Yes, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) begins one more year of college basketball that ends in Albany this afternoon!
No. Not tonight. This afternoon. At 4:00 PM, Siena tips off against Saint Peter’s.
At 7 PM:
- Rider goes to Fairfield;
- Monmouth goes to Iona;
- Canisius goes to Marist;
- Quinnipiac goes to Manhattan.
Only Niagara is off in the 11-team MAAC’s schedule.
Expect the unexpected, because the entire league has had a hard time producing non-conference wins. In KenPom rankings, merely Rider is a top-200 team (at 150). Only Siena, Iona and Rider have offenses that rate in the top-200. At least none of the teams are without a win, after Monmouth pulled off an upset at the Palestra over UPenn on Monday for the first win of the season.
The MAAC teams are all very bad at defending the three-pointer, though Fairfield and Quinnipiac are, apparently, trying.
Still the one?
Given the lack of competition, maybe this is the year the Rider Broncs get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994 under Kavin Bannon? Or the year they lose in spectacular fashion in the conference tournament, allowing a team with a losing record to get the auto-bid, jump into that 16 vs 16 play-in game, and pick up a win.
But Rider is 5-7 on the season, with a loss to Cal State Northridge and a road loss to Drake. The defense isn’t much different than last season, where the Broncs depended on forcing turnovers (on 22.9% of opponent possessions, 25th in the country) to cover up their inability to keep teams from shooting (and making) threes from outside the arc. Opponents are taking 46.7% of their shots from deep, 337th in the nation, and making 36.1%, 258th in all of college basketball.
Star wing Dimencio Vaughn has missed the past two games as well with an ankle injury. But the Broncs do a lot well on offense when the shots are falling… but can you trust a team that shoots 59% from the line? Only Jordan Allen shoots over 70%. Certainly worth mentioning, the last three games saw some ugly defense inside the arc from the Broncs.
A real shot at the NCAA auto-bid
The other possible contenders, in order:
Iona is 2-9, but has played a solid non-conference schedule. Their defense is doing an even-worse job of stopping three-point attempts (allowing opponents to take 41% of shots) and allowing more makes (38.7% of opposing threes have been successful) than last season. But as always, Tim Cluess’ teams:
- attack the basket (FTA/ FGA ratio: 38.4% 73rd in college basketball).
- force steals (20.0% of opponent possessions).
- take threes (42.5% of shots).
- and can score inside the arc (53.5% on two-pointers).
The staff has coaxed championship performances from Gael teams that seemed less talented than their opponents. They will continue to tinker and find Rickey McGill’s outside shot (and maybe cut down on his league-leading minutes per game). Tajuan Agee is the MAAC’s second best defensive rebounder, grabbing 24.7% of misses. EJ Crawford has been solid. If the rest of the team comes along in the weakened MAAC, Iona will contend.
Canisius is 3-8, but played the MAAC’s best non-conference schedule. Still, the results were disappointing for Reggie Witherspoon’s side. Getting blown out at St. Bonaventure, barely squeaking by Elon and Robert Morris, falling at home to a completely-new Albany are signs of the on-court struggles for the Golden Griffins. The Griffs returned almost all of their production from last season, but outside of a nice rate of forced turnovers (22.3% of opponent possessions) they are not getting stops on defense.
Takal Molson has a lot of confidence in his jump shooting, but he’s dipped from a 37% three-point shooter to a 20% shooter from deep (including 0/7 vs Buffalo). And 6-foot-5 Isaiah Reese continues to be the team’s best defensive rebounder (over a trio of 6-foot-8 regulars), grabbing 19.5% of opponent misses. There’s a lot to correct, but last year’s team went 21-12 — there’s a better Griffins squad on this roster.
After that, there’s a whole bunch of toss-up.
Niagara does enough good things to warrant some notice, despite a 7-5 non-conference slate that included home losses to Grambling State, St. Francis (NY) and Albany, along with a road loss to the other St. Francis (PA) and Cleveland State. But they beat St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh and won at Wyoming.
Dominic Robb is an excellent shot-blocker who is efficient at the hoop; he blocks 11.6% of opponent two-pointers. Point guard James Towns gets to the line — his FTA/FGA ratio is 54.9 — and is the league’s best free throw shooter (83.3%). Marvin Prochet is the MAAC’s second-best three point percentage shooter (43.7% on threes) and second-leading scorer (18.2 points per game). Chris Casey’s Purple Eagles play fast (72.6 possessions per game) and only turn the ball over on 16% of their possessions, top-30 in the country. It was a soft schedule, however.
It’s hard to know what to make of Belfast Classic winners Marist. The Red Foxes have a lot of experience… but have lost a lot of games over the past 4 years, so much so that 5-7 in non-conference is a serious accomplishment. With four seniors in the rotation playing heavy minutes, they have leaned more heavily on Brian Parker, the senior who is second in assist percentage in non-conference play and tops in usage percentage.
