MAAC Men’s Basketball Season Preview

The Jaspers won its first MAAC Championship in 10 years last season. Who will hoist the trophy this season? Photo taken by Chris Cirillo.
The Jaspers won its first MAAC Championship in 10 years last season. Who will hoist the trophy this season? Photo taken by Chris Cirillo.

Most of this preview was written by student-writers who cover the men’s basketball at their respective MAAC schools. To see more about the writer, the school newspaper, or the team’s coverage, click the name of their publication in the byline at the bottom of the school’s writeup. 

Iona Gaels

It is not easy moving forward without a leader like Sean Armand who would do anything to win. Head Coach Tim Cluess, who has led the Gaels to a MAAC Championship, two NCAA appearances and two regular season MAAC titles, will turn to a couple of other familiar faces to lead the ship.

David Laury was chosen as the 2014-2015 MAAC Preseason Player of the Year. The 6-foot-9-inch forward is entering his senior year and was chosen by 11 head coaches in the preseason All-MAAC Selections on Nov. 5. Laury came out of the gates slowly last season, but turned up the heat when the Gaels needed him the most, especially toward the end of the season. He was a key component in carrying the team when opponents zeroed in on Armand.

Joining Laury on the All-MAAC First Team is junior A.J. English, who emerged as a key player last season. English had a breakout sophomore season, averaging 17.2 points per game, the sixth highest in the MAAC. He was also third in the MAAC in assists with 4.3 per game. He made 84 three-point field goals and had a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. Finishing off his impressive resume, he returns as the MAAC’s leader in minutes played last season.

Despite highlighting Laury and English as being the keys to the crown this year for Iona, it will realistically take much more. This team has struggled immensely on defense on a consistent year-to-year basis, and that always catches up to them. Dating back to their historic NCAA collapse against BYU back in 2012 in which their defense watched a 25-point lead diminish, not much has changed. For the Gaels to ensure success they need to improve defensively, especially inside where teams have been known to take advantage of the Gaels smaller size.

Player to Watch: David Laury

Laury averaged 14 points, 8.3 rebounds (fourth in the MAAC), 2.3 assists, and 1.2 blocks (eighth in the MAAC). He posted eight double-doubles as well, and was part of the MAAC All-Tournament Teams in both 2013 and 2014.

Cluess spoke about the improvement in Laury’s conditioning during the 2014 MAAC Basketball Preseason Media Call on, “We play at a very fast pace, and Dave probably, 20-30 percent of the time, was not involved in the offensive end because of not being in the condition he is in now,” he said. “Now he is involved in a lot more plays, he has much more stamina, he can stay in the game longer, and isn’t committing as many of those lazy fouls because he was tired and not in position…”

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 1

–Anthony Carlo, The Ionian

Siena Saints

The Siena Saints enter this season with the highest expectations that the program has had in a few years. Having lifted the CBI trophy on campus in the ARC just months ago, the team finds themselves on a quest for bigger and better things from this upcoming season.

There is reason for the fans of the program to be excited. Head coach Jimmy Patsos, who is entering his second season in charge, has turned around the team after a few tumultuous seasons. The Saints return almost all of their players from last year, and retain their top ten scorers from a season ago, in which they were victorious in twenty games. Even with all of their main players returning from a season ago, the team added some fresh talent in the offseason.

There are four new players that will wear the green and gold that were not a part of the team last year. To begin, Patrick Cole, who played at Coppin State two years ago before redshirting last season, is expected to have a significant role at guard in 2014-15. He brings Division I experience with him, and could be one of the main playmakers for Siena this season. Next, three freshmen were recruited by Patsos in the offseason. Willem Brandwijk, a forward from the Netherlands, is a versatile player that has the ability to attack the basket as well as hit shots from the outside.

Another recruit, Jimmy Paige, is known as a player that can do the dirty work by getting rebounds and scoring close to the rim. Finally, Cameron Gottfried is another new player this year. His father is the head coach of North Carolina State men’s basketball, and he is projected to be a good fit for the style of offense that Siena plays due to his strong basketball IQ.

The team’s leader is expected to be led by sophomore point guard Marquis Wright. Wright, was named to the All-MAAC Rookie Team last year. He will be the starting point guard, and will continue to be the floor general for Patsos’ team.

