MAAC Tournament Preview
Over the course of the next week in Atlantic City, ten games will be played to determine who receives the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Let's take a look at the field
There are no “bad teams” in the MAAC, as evidenced by no team finishing with below 7 wins in the league. Games were competitive and tough all year long, and the teams that are playing on Tuesday just happened to come out on the short end of many of these contests.
Quinnipiac finished last in the MAAC with a 7–13 record on the heels of a six-game losing streak to close out the season. The Bobcats were picked to finish 9th in the preseason poll with Kevin Marfo and Jacob Rigoni picked for Preseason All-MAAC Second Team. In December, Savion Lewis went out for the season with an Achilles injury. Losing Lewis’ 9.4 Points, 4.3 Rebounds, and 4.1 Assists per game certainly made Baker Dunleavy’s job harder. In conference play, Matt Balanc has averaged 14.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, one of the league’s most improved players. MAAC leading rebounder Kevin Marfo nearly averaged a double-double in the league, 9.9 PPG, 10.1 RPG, and he also chips in 3.9 APG. Quinnipiac had the second-best offense in the MAAC, putting up 1.02 Adjusted Points Per Possession in conference play, and they do this with ball movement, three-point volume, and free throw shooting. The Bobcats also had the worst defense in the league, giving up 1.07 AdjPPP in conference play, letting opponents shoot 39.0% from 3, and blocking just 5.9% of shots. Quinnipiac’s opponent in the first round of the MAAC Tournament will be Marist, with whom they split the series, having won at home, 94–87 in January, and losing on the road, 67–66 in February.
The Red Foxes of Marist were not expected to be playing on day one of the MAAC Tournament, as they were picked to finish third in the MAAC Preseason Poll, with Ricardo Wright being a Preseason 3rd Team selection. John Dunne’s team finished 6th in the league with a 9–11 conference record after getting swept on the Buffalo trip to close the season. In early February, Marist sat at 3–9 in the league, but they then ripped off a six-game winning streak to get to .500 before Buffalo. Their resume features two blowout wins over the Hawks of Monmouth, winning by 36 and by 25 in their two meetings. Likely MAAC Freshman of the Year Jao Ituka is the leading scorer for this team. Ituka averaged 16.7 PPG in MAAC play while shooting 41% from 3. Seven different Foxes averaged at least 3 rebounds per game in league play, including the aforementioned Ituka and Wright. Marist is the third best offense in the MAAC, and they do it by making shots from everywhere on the court. The Red Foxes also have the 7th best defense in the MAAC, but get the 3rd highest percentage of defensive rebounds in the league. Marist games generally go quicker than the rest of the league, as they don’t take as many foul shots or commit as many fouls as some of the other teams in the league. KenPom gives the Foxes a 63% chance to win their first-round matchup with the Bobcats.
Predicted to finish last in the preseason poll, the Golden Griffins of Canisius finished tenth in the league with a 7–13 record thanks to a 3 game winning streak at the end of the season. Malek Green was a Preseason 3rd Team selection, and while he didn’t quite live up to the hype, eight different players averaged more than 5 points per game in the league. Jordan Henderson led the team in scoring with 12.5 PPG, followed by Armon Harried and Ahamadou Fofana. The Griffs won just one true road game all season, a 72–67 win over Quinnipiac in late February, and this may be because the trip from Buffalo down to the rest of the league is significantly more challenging than the rest. The inverse of this is that Canisius gets the home-court advantage of teams having to travel much further than most teams to face them. In Canisius’ last 9 home games, they went 7–2, with the only 2 losses being to first place Iona and Buffalo rival Niagara. Reggie Witherspoon’s team finished 9th in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the MAAC, but they’re one of the best rebounding teams in the league. It has been 20 years since Canisius won multiple games in the MAAC Tournament, and this year doesn’t look to be the end of that trend, as their opponent, Fairfield, swept them this regular season.
Picked to finish 6th in the preseason poll, the Fairfield Stags ended up in 7th place in the league with an 8–12 record. After a miracle run to the MAAC Finals last year, the Stags brought back nearly their entire team and started the season 8–3. Jay Young has a nice arsenal of options, Supreme Cook is an excellent post player, Taj Benning is a steady presence, Jake Wojcik, Caleb Green, and freshman TJ Long can all catch fire from distance, and Jesus Cruz is also a solid player. Fairfield swept the Buffalo trip in December, one of just two MAAC teams to do so this year. The Stags play slow and deliberate and with a lot of isolation. They are the most reliant team in the MAAC on 3 pointers, as it aids their offense, which ranks 6th in the MAAC. Their defense ranks 8th in the MAAC, and they’re excellent at cutting off three-pointers. Averaging just 64.9 possessions per game, a Stags game is always likely to turn into a slugfest rather than a track meet. KenPom gives the Stags a 58% chance to advance to the second round by defeating Canisius in the first.
