Every team in the MAAC won at least six games of the 20-game regular season, and outside of Iona, every team lost at least seven games. Even for Rick Pitino’s Gaels, there was a stretch in the season where they looked vulnerable and were in danger of falling to the fourth seed, before finishing the season hot.
Anyone can beat anyone.
If you don’t mind another saying, in mid-major basketball: “A bad 40 minutes can erase four good months,” and that’s precisely what happened last year in Atlantic City for Iona. The Gaels will try to avoid that, while the rest of the league hopes to emulate last year’s champion, Saint Peter’s, who then went on their magical run to the Elite Eight.
— #MAACHoops (@MAACHoops) March 5, 2023
With the regular season concluding tonight, here is the official bracket for the 2023 @HerculesTires Men's #MAACHoops Championship
: https://t.co/ULyEihoDl1#MAACHoops x #maAChoops23 pic.twitter.com/UZcNjO91b4
All games at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey.
All times are listed as EST.
First Round (Tuesday, March 7), ESPN+
Game 1: (9) Canisius vs (8) Mount St. Mary’s, 5:00 p.m.
Game 2: (10) Saint Peter’s vs (7) Fairfield, 7:00 p.m.
Game 3: (11) Marist vs (6) Manhattan, 9:00 p.m.
Quarterfinals (Wednesday, March 8, and Thursday, March 9), ESPN+
Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs (1) Iona, 3/8, 7:00 p.m.
Game 5: Game 2 Winner vs (2) Rider, 3/8, 9:30 p.m.
Game 6: Game 3 Winner vs (3) Quinnipiac, 3/9, 7:00 p.m.
Game 7: (5) Niagara vs (4) Siena, 3/9, 9:30 p.m.
Semifinals (Friday, March 10), ESPNEWS
Game 8: Game 4 Winner vs Game 7 Winner, 6:00 p.m.
Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs Game 6 Winner, 8:30 p.m.
Championship (Saturday, March 11), ESPN2
Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs Game 9 Winner, 7:30 p.m.
Iona (24-7, 17-3): With all of the noise around Pitino potentially leaving New Rochelle in the offseason, the Gaels have a group that can make some noise of their own.
After a lull in January where they lost three games out of five, and fell to 6-3, Iona has completely turned their season around, and its comes to Atlantic City on the nation’s fifth-longest winning streak at 11.
The Gaels boast the MAAC’s most talented roster, with the premiere point guard in the league, Daniss Jenkins. He dishes out passes, leads the full-court press and hits mid-range jumpers.
Shooting guard Walter Clayton Jr. brings a rare scoring talent at the mid-major level, an athletic transition player and a strong finisher on the inside.
Nelly Junior Joseph is a powerful big man who recorded 18 double-doubles as the most consistent producer on the team.
Seven-footer Osborn Shema can swat shots, run in transition and step out to hit jump shots. His size helps Iona become a matchup nightmare in the league, with teams sometimes having to go to bigger lineups that they’re uncomfortable with in order to match it.
The uber-athletic Berrick JeanLouis provides elite defense from the small forward position and occasionally can take the pressure off of the scorers offensively.
Speaking of taking the pressure off, Anton Brookshire has become a deadly 3-point shooter, giving Iona the ability to rotate their guards much more comfortably.
The Gaels are top-100 nationally in both offense and defense, according to KenPom. They are the only team in the MAAC that ranks in the top 100 of either. Whether they can exorcise their demons from last year is yet to be seen, but the Gaels are the heavy favorites in Atlantic City.
Rider (16-13, 13-7): After Rider’s eight game win streak was snapped a few weeks back, they’ve struggled to close out games down the stretch. Even with losing four of six games, the Broncs are probably the biggest threat to Iona in Atlantic City.
Dwight Murray Jr., Allen Powell and Allen Betrand combine to be one of the most experienced backcourts in all of college basketball, and they can all put points on the board in different ways. Murray has a diverse scoring bag, including ability to finish through and around contact. Powell displays a sharp mid-range shot, and Betrand is a consistant 3-point shooter. They are a high level backcourt.
Mervin James is one of the most athletic forwards in the league, and his two-way ability earned him a well-deserved spot on the All-MAAC second team. Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson’s versatile defensive skillset and impressive strength, makes him a matchup nightmare almost any player in the league.
Rider played extremely competitive games with Iona, including a win in New Rochelle back in January, and there’s nothing it’d love more than to spoil the Gaels’ season once again.
Quinnipiac (20-11, 11-9): Quinnipiac is a talented team with a deep backcourt. Between Dezi Jones, Matt Balanc, Luis Kortright and Tyrese Williams, there’s more talent in the backcourt than most teams at this level.
