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.
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.
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?
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.
Friday night’s MAAC matchup between Canisius and Iona was expected to be an exciting affair with two of the conference’s most exciting guards in Canisius’ Billy Baron and Iona’s Sean Armand taking center stage. The top two scoring teams in MAAC conference games entering Friday, neither team’s had trouble putting points on the board and that was the case on Friday night.
Two Baron free throws with 14 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as Canisius picked up a valuable 85-83 road victory, moving into a first-place tie with preseason MAAC favorite Manhattan. Baron finished with a game-high 29 points, making ten of his 17 attempts from the field with a few of those baskets being three-pointers beyond NBA range. With Baron rolling Canisius was able to build a 20-point lead in the second half, and that’s when an Iona team not exactly filled with defensive stoppers flipped a switch so to speak.
Iona went smaller, taking forward David Laury III out of the game, and used their improved quickness (and effort) to keep Baron from comfortably initiating the offense. While Canisius does have Stetson transfer Chris Perez as another capable guard when it comes to running the show, he doesn’t command the same respect as Baron from a scoring standpoint. Iona ripped off a 16-0 run to get back into the game, ultimately taking its first lead of the second half on an A.J. English three-pointer with 7:38 remaining.
Armand led four Gaels in double figures with 19 points, and Isaiah Williams’ 17 points off the bench were a welcome boost for the home team. Tim Cluess’ team should be commended for coming back in a game that very well could have gotten out of hand. But with an eye towards the possibility of winning the MAAC and making a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, it’s more important to ask why they ended up in that 20-point hole to begin with.
The reason: inconsistent effort on the defensive end of the floor, and that’s a concern for Canisius as well. Both teams clearly have the offensive firepower to beat the majority of the teams remaining on their schedule, but if either is to win a championship and reach the NCAA tournament they have to get better defensively. Iona entered the game ranked seventh in the MAAC (conference games only) in field goal percentage defense and Canisius was tenth.
And that’s essentially how things played out in New Rochelle, with the Golden Griffins shooting 52% from the field and Iona not far behind at 48%. While it certainly made for an entertaining two hours of basketball, a win on January 17 isn’t the ultimate goal for either team. In order to reach that goal, there’s work to be done defensively.
It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like efficiency and effective field goal percentage when taking all of this into account?
One number that we like to use is “180”. How do you become a 180 shooter? By shooting 50% or better from the field overall, 40% or better from three and at least 90% from the charity stripe. No college basketball player accomplished that feat last season, but Creighton’s Doug McDermott did become a 180 shooter, with his 49.0% 3PT making up for shooting “just” 87.5% from the free throw line.
Below, listed in alphabetical order, are ten returning players likely to merit consideration this season. Later this month, we’ll begin providing weekly updates tracking this.
1) Sean Armand (Iona): 161.2
2012-13: 16.6 ppg, 43.5% FG, 40.9% 3PT, 76.8% FT
Prior to Stephen Curry knocking down 11 three-pointers against the Knicks in February, who held the Madison Square Garden record for most three-pointers made in a game? That would be Armand, who’s back for his senior season after averaging 16.6 points per game in 2012-13. With Lamont “Momo” Jones out of eligibility, there may be more shot opportunities for Armand and he has the skill needed to take advantage.
The field goal percentage is a little low, but keep in mind that Bader is asked to do a lot for the Golden Grizzlies on the offensive end of the floor. Bader finished the 2012-13 season with a shot percentage of 29.2%, leading Oakland in that statistical category by more than five percentage points. He’ll certainly get shots up, and if he can knock them down at a higher clip he’ll be a fixture on the list.
3) Jeff Elorriaga (Boise State): 159.1
2012-13: 10.2 ppg, 44.4% FG, 44.7% 3PT, 70.0% FT
Much of the attention during the preseason has been heaped upon Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks and with good reason, as those two are the feature offensive options for the Broncos. Don’t forget about Elorriaga, who has turned into one of the Mountain West’s best perimeter shooters. The question for Elorriaga: how many free throws will he attempt after shooting just 40 in 2012-13?
The son of Hersey Hawkins can light it up, as evidenced by his 41-point outing in a win at Hawaii last season. The junior, who began his collegiate career at Arizona State, reached double figures in 26 of the 28 games he played in. And in Big West play Hawkins shot 53.7% from the field, 52.5% from three and 81.1% from the foul line.
