By Jon Rothstein
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Five Questions Entering The Season
1. Can Iona Mesh?
They'd better because they're not getting another season out of Mike Glover. The Gary Trent clone is back in New Rochelle and unanimously looked at as the best player in the conference. Gaels coach Tim Cluess should be able to find a way to keep both Scott Machado and Momo Jones happy since both like to push the pace --- and that's exactly what Cluess wants to do. Look for Iona to regularly use four guard sets with the intention of using the spot up ability of Kyle Smyth, Sean Armand, Rashad James, and Jermel Jenkins to compliment the penetration skills of Machado and Jones. It wouldn't shock me if the Gaels lead the nation in scoring and if they don't, it won't be because of a lack of trying.
2. How Will Fairfield Adjust To The Princeton Offense?
Seamlessly, because of Ryan Olander. To efficiently implement the style he wants, newly minted Stags coach Sydney Johnson needs a big man to initiate things at the high post offensively --- and that's Olander does best. Extremely skilled and savvy, the senior tri-captain should help bridge the gap between Johnson's cerebral approach and the relentlessness that we saw from Fairfield last year under Ed Cooley.
3. Who Is The League's Third Best Team?
I have to go with Rider. Tommy Dempsey does an incredible job at annually replenishing the talent on the Broncs roster and should have them once again positioned to finish in the top half of the league. Virginia transfer Jeff Jones should emerge as a focal point offensively and Rider has a terrific baseline combo in Novar Gadson and Danny Stewart. If sharp shooting wing Brandon Penn emerges as a legitimate double-figure scoring option and sophomore Anthony Myles can add some pop off the bench, the Broncs could push both Iona and Fairfield.
4. Is The MAAC A Multi-Bid League?
If the CAA was able to get three teams in the field of 68 last year with Old Dominion, George Mason, and VCU, then the MAAC is capable of sending two teams to the NCAA Tournament. The key to achieving such a feat will require the league to perform well in non-conference games. Rider has set a strong precedent in the past two years with wins at Mississippi State and USC and conference favorites Iona and Fairfield will have an opportunity to a build a quality at large resume. The Gaels play at Marshall and host St. Joseph's as well as opening with Purdue in the first round of the Puerto Rico Shootout while Fairfield travels to Minnesota and UCONN in addition to playing in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando over Thanksgiving weekend.
5. Who Stands Out As A Surprise Team?
Manhattan. The fact that the Jaspers were picked eighth isn't an oversight, it's an insult. First-year coach Steve Masiello inherits a team that was broken and battered a season ago and welcomes back a force up front in Roberto Colonette as well as a lock down defender in Mohamed Koita. If Mike Alvarado can live up to the potential that he possesses at point guard, the Jaspers could challenge for a finish in the top half of the MAAC.
Five Players Ready To Break Out
1. Sean Armand, Iona
2. Chris Prescott, St. Peter's
3. Rakeem Brookins, Siena
4. Mohamed Koita, Manhattan
5. Adam Kemp, Marist
Five Freshmen To Watch
1. Lamin Fulton, St. Peter's
2. Juan'ya Green, Niagara
3. Emmy Andujar, Manhattan
4. Chavaughn Lewis, Marist
5. Eddie Mitchell, Rider
Five That Have Waited And Will Make A Major Impact
1. Rakim Sanders, Fairfield (transfer)
2. Desmond Wade, Fairfield (transfer)
3. Rashad James, Iona (transfer)
4. Jeff Jones, Rider (transfer)
5. Karee Ferguson, St. Peter's (JUCO)
Best Kept Secret: Karee Ferguson, St. Peter's.
The 6-foot-8 skilled forward is a mid-major version of former Seton Hall star Andre Sweet.
Don't Be Surprised If: Rashad James is Iona's best perimeter player.
A freak athlete and lights out defender, James could be a Kyle Lowry type in the MAAC.
Never Count Out: St. Peter's coach John Dunne.
The Peacocks roster isn't as seasoned as it was a year ago but no one in college basketball knows how to do more with less than Dunne.
All Eyes On: Iona forward Taaj Ridley.
The JUCO transfer is the Gaels primary hope for a front court presence next to Glover.
Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos adds Xavier power forward Jordan Latham to his solid baseline combo of Erik Etherly and Shane Walker.
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