots in the first game. In the second game, he had a double-digit scoring performance, shooting 6-for-12, Leffew and Tinsley are the x-factors for this Mountaineers team, and it’s great to see them performing well to start.

However, Malik Jefferson has struggled and picked up nine fouls in 42 minutes with just 14 points, and Deandre Thomas was a DNP in the Coppin State game.

Marist’s Patrick Gardner has shown that his stat-sheet stuffing ways at the Division II level are at least somewhat sustainable, as long as he takes a significant amount of shots. The lefty has taken 42.6% of Marist’s shots while on the court, en route to 21.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg in two games.

In the win against American, Robert Morris transfer Kam Farris was a key contributor, with his 3-point shooting guiding the Foxes to victory. He shot 5-for-5 in that game, scoring 20 points. In the loss to Binghamton, he shot 0-for-6 from deep, and the team as a whole shot 8-of-27 from long range.

It’s been a tale of two games so far for Marist, and their weak non-conference schedule continues with Lehigh on Wednesday.

Niagara has played two away games, both without Southeastern Louisiana transfer Joe Kasperzyk, who was projected to score in double digits for them, but nevertheless, the offense has not been strong. All of the guards are struggling with turnovers, and the Purple Eagles are taking forever to get a good shot, with a snail’s pace of possession. In fact, Niagara didn’t hit a single made 3-pointer against Maryland.

The lethargic offensive start has come down to the inability to create good shots, and the inability to get to the foul line. Marcus Hammond did both of those things at a high level last year, and while there has been negative variance, when Kasperzyk slots into the lineup, the Purple Eagles may be asking a lot out of him.

If there’s a positive, freshman Bryce Moore has come into the starting lineup and been a solid contributor so far. Moore, at 6-foot-4-inches, 176 pounds, has the ability to shoot the three, and has been a serviceable combo guard in his first two games at the college level.

Getting outplayed by Maryland was expected, but getting outplayed the way that they did against Bucknell wasn’t. The team has a few days to get ready for Dublin, where they’ll face Central Arkansas and Stetson.

On top of all the drama with Masiello, Manhattan’s season began unceremoniously as its home opener against Central Connecticut Friday was postponed 30 minutes before tip because the court at Draddy Gym was unplayable.

Manhattan’s loss to VCU was sloppy, as you’d expect from a team that fired their head coach two weeks before the season. Both Ant Nelson and Elijah Buchanan turned the ball over eight times, with the Jaspers as a team turning it over 27 times. Facing the VCU defense at the Siegel Center is always a tough task, but Manhattan crumbled, with a 37% turnover rate and just 0.77 points per possession.

If there was a bright spot, Josh Roberts played 30 minutes, going 7-of-7 from the field for 14 points and swatting three shots. For Roberts, the ability to stay out of foul trouble is key, as there’s no more Warren Williams to platoon with him at the 5.

The Jaspers fell to 0-2 with a 77-74 loss at Fairleigh Dickinson Sunday night. Roberts led the way with 17 points and nine rebounds.

The Siena Saints are one of just two teams to start the season undefeated through the first week of games in the MAAC, picking up wins over Holy Cross and UAlbany. The win against Holy Cross was impressive because it was on the road without the services of Jackson Stormo. Eduardo Lane’s 13 points and 11 rebounds certainly were a big factor in that game.

The win against UAlbany is a character-building win. It was a tough game between two local rivals in an incredible atmosphere. UAlbany was dominating that game, it was 55-41, with about 14 minutes to play, and from that point on, the Saints held the Danes to just one field goal. During the 34-7 run that closed the game, sixth-year senior Andrew Platek hit a bunch of huge threes. After missing most of last season due to injury, Platek is back for one final ride, and his experience will help guide this team when things get tough.

Javian McCollum’s breakout has officially started, scoring 20 points in each of the first two games, with a near 40% assist rate, and an offensive rating well above 130. McCollum has been as impressive as anybody in the league through two games, with his ability to take over games in short stretches on display.

Carmen Maciariello has done an excellent job getting the best out of his players, and players like Michael Baer putting in gritty performances are just another sign of that.

The Saints take on Harvard and Army before heading down to Orlando for the ESPN Events Classic, where they’ll face a struggling Florida State team in the first round.

Speaking of character building wins, Canisius also picked one up on Saturday night against a local rival. The Griffs earned an 84-80 overtime win at home against St. Bonaventure in a game where the lead was changing hands more often than a WWE championship belt. Jordan Henderson hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 47.8 seconds left, and after a Bona free throw sent the game to overtime, the Griffs took control. Xzavier Long, who had just one point in the opener against Youngstown State, hit three triples and scored 19 points in the rivalry win over the Bonnies.

Long is a sophomore wing who impressed with his ability to slash and rebound for the Griffs last year, and is set for a breakout campaign. While that campaign kicked off unofficially on Saturday night during the big win over St. Bonaventure, the season didn’t start as strongly on Monday.

Canisius’ first game was a Malek Green revenge game, where the former Griff came to town with Youngstown State and dropped a game-high 21 en route to a 92-81 win. While the Griffs defense didn’t impress at all on that day, players like Tahj Staveskie and Jamie Moultrie showed how they can be contributors for this team.

If there’s a stock down for this team, it’s probably Jacco Fritz, not by his own fault though. He played very well against Bona, however he simply hasn’t gotten the minutes or the opportunity that was expected. Certainly a situation to monitor as the season goes on.

Canisius faces Cleveland State next Wednesday in the return game of a home-and-home.

Around the league, the team whose stock rose the most this week was Quinnipiac, and the team whose stock dropped the most this week was Fairfield. However, it’s still so early in the season that everything can change.

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