The latest sign that college basketball season is right around the corner (finally!): the unveiling of preseason coaches’ polls.
Wednesday the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference unveiled its’ preseason poll as voted on by the conference’s 11 head coaches, and the Manhattan Jaspers are the pick to win the title. Steve Masiello’s talented squad sitting atop the poll shouldn’t be a major surprise. But the fact that the Jaspers, led by reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Rhamel Brown, received ten of a possible 11 first-place votes is a surprise when considering the fact that Iona has reached the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons.
A key for Manhattan this season is the fact that they’re healthy, something that could not be said during their 14-18 campaign of a season ago. Point guard Mike Alvarado is 100%, as is 6-4 senior wing George Beamon. Beamon played in just four games last season due to an ankle injury, and the hope is that he’ll return to the form that made him one of the best scorers in the MAAC in 2011-12 (19.0 ppg).
Manhattan won’t lack for options, which should allow coach Masiello to play at the pace that made the Jaspers so successful in his first season at the helm (21-13 in 2011-12). But Iona has options as well, even with the graduation of guard Momo Jones and forward Taaj Ridley. Head coach Tim Cluess welcomes back one of the country’s best perimeter shooters in senior Sean Armand, and forward David Laury III was a handful once declared eligible midseason.
Between the two rivals, a Canisius program that’s been rejuvenated by the arrival of head coach Jim Baron and his son Billy (17.2 ppg, 5.0 apg) and a talented Rider squad led by guards Anthony Myles (12.4, 4.6 rpg) and Jonathon Thompson (13.1, 3.9, 3.1 apg) , the MAAC race should be competitive throughout.
The coaches’ poll broke down as follows, with total points in parentheses:
1. Manhattan (189; 10 first-place votes)
2. Iona (108; one first-place vote)
3. Canisius (100)
4. Rider (85)
5. Marist (69)
6. Fairfield (61)
7. Quinnipiac (58)
8. Niagara (39)
9. Saint Peter’s (38)
10. Siena (35)
11. Monmouth (14)
Interestingly enough the coaches seem a bit bullish on Marist, which welcomes a new head coach with NBA experience (Jeff Bower) and returns one of the league’s best big men in senior Adam Kemp. The Red Foxes haven’t finished above .500 since the 2007-08 season, so it will be interesting to see if they can turn things around in quick order.
Losing two quality players in Juan’ya Green and Amen Tanksley dropped reigning regular season champion Niagara to eighth in the preseason poll, but new head coach Chris Casey did retain the services of high-scoring wing Antoine Mason (18.7 ppg). And even though they’re picked to finish tenth in this poll, don’t be surprised if Jimmy Patsos’ Siena Saints finish higher when the season reaches its conclusion in March.