Contenders, Pretenders, and Cinderellas: Scouting the Men’s MAAC Tournament


Photos: Jack Main

Steven McAvoy

When the calendar hits March, Madness ensues as the nation prepares for the biggest spectacle in college athletics: March Madness.

But before fans can experience the drama, the NCAA needs to find 64 worthy candidates to be invited to the big dance.

For Quinnipiac University, it begins in Atlantic City on March 9 at the MAAC Tournament. With all 11 teams making the field, some are contenders, some are pretenders, and some may find their fairy godmother. Here’s how they stack up:

The Contenders: Siena Saints, Saint Peter’s Peacocks, Iona Gaels

 Siena: There aren’t many teams in the MAAC as well-rounded as Siena. A top team in terms of offensive production, their story comes by way of a defense that ranks nationally in scoring defense – allowing just 62.7 points per game – and 73rd in defensive field goal percentage (41.3%).

They’re tall, they’re strong, and they’re ready to march into Atlantic City with force.

Saint Peter’s: This is a team worth looking out for. It may be a stretch to put one of the worst offensive shooting teams in the country on this list, but I believe the Peacocks may have the defense to win battles in the trenches and scrap out close wins.

Want a stat to tell friends at the watch party? KC Ndefo has more blocks than 263 teams in college basketball.

Iona: Rick Pitino’s first year back in coaching was a disaster. The Gaels played well, but because of COVID-19 they only managed 13 games all season. In the small sample size, the Gaels were one of the best shooting teams in the MAAC led by Isaiah Ross, the best shooter in the conference.

The Gaels are well-coached, have plenty of talent, and even with the rough seeding, as long as they can avoid another outbreak, they’ll be in the title conversation.

The Pretenders: Marist Red Foxes, Fairfield Stags, Manhattan Jaspers, Rider Broncs

Marist: Despite earning their first winning season since 2007, the Red Foxes are the weakest team among the top six. They’re one of the luckiest teams in college basketball, and not in the good way.

Marist won seven of their 12 regular season games by two possessions or less, four of which they were outshot in the 2nd half 132-108. That won’t cut it. The defense is solid, but not enough to get Rider past the top teams in the conference.

Fairfield: When a team ranks in the bottom 12 percent in the nation in total offensive and defensive output, don’t expect to take home hardware.

The Stags have a bright future with a good core of young talent, but this simply isn’t their year.

Manhattan: There’s plenty to like about the Jaspers. They’re top 100 in the nation in blocks per game (99th), defensive efficiency (77th), steals per game (51st) opposing turnovers per game (33rd) and offensive rebounds per game (33rd).

The knock is that their strongpoints are also their weaknesses. They’re 33rd in offensive rebounding, but allow the 88th most rebounds per game in the NCAA. They steal the ball a lot, but they give it up just as often.

Like Fairfield, bright future, but a long way to go.

Rider: A middle-of-the-pack shooting team destroyed by lackluster defensive numbers got them to where they are, the bottom.

It was an uncharacteristic year for Kevin Baggert’s team who’s been a threat in recent years. At least they’ll enjoy the Boardwalk for a day trip.

The Cinderellas: Monmouth Hawks, Canisius Golden Griffins, Niagara Purple Eagles, Quinnipiac Bobcats

Quinnipiac: A lot needs to go right, but it isn’t completely out of question. In the second half of their season the Bobcats were a completely different team despite a weekend sweep at the hands of Marist down the stretch.

They have intriguing options all over the half court offensively and they boast a top five defense in the nation in opposing shooting percentage. They draw the hardest road out of any Cinderella, but they did it in 2018, why not do it again? 

Monmouth: Yes, they’re the No. 2 seed. Yes, they have one of the best scorers in the MAAC in Deion Hammond. No, I don’t think they’re a lock to win in Atlantic City.

They’re the fifth-fastest team in college basketball and a top-20 team in forcing turnovers, yet the Pomeroy rankings put them as the 205th best defense in college hoops. That’s concerning. To boot, outside Hammond, George Papas and Melik Martin, there aren’t many additional scoring options who can have big nights.

A slow shooting day or a smart defensive game plan may mean an early exit – that’s why they’re listed here.

Canisius: Tab this team as my sleeper to win it all. The Griffs barely played enough games to be eligible for the tournament thanks to COVID-19, and that’s why I love them.

A top five MAAC team in scoring the basketball, a good defensive unit and a team who thrives in comeback situations, Canisius has all the makings of a Cinderella.

They’re the 25th luckiest team in college hoops, and who knows, maybe with a few good hands dealt by lady luck, the Golden Griffins may hit the jackpot this week.

Niagara: The Purple Eagles are very average, and that’s why they interest me. They’re dead in the middle in all shooting categories and have two talented scorers in Kobi Nwandu and Marcus Hammond who can put the ball in the cup.

There’s only one thing they excel at; Niagara is averaging just under ten turnovers per game, putting them fifth in the NCAA behind Wisconsin, Villanova, Iowa and Virginia. Good company.

They aren’t particularly good at rebounding, which makes them a volatile play if they go cold shooting, but if the offense clicks they can win one game. A lot needs to go right if they want to beat Siena in the second round though.

In a season unlike any other, with COVID-19 concerns shutting down teams for extended periods, schedules getting shifted around constantly with little turnover at times between games, the MAAC somehow made it through.

As the regular season closes, we turn our sights to Atlantic City where just like at the casino, anything can happen.