Back in October, the MAAC looked like a two-team league. Iona and Fairfield were both stocked with talent, both homegrown and of the transfer variety, and had some pundits speculating that this could feasibly turn into a two-bid — if not three-bid, WCC-in-2008-style — conference by the end of the season.
Alas, it didn’t happen.
Fairfield started off the season slowly, had a run late in the year but saw any real hope of an NCAA Tournament run dashed when point guard Derek Needham went down for the season with a broken foot. Iona had a promising start to the year but they dropped two winnable games — by winnable, I mean games in which the held an 18 point lead, one of which was with eight minutes left in the game — that essentially ended any real shot they had of putting together a resume strong enough to deserve at-large consideration.
But here’s the thing: just because the MAAC isn’t going to be sending two teams to the NCAA Tournament doesn’t mean that there isn’t talent in this league. Because there is. Loyola (MD) had a banner year for that program, Steve Masiello turned around Manhattan quicker than anyone thought possible and Siena can claim wins over Fairfield, Iona and Manhattan.
Where: Springfield, MS
When: March 2rd-March 5th
Final: March 5th, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2
Would it be anyone other than Iona at this point? The Gaels are easily the most talented team in the MAAC. Scott Machado is an NBA caliber point guard, Momo Jones and Mike Glover are transfers from high-major programs and there are a number athletes and/or shooters filling out the roster. Iona can score with the best of them. They push the ball and allow Machado to make decisions; he may be the only point guard in the country that is a better passer than Kendall Marshall. The issue with the Gaels is defense, but in the MAAC, if they are clicking offensively, no one is going to be able to keep up with them regardless of the defense they are playing.
And if they lose?: Loyola (MD)
The Greyhounds did not end the season very well. They lost three of their last six games heading into the postseason. The good news? The three wins they had in that stretch came against Iona, at Manhattan and against a Boston U team that finished third in the America East. What does that mean? Well, I don’t know for sure, but it certainly means that while they are capable of losing on any given night, Jimmy Patsos’ team can beat anybody.
Sleepers: I don’t think Fairfield is going to make much noise. They’ve had a disappointing year and will be playing without their star point guard. I do, however, envision Manhattan being a nuisance. Masiello has himself a star in 6’4″ George Beamon and enough talent surrounding him that the Jaspers almost certainly make some noise. That is, if they can get past Siena in the first round.
– Scott Machado, Iona: I think the best story about Machado is that his first name is actually Michael, but he grew up a Knicks fan in the 90’s and refused to share a name with Jordan.
– George Beamon, Manhattan: I don’t think there is a player in the conference that is as important to his team as Beamon is. Without him, who scores?
– Mike Glover, Iona: Yeah, I’m going with two different Iona players in the studs category. Its because they are. The man’s nickname is ‘Optimus Prime’ and he averages 18.1 ppg and 9.1 rpg. You don’t need me to tell you he’s a stud.
– O.D. Anosike, Siena: The nation’s leader in double-doubles — well, Divison I leader — Onisike has had just one game this season where he didn’t get either double-figure rebounds or double-figure points.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.