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MAAC Half-Season Report Cards

Iona gets a pretty low grade from Sam. Plus, he doles out some midseason awards.

NCAA Basketball: ESPN Events Invitational-Sienna vs Mississippi Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

We’re across the halfway point of the MAAC season and so much has changed in the league since the quarter-season point. With every game being so close, it’s hard to differentiate the teams, and the top of the league isn’t quite as high as we once thought it was. Every team has multiple losses, and every team has at least three wins, and there have been just four blowouts (defined by KenPom as games decided by 20 or more points) in league play.

Siena: A+

The Good: Everything is coming up Saints right now. Jackson Stormo has evolved on both ends of the court, Zek Tekin is filling in effectively enough at the 1, Jared Billups is scoring better, Michael Baer and Andrew Platek are shooting well, and it’s led to some big wins. The win over Iona was notably impressive, with everybody playing their part in the symphony

The Bad: Yes, Siena is 4-0 without Javian McCollum, but it’s hard to believe that’s fully sustainable. The Saints do need to get McCollum back for his jolt in shot creation for himself and his teammates.

The Forecast: Siena has no plans of relinquishing the lead they have in the MAAC. Their schedule is pretty light for the next two weeks, but it gets tough toward the end of February.

Burning Question: When will McCollum be back?

Rider: A

The Good: The comeback kings of the MAAC. Rider has won five games in a row, and came back from double-digit deficits in four of them. The Broncs are experienced enough to not let that get into their head, and with clutch shots from Dwight Murray and Allen Powell, they have the resolve to succeed in the final moments of games.

The Bad: Rider is still a pretty bad shooting team, and they can go on long scoring droughts that dig them some holes, like we’ve seen in recent games

The Forecast: Rider has worked their way back to the top of the league, where they were projected to be in the preseason. They should be able to extend their winning streak to seven next weekend.

Burning Question: Can Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson build off his strong performance at Fairfield to give a clear answer at the center spot for Rider?

Iona: D+

The Good: The Gaels still have three first-team caliber players and a Hall of Fame coach. They’re the most talented team in the league.

The Bad: They haven’t played like the most talented team in the league in a while. Losses to Quinnipiac, Siena, and Rider, as well as uncomfortably close games with Fairfield, Manhattan, and Quinnipiac, have thrown the Gaels season into a tailspin. Additionally, Quinn Slazinski is out for the season, leaving the Gaels with no true power forward on the roster

The Forecast: Iona should be able to get back on track, but Buffalo looms large on Super Bowl weekend.

Burning Question: Did Iona peak too early?

Quinnipiac: A-

The Good: Quinnipiac played excellent basketball in the first 13 halves of January. They looked like the best team in the league over that stretch. Dezi Jones, Paul Otieno, and Ike Nweke have stepped up to be the alphas for this team on both ends of the court.

The Bad: Despite the six game winning streak, and excellent first half against Iona, Quinnipiac is just 6-4 after blowing an 18-point lead to Iona. Free-throw shooting is still a major concern when it comes to closing out games.

The Forecast: The Bobcats have a favorable schedule when it comes to getting a bye, or even finishing top three. They’ve played the second toughest MAAC schedule so far, and they’ve weathered the storm to put themselves in this position.

Burning Question: Does the Matt Balanc of yesteryear still exist?

Niagara: B

The Good: The Purple Eagles have won back to back games, and they’ve given themselves a chance to win each of the games they’ve lost recently as well. Lance Erving and Sam Iorio have been hitting shots, and Noah Thomasson leads the MAAC in scoring during conference play.

The Bad: Niagara failed the challenges against Rider and Siena, and picked up bad losses against Marist and Manhattan. The slow tempo and lack of elite traits can allow teams to hang around the same way that it can allow the Purple Eagles to stay in games.

The Forecast: Niagara has a brutal schedule, with the first Battle of the Bridge followed with games against three of the top four teams in the league. A third straight bye is the goal, but it’s certainly not going to come easy.

Burning Question: Can Niagara pull away from teams and leave little doubt in the final moments?

Fairfield: B

The Good: Fairfield’s grade is up significantly from the quarter-season report card. Going from a C- to a B is very impressive, with Supreme Cook being a menace on the glass, TJ Long settling in, and even getting some strong performances from Jake Wojcik. The Stags had a four-game winning streak including a win on the road at Siena.

The Bad: Caleb Fields hasn’t played at the level he was earlier in the season since returning from injury. His missed free-throw allowed Rider to come down the court and tie the game at the buzzer on Sunday, and the overtime period brought an abrupt end to the winning streak.

The Forecast: Fairfield travels to Quinnipiac, hosts Iona, and visits Rider all in a seven-day span, winning two of those would put them in an excellent position to get a bye.

Burning Question: Where is pre-injury Caleb Fields?

Manhattan: A-

The Good: Instead of being a punching bag for the league, Manhattan has been extremely competitive. Josh Roberts would be a lock for an All-Defensive team if the award existed, and he’s a master of efficiency offensively. Ant Nelson has turned a corner, becoming a reliable and effective point guard for Manhattan. James Jewell, who was added to the roster midseason, has impressed as well. RaShawn Stores is up there for coach of the year with how well his team has competed, as they’re somehow still in the mix for a bye.

The Bad: Manhattan fell in a bunch of close games, including a road game at Rider where they had the Broncs on the ropes the whole afternoon. The Jaspers are still turnover prone on offense and struggle defensively.

