By Kevin Sweeney
The scenes at the end of last season’s MAAC Championship game were as emotional as I’ve ever seen on a basketball court.
Iona’s players, reveling in the spoils of victory, seemed to experience pure jubilation. Seniors AJ English and Isaiah Williams cried tiers of joy while junior big man Jordan Washington stood atop the scorers table, waving his hands in the air emphatically to the Gael faithful that had made the trip from New Rochelle to Albany.
On the other end of the floor was a Monmouth squad in shock. Stars Justin Robinson, Micah Seaborn, and Je’Lon Hornbeak wept inconsolably as they realized their MAAC title dreams were no longer.
Fast forward one year, and Robinson, Seaborn, Hornbeak, and the rest of the Hawks have a chance to avenge last season’s shocking defeat and finally make their NCAA Tournament aspirations a reality.
Despite dominating the rest of the MAAC throughout the regular season, the Hawks realize that this season’s success will be judged on one thing and one thing only: bringing a trophy home to West Long Branch.
“I have to get a win on Monday night.” Robinson told Josh Newman of the Asbury Park Press, referring to the MAAC championship game on Monday, March 6. “I have to. For myself, for my teammates, for the coaching staff. We’ve got to do that together. It will be very special if we can get that done.”
However, competition will be stiff for the Hawks in their hunt for MAAC supremacy, especially considering the MAAC hasn’t seen its top seed win the tournament since 2010, the longest drought of any conference. That said, here’s a look at the other teams looking to stun Monmouth and claim the league’s auto-bid:
#2 Saint Peter’s has quietly asserted itself as a MAAC title contender. The Peacocks are veteran squad that plays hard and always gives the opposition a battle for 40 minutes. Their grind-it-out style has given Monmouth plenty of problems in the first two meetings, a 71-61 win and a 71-70 overtime loss in which the Peacocks shot just 11-20 from the foul line.
#3 Iona has been an inconsistent squad this season, but the Gaels are very talented and have perhaps the most dominant player in the MAAC in Jordan Washington. Washington leads the country in points per 40 minutes, but only averages just over 21 minutes per game due to near-perpetual foul trouble. One issue for Iona has been the defensive end, where the Gaels have struggled throughout the season. However, the Gaels are capable of locking in when necessary, and will be a very dangerous squad this weekend.
#4 Siena has turned around a horrific 4-11 start to the season with an 11-5 finish, and with the MAAC Tournament on the Saints’ home floor, they are certainly a contender this weekend. The Saints are the only team in college basketball with 4 1,000 point scorers in seniors Marquis Wright, Lavon Long, Brett Bisping, and Javion Ogunyemi. However, beyond that quartet and star sophomore Nico Clareth, Siena has very little depth, a concern especially considering the Saints will have to win 3 games in a little more than 48 hours to win the tournament.
#5 Fairfield relies heavily on a trio of outstanding guards that are as talented as any backcourt in the MAAC. All-MAAC first teamer Tyler Nelson leads that unit, and he is complimented by Curtis Cobb, who scored 46 points in a game this season, and Jerry Johnson Jr, a prolific outside shooter.
#6 Rider as some impressive wins this season, but some puzzling losses left the Broncs on the outside looking in for a first round bye. In wins over Monmouth, Iona, and Siena, the Broncs gave the impression that they could contend for a MAAC title, but losses to bottomfeeders Niagara and Manhattan were examples of underwhelming performances they simply can’t afford if they have any hope of making a run in Albany this weekend.
#7 Canisius is the wild card of the tournament. The Golden Griffins boast an explosive offense with tons of 3-point shooting options. However, the Griffs’ offense has gone cold at times this season, and when it has, they’ve struggled mightily. The magic number seems to be 80 for Canisius. In MAAC games in which they score 80 or more points, the Griffs are 8-4. When they score less than 80, they are just 2-6 in conference play.
It was always expected to be a rebuilding year for #8 Quinnipiac, but the Bobcats have had some nice moments this season thanks to the excellent freshman duo of Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss. #9 Niagara will need great guard play from juniors Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes if they want to make their stay in Albany an extended one. Senior guard Khallid Hart will hope to shock the MAAC as he tries to lead #10 Marist to a miracle run in his final go-round with the Red Foxes. It has been a trying season for #11 Manhattan, as the Jaspers have been hampered by injuries and inconsistency. However, we’ve learned from past tournaments never to count out the Jaspers come tourney time, and I know that head coach Steve Masiello will have his team ready to play.
Here’s the bracket: (Picture via MAACSports/Twitter)
- #9 Niagara beats #8 Quinnipiac
- #7 Canisius beats #10 Marist
- #6 Rider beats #11 Manhattan
- #1 Monmouth beats #9 Niagara
- #2 St. Peter’s beats #7 Canisius
- #3 Iona beats #6 Rider
- #4 Siena beats #5 Fairfield
- #4 Siena beats #1 Monmouth
- #2 St. Peter’s beats #3 Iona
- #2 St. Peter’s beats #4 Siena
Remember to follow me on Twitter (@CBB_Central) for live coverage of the MAAC Tournament. I’ll be at the Times Union Center all weekend bringing you the best insight and analysis I can.