Monday , Nov , 06 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) –
OUTLOOK: With a total of 10 teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference,
having four new head coaches this season represents a huge turnover for the
league. New faces should bring new attitudes and excitement and even better
gameplans, which is why the MAAC figures to be a conference to watch in
2006-07. With two of the top players in the league, the Marist Foxes figure to
be the top dogs, especially fighting for the conference title right up until
the end in 2005-06. Last season the Purple Eagles of Niagara had their first
losing record under the direction of Joe Mihalich and were just a year removed
from having gone to the NCAA Tournament, which is why this season should be a
return to form for the Eagles and Mihalich in New York. The Siena Saints were
simply average out of conference last year at 5-5, but the squad was another
that battled for one of the top spots in the MAAC and should be in the mix down
to the wire this year as well. In 2005-06 the Greyhounds of Loyola (MD) posted
their first winning record in 12 years and the excitement that head coach Jimmy
Patsos has generated in Baltimore doesn’t seem to be going away and neither do
the Greyhounds as they aim to get even better this time around.
Led by former NBA star Jeff Ruland, the Iona Gaels have lost a lot of their
leadership on the floor, but the ninth-year coach has put together one of his
best recruiting classes yet, which is why one cannot count out the Gaels from
being a force to be reckoned with either. Bobby Gonzalez managed to make the
Manhattan Jaspers into one of those teams that many in Division I basketball
didn’t want to see on their schedule, let alone face in the NCAA Tournament,
but new head coach Barry Rohrssen has a lot of work ahead of him to return the
school to the level that Gonzalez lifted them to time and time again. In
2005-06 the Rider Broncs took more than just a few steps back and in the wrong
direction, winning a mere eight games during the campaign. Now the head coach
without the interim designation, Tommy Dempsey has to be ready for this, and
future seasons, to be rather rough on the Broncs as they rebuild. Spending the
last 10 years under Al Skinner at Rhode Island and later Boston College,
Fairfield head coach Ed Cooley has certainly built quite a resume for himself
since leaving tiny Stonehill College. However, the first-year head man with the
Stags will need more than his past experience and basketball knowledge to lift
a Fairfield group that was 10 games under .500 a year ago and doesn’t figure to
grow much beyond that this season. Canisius is bringing back three starters and
a total of six letterwinners from last season, but as new head coach Tom
Parrotta knows all too well, that’s not nearly enough to lift the Golden
Griffins beyond their dismal showing from a year ago when they had just a
single win heading into the new calendar year. Keydren Clark was the lightning
rod that brought attention to MAAC basketball the last few years, as he became
just the seventh player in NCAA history to eclipse the 3,000-point plateau, but
without him, St. Peter’s is just another program lost in the MAAC. First-year
head coach John Dunne doesn’t deserve it, but he’s going to find out real fast
what it means to coach the season after a superstar has left the building in
Jersey City.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION:

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Marist; 2. Niagara; 3. Siena; 4. Loyola College;
5. Iona; 6. Manhattan; 7. Rider; 8. Fairfield; 9. Canisius; 10. St. Peter’s

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

MARIST: Here is all you need to know about the Red Foxes for this year; they
have the league’s top player in senior guard Jared Jordan. A member of the All-
MAAC First Team last season, Jordan not only scored a team-high 16.1 ppg and
grabbed close to five rebounds per game for the Red Foxes every time out, he
also produced an unheard of 8.5 assists per game to not only lead the MAAC but
the entire nation a season ago. Head coach Matt Brady has produced a record of
just 30-27 in his first two seasons with Marist, but with the high turnover of
premier players in the MAAC he and the Foxes figure to be the team to chase
from day one. Along with Jordan, there are two other double-digit scorers ready
to take over games from an offensive standpoint in senior guard Will
Whittington and junior forward Ryan Stilphen. Whittington, a starter in all but
one game last season, was the three-point specialist for the group, converting
40.6 percent of his 254 attempts. Whittington, who was also named to the All-
MAAC First Team in the preseason, was so locked in from the perimeter that he
attempted only 82 shots from inside the arc on his way to 15.4 ppg. Stilphen
(12.1 ppg) focused his energies closer to the glass as he shot 58.6 percent
from the floor and was the team leader with seven rebounds per game. If there’s
on area of his game he has to improve it is his approach at the free-throw line
where he has been only 56.3 percent successful.

