NCAA Conference Previews and Tournament Predictions: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)

If you hadn’t heard of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference before last year, you have definitely heard of them now! If you filled out a bracket last year and either a) had Kentucky going far in the tournament (like me), b) had Murray State upsetting Kentucky in the round of 32 or c) had Purdue making it far, your bracket was already done for. All of those schools got upset by the hands of the 15 seed Saint Peter’s Peacocks of the MAAC. This is not the first time that a MAAC team has pulled off upsets in March Madness. In 2004, the #12 seed Manhattan upset the #5 seed Florida in the opening round. In 2008, #13 Sienna upset #4 Duke in the first round, and then the following year came in as a #9 seed and upset #8 Ohio State. Finally in 2013, #13 seed La Salle won their play-in game against Boise State and went on to make the Sweet 16 by upsetting #4 Kansas State and #12 Ole Miss. This is a conference that can and will pull off an upset in the big dance and make a Cinderella run. Who is going to do it this year? Here is my preview of the MAAC Conference and my prediction for the seeding of the conference tournament. Note: All records are stats are as of 2/3.


1) Rider (12-9 Overall, 9-3 Conference)

ATS: 9-11

O/U: 8-12

Overview: The Broncos did not begin conference play like they would have liked, losing three of their first four conference games. Even though two of their three losses were on the road, Rider would definitely like to have those games back, losing by two, nine, and five in those contests. However, they have found a way to flush out those losses and move forward, as they have won five straight games, holding their opponents to less than 70 points each game. Senior guard Dwight Murray is leading the charge for the Broncos success this season, leading the team in points (16.5), assists (3.2), and steals (1.5). He has led his team in points in all but five of the games that the Broncos have played this season. The even better news for Rider is even though one of their conference losses did come to Siena, that game was on the road. They have five games at home this season, where they have found themselves 6-2. This success at home is what is going to give them the edge over some of the other top teams in the conference and give them that coveted #1 seed. 


2) Siena (15-8 Overall, 9-3 Conference)

ATS: 14-8-1

O/U: 13-10

Overview: Although they have been on a slight skid as of late (losing three of their last six conference games), the Saints have proven to be one of the best teams in the conference. They have already beaten the likes of Rider and Iona, and have also beaten the likes of Florida State (who they destroyed by 17) and Seton Hall out of conference. This is a team that will beat you from behind the arc, as the Saints are shooting an average of 35.8% from behind the arc. Although he has missed a few games this season due to injury, sophomore Javian McCollum has impressed the conference this season, averaging 15.0 ppg and 3.5 apg. The young guard has a bright future ahead of him, and he is not alone in the talent on this team. Forward Jackson Stormo and guard Andrew Platek are both capable scorers as well, averaging 13.8 and 11.1 ppg respectively. I think they may have another bad game at some point during the regular season again to get to a two seed rather than the one seed. However, this is a very talented team that is likely to make a deep run in the conference tournament. 


3) Iona (15-7 Overall, 8-3 Conference)

ATS: 11-11

O/U: 11-11

Overview: The Rick Petino-led Gaels find themselves at the top of the conference this season, and they have done so because of their ability to score the basketball. Iona leads the conference by averaging 75.4 ppg (59th in the NCAA). Three starters in guard Walter Clayton Jr., forward Nelly Junior Joseph, and guard Janiss Jenkins are each averaging 15.6, 15.5, and 15.5 points per game respectively. This trio is incredibly hard to contain, let alone stop, every game, making them incredibly dangerous for any opposing team to scout against. Two of their conference losses this season have come without Walter Clayton Jr., as he was battling from an injury during those games. Not only are the Gaels solid on the offensive side of the ball but also are solid defensively. A mere 67.4 ppg is given up by this Iona defense, 114th in college basketball this season. Due to the fact that opposing teams have three starters that are averaging 15.5 ppg and are a solid defensive team, they are incredibly dangerous moving forward. With a coach that knows how to prepare teams for the postseason and all the reasons already listed, Iona is my pick to win the MAAC tournament. 


