The Full-Court Press' preseason MAAC rankings
In last year's preseason rankings, I picked Rider second, Niagara third, Fairfield sixth and Iona eighth -- all at least three spots higher or lower than where the teams ended up finishing. And by no means were any of those predictions against the grain at the time.
As you'll see if you scroll through the comments, the biggest criticism I took was for picking Manhattan last -- a prediction that could have come to fruition had Marist not both completely imploded and lost Caseim Drummond (one of the reasons I picked the Foxes ninth) before he stepped on the court.
At this time last year, Derek Needham was one of many touted recruits who figured to make an immediate impact. But the most dominant MAAC newcomer since Lionel Simmons? A bona fide Player of the Year candidate who would take his team to within one 15-foot jumper of the NCAA tournament? Not even the biggest Fairfield supporter uttered the suggestion.
By the time this season comes to a close, it's quite possible we'll see another player or group of players who aren't mentioned in this post but go on to drastically alter their teams' seasons. And it's also possible that one or more of the teams ranked near the top become this year's version of Rider and Niagara -- teams that are good on paper but underachieve for one reason or another.
Yet what would October be without preseason rankings? They're fun, they give people to talk about -- which is why we're all eagerly anticipating the unveiling of the coaches' poll at media day tomorrow -- and sometimes, they're even fairly accurate.
Last year, for instance, as bad as my predictions were, my top three preseason teams were all in the MAAC tournament semifinals, while three of my projected play-in round teams were, in fact, in the play-in round.
Without further adieu, then, here's the official Full-Court Press preseason MAAC rankings:
1. Fairfield (23-10 last year, 13-5 in the MAAC, lost to Siena in MAAC tournament finals and to Creighton in the second round of the CIT)
The Stags are by no means the type or prohibitive favorites that the Siena teams of the last two years were.
For all their success last year, they were in close games with virtually every team in the league -- and had it not been for an eye-opening run in the MAAC tournament, they could have been picked as low as fourth by me and others.
Then there's the matter of losing Anthony Johnson and Mike Evanovich, a first-team all-leaguer and the MAAC Sixth Man of the Year, respectively.
But lost amid some of the chatter at the end of last year was the Fairfield made it as far as it did with almost an entire lineup worth of key players sidelined by injuries. The Stags will start the season with Yorel Hawkins fully healthy and Warren Edney and even Greg Nero back after missing all of last year.
Throw in what could be the league's best recruiting class, and Ed Cooley's group deserves to be in the top spot.
2. Siena (27-7, 17-1, won MAAC title, lost to Purdue in first round of the NCAA tournament)
I've never seen a mid-major team whose decline is so widely and gleefully anticipated by fans of other teams.
Judging by some chatter, the Saints will be lucky to hang with Canisius and Loyola, so depleted are they without The Big Three of Alex Franklin, Ronald Moore and Edwin Ubiles.
But here's the problem with that line of thinking: For all they've lost, the Saints still have two first-team all-league players in Ryan Rossiter and Clarence Jackson. They also have at least two ready-for-primetime freshmen in Rakeem Brookins and Trenity Burdine, and the feeling among coaches is that OD Anosike is a top five MAAC post player who had simply been buried on the depth chart behind Franklin.
And while Mitch Buonaguro may not be able to keep the program at the elite level that Fran McCaffery brought it to -- it's too early to tell if that's the case -- it's clear this year's team is eager to show people he was the right man for the job.
3. Iona (21-10, 12-6, lost to Niagara in MAAC tournament quarterfinals)
It's not that I don't think highly of the Gaels. I do, and I have every reason to believe Tim Cluess will be a good coach for as long as he's in the MAAC.
I'm also a big fan of Scott Machado and the pieces around him. The Gaels were the deepest team in the league last year and could be again this year, though I doubt Cluess will be interested in using the committee approach exactly how Kevin Willard employed it last year.
Iona has virtually everyone back, and added an excellent recruiting class.
So why are they third and not higher?
First, I need to see something from these kids before I anoint them the team to beat. For all their success last year, they were still one and done in the MAAC tournament -- just as they were for Willard's other two years in New Rochelle.
Second, I'm simply not convinced they're better than either Fairfield or Siena. But to be sure, if they're headed into Bridgeport in March as the No. 1 seed, it will be far from shocking.
