By Kevin Sweeney
Once again, the MAAC will be one of the most exciting mid-major leagues in the country. Monmouth is expected to be one of the top mid-majors in the country, while Siena and defending champions Iona will also be very good once again. However, the performance of one player can be the difference between a disappointing season and a NCAA Tournament bid. Here’s a look at the most important player for each team:
Canisius- Kassius Robertson: Canisius will need a big season from Robertson if they want to compete in the MAAC. When hot, Robertson can be an explosive scorer with a knockdown stroke from downtown. However, he was streaky last season, and with last year’s point guard Malcolm McMillan graduating, Robertson will have to provide a consistent scoring punch in the Griffins’s backcourt.
Fairfield- Tyler Nelson: Last season, Nelson quietly put up great numbers for a Fairfield team that exceeded expectations. He flourished in the Stags’s new up-tempo offense, scoring more than 16 points per game en route to being named a 2nd-team All-MAAC performer. Now, with star forward Marcus Gilbert graduating, it is Nelson’s time to shine.
Iona- Jordan Washington: While Washington put up big numbers in his first season with the Gaels, he must become more consistent if Iona is to repeat as MAAC Champions. Washington struggled with inconsistency, foul trouble, and maturity at times last year, and must improve on these things as the leader of the new-look Gaels. Despite averaging just 18.7 minutes per game due to foul trouble, Washington still put up 14.2 points and 6.4 rebounds. If Washington can stay on the court, he could be one of the best big men in the country.
Manhattan- Rich Williams: When hot, Rich Williams is pretty much unstoppable. The athletic wing will move from his sixth man role last season into the starting lineup this year. Despite coming off the bench for most of last season, Williams still had 7 games in which he scored 20 or more points. Now, Williams becomes the star and leader of the Jaspers, who lose the backcourt duo of Shane Richards and Rashawn Stores.
Marist- Khallid Hart: The Marist program has struggled for a while, having only won 26 games in the last 3 season combined. However, there is reason for optimism for the Red Foxes as they enter year 3 of the Mike Maker era, and it starts with Hart. The senior leader of this team, Hart will need to put up big numbers, as well as show promising youngsters such as Isaiah Lamb and Brian Parker the ropes. If things fall into place properly, the Red Foxes could be one of the most improved teams in the MAAC this season.
Monmouth- Justin Robinson: The defending MAAC player of the year, there may be no player in the MAAC that is as fun to watch as Robinson. The diminuitive point guard is an excellent shooter, passer, and defender, as well as a vocal leader for the Hawks. Robinson plays with a constant chip on his shoulder, one that should be even larger this season after last season’s NCAA Tournament snub. However, Robinson’s success will be largely dependent on the performance of his teammates. If players like Micah Seaborn and Je’Lon Hornbeak can’t step up, Robinson will see constant double and triple-teams all season.
Niagara- Marvin Prochet: Niagara head coach Chris Casey can’t seem to catch a break. Two seasons in a row, the Purple Eagles have had promising young talent depart the program early as transfers. Facing a rebuild once again, Coach Casey will look to his experienced players to carry the load. While star wing Matt Scott will certainly produce, he will need help. Prochet can provide that. A do-everything forward, Prochet’s versatility and talent was showcased at times last year. For Niagara to improve on a 10th place finish from last year, Prochet will have to have a big season.
Quinnipiac- Daniel Harris: One of the few experienced guards on the roster, it will be up to Harris to be a strong scorer and distributor for the Bobcats. While Quinnipiac is strong in the frontcourt, with Chaise Daniels, Donovan Smith, and Abdulai Bundu returning, they will need Harris, along with a few new faces, to carry the load in the backcourt.
Rider- Jimmy Taylor: After losing primary ball-handler and scorer Teddy Okereafor to graduation, it is up to Taylor to carry the load. Taylor was disappointing at times last season, averaging under 10 points per game despite making the preseason All-MAAC third team. Despite that, he is a 1000 point scorer who has the potential to make or break the Broncs’s season.
Siena- Marquis Wright: Early last season, it appeared that Marquis Wright was on his way to having a special season. The dynamic point guard averaged more than 17 point per game while shooting over 50% from downtown in the first 12 games of the season. However, he suffered a foot fracture in late December, sidelining him for almost 2 months. When he returned in late February, he wasn’t the same, struggling with his jump shot and ball handling. If Wright can fully recover from his injury and return to his form from early last season, Siena might be the favorites in the MAAC. With Wright and Nico Clareth in the backcourt, and Brett Bisping and Javion Ogunyemi manning the frontcourt, the Saints could be very dangerous in the MAAC this season.
St. Peter’s- Trevis Wyche: Wyche will look to build upon a strong finish to last season. Down the stretch, Wyche was excellent, helping lead the way for a surprising St. Peter’s team. Wyche and sophomore guard Antwon Portley form a formidable backcourt duo for the Peacocks. If Wyche continues his strong play, St. Peter’s can be as good as any team in the MAAC.