Unfortunately, both the Bobcats and Hawks figure to be bit players in the league, at least for this season. Instead, the ruling parties should be Manhattan, Iona and Canisius, assuming there aren't too many surprises and injuries to key players.
The Jaspers have earned high praise after making an appearance in the MAAC Championship Game a season ago, while the Gaels can be spoken of in the same breath since they were the ones who slipped by Manhattan in that title tilt.
The Golden Griffins produced a 20-win season in 2012-13, and now having the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year in Billy Baron only gives the squad more credibility. Other teams like Rider, Marist and Fairfield may have their moments along the way this season, but unless something drastic happens, the elite squads should still rise to the top come March.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Manhattan
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Manhattan, 2. Iona, 3. Canisius, 4. Rider, 5. Marist, 6. Quinnipiac, 7. Fairfield, 8. Saint Peter's, 9. Niagara, 10. Siena, 11. Monmouth
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
MANHATTAN: Now entering his third season with the Jaspers, head coach Steve Masiello is beyond just getting his feet wet and is now prepared to make some serious noise in Riverdale. Manhattan was able to get past some early injuries to finish strong, eventually posting a 9-9 conference mark and a 14-18 overall record. This time around the Jaspers have the luxury of bringing back both of their double-digit scorers in George Beamon (16.8 ppg) and Rhamel Brown (11.4 ppg), although the former appeared in just four games before going down with a season-ending injury. It might take some time for Beamon to get back up to speed, but considering he is also one of the better rebounders (6.3 rpg) available to the Jaspers, they're willing to wait. Brown, who along with Beamon, is a Preseason All-MAAC First-Team selection after clearing 7.2 rpg and also leading Manhattan with 95 blocked shots last season, but while he was a 54.9 percent shooter from the floor, he was only 40.5 percent accurate at the free-throw line, making him a liability. Michael Alvarado (8.4 ppg) can put up points as well, but his 34.8 percent from the field is a concern, while Emmy Andujar (8.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) has issues behind the three-point line (.282).
IONA: The good news for the Gaels is that they return five of their top seven scorers from a season ago. The bad news is that they are still expected to finish behind Manhattan for the league title. A couple of All-MAAC Preseason selections head the list of players to watch as Sean Armand and David Laury bring veteran leadership to the program. Armand did it all for Iona a year ago from scoring (16.6 ppg), to rebounding (5.1 rpg) and passing (3.0 apg), all while setting a new program record with 112 3-point baskets. The only returning player in the MAAC who averaged a double-double in 2012-13, Laury hopes to improve on his 13.1 ppg and 10.3 rpg, but you have to know that opponents will now be keeping a closer eye on him when he slides into the paint. Both Tre Bowman and Tavon Sledge showed signs of potential late last season, with the former tallying 20 points in the MAAC title game, and the latter dropping in 20 versus Ohio State in the second Round of the NCAA Tournament. As a collective unit, Iona ranked first in the country in scoring with 80.4 ppg.
CANISIUS: Sending a total of 10 players out on the floor all of last season, the Golden Griffins put all of their eggs in a few select baskets as they finished with an 11-7 conference mark and a 20-14 record overall. Good news for the team moving forward is the return of Billy Baron, who has been tabbed as the MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year. Baron played close to 35 minutes per game and did a little bit of everything for Canisius last season, including scoring a team-best 17.2 ppg. In addition to being the primary offensive option, Baron also made it his mission to keep teammates involved in the action, resulting in a team-high 171 assists. A starter in all but one game, Baron also contributed with 4.1 rpg and 35 steals. One of the more physical players on the Canisius roster, Chris Manhertz brings strong play in the paint with his 7.6 ppg and 8.7 rpg, but at the same time he has to be careful not to take himself off the floor with too many personal fouls. One area that might be tough for head coach Jim Baron to duplicate this year is the 9.2 3-point baskets per game that had the Griffs ranked third in a nation.