The Rider Broncos were projected to finish 5th in the MAAC Preseason Poll, and Dwight Murray Jr. was selected to the Preseason First Team. Murray is an excellent all-around player, averaging 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in the MAAC. Dimencio Vaughn, Allen Powell, and Mervin James also averaged 12 or more points per game in MAAC play. The Broncos don’t use their bench too much and they’re also not a very tall team. With their lack of size, they were the worst team in the MAAC in 2 point percentage despite having 2 pointers account for more of their points than any other team in the league. Rider’s offense is not very good and is a major reason as to why they finished 8–12, in ninth place, below their predicted finish. The Broncos played in three different overtime games, and their point differential per game in the league was just -1.6, playing tons of close games. Kevin Baggett is in year number ten with Rider, and after 6 winning seasons in his first eight, the Broncos have struggled in each of the last two seasons, finishing 6–17 last year, and 12–18 this year. In their two meetings with Manhattan, their first-round opponent, they split, winning 76–67 in Lawrenceville, and losing 84–78 in overtime at Draddy.
The coaches of the MAAC said that Steve Masiello’s Manhattan Jaspers would finish 7th, and that two Jaspers would receive All-MAAC honors. Neither of those players was Jose Perez, who has blossomed into the lifeblood of the team. Finishing 8th with an 8–12 record, the Jaspers had an excellent start to their season, with wins over Fordham, Liberty, and Siena on the way to a 6–1 start. After a COVID pause that lasted from late December to mid-January, the Jaspers team identity changed. Anthony Nelson was out due to COVID for the Jaspers rivalry matchup with Iona, and after falling behind by double digits in the first half, the rest of their season flipped. While their results didn’t change a significant amount from expected, the way they got there did, Jose Perez began shooting, and shooting a lot, and then shooting some more. He was the best player on the court in the second half against Iona, scoring 27 points in that game, and he didn’t look back. Perez scored 33 in a win against Canisius, 32 in a win over Siena, 29 in a win over Marist, and had excellent scoring output in losses as well. A 38 point performance in a loss to Niagara, 26 in a loss to Rider, and 22 in a loss to Canisius. Perez averaged 22 points and 4 assists per game in conference play, attempting 8.5 free throws per league game, and connecting on them 82% of the time. This was all capped off in the final game of the regular season when Perez put up 27 points, including a game-winning shot, to beat Iona on Senior Night in front of a packed Draddy crowd. As for the rest of the Jaspers, they’re the most experienced team in the country, with Ant Nelson, Josh Roberts, Warren Williams, and more being important pieces to the team. They lost Samir Stewart in late January, and lost four in a row after that, but followed that up with a short winning streak. Manhattan plays at a fast pace in the league, but they also take the most free throws in the league and third-most in the country. Manhattan did the season sweep over Siena, something no other team in the league did, and KenPom gives them a 46% chance to beat Rider and advance to the second round.
Niagara opened up the season with close losses to Xavier and Ohio State, making the coaches who voted them 10th in the Preseason Poll sweat a little bit. The Purple Eagles outperformed their preseason projection by finishing 5th in the league with a 9–11 record, and winning their final two games in blowout fashion. Greg Paulus’ team is led by Marcus Hammond and Noah Thomasson. Hammond in particular is an excellent scoring threat, averaging 17.7 points per game in league play, including being the key player in their wins over Siena, Iona, Manhattan, Monmouth, Canisius, Albany, Colgate, and Youngstown State. It’s hard to find a win for the Purple Eagles where it wasn’t directly because of a very strong scoring performance from Hammond. Niagara is the cleanest team in the MAAC offensively, and they’re also the second slowest. The aforementioned Thomasson leads the way with 3.8 assists per game, and they get good rebounding out of Jordan Cintron and Sam Iorio. Another experienced and short team, Niagara has been on an upward trend as of late, winning by 22 over Siena and 31 over Marist in their final two games of the regular season to get to the top 200 in KenPom rankings. Niagara split their two meetings with Monmouth, their quarterfinal opponent, winning in New Jersey in January in overtime, and losing at home in December by 8.
Monmouth expected to be here, as they were picked 4th in the MAAC Preseason Poll, and were ranked in the top 50 of the NET rankings until right before Christmas. One of the few teams in the MAAC with a quadrant one victory, Monmouth beat Towson on the road in the first week of the season. King Rice’s final rodeo in the MAAC started strong, by sweeping the Buffalo trip and starting the season 10–2. In their final year before leaving for the CAA, they lost to Hofstra at home on December 22nd and didn’t return to action until January 14th. A brutal stretch of 3 games in 5 days didn’t end well, as they exited that stretch 2–3 in the MAAC. George Papas and Walker Miller are the 4th place finishers, as the fifth-year senior Papas has been an elite MAAC player for a few years now, and Miller came in as a transfer from North Carolina. Shavar Reynolds is also a very important player for this team, playing at both guard spots. After their incredible start, Monmouth has drifted back towards the pack, finishing 11–9 in the MAAC and losing three of their last 4 games. Monmouth has the 4th best defense in the MAAC and the 7th best offense, and they also have more size than most in the league. Another super old, but not incredibly deep team, Monmouth is favored by 2 points by KenPom to defeat Niagara on Thursday.