Player to Watch: Rob Poole

Another leader will be Rob Poole, who is entering his final season with the Saints. He is known for his outstanding shooting range with a knack for the big play, and enters the season as the 32nd leading scorer in program history. He was picked to the All-MAAC Preseason First Team by the head coaches in the MAAC, and will be one of the key pieces to the Saints championship run.

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 2

Jack Blanchard, Siena Promethean

Manhattan Jaspers

The defending MAAC Champions will look to defend its title without 50 percent of last season’s scoring. Graduating seniors leave this team with question marks, but Cincinnati transfer Jermaine Lawrence may be the answer. Lawrence, an ESPN Top 100 recruit coming out of high school, will give this team scoring, height, rebounding, and athleticism in the frontcourt to go along with Ashton Pankey. Pankey flashed signs of brilliance in the near-upset game against Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, where he looked like the best player on the court for most of the game. If he can play at that level every game, Manhattan should boast the best frontcourt in the MAAC.

Steve Masiello will look to bring his team to its third consecutive MAAC Championship game. If the Jaspers can’t win the MAAC and receive an automatic big to the big dance, the team may have a chance for an at-large bid. Manhattan has a brutal non-conference schedule with three games against teams that played in the postseason. If the Jaspers can win a few non-conference games, the team may be able to sneak its way back to the NCAA Tournament.

Ashton Pankey finishes strong against LIU Post. Photo taken by Kevin Fuhrmann.
Ashton Pankey finishes strong against LIU Post. Photo taken by Kevin Fuhrmann.

Player to WatchAshton Pankey

Pankey will have big shoes to fill this season as he will take over for Brown, one of the nation’s top shot blockers. Although Pankey, an All-MAAC Preseason Third Team selection, can’t block shots like Brown, he can do just about everything else as well, if not better. Sitting out in the 2012-2013 season may have slowed him down a bit last season, but he progressively got better as the season went on. In the loss against Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, Pankey seemed to play at his highest potential, scoring 16 points. In the scrimmage against LIU Post, Pankey continued right where he left off, scoring 17 points and snagging nine rebounds. The rust is off, so look for Pankey to have a big year this season.

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 3

 Chris Cirillo, Manhattan Quadrangle

St. Peter’s Peacocks

The Peacocks, projected to finish fourth in the MAAC Preseason rankings, return their three highest scorers. Seniors Marvin Dominique and Desi Washington, one of the most potent guard-forward combos in the MAAC, will lead a team with high expectations for this season.

The Peacocks return 85 percent of its scoring, and boast a team filled with experience with six seniors. St. Peter’s also gets freshmen Elisha Boone from the high school basketball powerhouse that is Abraham Lincoln in Brooklyn, N.Y. Boone, a 6-foot-3-inch guard, should contribute to the team right away.

Dominique, who will be in his second year with the Peacocks, will look to have another stellar year. Washington, who has a knack for hitting big shots, could be a surprise player in the MAAC this season. The Peacocks started to hit stride toward the end of last season, winning their final six games before losing to the eventual MAAC Champions, the Manhattan Jaspers.

Player to Watch: Marvin Dominique

Dominique, a First Team Preseason All-MAAC selection, averaged 16.6 points and just fewer than nine rebounds a game. As a 6-foot-9-inch big man, there aren’t many things Dominique can’t do. He can rebound, score, block shots and even hit jumpers behind the arc. An All-MAAC Third Team selection last season, Dominique will unquestionably be one of the best big men in the MAAC this season. Look for Dominique to have a big season as his team may surprise some people this season.

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 4

–Chris Cirillo, Manhattan Quadrangle (The Saint Peter’s Pauwwow does not have a basketball writer)

Quinnipiac Bobcats

After finishing third in its inaugural year in the MAAC, the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team enters the 2014-15 season with some notable questions. The Bobcats—who finished 20-12 a season ago—will enter the post-Ike Azotam era. Azotam averaged 16.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game as a senior, and is Quinnipiac’s Division I program leader in career rebounds.

Senior forward Ousmane Drame, who averaged 13.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game last season, figures to control the paint for Quinnipiac without Azotam’s existence. Team captain Zaid Hearst will also lead the Bobcats’ charge offensively. Hearst averaged 15.5 points per game last season, as well as being named to the MAAC All-Conference Third Team.

Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said that one of the team’s biggest strengths will be its depth heading into the season during Quinnipiac Media Day on Sept. 18. “All of the returning guys put themselves in positions to be considered to play, and all five of the new guys look like they’ll all be able to do something to help this year,” Moore said. “It’s a really deep team.”

Player to WatchOusmane Drame

Drame confirmed in September that he suffered a meniscus tear at the end of last season, but Quinnipiac Athletics recently said in a statement that Drame is “on target for the first game.”

Ousame Drame will be a crucial piece for Quinnipiac this season. Photo by Bryan Lipiner.
Ousame Drame will be a crucial piece for Quinnipiac this season. Photo by Bryan Lipiner.

Drame’s 10.5 rebounds per game ranked first in the MAAC, and now that Ike Azotam is gone, there will be even more room for the 6-foot-9-inch forward to roam the paint. Other than Drame, though, Quinnipiac has many talented yet unproven big men that will need to step in and help fill the void.

If Drame is healthy come the Nov. 14 opener against Yale in the CT 6 Tournament, Quinnipiac will have as much of a chance to win the conference as it did last year.

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 5 

–Nick Solari, Quinnipiac Chronicle

Monmouth Hawks

One would think there’s not much to like about a Monmouth Hawks team that went 11-21 last season and finished ninth in the MAAC.

But that’s not the case for Monmouth, which was voted as the sixth best team in the MAAC in the preseason coaches’ poll.

The decision to jump Monmouth from ninth to sixth might seem a bit odd to some people, but there is a big reason why the coaches ranked Monmouth so high.

The team will have nine players returning from last season, including Josh James, Chris Brady, Justin Robinson and Zac Tillman, four sophomores who played key minutes as freshman last season for the Hawks. The return of the nine players means that Monmouth keeps 89 percent of its scoring from last season.

Monmouth was not content with just returning players however and secured the transfer of 6-foot-8 forward Brice Kofane from Providence. Kofane only played 4.4 minutes per game last season for Providence, but stepping down to the MAAC will surely benefit him.

Player to Watch: Deon Jones

Deon Jones was Monmouth’s best player last season and looks poised to be its best player this season as well.

The 6-foot-6 guard was named to the Preseason All MAAC Third Team in expectation that he will once again have a big season.

Last season, Jones led the Hawks in scoring at 15.1 points per game and in rebounds at 6.9 per game. Those numbers might go down a little bit with the addition of Kofane, who will certainly get some looks on offense and might gobble up some of those rebounds Jones used to get, just from the sheer fact that he’s taller than Jones.

However, if his numbers do go down, Jones will have to be more efficient on offense and will have to look to improve on his 1.3 assists per game he averaged last season.

No matter what though, there is no denying that Jones will continue to be a focal part of the team.

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 6

–Daniel Ynfante, Manhattan Quadrangle (Monmouth University Outlook did not return emails)

Rider Broncs

The Rider Broncs enter the 2014-2015 season viewed as a middle of the pack team. After finishing sixth in last season’s MAAC standings, the Broncs were projected to finish seventh in the preseason poll voted on by the 11 MAAC head coaches.

Although Rider fans might view the ranking as pessimistic, it is certainly justified.

The Broncs will no longer count on the dynamic duo of Anthony Myles and Daniel Stewart who have both graduated. Stewart, a Second Team All-MAAC selection and Myles, a Third Team selection last season, combined for 43 percent of Rider’s total points last season and were first and second on the team in rebounding.

But the Broncs lose much more than just numbers in Myles and Stewart — they lose experience.

Myles and Stewart were the two seniors the team could count on last season for both production and leadership and now they’ll have to adjust to life without them.

The good news for Rider is that 8 of 14 players on the team are upperclassmen, including two seniors and two graduate students. The team will be battle tested this season and if they’re able to exceed expectations, having veteran players on the team will be a big reason why.

Player to Watch: Jimmie Taylor

Returning for his sophomore season is Jimmie Taylor, a Rookie Third Team All-MAAC selection in the 2013-2014 season. The 6-foot-3 point guard averaged 12.1 points, 2.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds last season, to go with a MAAC leading 47 percent on 3-pointers.