The Forecast: Hosting Siena and Rider this weekend, Manhattan has a tough schedule coming up. It’s an uphill climb to a bye, but they have a solid chance to stay out of the basement

Burning Question: Is Stores a lock to get the interim tag removed?

Saint Peter’s: C-

The Good: Isiah Dasher has continued his breakout, scoring double digits in every MAAC game. With road wins at Mount St. Mary’s and Marist, the Peacocks have won two of their last three games to climb from 2-7 to 4-8. Saint Peter’s has one of the stingier defenses in the league, and they’re very deep.

The Bad: The Peacocks are the worst shooting team in the MAAC, and they’re 358th nationally in eFG%. Their defense helps them hang around in games, but they don’t have the offense to lift them above teams late in games. Their close losses to Niagara and Canisius are examples of this.

The Forecast: The Peacocks are in the clear bottom tier of the MAAC, but a split of the next six games is totally attainable, and would likely keep them out of last place.

Burning Question: Is the Peacocks' hot shooting over the last two games going to carry over?

Marist: D+

The Good: Patrick Gardner is an incredible player, and they’ve gotten solid production at times from rookies Trace Salton and Isaiah Brickner. The Red Foxes actually swept the Buffalo trip.

The Bad: Marist hasn’t won since Buffalo, and they don’t have any consistent guard play. The Red Foxes haven’t scored more than 57 points in their past four games, partially because of the inability to create anything in transition.

The Forecast: Marist doesn’t have a clear path out of the basement, but they do have a peephole, with a few winnable games against Canisius and Saint Peter’s over the next two weekends.

Burning Question: How real is the Salton breakout?

Mount St. Mary’s: D

The Good: Dakota Leffew has emerged as one of the best shooters in the MAAC, and Jalen Benjamin has shown flashes.

The Bad: The pick-and-roll offense has not translated. The Mount lost five of their last six games, including four at home. With Malik Jefferson out, they’ve badly struggled to score on the inside. In late-game situations, Benjamin has struggled to take care of the ball.

The Forecast: The Mount failed their easy part of the schedule, and now it’s an uphill battle to avoid the basement

Burning Question: Is Jefferson going to be back soon?

Canisius: D+

The Good: Canisius picked up a win against Siena a few weeks back, and they did that despite missing multiple starters with injuries. There are plenty of different options to score and they move the ball at a high level.

The Bad: Canisius isn’t making enough shots, especially on the interior. Their interior defense also lacks because they don’t have a strong big man to match up with the rest of the league (Fritz is good, but he’s a bad matchup for a lot of the bigs in the league). While there are plenty of scoring options, only Jordan Henderson provides consistency.

The Forecast: Canisius is almost guaranteed to be playing on the first day of the MAAC tournament regardless of their schedule.

Burning Question: Can one of the other guards step up and be a consistent and efficient scoring threat?

First Team All-MAAC

Daniss Jenkins: The best three-level scoring threat in the league, and he’s also been the best playmaker by assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s an elite athlete, a high-major player stuck in a mid-major league.

Noah Thomasson: One of the best isolation scorers in the country, elite at getting to his spots and sinking tough shots. He leads the MAAC in scoring during conference play.

Patrick Gardner: A do-it-all big man for Marist who scores at all levels, and has the skills of a guard. Read the feature on him from two weeks ago.

Nelly Junior Joseph: When it comes to pure strength, the most dominant big in the league. He’s imposing on both ends, and he’s a double-double machine.

Dwight Murray: The “Mr. Clutch” of the MAAC, he’s one of the best players in the league at getting downhill and scoring on the drive.

Second Team All-MAAC

Javian McCollum: He would be on the first team if he played enough minutes. He’s one of the very best guards in the league with his three level scoring ability and elite playmaking.

Walter Clayton Jr.: A first-team caliber player, Clayton has also missed time, as well as playing hurt. He’s probably the best spot-up shooter in the league, and arguably the best scorer in the league.

Josh Roberts: The Manhattan big man is arguably the defensive player of the year in the league, as well as being an absurdly efficient post scorer.

Jackson Stormo: Coming into his own on both ends, Stormo is a really solid two-way big man who plays well with his back to the basket, and from the foul line.

Mervin James: One of the best athletes and defenders in the league, he’s the best rebounding wing in the MAAC, and he’s a more than capable scorer.

Isiah Dasher: His breakout season has been a delightful surprise in Jersey City

Supreme Cook: An elite rebounder and post scorer (with an elite name), he’s Fairfield’s most consistent player.

Dezi Jones: Emerging as the top guard for Quinnipiac, Jones is a high level playmaker who can really shoot.

Jalen Benjamin: Despite some turnovers, Benjamin’s scoring ability and excellence out of the pick-and-roll make him an all-MAAC guard.

Ike Nweke: A menace on the glass, Nweke has given a much-needed interior presence to Quinnipiac

All-Transfer Team: Patrick Gardner, Daniss Jenkins, Ike Nweke, Paul Otieno, Aaron Gray

All-Freshman Team: Tahj Staveskie, Michael Eley, Corey Washington, Cruz Davis, Isaiah Brickner

Player of the Year: Daniss Jenkins

Most Improved Player: Javian McCollum

Freshman of the Year: Michael Eley

Defensive Player of the Year: Jared Billups

Coach of the Year: Carmen Maciariello