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MAAC Report Cards entering conference play

Sam gives out some letter grades.

NCAA Basketball: Manhattan at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The new year means a few things. It’s typically a time for both optimism and reflection, but in college basketball, it means business.

Playtime is over. Every team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is now finished with non-conference play. From now until March, wars will be waged all across the region. Heroes will emerge, and history will be written, so where does each team stand at this juncture? Look no further than these report cards.

Marist (7-4, 2-0): A+

One Quick Thought: I picked Marist dead last in my MAAC Season Preview, but the Red Foxes have come out and looked as sound as anybody in the conference. The emergence of freshman guards Josh Pascarelli and Jadin Collins has kept the offense afloat, and the breakout season for Jaden Daughtry on both ends has been spectacular to watch. While Marist did lose to Lehigh at home, that game came without leading Max Allen, who is nursing an injury.

Saint Peter’s (6-5, 2-0): B+

The Good: The Peacocks went 5-1 in December, including a sweep the Buffalo trip at the beginning of the month. Bashir Mason has clearly instilled the identity of pressure defense, and it has worked so far in Jersey City. The Peacocks rank 108th in adjusted defensive efficiency in large thanks to the consistent full-court press.

Saint Peter’s is among the top teams in the country at forcing turnovers, and with a deep rotation of guards, the Peacocks can use their pressure for long stretches. Possessions against the Peacock defense are typically fast, while the long developing offensive sets that Mason runs can lull you to sleep.

It’s the stark dichotomy in style on both ends of the court that makes Saint Peter’s a tough team to prepare for, as well as the toughness of the group.

Latrell Reid has taken a major step forward, and he continues to be an excellent leader.

“He’s an extension of myself and the staff on the court,” Mason said after squeaking out a win over Division III Kean. “We have a lot of new guys that are still trying to get their feet wet with it, so we got to ride Latrell as much as we can.”

The Bad: Saint Peter’s offense is fairly anemic. There aren’t enough consistent shot creators, shooters, or post threats. Mason understands this, and knows that there isn’t a quick fix for it.

“My concern from that game [against Kean] wasn’t the offense,” he said, despite having very little in terms of answers for the Cougars’ zone defense. “We [will always] shoot below 40% from the field, we [will always] shoot in the 20’s from 3.”

Even though Corey Washington has taken a major step forward in terms of his shot creation, and his game outside of the paint, Mason wants to see more from him in terms of leadership.

One Burning Question: Will anybody emerge as a consistent option in the post?

It hasn’t been quite the year that we expected for Mouhamed Sow. Stephon Roberts has been nearly invisible. Nobody is sure when Oumar Diahame will return.

Saint Peter’s is 343rd nationally in two-point offense, and there’s a plethora of reasons. While the Peacocks struggle to generate high-quality looks for their guards, the lack of an imposing offensive threat in the post doesn’t help the cause, especially with Corey Washington stepping out to the perimeter.

Iona (6-7, 1-1): C+

One Quick Thought: Iona seems to have found a groove late in non-conference play. With the return of Osborn Shema, the group is much more cohesive on the offensive end. Jeremiah Quigley and Jean Aranguren have starred as freshmen, coming off the bench in major roles late in games. However, you cannot ignore Iona’s struggles early in the year when giving a grade, even if things have possibly been solved.

Canisius (6-6, 1-1): B+

One Quick Thought: Tre Dinkins and Siem Uijtendaal have shouldered a significant ball-handling load with Tahj Staveskie out of the lineup, and they have both shined. They’re playing like All-MAAC players, and Frank Mitchell is as well. The Griffs are two points away from a 2-0 MAAC start, have wins over St. Bonaventure, Wofford, and Western Kentucky, and pushed Pitt and High Point to the brink on the road.

Mount St. Mary’s (5-8, 1-1): C+

One Quick Thought: The Mount is a few plays away from having a much better record. It lost on a game-winning shot to Manhattan, in double overtime to Howard, a three point game at American, and a four point game at Delaware State. Mount St. Mary’s has reacted fine to losing Xavier Lipscomb, as Dallas Hobbs and De’Shayne Montgomery have stepped up in a big way. However, the Mount needs to be more consistent, and put together a full-40 minutes, something it hasn’t done against a team naked higher than 334th in KenPom.

Fairfield (7-6, 1-1): A-

One Quick Thought: After a very slow start, the Stags have won six in a row, including a road win at Yale. Jasper Floyd is more than just a glue guy and Jalen Leach has emerged as a legit scoring option. Caleb Fields has been mostly up-and-down, but he’s not needed to shoulder as much of a load this year with how well the rest of the backcourt is playing. Peyton Smith’s production has tapered off a bit, but Birima Seck has made his return to the Stags rotation.

Quinnipiac (9-4, 1-1): B+

One Quick Thought: The Bobcats are playing lightning fast, and thanks to Savion Lewis’ wheeling and dealing, along with Matt Balanc’s hot shooting, they’re 9-4. While Lewis and Balanc will get the headlines, Amarri Tice has been just as important. The Wofford transfer protects the rim, jumps passing lanes, rebounds like there’s no tomorrow, finishes in the paint, and gets tot eh foul line. He is the ultimate glue guy for this team.

