The MAAC underwent a membership change in 2013-14, and one that appears to be a net positive. What hasn’t changed, and surely won’t anytime soon, is how fiercely competitive the conference is. That was demonstrated right up to the end this past season.
The conference had several teams right there in the race for the top until late in the season. Iona got hot and pulled away, but even so only three games separated first from fourth place and just two separated fifth from eighth. The real question going forward is if anyone can break into that top group, as Iona and Manhattan seem set to rule the conference for a while, with Quinnipiac having a lot of potential based on its first year in the conference. There are some who could join them, but questions abound in all.
Canisius will take a hit with Billy Baron and several other seniors moving on, but Jim Baron has the program in a good place on the whole. Siena won the CBI and should be on the rise. After that are a lot of questions. St. Peter’s has had their moments, but John Dunne hasn’t been able to get his team back to the magic of 2011 when they went to the NCAA Tournament. Rider has been a “potential” team as well, but hasn’t yet taken the next step recently.
Meanwhile, the rebuilding at Fairfield was painful this season, though the Stags have some talent, and it’s going to be a little tougher at Niagara next season. Marist is also in a crucial off-season, as head coach Jeff Bower left for an NBA job and the school must hustle to replace him.
In a conference as competitive as the MAAC is, it’s always possible for someone to make a run for the top after being down for a while. If a team like Fairfield or Niagara is contending in a couple of years, it will be what we’ve come to expect in the MAAC.
The first round saw only one lower seed win, and ironically it was the lowest seed of all. After Rider beat Monmouth 71-60 and St. Peter’s beat Fairfield 65-62 on a buzzer-beater by Desi Washington, Niagara closed out the day with a 78-76 win over Marist behind 38 points from Antoine Mason.
The quarterfinals had a blowout and a couple of very good games. Iona blew out Rider 94-71 to start the day, followed by Canisius edging Siena 71-65 in a back-and-forth game. Manhattan beat St. Peter’s 72-58 and Quinnipiac used a nice double-double from Ousmane Drame (15 points, 16 rebounds) to win their first-ever MAAC Tournament game by a score of 89-80 over Niagara.
The semifinals featured a dandy and one that wasn’t competitive late. Iona beat Canisius 75-72 after the Golden Griffins rallied from 12 points down to tie the game with under a minute to play, the second year in a row they have dropped a tough one to the Gaels in the tournament. Manhattan took the lead early in the second half and then pulled away from Quinnipiac in the second game for an 87-68 win.
That set up a rematch of last year’s championship game, and this one didn’t disappoint in a similar fashion. A dandy matchup between two New York area rivals came down to the final minute, but this time it was Manhattan that pulled out the close one 71-68.
Player of the Year: Billy Baron, Canisius
Rookie of the Year: Khalid Hart, Marist
Coach of the Year: Tim Cluess, Iona
Sixth Man of the Year: Maurice Barrow, Fairfield
Defensive Player of the Year: Rhamel Brown, Manhattan
Sean Armand, Sr. G, Iona
Ike Azotam, Sr. F, Quinnipiac
Billy Baron, Sr. G, Canisius
George Beamon, Sr. G-F, Manhattan
A.J. English, So. G, Iona
- Quinnipiac led the nation in rebounding margin by more than two per game over everyone else.
- Two of the top four scorers in the nation played in the conference: Niagara’s Antoine Mason (second, 25.6 points per game) and Canisius’ Billy Baron (fourth, 24.1 points per game).
- Siena won the CBI Tournament, beating Fresno State in the championship.
- Five teams reached a postseason tournament, including two in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
- In their first year in the conference, Quinnipiac finished in third place.
What we expected, and it happened: Manhattan was right there for the conference title and ultimately grabbed the conference’s NCAA Tournament bid. Steve Masiello wasted little time getting this program going again, and after losing in the championship game as a bit of an upstart a year earlier the Jaspers won it this time.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Siena was picked near the bottom in the preseason poll, but finished fifth and then made a great run to win the CBI.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Rider was thought to be a team that could finish in the top four, but the Broncs instead finished below .500 in the conference.
Team(s) on the rise: Siena. Jimmy Patsos is a self-described “MAAC guy,” and he stuck around by changing jobs when Loyola (Md.) left for the Patriot League. The Saints won the CBI and are ready to contend for more before too long.
Team(s) on the decline: Niagara. The coaching change and two big transfers were certainly going to hit the Purple Eagles hard, and they did. Now Antoine Mason is out the door, so things may get worse before they get better.
2014-15 Conference Outlook
It wouldn’t be a shocker if Iona and Manhattan were playing on a Monday night in March in 2015, as both teams look to be among the favorites next season. Both teams lose valuable contributors but have good underclassmen ready to take on expanded roles. Iona will be led by A.J. English and David Laury, while Manhattan will be led by Ashton Pankey and Emmy Andujar.
There will be plenty of teams to push them, however. Quinnipiac will miss Ike Azotam but returns Ousmane Drame and most of their guards. Siena will be more experienced, including their CBI championship. St. Peter’s and Rider will be sleepers, while Canisius will miss Billy Baron and several other seniors in a big way. Fairfield could make a jump in the standings, while Niagara may struggle again.