LWOS continues its conference previews with the 2020-21 MAAC Basketball Preview. The league saw some surprises at the top last season, with Siena and St. Peter’s racing for the league crown. Siena ended up pulling away late, and the Saints are primed to repeat. One of the biggest storylines heading into 2020-21 season, though, is the return of Rick Pitino to college basketball. He takes over at Iona, where expectations are always high. However, it will be exciting to see the impact he will have right away with the Gaels.
2020-21 MAAC Basketball Preview
11. Quinnipiac Bobcats
Key Returners: Tyrese Williams, Jacob Rigoni, Brendan McGuire
Key Losses: Rich Kelly, Kevin Marfo
Key Newcomers: Elias King (JUCO)
Quinnipiac takes some hits heading into the 2020-21 season with respect to roster losses. Kelly and Marfo were both second-team performers last season, with Marfo also leading the NCAA in rebounding average at 13.3 per game. The Bobcats enter this season still looking young, though a lot of those players did get some playing time last season. There may not be much to get excited about for this season, but the future seems bright if things go as planned.
10. Rider Broncs
Key Returners: Christian Ings
Key Losses: Dimencio Vaughn, Tyere Marshall, Frederick Scott
Key Newcomers: Rodney Henderson (Cal State Northridge), Dontrell McQuarter (JUCO), Nehemiah Benson
Rider is going to look almost completely new between the number of players who transferred and graduated from last season. The loss of Vaughn is the biggest, as he did a little bit of everything for this team. He averaged 14.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game in 2019-20. The incoming transfers will be expected to step in and make an instant impact. The Broncs are usually contenders in the MAAC, but this season will be all about rebuilding and finding a new identity.
9. Canisius Golden Griffins
Key Returners: Majesty Brandon, Jacco Fritz, Jordan Henderson
Key Losses: Malik Johnson
Key Newcomers: Malek Green (Morehead State), Ahamadou Fofana (JUCO)
Canisius has a majority of their team returning from last season. All-freshman team performer Fritz will have to take on a bigger role this season. The Golden Griffins contain a nice mix of both experience and depth in the frontcourt and backcourt. That should allow this team to take another step forward and be more competitive this season. A finish higher than this is not out of the question.
8. Manhattan Jaspers
Key Returners: Samir Stewart, Elijah Buchanan
Key Losses: Pauly Paulicap, Tykei Greene, Christian Hinckson
Key Newcomers: Jason Douglas-Stanley (George Mason), Anthony Nelson (Seton Hall), Marques Watson (JUCO)
Manhattan loses some scoring from last season, most notably in Paulicap, but does have enough experience returning to stay competitive. The waiver approvals of Douglas-Stanley and Nelson will also make this team much more dangerous than originally thought. The Jaspers may be picked too low here, and they have a history of consistently competing for titles. However, this is a team to watch out for as the season goes on.
7. Fairfield Stags
Key Returners: Jesus Cruz, Taj Benning, Chris Maidoh
Key Losses: Landon Taliaferro, Vincent Eze
Key Newcomers: Caleb Green (Holy Cross), Tshiefu Ngalakulondi (St. Bonaventure)
Fairfield is another team that returns most of its group from last season and gets a transfer boost. Green and Ngalakulondi will infuse some more talent into a group that is already pretty solid. Coach Jay Young should have this team much more improved in his second season. The Stags are projected on the low end here, but, with the right pieces falling in place, could push for a finish in the top five.
6. Marist Red Foxes
Key Returners: Michael Cubbage, Matthew Herasme, Jordan Jones
Key Losses: Matt Turner
Key Newcomers: Victor Enoh (Memphis)
Marist was an extremely young team overall in 2019-20. That largely contributed to their finish in the basement of the league. However, that should experience should pay off, with the team expecting to improve greatly. That effort is helped out with the addition of Enoh, who will see a bigger role after being limited with Memphis. The Red Foxes should find themselves jumping up the standings and potentially earning the right to wear a home jersey for the MAAC Tournament, but not much after that.
5. Niagara Purple Eagles
Key Returners: Marcus Hammond, Raheem Solomon, Greg Kuakumensah
Key Losses: James Towns
Key Newcomers: None
Niagara sees most of its roster come back after exceeding expectations last season. Greg Paulus got the most out of this group in his first season in charge, and that earned him a contract extension from the school. The familiarity with one another should lead to another step in the right direction. It helps when you have a player like Hammond, who averaged 14.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game on his way to earning first-team honors. The Purple Eagles may not have what it takes to capture the title, but a top-four finish is plausible.
