Do you hear that? It's the popping of stadium popcorn, the bouncing of basketballs on the hardwood, and the swishing of jumpers going through the net. In other words, it is college basketball season! So to prepare you for the upcoming year, VAVEL USA's Ben Anderson, Tyler Bennett, and Peyton Wesner gave their view on which teams and players will thrive during the 2015-2016 MAAC season.
1. With David Laury absent from Iona (graduation), will A.J. English be able to carry the scoring load and ultimately produce wins for the program?
A.J. English III is following a great path led by his dad, A.J. English II, who was a role player for the Washington Bullets during his heyday. Iona has a history of finding gems in the backcourt, as he is a more talented version of MoMo Jones. The Gaels will be one of the most accurate shooting teams in the nation thanks to Mr. English, who was recently scouted by the New York Knicks as a potential 2016 NBA Draft pick.
Without a doubt! A.J. English is the type of player who can carry the load on the offensive end for the Iona Gaels. Over the last two seasons, English has been arguably the best player for the Gaels. Last season, he led the team in scoring, ahead of Laury, with 20.1 points per game to go along with 5.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists. English is the type of guy who will stuff the stat sheet, but he won’t have to carry the team on his own. Even without Laury, the Gaels also have sophomore guard Schadric Casimir (14.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, & 2.0 APG) and senior guard Isaiah Williams (13.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, & 2.2 APG) back to shoulder some of the scoring load. Between these three guards, the Gaels look to be in great shape. All of the scoring pressure won’t be on English, which will allow for him to thrive and be the leader for the team.
Why wouldn't he! Although Laury's 19.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game shall be sorely missed, English should have no trouble putting the Gaels in the win column. How? He is surrounded by a tremendous supporting cast that includes senior Kelvin Amayo (7.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, & 2.7 APG) and Isaiah Williams as well as 2014-2015 Rookie of the Year "stud sophomore" Schadrac Casimir. Additionally, one should expect English's numbers to soar during his final season in New Rochelle as he did add about 3 points, 1 board, and 1 assist per game between his sophomore and junior year.
2. Newcomer (Freshman or Transfer) of the Year?
Here's a surprise: Aaron Rountree. This is a transfer from Wake Forest to Iona, coming into Tim Cluess's system as a senior. The big man was a simple benchwarmer for the Demon Deacons, but now that the Gaels have lost David Laury, they need someone to come in and fill the hole. Rountree should form a partnership with Isaiah Williams to make a tough frontcourt at Iona, the MAAC favorite.
Last year, the Monmouth Hawks finished third in the conference standings, and lost to Iona in the MAAC Tournament semi-finals. This season, two starters are gone, which puts an emphasis on the production of their newcomers. Je’Lon Hornbeak is no exception. The 6’3’’ guard, who transferred from Oklahoma, averaged 5.1 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists as a sophomore with the Sooners. After sitting out last season with the Hawks due to transfer rules, Hornbeak has already been named a team captain for the upcoming year. Without playing a game, Hornbeak has left an impression with the team that’s worthy of a captaincy pick. The Hawks will rely heavily on Hornbeak, and other newcomers, putting him in a great position to succeed in his first season in the MAAC.
Last season Iona's Schadrac Casimir came into the MAAC as a true freshman and ran away with the award by averaging more than his aforementioned high scoring teammates A.J. English and David Laury did in their first years! While I do not expect any freshman to replicate Casimir's campaign, Canisius' Malcolm McMillan has the potential to be a big time contributor for the Golden Griffins. McMillan, who is a transfer from Central Connecticut State, was the third leading scorer (10.8 PPG) on the Blue Devils' during his last full campaign (2013-2014). Although the six foot guard was awful in two games before getting injured last November (7 points in 2 games), look for the senior to take over for former Canisius star Zach Lewis (transferred to Massachusetts).