4) Niagara (12-9 Overall, 7-5 Conference)

ATS: 11-9

O/U: 9-11

Overview: People who get the opportunity to watch the Purple Eagles in action get to see the best of both worlds when it comes to offense and defense. If you are looking for a guy who can score the basketball efficiently, look no further than the leading scorer in the MAAC, Noah Thomasson. The senior guard is having a season to remember, averaging 18.6 ppg and is shooting 40.7% from 3. Sophomore forward Aaron Gray has aided in keeping all of the pressure off of Thomasson, as he is averaging 13.0 ppg and 5.0 rpg. As far as defense goes, Niagara is about as good as they come, giving up only 65.1 ppg (49th in CBB). Unfortunately for the Purple Eagles, a four game losing streak in the conference this season is not going to get them much higher than the four seed. Since that four game losing streak, they have won three in a row and are playing really good basketball. We will see if that translates to success for the remainder of the season and the postseason tournament. 


5) Quinnipiac (17-6 Overall, 8-4 Conference)

ATS: 12-9-1

O/U: 10-12

Overview: The Bobcats had a ton of success before entering conference play, going a very impressive 9-2 in non conference play. Although their record may not reflect it, they have also been very solid in conference, as well. They defeated Iona by 23 points last month, holding them to only 58 points, their second-lowest of the season. The key to the success that the Bobcats have had this season is the chemistry that they have and their ability to share the wealth on offense. Their leading scoring starter, junior guard Dezi Jones, is averaging only 11.9 points per game. Their lowest scoring starter, junior forward Paul Otieno, is averaging 8.0 ppg. Quinnipiac has great chemistry on offense, and that has led them to win 17 games this season. They also are very solid defensively, only giving up 66.8 ppg (83rd in CBB). If the Bobcats can continue their hot streak that they have going and improve every game, they very well could not only win the first round of the tournament but also upset a high seed in the second round to make the championship. 


6) Manhattan (9-13 Overall, 7-6 Conference)

ATS: 14-7

O/U: 13-8

Overview: Injuries have played a huge role in the position that the Jaspers are currently in. Two players averaging double digits in scoring have been out with injuries. However, both of those players returned for their most recent game, and the Jaspers upset Siena. With all that has happened this season, it would be silly to not talk about how crucial of a role that senior guard Ant Nelson has played for Manhattan this season. The guard has played in all but one game this season and is leading the team with 15.4 ppg and 4.8 apg (tied for the lead of the conference). The injured players in question, guard Samir Stewart and forward Josh Roberts, make things incredibly easy on Nelson when they are healthy. Stewart is a major threat from behind the arc, shooting 39% on the season. Roberts is the conference leader in rebounds, averaging 9.3 rpg. If the Jaspers can remain healthy, they are absolutely a dark horse team to watch out for. 


7) Fairfield (10-13 Overall, 6-7 Conference)

ATS: 12-9

O/U: 9-12

Overview: Although the Stags are 9-12 at covering the over this season, bettors would be foolish to not bet on unders in games Fairfield plays in. There are a couple of reasons why I say this. First, defensively, they are very talented. They are only giving up 65.4 ppg, which is the 54th best in college basketball. They do a very nice job at keeping even the best scoring teams below their average on offense. The other reason that betting the under with Fairfield should always at least be on your radar is they are BAD offensively. The Stags are only scoring 63.8 ppg, which is the 39th worst in college basketball. They have a talented player in forward Supreme Cook, who is averaging 12.8 ppg and 8.6 rpg. However, outside of Cook, the Stags do not have a go-to option on offense, and that has proven to be the case in their losses when Cook does not have a good game. Fairfield will likely keep their spot as the seven seed due to the teams that are at the bottom of the conference, but they are likely to not move up much higher than a seven seed. 


