2001-02 Metro Atlantic Conference Preview
by Adam Shandler
The NCAA selection committee might take some pity on the MAAC this year and toss them an extra bid to the tourney. But they’ve got to earn it. In the early going, it’s hard not to like Iona but Canisius, Manhattan, Niagara or Rider could slip into the field of 64 with a 20-plus win season.
The MAAC. Call it the Little East. Good, competitive ball that no one comes to see. Talented undersized players that can compete. They have an identity crisis though. With all these mid-major conferences in the Northeast, they compete for cable-market share with the Northeast, America East, Patriot and Ivy.
Projected Champ: Iona
Dark Horse: Rider
There’s always next year: Loyola
1. Iona: The Gaels have lost their three most prolific starters and their best free-throw shooter. So it’s only natural that I pick them to win their 3rd straight conference title. Oh, the MAAC, you are one kooky bird, you! Iona’s got power up front, and that should be enough to win this league. Greg Jenkins (senior center) should consistently record double-doubles.
2. Manhattan: The Jaspers (not a barber shop quartet, but a mascot) are slowly getting back to where they were when Fran Fraschilla coached the club. Senior point guard Von Damien Green, the MAAC’s most fun player to watch, can score as well as he can pass and 6-7 forward Dave Holmes is mature beyond his sophmoreness.
3. Niagara: Another ready contender in the Medieval Times-tournament known as the MAAC. The offense relies heavily on senior point guard Daryl Greene, but he was hurt most of last season so the jury is still out. Still, he had 20 points in each of his first two games this season, so it looks like he’s ready to rock for the Purple Eagles. (Never seen one of those. Must be an endangered species.)
4. Rider: Good scheduling move by the Broncs this year. No major powers on the docket and their out-of-conference schedule is plugged in with schools from MAAC-comparable leagues. This is how you get the 20-plus wins the tournament folks seem to love. Rider returns leading the conference’s leading scorer, forward Mario Porter.
5. Canisius: The Golden Gryffs won 20 games last year and could repeat that success in 2001-02. Canisius is a team that likes to shoot, and they shoot well. Brian Dux is an all-around leader. 6-3 forward Hodari Mallory had a good first game against Cornell before fouling out.
6. Marist: Sean Kennedy finished third among all Division I assisters last year. He could grab to honors in 2001-02. Coach Dave Magarity will miss forward Drew Samuels 15.9 points per game, but has every right to expect sophomore center Steve Castleberry and F-C Matt Tullis to do good things. Any finish above sixth place is overachieving for this club.
7. Siena: 2001-02 could have been a real disaster if the Saints didn’t retain big guard Dwayne Archbold (15.9 points per last year) and backcourt partner Isaiah Stewart. Had a share of the league title last year but the loss of 3-point assassin Scott Knapp hurts.
8. Fairfield: Syracuse-transfer Sam Spann adjusted well to MAAC life last year. This year, a fellow Big East defector, Uconn’s Ajou Deng, brings his 6-11 presence to the new Arena at Harbor Yards. The Stags need at least another year before anything happens.
9. St. Peter’s: The Peacocks lost five of its most productive players due to graduation. This is another “rebuilding on our rebuilding” year. My colleague Lon Samuelson tells me that the Yanitelli Center is the only D-I arena in the country that does not charge admission to games. So at least they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.
10. Loyola: Seven new players for the Greyhounds. So how ’bout that lacrosse team?