NIAGARA: Junior guard Charron Fisher appeared in only 19 games last season for
the Purple Eagles due to a torn ACL, but during that span he dropped in 18.3
ppg to pace the team. The squad recorded only 67 blocked shots through 29
games, but Fisher posted 20 of those in limited action, so with him in the
lineup more often in 2006-07 means that Niagara should be even tougher on the
inside. The potential return of Fisher seems to be taking a lot of the
attention away from the other outstanding players on the team, but don’t think
for one minute that senior guard Lorenzo Miles is just going to roll over and
let his leadership be usurped. Miles, who shot better from three-point range
(.392) than he did from the field (.386) a year ago, was responsible for 15.1
ppg and was first in steals (38) and second in assists (97) as he started all
29 games for the Eagles. Senior forward Clif Brown shot only 39.7 percent from
the floor in 2005-06, but that’s because he focused a little too much on his
perimeter shooting which should be left to the guards on the team. Brown ended
up with 14.6 ppg and was first with 8.2 rpg, so now his attention needs to turn
to defense in the post since he came up with only six blocked shots in 15
starts. Senior forward J.R. Duffey is another one of those players who could
easily be flying under the radar now, but considering he averaged 11.8 points
and 6.4 rebounds per game a season ago, it won’t take long for opponents to see
him for what he really is and give him the respect he so rightly deserves.

SIENA: Last year Michael Haddix was expected to have a huge impact on the MAAC,
but his season was over before it even began when he went down with an
Achilles’ injury. Back on the radar for the Saints, Haddix is now a member of
the All-MAAC Second Team along with teammate Kenny Hasbrouck. Now in his second
year, head coach Fran McCaffrey felt the void left by the loss of Haddix in
2005-06, with the squad going 15-13 on the year. However, that was a 10-game
improvement over the previous campaign, marking the fifth greatest turnaround
among Division I programs. A former member of the MAAC All-Rookie Team, Haddix
has a great feel for the game around the basket, but he still has to show that
he has returned to form. Hasbrouck was good for 12.4 ppg last season and was
ranked third in assists, an area that will demand more of his attention this
year now that Antoine Jordan and Kojo Mensah are no longer around to take a
back seat to in that department. A season ago the Saints had the same starting
lineup for all but one game, so it important for junior Tay Fisher and senior
David Ryan to continue their development within the system as Haddix comes back
into the fold. Fisher was responsible for 11.0 ppg and took more shots from
three-point range than only tree of his teammates tried from the floor overall,
hitting 35.2 percent.

LOYOLA COLLEGE: Andre Collins led the Greyhounds in scoring (26.1 ppg), assists
(131) and steals (67) last season, which is the primary reason why Loyola
finally tasted success after such a long drought. But coach Patsos now has to
give up the past once again and move on without Collins, the lone double-digit
scorer for the group in 2005-06. Now the spotlight falls to junior Gerald Brown
who is suiting up for the Greyhounds for the first time after transferring from
Providence and was forced to sit out last season. Brown was just another player
on the Friars roster, putting up 4.9 ppg on 42.9 percent shooting from the
floor, but for Loyola he will be a main cog in the offense every time down the
floor. Senior forward Michael Tuck, who shot almost as well from the field
(58.5 percent) as he did from the free-throw line (60.0 percent) last season,
is the top returning scorer for Loyola with his 9.1 ppg. More important than
his woeful effort at the charity stripe is the effort that he brings on the
glass, averaging a team-best 6.2 rebounds per game in 2005-06. Senior center
Hassan Fofana is cast from the same mold as Tuck, a strong shooter from the
field (.528) who can’t seem to find the mark at the stripe (.494) but will get
plenty of opportunities to lift that number to respectability with his nearly
six rebounds per outing. The Greyhounds may have been third in the conference
in scoring with 76.9 ppg, but they can ill-afford to be near the bottom again
in terms of scoring defense, having permitted opponents 78.1 ppg.