RIDER: The final month of the regular season was mostly positive for the Broncs in 2012-13, but after defeating Hartford (63-54) in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, the team bowed to East Carolina in a lopsided 75-54 final, which was a disappointing ending to a solid campaign. In his first season with Rider, head coach Kevin Baggett took a team that was projected to finish near the bottom of the standings to a second-place finish, and now he hopes to create another minor miracle for the Broncs. Seniors Daniel Stewart and Anthony Myles will be the ones holding the squad together on the court, as both have been named to the preseason All-MAAC Second Team. Myles, despite shooting only 37.5 percent from the floor, was second on the unit with 12.4 ppg, while Stewart produced another 10.6 ppg and was the top rebounder for the group with better than seven boards per outing. Unfortunately, after that pairing the team experiences a huge drop-off in scoring, with Jonathon Thompson (13.1 ppg) no longer with the program. In addition to finding new scorers, the Broncs have to become more unselfish as they try to improve upon a disappointing 10.1 assists per game. which was 322nd in the country.
MARIST: There is a changing of the guard at Marist this season, with the 10th head coach in program history, Jeff Bower, taking over for Chuck Martin who was relieved of his duties in the middle of March following another disappointing campaign. Martin, who watched the Red Foxes finish eighth in the conference with a record of 6-12, just 10-21 overall, logged a mark of 41-118 (.258) during his five-year tenure. Coach Bower has a long road ahead of him as he tries to bring Marist back to respectability. That path should be made a bit smoother with the return of both Adam Kemp and Chavaughn Lewis who were selected preseason All-MAAC Second Team members. Kemp and Lewis were All-MAAC Third Team choices following last season, the former filling his stat line with 10.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 68 blocked shots and 23 steals, while the latter accounted for 16.7 ppg and 5.7 rpg, to go along with 85 assists and 63 thefts. Jay Bowie, who appeared in just 18 games, is another solid offensive threat who put up 9.4 ppg as a 52.7 percent shooter from the floor.
QUINNIPIAC: The Bobcats are taking a step up in competition as they settle in against the rest of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Head coach Tom Moore, now entering his seventh season, has had just two campaigns at Quinnipiac where the team has fallen below .500, and one of those times was 2012-13 when the Bobcats dipped to 15-16. However, at the same time the team was still a solid 11-7 in NEC action, which is certainly a positive even though the program is no longer keeping the same company. The good news for the Bobcats is that both double-digit scorers from a year ago are back in Ike Azotam (13.6 ppg) and Zaid Hearst (10.8 ppg), the former also clearing close to eight rebounds per game to pace the group in that department. Ousmane Drame came off the bench in all but three games that he played, yet still found the time to deliver on 9.6 ppg as he shot close to 53 percent from the field. Playing under 22 minutes per game, Drame hit the glass hard to the tune of 7.3 rpg and because of that Quinnipiac finished second in the country in rebounding margin with a plus-10.4 rpg. Unfortunately, the team's overall defense needs to be retooled after ranking 341st with just 4.1 steals per game.
FAIRFIELD: An enigmatic team for sure last season, the Stags had a pair of winning streaks of at least five games, but in between those two runs the squad also dropped five consecutive decisions, so trying to figure out where Fairfield stands heading into the new season is not an easy task. The Stags finished 19-16 overall and broke even in MAAC play (9-9), but this time around the team will be trying to improve on those numbers after having lost Derek Needham, the lone double-digit scorer for the group with his 14.6 ppg. Needham was also tied for the team lead in assists (110), and was the most accomplished 3-point shooter with 78 triples, so filling that void will not be easy for head coach Sydney Johnson. However, all is not lost for the Stags because Maurice Barrow, a preseason All-MAAC Third Team selection, is still hanging around in Connecticut. Barrow was only a part-time starter, then again only Needham was in the starting lineup in all 35 games, as he scored 8.9 ppg. One knock against Barrow is his mere 15.8 percent shooting out on the perimeter, although the team as a whole was just 31.6 percent accurate on the outside. The Stags ranked 309th in the country in scoring (60.6 ppg), but made things interesting with just 59.2 ppg (27th) allowed.
