By Kevin Sweeney
Entering this year’s MAAC season, the main storyline is whether or not anyone can catch Monmouth, who became one of the darlings of college basketball last year thanks to their upsets of perennial powers and their dancing bench. While incoming freshmen can have outstanding years, transfers have become a huge recruiting tool for teams, as they add players with experience at the college level who are more ready to contribute right away. Here’s a look at some transfers eligible to play this season that could make a big impact on the MAAC Championship race.
1. Jon Severe and Sam Cassell Jr, Iona- Perhaps no transfers will have a bigger effect on their team’s success this season than this guard duo. Severe, from Fordham, and Cassell, from UCONN, utilized the graduate transfer rule to go somewhere where they could get more playing time. Looking to replace superstar point guard AJ English, Iona will look to Cassell and Severe to take over much of the scoring and ball-handling in its up-tempo offense. Based on the success of previous transfers such as Deyshonee Much, David Laury, and Lamont “Mo-Mo” Jones, I expect Severe and Cassell to excell this season with the Gaels, allowing Iona to remain a contender in the MAAC.
2. Zavier Turner, Manhattan– Turner is one of the X-factors in the MAAC Title hunt this season. Turner, a diminutive point guard who started his career at Ball State, can certainly score the basketball. He averaged over 12 points per game en route to being named MAC Freshman of the Year before seeing his production dip to just 8.7 points per game as a sophomore. He also had issues with the coaching staff, as he was suspended twice and benched on numerous occasions. However, if Turner can correct his behavior, he has a chance to be a big contributor at either guard position for a team trying to soften the blow of losing Shane Richards and Rashawn Stores.
3. Norville Carey, Rider- A graduate transfer from Southern Miss, Carey is a major addition to a Rider frontcourt that lacked depth last season. He averaged 10.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks in 2014-15 for Southern Miss before redshirting last season during a tumultuous season full of NCAA sanctions for the Golden Eagles. He is a strong, athletic big who can score on the interior and has added a good outside touch. Overall, he will be a big addition to the Broncs, who are looking to improve on an 8th place finish in the MAAC last season. Here are some of his highlights from his junior season, courtesy of Unofficial SouthernMiss MensBasketball on Youtube:
4. Nnamdi Enechionya,Saint Peter’s- Enechionya is a raw talent that could have a huge year for the Peacocks. After starting his career at Samford for 2 seasons, he transferred to Saint Peter’s and sat out last season under the NCAA Transfer rules. He is tall and has long arms, giving him the versatility to play on the wing or as a power forward. He has a nice shooting stroke and the ability to explode on any given night, scoring 22 against UMKC in 2014 and putting up 41 points in a high school game. The scariest part is that he’s still improving. He didn’t focus on basketball until high school, so he still has plenty of untapped potential. If he can turn some of that potential into production, he will be a very valuable player for Saint Peter’s.
5. Kevin Larkin, Niagara- Larkin is an intriguing player for the Purple Eagles. He began his career at Division II Cheyney University, where he averaged 17.8 points per game, the top mark for a freshman in all of D-II. An excellent 3-point shooter, Larkin knocked down over 40% from downtown at Cheyney, making 2.8 3’s per contest. While it is uncommon for players to make the move from Divisions II and III up to Division I, there have been multiple success stories. Duncan Robinson transferred from D-III Williams College to Michigan, where he averaged double figures in scoring in his first season. Emile Blackman went from LIU-Post to Niagara before recently transferring to Dusquesne for his final season. I expect Larkin to have success in his first season against D-I competition.
6. Kadeem Smithen, Siena- Smithen, a transfer from Richmond, profiles as a combo guard who adds athleticism to a Saints team looking to win the MAAC Championship. The Saints return 88% of its scoring, including 5 players who averaged double figures, from last season. Saints fans are hoping Smithen can be the missing piece: an athletic guard who can help Nico Clareth and Marquis defend the best guards in the league. Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos had high praise for Smithen following the season. “Kadeem Smithen is really good. We had a BCS-type kid sit out,” said Patsos, per Mark Singelais of the Times Union. If Smithen has a strong season, he may be able to push the Saints past Monmouth and help them return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
7. Quinnipiac’s JUCO’s- Quinnipiac Coach Tom Moore has embraced the junior college transfer, with more than half of his scholarship players having once played at the JUCO level. This year, Moore brings in 4 JUCO transfers to try and improve Bobcats team that finished 9th in the MAAC last season. The guard trio of Phillip Winston, Reggie Oliver, and Cameron Young will be vital, because the Bobcats lose Gio McLean and Ayron Hutton from an already-depleted backcourt.