Haws will be an All-America candidate this season, due not only to his ability to find (and create) quality looks but to also knock them down at a high rate. Haws dropped 42 on Virginia Tech last season, shooting 14-for-15 from the field (6-for-8 3PT) and 8-for-9 from the foul line. Failing to reach double figures just twice in 2012-13, there will be no shortage of quality looks for Haws this year.
Hunter’s presence is one big reason why the Panthers are capable of winning the Sun Belt in their first season in the league. With a year of experience under his belt, Hunter should be even better-equipped to deal with the different looks opponents will show. And don’t underestimate the impact that Ryan Harrow’s arrival can potentially have on the quality of shots Hunter finds within the GSU offense.
McDermott is also one of the best players in the country, returning to Creighton to take on the new challenge that is the Big East. And while the level of competition is raised, McDermott will continue to find quality looks within the Bluejay offense. As a junior McDermott failed to shoot at least 40% from the field in just six of Creighton’s 36 games, and given how many shots he attempted (518) that’s rather impressive.
Medlin played in just 16 games last season due to a broken wrist, but he’s healthy now and will once again be primary scoring option for the Aggies. Like McDermott he’ll have to get used to tougher competition, as Utah State makes the move from the WAC to the Mountain West, but he’ll be fine. As a sophomore (2011-12) Medlin shot 49.6% from the field, 42.8% from beyond the arc and 80.1% from the charity stripe.
We’ve seen the videos of Stauskas’ shooting exploits, and he’s proven to be quite the marksman in game action as well. The Ontario native worked hard to expand his game during the offseason, and if the end result proves to be more quality looks from inside of the arc Stauskas will be a fixture on this list.
By the time Wilcox’s senior season ends he’ll be Washington’s all-time leader in made three-pointers, and he can score from anywhere on the floor. But Wilcox’s staying power on this list could come down to how some of his teammates perform offensively; if they prove to be consistent threats the fifth-year season will reap the benefits in the form of higher percentage looks.
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 here. To 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.
In: Monmouth and Quinnipiac Out: Loyola (Maryland)
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.
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 here. To see the rest of our preview lists,click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
Prior to delving into the All-Americans, it is important to identify who we are considering “mid-majors” this season, especially after realignment saw many teams jump from one conference to another during the offseason. The following conferences are not included in any mid-major discussion: AAC, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West. The WCC is still considered a mid-major league with the exclusion Brigham Young, Gonzaga, and St. Mary’s.
G Jake Odum, Indiana State, Sr. (13.6 ppg, 4.5 rbg, 4.5 apg, 1.5 spg): Odum has been a fixture in the starting lineup for Indiana State dating back to his freshman year, when he led the Sycamores to the NCAA Tournament. He was named First Team All-MVC last season.
F Cleanthony Early, Wichita State, Sr. (13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg): His numbers won’t blow you away, but his game will. After twice being named the NJCAA Player of the Year, Early burst onto the national scene during the NCAA Tournament leading Wichita to the Final Four, averaging 16.2 ppg and 7.6 rpg in the five games.
F Augustine Rubit, South Alabama, Sr. (19.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.2 bpg): Rubit has often flown under the radar playing for South Alabama, but his numbers are impossible to ignore. There aren’t many four year college basketball players out there that average a double-double for their career, but Rubit is on his way to doing just that despite coming from humble beginnings.
F Jerrelle Benimon, Towson, Sr. (17.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.9 bpg): Think John Thompson III wish Benimon didn’t transfer? The learning curve and development time is always longer for big men, and Benimon flourished last season at Towson after having to sitting out after transferring from Georgetown. His offensive game improved by leaps and bounds, and now Benimon is one of the top forwards in the country.
MID-MAJOR ALL-AMERICAN SECOND TEAM
G Travis Bader, Oakland, Sr. (22.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.0 apg): Bader has never seen a three-point shot he hasn’t liked. Not only does he shoot at a high percentage (40.4% from the perimeter for his career), but he is a volume shooter averaging just shy of 11 three-point attempts per game. Assuming this pace continues, he will set the all-time three-pointers made record; he needs 101 more. Bader has a very good chance at being the nation’s leading scorer this coming season.
G R.J. Hunter, Georgia State, So. (17.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.7 spg): With Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow and Devonta White running alongside in the backcourt, there’s no telling how big a year R.J. Hunter will have. The son of head coach Ron Hunter, R.J. burst onto the scene as a freshman to lead Georgia State and scoring and three-pointers made with 73.
G Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount, Sr. (20.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.7 spg): Often overshadowed by top players at the likes of Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and BYU, Ireland is a scorer in the purest form. He was named to the First Team All-WCC the past two seasons, and will be a front runner for the Player of the Year award this season.
G/F Wesley Saunders, Harvard, Jr. (16.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg 1.8 spg): When Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were forced to leave the program last season, Saunders was forced into a larger role and responded accordingly. He became Harvard’s top player after being not much more than a role player as a freshman.
F Javon McCrea, Buffalo, Sr. (18.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 2.6 bpg): If Bobby Hurley is to have success in his first season as Buffalo head coach, it will be because of Javon McCrea. The top returning scorer in the MAC, McCrea could have a 20 and 10 type of season.
MID-MAJOR ALL-AMERICAN THIRD-TEAM
G Corey Hawkins, UC Davis, Jr. (20.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.5 spg): The transfer from Arizona State immediately turned into UC Davis’ top player after sitting out the 2011-12 season. The son of NBA veteran Hersey Hawkins, Corey led the Big West in scoring last season.
G Damion Lee, Drexel, Jr. (17.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.8 apg): Drexel underachieved last season, but Damion Lee certainly didn’t. If the Dragons are going to win the CAA this season, Lee will have to be the one to carry the load.
G Taylor Braun, North Dakota State, Sr. (15.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 spg): A mid-season foot injury to Braun derailed North Dakota State last season. Prior to the injury, the Bison were 16-3 and 7-0 in the Summit League, but during his absence they went 5-5 and never got their mojo back the rest of the season. When on the floor, Braun is one of the purest shooters around, and figures to have a big senior season for North Dakota State.
F Torrey Craig, USC Upstate, Sr. (17.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.9 apg): Craig has started all but six games for USC Upstate and has been an immediate impact player for Eddie Payne. He has led the Spartans in scoring for this first three seasons, and led the Atlantic Sun in scoring for the past two.
F/C Adjehi Baru, College of Charleston, So. (9.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg): The top rebounder in the Southern Conference last season, Baru will make his presence immediately felt in Charleston’s first year in the Colonial.
G Sean Armand (Iona), G Billy Baron (Canisius), Jason Brickman (LIU Brooklyn), Rhamel Brown (Manhattan), F Murphy Burnatowski (Colgate), G Siyani Chambers (Harvard), G Brett Comer (Florida Gulf Coast), G Johnny Dee (San Diego), G D.J. Irving (Boston University), F David Laury (Iona), G Rian Pearson (Toledo), G Devon Saddler (Delaware), G Kenneth Smith (Louisiana Tech), G Bernard Thompson (Florida Gulf Coast), F Alan Williams (UC Santa Barbara)
Jackson, a Live Oak, Fla. native, will have two seasons of eligibility remaining after playing his freshman season at Murray State. The 6-9 forward averaged 3.9 points and 1.1 rebounds in 9.3 minutes with the Racers in 2010-11.
As for the 2012-13 Gaels, they have more newcomers (nine) than returnees (four). With the addition of Jackson, in total, the incoming class includes two Division I transfers in Tavon Sledge (Iowa State) and Curtis Dennis (Toledo), five junior college transfers and two true freshman according to a July release on the team website.
The Gaels have a massive hole to fill with the graduation of point guard Scott Machado, who led the nation at 9.09 assists per game last season. Dennis could help somewhat, averaging 1.5 assists per game in two seasons at Toledo, but I’d believe Cluess knows that every recruiting class doesn’t automatically include the next Machado. Sean Armand (9.5 ppg) and Lamont “MoMo” Jones (15.7) return as the top scoring threats.
Norvel Pelle, a former St. John’s commitment, also recently picked the Gaels. The article also states that a source told The New York Post that Iona is still awaiting word on his eligibility.
Obviously, Fred Hoiberg and Iowa State showed the world last season that winning with an abundance of transfers can happen (anyone else see the irony in Iona getting a transfer from Iowa State?) but at a place like Iona that’s going to be tough. The Gaels are going to be undersized — Jackson and JuCo transfer DeSean Anderson are the only players taller than 6-7 on this year’s team — but if this team can get behind Armand and Jones as the lead dogs, there’s no reason it can’t compete for the automatic bid in the MAAC and a second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.