2014 MAAC Tournament Preview: Iona-Manhattan eyeing a rematch?

Leave a comment
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Last season in the MAAC tournament championship game, Iona punched its ticket to its second straight NCAA tournament, knocking off in-state rival Manhattan. A week ago, the Gaels and Jaspers met in their final meeting of the regular season with Manhattan pulling out an 80-77 overtime win over the MAAC regular season champion. They will enter as the top two seeds in Springfield this week, but getting back to the title game will prove to be difficult, I mean after all, Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said it himself, “This is not a one-bid league.”

Quinnipiac, a newcomer to the MAAC this season, has seen instant success with its frontline of Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame each grabbing 10 rebounds per game. Canisius guard Billy Baron is flying under the radar nationally for the season he’s had. He’ll try and replicate the success Iona had as the four-seed last year and lead the Golden Griffins to the Big Dance.

Siena is the last team in the MAAC with a winning conference record as first-year head coach Jimmy Patsos has his Saints riding a four-game winning streak — the only team to beat Manhattan in the last month — heading into the tournament.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 6-10

Where: MassMutual Center, Springfield, Mass.

Final: March 10, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Iona

The Gaels have been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, earning the automatic bid in 2013. The league’s most efficient offense has some experienced and talented offensive weapons in Sean Armand, A.J. English and David Laury. Iona can get out and run on its opponents, which help makes up for its defensive, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the MAAC in terms of efficiency. The Gaels have won 12 of their last 13, though Quinnipiac, Canisius and Manhattan — three of the other contenders in the MAAC — have all defeated them this season.

And if they lose?: Manhattan

Iona has the MAAC’s most potent offense. It’s toughest competition is Manhattan, the conference’s most efficient defenses. They have the offensive talent with George Beamon and Mike Alvardo — the two leading scorers — along Rhamel Brown inside. The Jaspers will go in with some added motivation after having their magical run as the six-seed ended inside the MassMutual Center a season ago.

Sleepers:

  • Canisius: Billy Baron has the scoring prowess to lead the Golden Griffins to the title in his last chance at an NCAA tournament appearance.
  • Quinnipiac: The Bobcats control over the glass — an average of eight more than any other team in the MAAC — can spoil hopes of a Iona-Manhattan rematch.
  • Siena: The Saints, picked 10th in the MAAC preseason poll, have exceeded expectations. Can a magical tournament run cap Patsos’ first year?

Studs:

  • Billy Baron, Canisius: The second leading scorer in the conference at 25.1 point per game. He’s also hit some clutch shots this season.
  • Rhamel Brown and George Beamon, Manhattan: The duo combines for 32 points and 12 rebounds per game for the Jaspers.
  • Sean Armand, Iona: Leads the high-powered Iona offense, which has five players averaging double figures, with 17.8 points per game.

CBT Prediction: Manhattan over Canisius

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

A post shared by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (@sviat_10) on

The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Swanigan to stay in draft

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
1 Comment

The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
2 Comments

Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.