In the MAAC, starting on opening day is for suckers!
Quinnipiac opens on Saturday against Villanova (Baker Dunleavy gets to bow before his former head coach and take a buy-game beating). Iona waits until Friday to take on Albany. Niagara cools its heels until next Monday before facing local rival St. Bonaventure. And Canisius gets to hold off until next Tuesday before they face Bucknell.
But SOME of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference squads got the memo, and with the exception of Siena’s game, they should be in competitive contests. So let’s start at the Most Likely To Involve Walk-Ons game.
Not holding out hope
The Siena Saints face the Providence Friars in Providence (6:30 PM). Providence will be playing a few talented freshmen — but freshmen nonetheless, so that’s in Siena’s favor. But Siena, with a new coach, new system, and with possibly the most creative guard on the roster sidelined for the year with an injury (Khalil Richard), the tea leaves are not portending great things. The Saints lost their top six scorers from last season. It could be fun. It will be new! But for tonight, the goal will be a good showing and the twinkling of a new hope.
Why isn’t Fairfield vs Purdue (7 PM) first in this listing? Not because we have discounted Carsen Edwards, the Purdue Boilermakers’ Sweet Sixteen run or their ridiculous level of height. Despite the Fairfield Stags’ loss of some really good scoring talent in Tyler Nelson and Ferron Flavors, Jesus Cruz and Aidas Kavaliauskas are solid talents, the Stags have some good forwards on the floor, and we think they will keep it competitive.
This could be better than you think
The Marist Red Foxes brought a new coach up from a conference rival, and the defensively-minded John Dunne and the Foxes take on Army tonight (7 PM). Both teams return players from last year, but Army is playing in the same system. Both teams went 1-7 in February last year.
On paper, this game barks like a dog. But it’s also a chance for one of these teams to come away with a win. And, if college basketball coaching is as easy as “get you a coach who can get the players playing defense”, this is a game that could be the beginning of a rise for the Marist squad. Or just a beating at the hands of a service academy.
Manhattan plays Elon in the Bronx (8:30 PM). Elon can’t defend. Manhattan struggles to score. But Elon can score a little, while Manhattan… wants to defend, but with so many newcomers, one anticipates a LOT of enthusiastic fouling. It’ll be like a basketball massage parlor. As for the game, Elon has five seniors and Manhattan has Pauly Paulicap, Tom Capuano and a few question marks that will start to be answered tonight.
The Monmouth Hawks take on the Lehigh Mountain Hawks (8:30 P). Just for this game, perhaps they should be the Beach Hawks or the Asbury Park Hawks? Whichever name they choose, Monmouth has a number of players that could experience that freshman to sophomore leap — the likes of Ray Salnave and Deion Hammond, while Lehigh has experience and very efficient returnees… who played poor, no-touch zone defense. Can Monmouth draw some physical fouls inside with big men like Diago Quinn?
Get on the bandwagon early
Lastly, the Rider Broncs have a chance to begin their Year of Total Domination against Central Florida (6:30 PM) tonight. That’s a hard task. Even outside of 7’6″ center Tacko Fall, the UCF Knights are a stout defensive team that make scoring off the dribble a true difficulty.
But Rider, a team that returns most of its scoring and minutes, were tough in the MAAC last season, gutted out a road win against Penn State, came close against Robert Morris, Hofstra, and Providence. A year older and wiser, with the knowledge that they could, with some wins, have a real shot at an at-large bid with this non-conference schedule… this game bears watching.
The Saint Peter’s Peacocks hope to show some flair at home against the Lafayette Leopards on Wednesday evening (7 PM). The Peacocks welcome in new coach Shaheen Holloway and face a Lafayette team with a lot of rising youth. Sam Idowu and Davaughnte Turner of Saint Peter’s will be playing for a coach who is likely less enamored of simply holding teams to under 60 points. (Have you ever watched a 59-57 triple-overtime game? Live? May you never have that experience.) We will see what changes the first-time head coach brings over from his Big East playing and coaching days with Seton Hall.
As always, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter below. It’s the only way to survive the impending alien invasion.