MAAC Preview: Can Monmouth finally break through into NCAAs?

Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
0 Comments

Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

There’s plenty of change in the MAAC this season, but the one that will be most visible could very well be the schedule. The league took steps in the offseason that they hope will help boost its members’ RPI. They’ve trimmed the conference schedule from 20 to 18 games, eliminating the true home-and-home round-robin in favor of pitting the top teams against each other and opening up non-conference opportunities (the top teams in the league are required to schedule top-250 RPI squads).

After seeing Monmouth put together back-to-back monster seasons without an NCAA tournament berth, it’s probably a good move for the MAAC to try to do what they can to improve an already strong league.

King Rice’s Hawks will face a tall task in trying to repeat their success of the last two seasons – and finally secure that NCAA tournament bid – after the graduation of MAAC player of the year Justin Robinson and second leading scorer Je’lon Hornbeak. Junior Micah Seaborn will be asked to step into the void, which means he’ll have to seriously improve his efficiency to keep Monmouth’s offense humming, especially with the Hawks having lost a good chunk of their shooting from last season.

After taking the league’s automatic NCAA tournament spot the last two years, Iona is in much the same spot as Monmouth – trying to replace program stalwarts. Jordan Washington, who had one of the highest usage rates in the country last year, is gone to graduation, as are guards Sam Cassell and Jon Severe. TK Edogi, a 6-foot-8 forward, moves from a small role at Tulsa to a potentially huge one with the Gaels, as does Massachusetts transfer Zach Lewis. The key for Tim Cluess’ squad is probably shoring up the defense. With Washington getting buckets inside, the Gaels were able to out-offense teams while their defense lagged well behind. The offense is likely to take a hit this season, so if the defense can make up some of the difference, Iona could be in the picture at the top of the league again.

Fairfield hasn’t finished in the top-three of the MAAC since 2012, but with Tyler Nelson back for his senior season, the Stags have a chance to push for a top spot in the league. Transfer losses of Curtis Cobb (UMass) and Jerry Johnson (Chattanooga) certainly hurt, but Nelson is the type of player that can help cover up a lot of issues. Plus, point guard Jerome Segura is adept at getting others involved, which may be the key as Nelson is sure to shoulder a heavy load, but won’t be able to do it all alone. Finding additional shooting will be critical for the Stags.

Niagara hasn’t made much noise in the MAAC in recent seasons, but the Purple Eagles have one of the top one-two combinations in the league in Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes. Both need to improve their efficiency inside the arc, but it’s their 3-point shooting that helps move the needle. If the two of them are special, Niagara has a chance to do some damage.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON MAAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Nelson, Fairfield

The 6-foot-3 guard returns for his senior season as the MAAC’s top scorer after averaging nearly 20 points per game last season. He’s a near-40 percent 3-point shooter as well as an important distributor for the Stags. Expect a huge minutes and usage load for Nelson – and the big stats to match.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON MAAC TEAM:

  • Matt Scott, Niagara: Put up 17 points per game, but his 7 rebounds per game may be more impressive from a 6-foot-4 guard.
  • Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius: Crumpton is a 6-foot-6, 245-pound tank, but a skilled one who shot nearly four 3-pointers per game, hitting 42,9 percent of them, last season
  • Micah Seaborn, Monmouth: Will be tasked with a big scoring role after the departures of Justin Robinson and Je’Lon Hornbeak.
  • Kahlil Dukes, Niagara: The former USC Trojan shot 41.4 percent from the 3-point line and 92.1 percent from the free-throw line while averaging better than 15 points per game.

PREDICTED FINISH

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