3. What team has the ability to prevent 4th straight Iona/Manhattan conference tournament championship?
Canisius deserves some love! While the team was voted 6th in the MAAC preseason poll and lacks media coverage, the team has some pieces that could gel and make a contender. Primarily, big man Phil Valenti will steal the show. The Golden Griffins have a true talent in this athletic junior forward, as he can score easy layups and play excellent defense. Jamal Reynolds will also be critical for the squad, a senior wing that has uncanny rebounding ability for his size. Jim Baron hasn't led a team to the NCAA Tournament since 1991 with St. Francis (PA), and he's rearing to go with this intriguing Canisius team.
There are a few teams who could end the run of four straight years with Iona and Manhattan in the conference championship this season, but it may not be overly hard to do. Manhattan isn’t as strong as they have been in past years, thus opening the door for other teams to slide in and take their shot at the conference title. But, for the sake of picking a team, the Siena Saints have the look of a team who could surprise people. After winning the CBI Tournament in 2014, the Saints were hit hard by injuries last season and failed to live up to the lofty expectations surrounding the program. This season, with a healthy Brett Bisping and Imoh Silas back on the roster, things are looking up for the Saints. Add in the return of Marquis Wright, who is one of the best guards in the MAAC, and fellow guard Lavon Long, and Jimmy Patsos’ squad has the potential to surprise everyone who wrote them off after last season.
Fly high Hawks! If anyone can disrupt an Iona/Manhattan MAAC conference tournament final, it is the Monmouth Hawks. Led by preseason first team selection Justin Robinson (13.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.6 APG, & 1.7 SPG), second teamer Deon Jones (12.8 PPG,& 4,8 RPG), and Oklahoma transfer Je'Lon Hornbeak the Hawks look to actually finish a season with some momentum, considering they ended the 2014-2015 campaign with three losses in their last five after starting off the conference slate 4-0. Nevertheless the horrid end last February and March, Monmouth has a loaded non-conference schedule that includes UCLA, Georgetown, and Notre Dame at the Advocare Invitational, which will prepare the team for the grueling conference slate.
4. MAAC Player of the Year?
I would be shocked if A.J. English didn't end up with this award. Monmouth's Justin Robinson could be a competitor as well, along with English's teammate Isaiah Williams, but English is simply too quick, too accurate, and too talented to not pick this baby up.
The general consensus pick is Iona’s A.J. English, and it’s tough to argue with that selection. Without a doubt, he’s one of the top players in the conference, and he’s proven that over the past few seasons. As his career has progressed at Iona, his play has gotten stronger and stronger. With a great supporting cast around him, his scoring numbers may dip slightly due to having other weapons around him. But, he will still continue to stuff the box score and cruise to the Player of the Year award, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
Seriously? I mean seriously? Can we just give the award to A.J. English right now? Following a season in which he was a top 20 scorer in the nation, the "star senior" is more than capable to take the top spot previously preoccupied by Tyler Harvey as he shoots very well from beyond the arc (39.4%) and at the charity stripe (78.1%). Honestly, the only player that could steal MAAC Player of the Year from English (barring injury) is his teammate Casimir, since Casimir will be stepping into the Robin role to English's Batman.
5. The team who receives the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be...
Obviously the favorite is Iona, and I'm going to go with the Gaels as well. It's amazing the team has been able to keep Tim Cluess for as long as they have. It's also amazing that they've missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the past couple of years. It's time for the Gaels to take advantage of a conference that has lost a boatload of talent to graduation and transferring. Iona will utilize their balanced attack and make a run as a Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite losing to Manhattan last season in the conference tournament championship, it’s tough to go against Iona this season. The only question mark for the team is their front court, without the aforementioned David Laury. However, they have the best trio of guards in the conference in English, Casimir and Williams, and they will make up for any issues that may present themselves in the front court over the year. After missing out last season, the Iona Gaels will right the ship and make it back to the NCAA Tournament as MAAC Champions in 2015-16.
Enough is enough! The Iona Gaels will return to the promised land known as the NCAA Tournament on the shoulders of youth (Schadrac Casimir) and experience (A.J. English). Now because there is no such thing as an easy waltz to an MAAC Championship (just look at the scores of the past championship games), I do expect Shane Richards' Manhattan Jaspers, the Monmouth Hawks, as well as the Rider Broncs to provide turbulence to the Gaels' pursuit.
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