8) Saint Peter’s (9-14 Overall, 4-10 Conference)

ATS: 8-13

O/U: 6-15

Overview: This is a COMPLETELY different Saint Peter’s squad than the one that we saw make the Elite 8 last season. Following that historic March Madness run, then-Head Coach Shaheen Halloway left the Peacocks program to go to Seton Hall. The floodgates for Saint Peter’s opened following Halloway’s departure, as the seven players, including their top five leading scorers, transferred out of the program. When all of this ended, the Peacocks did get a big-time hire in the offseason in the former Wagner head coach, Bashir Mason, who went 165-130 in his ten years at the school. It has been a tough rebuilding year for Saint Peter’s, but two players from that March Madness run that stuck with the team are the team’s go-to guys. Senior Isiah Dasher and sophomore Jaylen Murray are averaging 14.1 and 11.8 ppg respectively. Beyond that, the Peacocks have struggled to find confidence shooting the basketball. It was just a tough situation all around for Saint Peter’s this season, and their record does indeed reflect that. 


9) Marist (7-14 Overall, 3-9 Conference)

ATS: 9-10-2

O/U: 10-10-1

Overview: After a few years of being in the top tier of the MAAC, the Red Foxes find themselves towards the bottom of the conference. Of their three wins, two of them have come to teams below them in the standings (and my projected seedings). The reason for Marist being in the position that they are in? Their offense is not only one of the worst offenses in the MAAC but also one of the worst in the country. The Red Foxes are scoring a pitiful 62.0 ppg, which is the 21st worst in college basketball. This mark is incredibly disappointing when you see the stats of their best player, senior center Patrick Gardner. If Gardner was on any team in top 5-6 of the MAAC, he would be in the running for conference player of the year honors, as he is averaging 18.2 ppg (2nd in conference) and 6.0 rpg. Outside of Gardner, the next highest scorer averages 9.5 ppg. The Red Foxes can likely get a win or two out of the bottom teams in the conference, but it is unlikely if they will get many more wins outside of that this season. 


10) Mount St. Mary’s (7-17 Overall, 3-10 Conference)

ATS: 7-14-1

O/U: 8-14

Overview: In their first season in the MAAC since coming over from the NEC, the Mountaineers have struggled to say the least. The most disappointing thing about their record is that of their ten conference losses, half of them have come by seven points or less. The Mountaineers could be in a way better position than what they are if they could close out games. They have also struggled heavily on offense this season, scoring only 61.5 ppg. The one-two punch in the backcourt of Jalen Benjamin and Dakota Leffew is one of the few positive things that can be said about the squad this season. The duo is having respectable seasons, averaging 14.5 and 13.7 ppg respectively, while also each shooting 39% from behind the arc. Unfortunately, the duo has scored 45% of all of the Mountaineers’ points this season, and no other player has stepped up to help with this. The transition process for schools at times is difficult, so this could very well be a transition year for Mount St. Mary’s. One or two more wins is all that is to be expected for the team for the remainder of the season. 


11) Canisius (5-16 Overall, 3-10 Conference)

ATS: 10-10

O/U: 11-9

Overview: Finally, we have the Golden Griffins of Canisius at the bottom of the conference. The Golden Griffins have actually had a couple of solid wins this year, beating Siena and Manhattan. However, I project them to have the lowest seed for the conference tournament for one simple reason: They cannot close out games no matter the opponent. Mount Saint Mary’s had close losses to good teams, but Canisius cannot beat good teams or bad teams this year outside of Siena and Manhattan. Of their ten conference losses, seven of them have come by seven points or less. The Golden Griffins have had numerous opportunities in games to win, and they simply are unable to. Teams like this get bounced early in conference tournaments often. The even more unfortunate news is that two of the three leading scorers for Canisius are seniors and will not be returning next year. Hopefully next year can bring some good news for Canisius, but I do not foresee anything positive happening for them going forward this year. 


Although I believe that the winner of the MAAC is likely going to be either Rider, Siena or Iona, the next two down in Niagara and Quinnipiac could make things interesting in the conference tournament as well. As of now, there is not a true conference player of the year candidate, so the remainder of the season is going to be exciting to see what players can break out towards the end. The conference tournament is going to be very exciting to watch, and this is a mid-major tournament that I would highly recommend keeping an eye on. As I have stated earlier, the MAAC has been home to some of the biggest upsets in March Madness history, as well as some Cinderellas. It could very easily see that happening this year, and, pending the matchup, my bracket very well could reflect a MAAC upset as well!

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