SAINT PETER'S: The Peacocks started out well enough a season ago with three straight wins, but then they struggled the rest of the way as they failed to secure back-to-back wins beyond that initial effort. When it was all over, Saint Peter's managed just nine total victories and was a disappointing 3-15 in conference, and while the team has to expect to get better this year, there are no guarantees that more failure won't follow. Head coach John Dunne is entering his eighth season with the Peacocks, but one has to figure that another dismal campaign will land him squarely on the hot seat in spite of all his past accomplishments. Giving the Peacocks their best chance for success is Desi Washington, who is the top returning scorer with 14.6 ppg and has been named to the preseason All-MAAC Second Team. A sophomore last year, Washington played more than 34 minutes per game even as he shot just 37.2 percent from the floor. The team has to find a suitable replacement for Yvon Raymond who was both the leading rebounder (5.1 rpg) and the only other double-digit scorer (10.4 ppg) on the roster. Areas of concern moving forward for coach Dunne has to be the team's lack of scoring (59.6 ppg, 326th nationally) and their issues at the free-throw line (.592, 341st).
NIAGARA: Oddly enough, even with a player like Antoine Mason who has been selected for the preseason All-MAAC First Team, the Purple Eagles are still expected to be near the bottom of the standings when the smoke clears in March. Perhaps the lack of faith in Niagara is tied to the fact that the team has lost key sophomores Juan'ya Green (17.7 ppg, 4.5 apg) and Ameen Tanksley (11.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg), not to mention T.J. Cline (7.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) who showed so much promise as a freshman last season. Altogether, the Eagles have just four returning players and 10 newcomers, changing the entire dynamic for head coach Chris Casey who is in his first year with the team. Nevertheless, Mason is still one of the top returning scorers in the MAAC after putting up 18.7 ppg, while clearing better than four rebounds per game as well. Senior guard Marvin Jordan (8.2 ppg) will be tasked with helping to provide leadership on the floor for a team that, while ranking second in the conference and 38th nationally with 73.8 ppg, was 300th in scoring defense with 72.1 ppg allowed. Another aspect that coach Casey can hopefully carry over is the ninth-best turnover margin in the nation (plus-4.3 per game).
SIENA: The Saints were absolutely dreadful last season, losing a team-record 24 games, which in turn cost head coach Mitch Buonaguro his job after only three seasons. It was a difficult campaign for sure, made all the more troubling to fathom when you consider Siena had one of the top interior players in the nation in O.D. Anosike. First in the conference and sixth in the nation in double-doubles with 18, Anosike was a machine on the glass during his time with the Saints, and yet the program still fumbled along in 2012-13. The good news for the Saints is that they have a new head coach in Jimmy Patsos, a familiar face who was the leader of Loyola-Maryland, which this year has made the jump to the Patriot League. One of the lowest scoring teams in the country (60.0 ppg), ranking 323rd in scoring margin (minus-8.4 ppg), Siena has a long road ahead as it attempts to rebuild. Rob Poole, who averaged more than 35 minutes per game, is back to improve upon on his 11.8 ppg and 4.7 rpg, while Evan Hymes (10.6 ppg, 3.7 apg) will be making the move to the off-guard position, even after shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor. Beyond those two, the rest of the roster is made up of many question marks.
MONMOUTH: The Hawks may have thought that moving to a new conference would give them a brighter outlook for 2013-14, but the truth is that they will again be one of the weakest teams in their respective league. Last year, Monmouth was just 5-13 in the NEC, finishing 10th in the standings and a mere 10-21 overall under King Rice who was in his second year as head coach. The Hawks don't have a single senior on the roster, which might help a year or two from now, but for the time being it more or less spells disaster for the squad. Junior guard Andrew Nicholas, who appeared in just 18 of the team's 31 games last season, is the top returning scorer with his 13.9 ppg, but he shot only 37.6 percent from the floor and was part of the reason why the Hawks converted just 39.7 percent from the field overall, compared to 46.0 percent for the competition. The team had an issue with height last year as they placed 338th in the nation with only 1.5 blocked shots per game and 328th in rebounding margin (minus-5.5 rpg), but hopefully one of the incoming freshmen who stand at 6-foot-10 can make a difference. A huge issue for Monmouth moving forward is 10 newcomers to the program and only one returnee who was able to score more than four points per contest.