Siena started their season just 2–6, they then went 13–5 in their next 18, but then got swept on the Buffalo trip to end the season. Picked to finish 8th in the league, Carm Maciariello has gotten the absolute best out of this relatively new group of guys. Colby Rogers and Nick Hopkins are flamethrowers from deep, Northwestern transfer Anthony Gaines is one of the better guard rebounders in the MAAC, and Jackson Stormo is the straw that stirs the drink in the middle. Siena has an impressive resume, a sweep of St. Peter’s a win against Iona, a win against Harvard, and a rising profile throughout the season. Ranked 320th in the first NET rankings, Maciariello’s team has defied all metrics and been one of the toughest and grittiest teams in the MAAC all year long. Despite the worst offense in the conference, Siena plays hard on defense, forces you to take bad shots, and blocks a good portion of your good shots. While they don’t get rebounds at all on the offensive side, they are the 2nd best 3 point shooting team in the MAAC. Maciariello isn’t afraid to play players with 2 fouls, but he has begun to use Freshman Javian McCollum more often at the point guard spot as the season goes on. McCollum adds another element of shooting and is a dynamic scorer when he’s on. Despite their poor offense, they won 12 MAAC ballgames and finished the season in third place in the league with no preseason All-MAAC players. Jaden Daly (@DalyDoseOfHoops) will talk your ears off about how great Maciariello has coached this year, saying how he deserves MAAC Coach of the Year to anybody that will listen, and that should say a lot about the job he’s done with this team.
“As a UMass alumnus I’ll stick my two cents in: Shaheen Holloway, head coach at Saint Peter’s, would be a super star hire for my alma mater.” — Rick Pitino. Living up to the hype of 2nd in the Preseason Poll, St. Peter’s has been one of the nation’s best defensive teams this season. In MAAC play, the Peacocks finished first in Adjusted Points Per Possession, Effective Field Goal Percentage, Turnover Percentage, 3P%, 2P%, Steal %, and Non-Steal Turnover %. 18th in all of college basketball in raw defensive rating, and the best MAAC defense by nearly 5 points per 100 possessions. Scoring on the Peacocks is a challenge that few have been able to do, and Shaheen Holloway deserves tons of credit for it. Preseason MAAC Player of the Year KC Ndefo is just six foot seven inches, he isn’t an elite scorer, nor is he an elite creator, but he’s still lived up to the billing of one of the nation’s most slept on defenders. When Ndefo was on the court in MAAC play, opponents scored just .81 points per possession, and he blocked 2.8 shots per game. On February 4th against Quinnipiac, Ndefo blocked 11 shots, kicking off a ten game stretch to close the season where he averaged 3.7 blocks per game. He is almost a lock for his third consecutive MAAC Defensive Player of the Year award. SPU also has the 4th best offense in the MAAC, brought on by incredible rebounding and three point shooting. Doug Edert, Matthew Lee, and Daryl Banks are the shooters, while Ndefo, Hassan Drame, and Fousseyni Drame do excellent work on the offensive glass. In the last three games of the season, Saint Peter’s allowed 36, 51, and 41 points respectively, showing the MAAC just how unbelievable their defense is just before the tournament.
Everything in the MAAC comes back to Iona. The 5 time defending MAAC Tournament Champions flirted with perfection, not losing their first MAAC game until Buffalo in early February. Rick Pitino has demonstrated the continued commitment to the Gaels program, which gained their greatest ever victory this year, defeating a then top 10 ranked Alabama team in November. 25–6 record, 17–3 in the MAAC, four separate five-game winning streaks, and the Gaels are hoping for a fifth. The best offense in the league by a wide margin, Iona can beat you in many different ways. Tyson Jolly and Elijah Joiner are transfers from the AAC that both make all-conference level impacts, Nelly Junior Joseph is a sophomore big man that belongs in a high major league, and Dylan Van Eyck is Mr. Momentum. Berrick JeanLouis is an elite perimeter defender, Osborn Shema is a spark plug, Ryan Myers and Walter Clayton have obvious natural offensive gifts, and Quinn Slazinski played major minutes on an ACC team as a sophomore last year. In addition to their number one offense in the MAAC, the Gaels have the number 2 defense in the league, and the 7th best shot-blocking team in the country. It’s very hard to beat Iona, and it has been even before they had a Hall of Famer patrolling their sidelines, but this Gaels team has more potential than any, and they're thinking about more than just getting to the NCAA Tournament, but making a run there.
Iona is the overwhelming favorite, but I’d take the field over them if I were given the chance. That being said, Iona is still my pick to win the conference tournament over any other specific team. It seems that KenPom would agree, as while Iona is the overwhelming favorite, they aren’t over 50% to win the tournament. Can Siena continue to prove the computers wrong? Can Monmouth get back to where they were in December? Can Saint Peter’s defense lead to a ticket? Or will Iona live up to the hype and claim their crown?
The MAAC Tournament starts on Tuesday with the first round, then, the quarterfinals are on Wednesday and Thursday, with the semifinals on Friday, and the MAAC Championship Game on Saturday at 4:00 PM on ESPNU.