John Dunne’s Red Foxes have played the same starting lineup for all 12 games. Better defense stopping three-point attempts would be welcome. Teams take 49.2% of their shots from deep on Marist, and make 36.1% of those shots. Still, no terrible losses on this schedule.
Quinnipiac does not have many bad losses either; though, the offense has come and gone for senior Cameron Young and company. Young, who is a low-turnover, high-usage star guard, is the MAAC’s leading per-game scorer (18.4 points per game) and is seventh in steal percentage (3.2% of opponent possessions). Transfer big man Kevin Marfo leads the league in offensive (17.7% of Bobcat misses grabbed) and defensive rebounding percentage (30.3% of opponent misses). He is top-10 in both categories nationally.
Improved performances from sophomores Rich Kelly and Jacob Rigoni, along with more threes falling from the perimeter-happy Bobcats (who take 49.7% of their shots from deep, eighth in all of college basketball), will make them a tough out.
Possible sneaky risers?
Siena‘s defense is awful by the numbers — the nation’s worst three-point percentage allowed is quite a feat! — but the team slows the game down enough that they will pull off some wins. The team’s three-point attempt percentage is third nationally, they don’t turn the ball over. Freshman Jalen Pickett has been a true revelation for Jamion Christian’s roster. Pickett is:
- tops in minutes played in the MAAC (467, 35.9 per game).
- fourth nationally in assist rate (43.5).
- third in the MAAC in steal percentage (3.6% of opponent possessions).
- leads the MAAC in effective field goal percentage at 55.1%.
Jalen Pickett is good. Evan Fisher, the senior forward, has become a high-usage scorer (30.6% of shots while on the floor) who is second in effective field goal percentage (54.7%) and third in defensive rebound percentage. The Saints are also very tall. They also rarely go to the free throw line.
Fairfield‘s ability to shoot, even after the departure of their star scorers from last year, has been a boon. They connect on 37.3% of their outside shots and aren’t shy about looking for attempts from deep, taking 42.7% of shots from beyond the arc.
Still, the Stags have not won any of their three home games, have lost a number of close road contests, and have not been particularly good at defense in most of their games. Jonathan Kasibabu has been strong getting to the line inside the paint, while Landon Taliaferro and Neftali Alvarez have had solid scoring moments. Sydney Johnson’s team also has scorers like Jesus Cruz and Calvin Whipple who could find their stride.
Monmouth looks the part of an imposing team, but went 1-12 against a really hard schedule in non-conference play for King Rice. Did that toughen them up or crack their confidence? They won in overtime at Penn, getting a season high in minutes from big man Diago Quinn. This team is particularly three-pointer averse, taking 31.6% of their shots from deep (324th in the country), which makes comebacks hard.
King Rice’s crew should be three-pointer averse, because they are shooting 25.3% from distance. Even given late-game intentionals, this team fouls a lot, as they try to find combinations that work around sophomores Ray Salnave and Deion Hammond. they do force turnovers on 20.9% of opponent possessions.
Hey, anything could happen
In Shaheen Holloway’s first year as head coach, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks have won three games, all in overtime. Their perimeter defense has given up a lot of threes. Davauhnte Turner and Quinn Taylor log heavy minutes for the Jersey City squad. Turner piles on points, especially at the line, where he shoots 82%. Taylor and Sam Idowu are strong offensive rebounders. But this team:
- turns the ball over a lot (on 22.3% of possessions, 317th in D1).
- tries to create off the dribble (assisting on 44.6% of shots, 318th in the country).
- and commits a ton of fouls (314th in the country).
Freshman improvement from Dallas Watson, Manny Dixon (who started the last outing) and Kenechukwu Ndefo could bring late season surprise. Majur Majak is 7-foot-1, which earns a mention.
Steve Masiello’s Manhattan squad has two wins, both in Kentucky at Northern Kentucky’s Basketball Classic. They beat Coastal Carolina and UNC Asheville; Asheville, like Manhattan, sports an entirely-new roster. It shows. That Asheville/ Manhattan game ended with the score of 54-38. Per usual, Manhattan:
- forces turnovers (25.7% of opponent possessions, fourth in the nation).
- but also fouls a whole lot (347th in all of college basketball).
- turns the ball over at one of the five-highest rates in the nation (giving the ball back on 25.4% of possessions, 351st in D1).
- struggles to shoot from inside the arc (41.6%, 342nd in the country).
- and also struggles outside the arc (at 30.2%) and from the free throw line (55.2%, worst in all of college basketball).
When they can drive and draw fouls, they a load to contain. Like much of the rest of the league, defending the three is a struggle. Nehemiah Mack has been a good passer, and Ebube Ebube and Warren Williams are a pair of offensive-rebounding forces. Pauly Paulicap can be devastating on defense with his shot-blocking ability.
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