2013-2014 MAAC Preview: Manhattan, Canisius, Iona at the top

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Billy Baron (GoGriffs.com)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click hereTo see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last season was supposed to be the year that Manhattan, in Steve Masiello’s second year at the helm, made their move in the MAAC. They were coming off a 21-13 record in Masiello’s first year, and George Beamon, the leading scorer in the league in 2011-12, was returning for his senior season. An ankle injury to Beamon derailed Manhattan as they got out to a 6-15 start, yet they rebounded by making it to the MAAC championship nearly beating Iona. With a healthy Beamon back for a fifth year, Ashton Pankey, a Maryland transfer who sat out last season, now eligible, and two time defensive player of the year Rhamel Brown returning in the frontcourt, the Jaspers are the favorite to win the MAAC and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

Many point to Iona, Manhattan’s bitter rival, as the primary challenger. Understandably so as the Gaels have been to the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons and return two of the league’s top players in Sean Armand and David Laury. While they will no doubt challenge, Canisius is poised to have a big year with Billy Baron returning for his senior season. Factor in guard Chris Perez, who is using his final year of eligibility after graduating from Stetson this past May where he earned All-Atlantic Sun Second Team, and Canisius has the top backcourt in the league.

Two programs that may be on the uptick are Rider and Marist. The Broncs surprised everyone last year finishing second in the league, and return two of the top players in Anthony Myles and Daniel Stewart. Marist, meanwhile, struggled for much of last season finishing with a 10-21 record, which proved to be the demise of Chuck Martin. In comes Jeff Bower, an assistant at Marist from 1986-1995 and former general manager of the New Orleans Hornets, to try and right the ship. He steps into a program that returns Adam Kemp and Chavaughn Lewis who both earned Third Team All-MAAC honors last season.

In their first season in the MAAC, Quinnipiac will be instantly competitive as they return Ike Azotam and Ousamane Drame in the frontcourt.

While they don’t figure to contend right away, Siena, under first year coach Jimmy Patsos, will be a story to watch all season. Patsos successfully transformed Loyola (Maryland), formerly of the MAAC, into one of the league’s top programs.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Monmouth and Quinnipiac
Out: Loyola (Maryland)

source: Getty Images
Sean Armand (Getty Images)

PRESEASON MAAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Billy Baron, Canisius

Baron (17.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.0 apg) has the ability to fill it up like a shooting guard, go off the dribble like a two-guard, and has the handle of a point guard. As Canisius’ starting point guard for the second season, Baron will look to lead Canisius to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Antoine Mason, Niagara: Losing Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley to Hofstra makes Mason, a First Team All-MAAC player from last season, the focal point for first year coach Chris Casey.
  • Sean Armand, Iona: One of the best shooters in the country at any level, Armand was one of just ten players to drill 100 or more three-pointers last season.
  • George Beamon, Manhattan: Arguably the top player in the MAAC, the Jaspers will go as far as Beamon takes them, and that may be to the NCAA Tournament.
  • Chavaughn Lewis, Marist: After averaging just a shade over 8 ppg midway through the non-conference schedule, Lewis ripped up the MAAC averaging nearly 20 ppg in league games.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @nybuckets

PREDICTED FINISH

1) Manhattan
2) Canisius
3) Iona
4) Rider
5) Marist
6) Quinnipiac
7) Fairfield
8) Siena
9) St. Peter’s
10) Niagara
11) Monmouth

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

(Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.