4. Saint Peter's (16-14, 11-7, lost to Rider in MAAC tournament quarterfinals)
Many of the above points about Iona also apply to the Peacocks.
This is the most talented team SPC has had in quite some time -- including the Keydren Clark-led unit that went to the MAAC finals in 2005-06.
John Dunne has done wonders with the program in a very short timeframe, and he deserves to be in discussions for jobs that would quintuple his salary.
But until I see otherwise, I'll regard the Peacocks similarly to how I view Rider: A middle-of-the-pack team with some proven commodities, but one that will only be in the title discussion if a lot of things break the right way.
5. Rider (17-16, 9-9, lost to Siena in MAAC tournament semifinals)
For a number of reasons -- some justified, some not -- the Broncs are annual punching bags for fans of other MAAC teams.
That was the case even before last year, and it only got more severe after Tommy Dempsey picked his team to win the league, only to see Rider lose six of its first nine MAAC games and lose all relevance by mid-January.
To be abundantly clear, last year's team deserved the majority of the criticism it got -- including the snipes Dempsey took from his own fan base. (The snipes from his own players, on the other hand, damaged the players more than Dempsey).
But for all the abuse Dempsey has endured, his team has been in the MAAC semifinals in each of the past three years, and he's recruited well enough (see Anthony Myles and Danny Stewart) that Ryan Thompson's departure isn't the end of the world.
6. Loyola (13-17, 6-12, lost to Manhattan in MAAC tournament play-in round)
There's no question the Hounds have enough talent to finish in the top half -- and maybe even to contend for the title given the lack of a truly dominant team.
But similar things could have been said about last year's team, which finished eighth and was bounced by Manhattan in the play-in round.
Could this year be different? Absolutely. Jamal Barney is back and, barring the kind of personal issues that took him out of the lineup midway through last season, should be a first- or second-team all-league player.
Brett Harvey is gone, but Brian Rudolph is more than talented enough to run the offense. The question is, will Rudolph finally live up to the potential he displayed while being voted co-Rookie of the Year in 2007-08?
7. Canisius (15-17, 8-10, lost to Fairfield in MAAC tournament quarterfinals)
The only people happier than Tom Parrotta when the Golden Griffs gave their coach a two-year contract extension last spring were the other league coaches, who have counted on Canisius to finish in the play-in round during each of Parrotta's four seasons.
It's not that Canisius is totally without talent. The Griffs return four starters from a team that showed some improvement last year.
But I've yet to hear a coherent explanation for how Canisius will be better without Frank Turner than it was with him.
8. Niagara (18-15, 9-9, lost to Fairfield in MAAC tournament semifinals)
Yes, I know this is Niagara, that Joe Mihalich is still the coach and that seeing there's something extremely strange about seeing the Purple Eagles this low on the list.
But other than Mihalich on the bench and the name on the front of the uniforms, why should they be picked any higher?
No team other than Siena lost more talent than the Eagles, who will be without the services of Tyrone Lewis, Bilal Benn and Rob Garrison.
Yet while the Saints can turn to the likes of Rossiter and Jackson, Niagara has no such stars on which to rely.
9. Manhattan (11-20, 4-14, lost to Siena in MAAC tournament quarterfinals)
I had the Jaspers pegged as a middle-of-the-pack team last spring, but that was before Pickett left the program, leaving them without the MAAC's leading scorer.
When Steve Lavin offered Barry Rohrssen a job on the St. John's staff last year, it gave Rohrssen an opportunity to leave Riverdale on his own terms rather than risk getting fired if Manhattan has another bottom-tier finish.
I was extremely impressed last year with how much Rohrssen got out of his team down the stretch. The Jaspers were out of contention and rumors began swirling that Rohrssen's job was on the line. Yet Manhattan played hard (and well) in February and March, winning a rivalry game against Iona and eventually winning a MAAC tournament game.
Rohrssen brought in one of the best recruiting classes of his tenure, but may need to overachieve to keep his job.
10. Marist (1-29, 1-17, lost to Canisius in MAAC tournament play-in round)
I stuck my neck out last year by picking the Red Foxes ninth instead of 10th.
How'd they reward me? By turning in one of the most putrid seasons the MAAC has ever seen.
At the very least, Chuck Martin needs to eliminate all off-the-court problems and show some major improvement on the floor in order to keep his job.