Ike Nweke and Paul Otieno in the frontcourt both play above their size and stay out of foul trouble. The Bobcats are a poor free-throw shooting team, but they make up for it by not giving their opponents many chances from the stripe.
Baker Dunleavy knows that his team is defined by spurts, both good and bad. The Bobcats have jumped out to big leads, only to see those leads erode multiple times, but in the games where they’ve held on, it’s been a statement to the league.
An 81-58 win over Iona back in January was the peak of Quinnipiac’s season, right in the middle of a six-game winning streak. Over the last eight games, Quinnipiac has defeated Siena and Rider, but fallen to four teams that are playing on Tuesday.
Quinnipiac’s upside is to win the whole tournament, but I don’t think anybody would be shocked if they get upset in the quarterfinals either.
Siena (17-14, 11-9): Siena’s season has gone downhill from their emotional weekend sweep of Iona and Marist back in late January. From 9-2, Siena has fallen all the way to 11-9, and limps into the MAAC Tournament with five consecutive losses.
The winning plays that defined the Saints’ mental toughness in close games back in the first half of the MAAC season have gone away — replaced by allowing Saint Peter’s an offensive rebound to hit a game-tying 3 at the buzzer, and briefly losing possession and eventually throwing up a rushed shot on the final possession against Manhattan.
Regardless of its recent performance, Siena still has one of the more talented groups in the MAAC, led by Javian McCollum. The All-MAAC Third Team point guard is a silky smooth ball handler with elite shot-making abilities, being able to hit all kinds of different 3-point shots. Jared Billups is one of the best defenders in the league. In the one game that he didn’t play, Siena allowed 93 points in an embarrassing loss to Iona.
Michael Eley has emerged as a future star in the league and is the favorite for MAAC Rookie of the Year. His athleticism and shooting ability is a really difficult combo to guard.
Jackson Stormo and Andrew Platek have struggled recently, but the Saints will need to get high-level performances from their post scorer and their deadeye shooter, if they’re going to make a run in Atlantic City.
Niagara (15-14, 10-10): Niagara’s season looked very promising when they started 4-1 in the MAAC, and after they came back to beat Quinnipiac in overtime, improving to 9-5. However, since that win, which was their fifth in a row, they’ve lost five of six to limp into Atlantic City.
Niagara’s star, Noah Thomasson, has continued to score at a high level, as one of the best isolation scorers in the country, however the supporting cast has eroded recently.
Aaron Gray, the talented sophomore wing who was in the ballpark of 14 points per game through mid-January, has only eclipsed double figures twice in the past eight games. Most of the team has been characterized by hot and cold stretches, and inconsistency with minutes, but they were able to weather the storm until Super Bowl Sunday, when the collapse began.
If Niagara is to make a run in the MAAC Tournament, Greg Paulus will likely ask a lot of David Mitchell and Braxton Bayless on the defensive end, and will need Sam Iorio to play closer to his ceiling on the offensive end.
Canisius (10-19, 8-12): Canisius is among the hottest teams in the MAAC right now, having won five of its last six games, including three games scoring over 80 points.
Tahj Staveskie and Jordan Henderson are clicking, leading the offense and having some of their best performances of the season down the stretch. Jacco Fritz has utilized his unique skillset to create high quality shots for the Griffs. TJ Gadsden has continued to emerge as a threat, and there’s plenty of other ancillary scoring options.
Canisius has also tightened up their defense recently, forcing more turnovers, lower quality shots, and keeping teams off the free-throw line. With the Griffs winning the turnover battle, they’ve been able to turn their season around, but they still find themselves in the 8-9 game.
Mount St. Mary’s (12-19, 8-12): The Mount comes in playing its best basketball of the season. After all, Dan Engelstad told me that he’s never dealt with as many injuries over the course of a season as the Mount did this year.
With Malik Jefferson and DeAndre Thomas back in the rotation, the Mount has won four of their last five games, with the only loss coming against Iona. Guards Jalen Benjamin and Dakota Leffew can both score from multiple levels, and they lead the best 3-point shooting team in the MAAC.
On the interior, the Mount can play lineups with both Malik Jefferson and Jedy Cordilia in order to match bigger teams, but can also go smaller with George Tinsley as the power forward.
Two years ago, Mount St. Mary’s won the NEC Tournament by winning multiple road games against really well-coached teams, but this year’s run could be even harder, as they’d need to win four games.
Manhattan (12-17, 10-10): Four of Manhattan’s projected top seven producers played a combined zero MAAC games. Their coach got the job on two weeks' notice. They were down to single-digit scholarship players for solid portions of the season. Despite all of that, RaShawn Stores managed to coach this team to a .500 record in the MAAC.