The departure of Myles and Stewart leave Taylor as the de facto go-to-guy. Taylor will be pivotal to any success the Broncs have this season, as most of the offensive workload will fall on his shoulders. After Taylor’s 12.1 points per game last season, the next highest leading scorer on Rider was Zedric Sadler, who only averaged 7.6.

If last season was any indication of what Taylor can do, big things are expected from him this season. The 11 MAAC head coaches agree Taylor is poised for a solid season, choosing him for the Preseason All-MAAC Third Team.

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 7

–Daniel Ynfante, Manhattan Quadrangle (The Rider News did not return emails)

Marist College Red Foxes

The Marist Red Foxes have found themselves with their third head coach in as many years. Mike Maker, formerly of Williams College, will take the reigns this year in what seems to be a move to give the program some consistency going forward. Maker has an extremely successful history coaching at all levels of collegiate basketball, most recently with Williams College where he posted a 147-32 (.821) record in six years.

His goals going into this year will be to take a group of prominent players and mold them together into a winning team. The Red Foxes will be led by two of the top players in the MAAC last season in Chavaughn Lewis and Khallid Hart.

Lewis, an All-MAAC Second Team forward and team captain, will be one of the focal points of the Marist starting five this year. The senior is seventh all-time in points in Marist history and averaged 17.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.9 steals per game last season. He led the team in scoring in each of the past three seasons.

Hart, a shooting guard from Delaware, is entering his second season of collegiate basketball. He also earned All-MAAC Second Team honors going into this season along with Lewis. Last year, he became the first player in the program’s history to be named MAAC Rookie of the Year outright. He started all 31 games for the Red Foxes, averaging 14.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game and ranked in the top 15 in the MAAC in seven statistics.

The key to Marist’s success this season is to fill in the gap left behind by big-man Adam Kemp, who graduated and signed to play professional basketball in Macedonia with KK Feni Industries. Kemp was the team’s leading rebounder last year, averaging 7.6 per game to go along with 10.1 points. He was also a strong defensive presence in the paint.

Junior center Eric Truog, along with sophomore forward Kentrall Brooks will probably take most of the minutes that Kemp vacated. Marist also has two rookie centers, R.J. Coil and Connor McClenaghan who might demand some minutes.

Player to Watch: Khallid Hart

Hart couldn’t have had a more impressive rookie campaign last year. Look for him to build upon last season and develop his game further. It will be interesting to see how Maker highlights him, as well as Lewis, in his offensive game plans. Hart proved to be one of the better defenders in the league as well, and he will face some tough matchups this year against All-MAAC First and Second team guards from Iona, Siena, Quinnipiac and Saint Peter’s.

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 8

–Avery Decker, The Circle

Fairfield University

The Stags will look to bounce back from a disastrous 7-25 season, in which they went 4-16 in the MAAC and only scored an average of 60.2 points-per-game. Aside from losing senior Maurice Barrow, the Stags have not lost any players from last year, and will look to make an impact with their youth this year (they only have two seniors on the squad). Two interesting new pieces on the team are transfers Demarcus Threatt and Mike Kirkland Jr., who will hope to make themselves known by contributing in whichever way can.

unior Marcus Gilbert skies for the between-the-legs slam dunk during Red Sea Madness, Fairfield's annual men's and women's basketball preview show. Photo courtesy of Patrick Kiernan/The Mirror.
unior Marcus Gilbert skies for the between-the-legs slam dunk during Red Sea Madness, Fairfield’s annual men’s and women’s basketball preview show. Photo courtesy of Patrick Kiernan/The Mirror.

Player to Watch: Amadou Sidibe

Amadou Sidibe will hope to put his 6-foot-8-inch, 215 pound frame to good use this year. He led the Stags with 212 rebounds last year, which is no surprise given his size. He will look to improve on his point scoring this year in addition to maintaining his defensive abilities, making him more of a double threat.

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 9

–Matthew Schneider, The Fairfield Mirror

Canisius Golden Griffins

The 2013-2014-basketball season was filled with high expectations for Billy Baron and the Golden Griffins. After nearly a decade of mediocrity prior to 2012, the Griffs finally had a taste of postseason play.