Manhattan (4-7, 1-1): D+

The Good: Seydou Traore might be the most naturally gifted player in the MAAC.

“He’s such a special player,” John Gallagher said after the Jaspers lost to Wagner. “I expect so much from him, and he keeps getting better every day. If there’s a guy I want to have in my program to build it around, it’s him.”

As a 6-foot-7 freshman, he’s averaging a near double-double with 11.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game while shooting 45.3% from the field. His athleticism was on display in an 18 point, 10 rebound, four block performance in the loss to Wagner.

The Jaspers are very young, and they are still learning, but many freshmen have shown signs. Jaden Winston had 10 assists against Mount St. Mary’s and nine against Wagner. Rokas Jocys drained a game-winning 3 against the Mount, and is shooting nearly 42% from beyond the arc this season.

The Bad: In the wake of injuries to Daniel Rouzan and Xinyi Li, the Jaspers have had to play very small. While Rouzan and Li are expected back soon, Manhattan limped to four consecutive losses in December.

“We didn’t get stops,” Gallagher said of the small lineup’s performance against Wagner. “We gave up two straight layups that are just out of character because Danny’s [Rouzan] usually back there when we scramble. We’ll continue to learn, and we’ll continue to grow, it’s our first year, and we have a lot to build around.”

Before Brett Rumpel went down against UConn with a season-ending injury, Gallagher thought that Manhattan could’ve been near the top of the league. However, the Jaspers sorely miss everything that the St. Bonaventure transfer brings to the table, and expectations had to be recalibrated.

One Burning Question: Who can step up as a secondary perimeter scoring option?

Rumpel was expected to be one of the top scorers for this team, and in his absence, it has been a conglomerate of different names.

Shaquil Bender had four straight double digit scoring performances and is currently the second leading scorer, but he has been wildly inconsistent.

Briggs McClain has proven to be a scorer at the Division I level, doing so with Hartford, but his role has been drastically reduced. It should be fascinating to see how he adjusts as the season goes on.

Siena (2-11, 1-1): F

One Quick Thought: Sean Durugordon’s return hasn’t saved this team from the issues that it had. While the Austin Peay transfer has been excellent, he doesn’t provide playmaking or stability, simply the ability to take shots, and so far, he’s made them. Michael Eley has been forced to take a ridiculous amount of tough shots thanks to the inability of this Saints team to generate easy paint touches or knock down open threes. It’s simply jarring to see a program of Siena’s stature have a team ranked 360th in KenPom with this many embarrassing blowout losses.

Rider (3-10, 0-2): F

The Good: Rider picked up a super impressive win on the road against Delaware. Mervin James scored 25 points and grabbed seven boards in that game. James has continued to be the best player in the conference despite Rider’s struggles. He has averaged 19.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game on a super efficient 51.6% from the field.

Allen Powell, who really struggled for much of the season, drained six threes, including five in the second half against Penn, perhaps a sign that he’s breaking out of his dreadful slump.

“If anything, [the slump] was a plus,” Powell said after the loss to Penn. “It has made me get in the gym more, and get work in, and today, it showed with shots falling.”

While the Broncs lost to both Penn and Penn State, between the games against Delaware and the Quakers, there was a clear shift in competitiveness from the group.

“After the losses, we came together,” Anthony McCall said. “We knew that we had to pick it up, and we’ve been practicing better., just picking each other up, pushing each other, making everybody better in practice.”

head coach Kevin Baggett echoed the sentiment on practice.

“We’re competing more and executing better,” he said. “We have time to practice, remember, we were going through a stretch where we were just playing games.”

The Bad: Even with Powell’s excellent performance against Penn, he’s still shooting just 23% from beyond the arc this season.

When Rider’s starters aren’t hitting shots, which has been the case for most of the year, there hasn’t been a ton of bench options to turn to. Rider’s bench is among the bottom 30 in the country in terms of minutes played.

DJ Dudley and Ruben Rodriguez have gone through freshman struggles, neither of them has been able to truly solidify an elevated spot in the rotation.

“We have eight new guys, and [the returning players] are playing a different role,” Baggett said, “This is not a finished product, and we’ll continue to get better. We have a long way to go, but these guys know what we need to do. I told them in the locker room that we’re really good, and we could be really good in this league.”

One Burning Question: Is it just a slump?

Rider is 351st nationally in effective field goal percentage. It’s certainly a slump, but slumps can drag on, like Fairfield last season.

If Rider can’t start hitting shots soon, they could be in serious trouble. Thankfully for the Broncs, the non-conference schedule doesn’t count for anything in the MAAC, but being 0-2 in the league has already put them in a hole.

Niagara (4-8, 0-2): D

One Quick Thought: While Niagara has plenty of players who knock down shots, including freshman Ahmad Henderson and transfer Luke Bumbalough, the Purple Eagles struggle badly on the defensive end. Niagara simply didn’t have enough length on the perimeter against the teams it was facing, and seven-footer Harlan Obioha hasn’t been much of a rim deterrent. The Purps dropped a bad game to Bucknell in November, but don’t have any true bad losses since, although they haven’t picked up any good wins either. Despite his defensive deficiencies, Obioha has begun to break out offensively.