The coaching job that Stores did was incredible. The Jaspers were never out of a game, staging multiple double-digit comeback wins, and they always stuck together. Josh Roberts and Ant Nelson are one of the league’s best pick-and-roll duos, with the former being a dominant defensive big man, and candidate for defensive player of the year.
Between Samir Stewart and Nick Brennen, there’s always a threat to catch fire from deep for the Jaspers.
Regardless of their performance in this tournament, Stores should have the interim tag removed from his title.
Fairfield (13-17, 9-11): Fairfield is finally starting to hit shots, draining eight or more 3s in each of their last four games after a near season-long shooting slump. The Stags put up a season-high 92 points against Quinnipiac on Thursday, to bring their record up to a disappointing 9-11 mark.
Caleb Fields has been an inconsistent scorer, but he’s an important cog to any offensive success as the main downhill scoring threat. TJ Long averaged 17 points on 44.4% from distance in his last six games of the regular season, and he’s getting hot at the right time.
Supreme Cook is one of the MAAC’s best big men, able to fight for rebounds and score out of the post, however, the Stags have been thin in the frontcourt since Chris Maidoh’s injury about a month ago.
Fairfield came into the season with a lot of hype, and while they didn't live up to it in the regular season, the tournament gives them a second chance.
Saint Peter’s (12-17, 7-13): Bashir Mason admitted to the media on Saturday that his team struggled with the grind of the MAAC schedule this year, but the amount of depth and different looks that the Peacocks can throw at their opponents makes them a threat to win games.
In Saturday’s win over Siena, Cam Young got crucial late minutes as a small-ball center, as they sent their three big men to the bench in order to try to force Siena out of their most comfortable lineups. Guards Jaylen Murray, Jayden Saddler and Isiah Dasher have all had their moments as scorers this season, and they rotate a ton to keep their guys fresh.
Marist (10-19, 6-14): With their offense revolving around do-it-all big man Patrick Gardner, and Maine transfer Stephane Ingo, Marist’s two-big lineups make them one of the bigger teams in the MAAC.
However, their guards haven’t provided consistent offensive production, and they’ve struggled to stop teams from hitting outside shots. There’s potential to get a game, but it would be very tough to win two in a row.
Players to Watch
Daniss Jenkins, Iona (15.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.5 RPG)
Walter Clayton Jr, Iona (16.5 PPG, 3.3 APG, 3.9 RPG, 94.4 FT%)
Nelly Junior Joseph, Iona (15.4 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG)
Dwight Murray Jr., Rider (15.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG)
Mervin James, Rider (12.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG)
Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson, Rider (6.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG)
Dezi Jones, Quinnipiac (12.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.8 APG)
Matt Balanc, Quinnipiac (12.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG)
Luis Kortright, Quinnipiac (10.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.9 APG)
Javian McCollum, Siena (15.6 PPG, 3.7 APG, 2.2 RPG)
Jackson Stormo, Siena (12.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
Noah Thomasson, Niagara (19.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.4 APG)
Aaron Gray, Niagara (12.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG)
Josh Roberts, Manhattan (12.2 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 70.7 FG%)
Ant Nelson, Manhattan (15.1 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3.6 RPG, 2.0 SPG)
Caleb Fields, Fairfield (11.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.4 APG)
Supreme Cook, Fairfield (13.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG)
Jalen Benjamin, Mount St. Mary’s (15.8 PPG, 3.8 APG, 2.9 RPG)
Dakota Leffew, Mount St. Mary’s (13.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG)
Tahj Staveskie, Canisius (12.3 PPG, 2.8 APG)
Jacco Fritz, Canisius (8.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.4 APG)
Jordan Henderson, Canisius (13.8 PPG, 2.2 APG)
Jaylen Murray, Saint Peter’s (11.7 PPG, 2.3 APG)
Isiah Dasher, Saint Peter’s (13.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
Patrick Gardner, Marist (18.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.0 APG)
The One Matchup That I’m Praying For
Iona-Rider: The two best teams in the league in the preseason are the two best teams in the postseason. On Jan. 15, the Broncs came back from 18 points down to beat the Gaels in their own house, snapping their 21-game home winning streak on a game-winning 3 from Dwight Murray Jr. On March 4, the Gaels returned the favor, beating Rider in Lawrence, N.J., in a game that never saw either team lead by more than six points. An Iona-Rider rubber match is the final that we all deserve.
Iona is hot right now, having won 11 games in a row. With the best talent and the best coaching, the Gaels are the clear favorite to cut down the nets at Boardwalk Hall on Saturday night, but it may be worth noting that the one seed has only won one MAAC Tournament in the last decade.