IONA: As the third-leading scorer in the MAAC, Steve Burtt (25.2 ppg) was
critical to the success of the Gaels as they went 23-8 and made it to the NCAA
Tournament before bowing to LSU in the first round. It was the third time in
eight years under coach Ruland that Iona was able to make it to the postseason,
but the outlook for 2006-07 does not appear to be as favorable. In addition to
the loss of Burtt, Ricky Solliver and Kiril Wachsmann contributed a combined
27.6 ppg as well, which means the top returning scorer for Iona this time
around is senior forward Anthony Bruin who was responsible for just 7.2 ppg as
he came off the bench most of the time. At 6-7, 235-pounds, Bruin was a tough
opponent down in the paint at both ends of the floor, grabbing almost five
rebounds per game and leading the group with 50 blocked shots. At the offensive
end Bruin shot a remarkable 69.7 percent from the floor, but at the free-throw
line he struggled immensely with just 42.2 percent accuracy. Junior forward
Gary Springer was a decent role player with his 5.6 ppg and 4.7 rpg, but now
that he’s going to be asked to do so much more there’s no telling what the
results may be early on. Junior guard Kyle Camper was instrumental in Cecil
Community College’s run to the NJCAA Division II National Championship before
arriving in New Rochelle and now Ruland has to cross his fingers that the stats
he saw from the Maryland native (11.7 ppg, 8.9 apg and 4.7 rpg) are easily
transferred to the Iona score sheet.

MANHATTAN: As an assistant with Pittsburgh over the last seven years, new
Manhattan head coach Barry Rohrssen has seen the highs and lows of a major
program at the Division I level, but he still might not be ready for the
challenge of rebuilding the Jaspers right off the bat. But the cupboard is not
completely bare for Manhattan, what with three starters coming back. All-MAAC
Second Team Preseason selection Arturo Dubois is a junior forward who made the
most of his time on the floor a year ago, while still fitting in with the
offensive sets. Dubois was the only player on the team to start all 31 games
and responded by shooting better from the field (56.0 percent) than he did at
the free-throw line (52.6 percent). Extremely active on the defensive end of
the floor, Dubois’ 15.0 ppg and 8.5 rpg looked outstanding when combined with
his team-high 74 blocked shots. So dominant was he at rejecting shot attempts,
Dubois led the MAAC as he was the only player in the conference with an average
of more than two blocks per outing. Sophomore guard Devon Austin, one of the
top freshmen in the league a year ago, was constantly deferring to players like
C.J. Anderson and Jeff Xavier, but with their departures he will take on a more
prominent role that will require him to boost his 7.6 ppg significantly. Along
the lines of Austin, senior center Guy Ngarndi is also going to have to turn up
the level of effort if he is going to be considered a legitimate option on
offense, otherwise don’t expect him to do much more than the 1.3 ppg he
produced a year ago.

RIDER: The Broncs consider junior forward Jason Thompson as one of the top
players of his class in the nation, but even with that designation Rider is far
from being one of the top-tier programs in the MAAC. Thompson, who shot 54.6
percent from the field a year ago, led the Broncs in scoring (16.6 ppg),
rebounding (8.4 rpg) and was also first in blocked shots with 48. Second on the
unit in assists in 2005-06 (82), senior guard Terrance Mouton has shown that he
can score the ball from needed (12.1 ppg). However, Mouton doesn’t pose a
threat to too many defenses when shooting just over 37 percent from the field.
With more than half his shot attempts coming in from outside the three-point
line, Mouton is relatively consistent from beyond the perimeter at 35.4
percent. But the real problem heading into this season might be the
expectations placed on Lamar Johnson who, as a freshman, shot a woeful 31.1
percent from the field and less than 30 percent behind the three-point line.
Surely he get more looks at the hoop in 2006-07, but unless his accuracy
improves he’ll have to use some self control before hurting Rider too much.
With six underclassmen on the roster there’s not a lot of room for players to
take their time and find their way in the offense. If coach Dempsey can’t get
them to perform right out of the box they could be in for a long season.

