Metro Atlantic Recap
by Michael DiPiazza
At last season’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) media day held at Madison Square Garden the talk amongst the crowd was the parity that the conference endured.
When the 2001-02 Preseason Coaches Poll was released that early November morning it was Iona who was the heavy favorite amidst the field of ten. While Marist was selected fifth, Siena was sixth and Rider placed seventh.
However, when it was all said and done roughly five months later, it was the Gaels who finished fifth, having suffered through a 13-17 lackluster season, while Marist and Rider shared the regular season conference crown.
But in this mid major league, the regular season means as much as an election does in Iraq. Unless a team tears through their schedule, the chance at an at large bid are slim to none.
And that is why the preseason number-six team prevailed as the MAAC champions. Not only did Siena get the single most impressive performance in MAAC history out of Dwayne Archbold, but they also earned a trip to the Big Dance when they became the first team ever to win the NCAA play-in game. The Saints defeated Alcorn State, 81-77, to advance to the first round, where they were trounced by eventual national champions Maryland.
When Siena loss to Maryland that wasn’t the only blow the team suffered. The Saints also had to come to the realization that the next time they set foot on the hard wood it would be without shooting sensation Archbold. In Siena’s four games at the MAAC tourney the 6-foot, five-inch guard poured in 111 points. However Siena seems to have replaced Archbold when it signed four players all over the height of 6 foot 5.
The Saints signed 6 foot 9 forward Paul Williams, 6 foot 7 forward Michael Haddix and 6 foot 7 forward David Ryan. Siena also inked 6 foot 5 guard Antoine Jordan, coincidently Archbold is a 6 foot 5 guard..
Siena wasn’t the only one busy signing highly touted recruits. Iona also put together a solid crop of four freshmen plus a transfer. Iona’s key loss is Dyree Wilson, though Iona coach Jeff Ruland added three guards, including two who played high school ball together at All Hallows in New York City.
No matter how much potential Iona’s freshmen have, they are over shadowed by the Gaels late August signing of former Syracuse standout DeShaun Williams. Williams transferred to the New Rochelle, N.Y. school after being dismissed from Syracuse for academic problems. With one year of eligibility left the guard is forced to wait till next year to show the Iona faithful is talents as NCAA transfer rules require him to sit out a season.
While the Saints geared up for a repeat, the team they knocked off in the championship game signed two recruits and named Matt Dillon assistant coach. Niagara’s 18-14 season was in part to team MVP Daryl Greene, the Purple Eagles biggest loss.
For Niagara’s cross town rival Canisius, last season was everything they didn’t want. The Golden Griffs finished the season 8-19, however they beat top seeded Rider 85-84 in the first round of the MAAC tourney. The Griffs will return top players Brian Dux and Toby Foster, while adding a guard, forward and a center. After red shirting last season due to severely sprained ankle, 6 foot 3 guard Kevin Downey will look to help the Griffs build off of last seasons MAAC win. Six foot 8 forward Ronald Wyatt and 6 foot 9 center Michael Hanley will enter the Griffs lineup.
With senior sensation Sam Spann at the helm last year for Fairfield, the Stags were the preseason number two. Spann, who averaged 12.1 points per game and 6.2 rebounds a game also acquired four double-doubles throughout the regular season, two of which were triple-doubles. The loss of Spann could prove deadly, unless 6 foot 4 freshman guard Michael Bell can fill the void. Bell, an all around athlete who won the state championship in the 400 hurdles, averaged 22.5 points a game and is the all time leading scorer at Marshalltown H.S.
With Scott Hicks entering his third season as the coach of the Loyola Greyhounds, the Loyola faithful hopes that Hicks and company can knock off defending national champs Maryland in a regular season contest. The Greyhounds key loss is Damien Miller.
Just as Loyola, the Peacocks of St. Peter’s are coming off of a disappointing season with hopes of turning the program around. The Peacocks return 6 foot 5 forward/guard Melvin Robinson, and add freshmen Keydren Clark and George Jefferson.
Coming off of their disgraceful loss to Canisius in the first round, the Broncs will hope to repeat last season’s regular season performance and go beyond it. However, that will have to be done with the loss of Mario Porter who signed a contract to play professionally in Orleans, France. As hosts of the 2003 MAAC tournament, held at Trenton’s Sovereign Bank Arena, Rider and 2002 MAAC Coach of the Year Dan Harnum will have key returnee Jerry Johnson to count on for the upcoming season.
After tearing through the first portion of the 2001-02 season Manhattan will look to sustain the momentum throughout the second half. With games against Louisville, St. John’s, possibly North Carolina and Seton Hall, the Jaspers hope that freshmen Jason Wingate, Kenny Minor, Mihai Enescu and Mike Konovelchick to gain experience early on. Despite the loss of Von Damien “Mugsy” Greene, the animated Bobby Gonzalez will try to rally his team through the MAAC. The Jaspers return top players Justin Jackett, Luis Flores and Jared Johnson, and also All-MAAC Second Team Dave Holmes.
Last and certainly not least is the co-defending regular season champs Red Foxes of Marist. With the loss of second team All-MAAC stud Sean Kennedy, the Red Foxes will turn to Utah Valley State College transfer Chris Handy, a 6-8 forward/guard that averaged 7.0 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game.
While some of the big names the MAAC had over the past season are gone, their replacements should make some noise. With no head coaching changes, it should be interesting to see how some of last seasons younger squads respond in the 2002-03 season.