Those memories could be short-lived, however, with a slew of graduations hitting the Griffs roster, forcing inexperienced players to take over key roles. Billy Baron, the reigning MAAC player of the year, averaged 24.2 points per game last season, accounting for 31 percent of the Griffs total scoring.

The losses to three other prominent starters – Chris Perez, Jordan Heath, and Chris Manhertz – only accentuate the loss of Baron. Combined, the Griffs lose 72 percent of their total scoring from last season, to go along with their top three rebounders.

The Griffs figure to rotate in three players at the point guard position; freshman Jan Gryzelinski, senior Jeremiah Williams and redshirt-freshman Kassius Robertson. Gryzelinski currently holds the starting role, but each player will get time at the position throughout the course of the season.

The inexperience continues in the frontcourt, with Josiah Heath and Phil Valenti being the only two frontcourt players with playing experience last season. Incoming freshman Cassidy Ryan and junior Kevin Bleeker appear ready to step in and contribute to a frontcourt that ranked 250th in rebounding last season.

While the Griffs try to find their groove early in the season, they will face a schedule that doesn’t allow for many wins for the young group. The Griffs open their season against Vermont on November 15, and follow that on the road Lehigh, St. Bonaventure, and Cornell before returning to Buffalo to take part in the Big 4 Classic at the First Niagara Center.

By the time the Griffs reach conference play, they will have to face the veteran squad of St. Peters and the Antoine Mason-less Niagara Purple Eagles. The Griffs will get their chance to hit their home court for the first time in over a month from December 18 through January 4, which is the stretch they begin conference play again permanently.

The realistic outlook for the Griffs is bleak heading into the season. After finishing fourth in the conference last season, the team is likely destined for a bottom third finish in the MAAC. While teams such as Iona, Quinnipiac, Manhattan, and Siena were able to hold onto key components of last year’s teams, the Griffs were not as lucky.

The Griffs lack size and proven scorers to compete in a conference toting multiple conference championship threats. A rebuilding season is in the works for Baron, and the hopes of competing are all but a pipe dream.

Player to Watch: Zach Lewis

The past is behind the Griffs, and the future is now with an entirely new lineup, with the exception of one key component: sophomore guard Zach Lewis. Last season, Lewis found himself inserted into the starting lineup for Dominique Raney, and from there, the playing time skyrocketed. Lewis averaged 28.5 minutes per game last season, racking up 9.5 points per contest.  While only a sophomore, Lewis is the most experienced player head coach Jim Baron has in his backcourt.

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 10

–John Langley, Canisius Griffin


Niagara Purple Hawks

The Purple Hawks will have one of the biggest adjustments in the MAAC to make, as they must get used to the post-Antoine Mason life. Mason, the leading scorer in the MAAC last season, transferred to Auburn after three seasons with the Purple Eagles. Mason accounted for 34 percent of his team’s scoring last season, and even with him, the Purple Eagles finished last in the MAAC last season at 3-17.

Niagara also lost point guard and the team’s second leading scorer, Marvin Jordan, and the team’s leading rebounder in Marcus Ware. And if that wasn’t enough, forward Joe Thomas and Tahjere McCall transferred the to the University of Miami and Tennessee State, respectively. For those keeping count, that’s two graduating seniors and three transfers, a total of 70 percent of last season’s scoring.

The Purple Eagles are the youngest team in the MAAC, with no seniors and just one junior. While players like Rayvon Harris and Ramone Snowden may surprise some people, the team altogether is not ready to compete at the highest level just yet. With just five players on the current roster who played last season and seven freshmen, head coach Chris Casey may experience some growing pains with his team this season.

Player to Watch: Ramone Snowden

Snowden has shown he can put the ball in the hoop and may be the biggest beneficiary of Mason’s departure in this fast-paced offense. Snowden can shoot from the outside or take defenders to the hoop. Last season, he shot 36 percent from behind the arc and although he may get more attention from opposing defenses with the loss of Mason, Snowden will undoubtedly have to be a focal point for this offense who losses a lot of pieces.

MAAC Preseason Ranking: 11

–Christopher Cirillo, Manhattan Quadrangle (The Niagara Index did not respond to emails)