FAIRFIELD: The Stags appeared to be at a disadvantage at both ends of the floor
last year. The squad surrendered a league-high 78.2 ppg and was last in the
MAAC in terms of scoring margin with a minus-6.2 ppg. In addition to being last
in the conference in free-throw shooting (.682), Fairfield was also last in the
league in assists per outing with less than 13 a game. Coach Cooley opens the
season with a couple of Patriot League opponents in American and Holy Cross,
but from there the level of competition grows immensely with dates against
Saint Joseph’s, Mississippi, UConn, Georgetown and Boston College. If the Stags
thought they were going to take it easy in 2006-07 they were sorely mistaken.
Senior guard Michael Van Schaick appears to be the floor leader for the squad
this season, after putting up 8.8 ppg a year ago as the top returning scorer.
Van Schaick was the best three-point option for the unit as he connected on 43
percent of his attempts beyond the arc, and was also one of the most accurate
free-throw shooters as well at 85.7 percent. Considered to be a couple of
leaders in their own right, sophomore guards Herbie Allen and Jonathan Han are
going to be thrust into positions that they might not be quite ready for yet.
Han was responsible for 7.6 rpg and was first with 83 assists, while Allen
checked in with 6.5 ppg, but those numbers will have to jump considerably if
the duo is going to take enough pressure off Van Schaick. As one of two other
seniors on the roster, Marty O’Sullivan is coming back from an ankle injury
that limited him to only two games a season ago, so to expect a huge response
out of the gate from him would be a bit too much.

CANISIUS: The Griffs struggled to score points last year, coming up with a
league-low 70.7 ppg, and that trend might continue this season with the loss of
Kevin Downey, the top scorer from a year ago. In his place the team will turn
to senior forward Darnell Wilson to try and ease the transition. Wilson, who
tallied 12.9 ppg, shot an impressive 59.1 percent from the field and also led
the group with 39 blocked shots. However, Wilson had some serious issues with
turnovers as a junior, having twice as many miscues (76) as he did assists (38)
for someone who handled the ball as much as he did. Senior guards Corey Herring
and Chuck Harris bring stability to the backcourt after averaging a combined
24.4 ppg, despite the latter shooting a mere 37.2 percent from the floor.
Harris made up for his deficits with 91 assists and a team-high 43 steals, but
this season he won’t be able to hide behind those stats. Having an enforcing
defense is something that Canisius needs to find and in a hurry. Opponents
posted 74.9 ppg against the Griffs last season as they shot 38.4 percent from
three-point range. Part of the problem is a lack of big people, especially with
experience. There are only two players listed bigger than 6-6 and they are
sophomore Shaun James and Phil Benson who don’t figure on learning much more
than how to get beaten down in the blocks this year. The Griffs do get a couple
of soft opponents early on in the schedule, but to go up against West Virginia
and Syracuse in the span of a week is simply too much to ask from this young
group.

ST. PETER’S: The Peacocks are talking about putting together their fourth
straight winning season, but without Keydren Clark to blaze the way it seems
like the squad is setting the bar a bit too high for 2006-07. Junior guard Raul
Orta and junior forward Todd Sowell were almost afterthoughts at the offensive
end of the floor last season, having to wait and see what Clark planned to do
with the ball. This season the duo has to carve out their own niche and prove
that they’ve become better players after having spent so much time on the floor
with Clark. Orta was good for almost 12 ppg as a sophomore, shooting 42.7
percent from the field, but that number could have been significantly greater
were it not for 56.6 percent shooting at the free-throw line. Like Orta, Sowell
started 29 of the 32 games in which he played, putting up 11.6 ppg and leading
the MAAC in rebounding with just over 10 boards per game. Sowell shot 50.2
percent from the field, but like Orta again, he was less than impressive at the
stripe where he was good only 63.8 percent of the time. Take away Clark and his
189-of-212 (.892) at the free-throw line, and this team had some serious issues
to contend with. Sophomore guard Kevin Spann (4.0 ppg) saw action in every game
a year ago, but didn’t development as quickly as some would have liked. He too
has an issue at the free-throw line (.583) but hopefully with more exposure and
playing time he’ll get over that hurdle.