4. Iona Gaels
Key Returners: Asante Gist, Isaiah Ross
Key Losses: E.J. Crawford, Tajuan Agee, Isaiah Washington
Key Newcomers: Robert Brown (New Mexico State), Berrick JeanLouis (JUCO), Osborn Shema (JUCO)
Iona’s biggest offseason transaction was the hiring of legendary coach Rick Pitino to take over the program. While many will still point towards the way in which his time at Louisville ended, that does not take away from the impact this has for the program. That has been felt right away with the number of high-profile recruits committing for future seasons. For now, there are some holes to fill with the departure of some key playmakers. This will still be a transition year, but certainly not a normal one. The Gaels will be right there at the end.
3. St. Peter’s Peacocks
Key Returners: K.C. Ndefo, Doug Edert, Darryl Banks III
Key Losses: Aaron Estrada, Quinn Taylor
Key Newcomers: None
St. Peter’s was by far the biggest surprise in the league last season. The Peacocks rode their youth all the way to a second-place finish and a chance to win the MAAC Tournament before the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those key freshmen, Estrada, used his rookie of the year campaign to transfer to Oregon. However, Edert and Banks return along with standout big man Ndefo, who was the defensive player and sixth-man of the year award winner. St. Peter’s will be in the mix again in 2020-21, though the depth behind the starters is a bit of a concern.
2. Monmouth Hawks
Key Returners: Deion Hammond, George Papas, Samuel Chaput
Key Losses: Ray Salnave, Mustapha Traore
Key Newcomers: Donovann Toatley (Chattanooga)
Monmouth has the pieces in place to push for a MAAC title this season, but overtaking Siena is a tall task. Hammond will be in contention for the player of the year award after averaging 16.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game a season ago. Toatley just adds to the depth that this team has at the guard position after coming over from Chattanooga. The Hawks should be able to win 20 games and compete in whatever postseason tournament they participate in. It remains to be seen if there is enough there, though, to push Siena.
1. Siena Saints
Key Returners: Jalen Pickett, Manny Camper
Key Losses: Elijah Burns, Donald Carey
Key Newcomers: Nicholas Hopkins (Belmont), Harrison Curry (Detroit)
Siena’s run to the conference title came as a bit of a surprise to many. However, there will be no surprises this year, as the Saints are the league favorites for 2020-21. Few teams have a better one-two punch than Pickett and Camper. Pickett’s outstanding 2019-20 season earned him the player of the year honor. Siena will be one of the most dangerous mid-major teams in the country this season and could shock someone in the NCAA Tournament. However, they need to take care of business in the MAAC first.
2020-21 MAAC Basketball Preview Award Projections
Player of the Year: Jalen Pickett, Siena
This is an easy choice, as Pickett should be able to repeat what he did last season and then some. He averaged 15.1 points, six assists, one steal, and 1.1 blocks per game last year. His ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor makes him one of the best players in the country. Pickett should repeat this honor in 2020-21.
Defensive Player of the Year: K.C. Ndefo, St. Peter’s
This is another award that expects to see a repeat winner in Ndefo. He owned the paint both as a rim protector and a pick pocketer. He averaged 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, and keep in mind that he was doing all this as a bench player as well. Ndefo should be a starter this season and be a force defensively once again.
Rookie of the Year: Donovann Toatley, Monmouth
Toatley will make an immediate impact with Monmouth. He averaged 11.2 points and 2.9 assists per game over 24.9 minutes in his lone season at Chattanooga. Monmouth’s preference for four-guard rotations means he may end up being a starter right away, but that remains to be seen. That amount of playing time combined with the talent he has makes him a favorite as the league’s rookie of the year.
Sixth-Man of the Year: Victor Enoh, Marist
Enoh enters his second year with the program after a sit-out year, coming over from Memphis. Given that Jordan Jones is the starting center for the Red Foxes, Enoh will see his minutes come from the bench. However, he has enough talent to be a force no matter where he gets his minutes from.
Coach of the Year: Carmen Maciariello, Siena
Maciariello had quite a first season at Siena, vaulting the Saints to a regular-season title. He did not get the chance to see how his squad would have done in the Big Dance due to the cancellation of the conference tournament. However, he should get that opportunity this season. If he takes the Saints to the heights that have been projected upon them, this award will be his.
All-Conference First-Team Projection: Jalen Pickett (Siena), Manny Camper (Siena), Deion Hammond (Monmouth), Marcus Hammond (Niagara), K.C. Ndefo (St. Peter’s)