|Loyola (Md.) is led by forward Erik Etherly (US Presswire)|
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference had plenty of momentum after last season. Two teams received bids to the NCAA tournament, with Iona receiving an at-large nod after Loyola (Md.) won the conference tournament. Several teams were bringing back four or five starters for this season, and it looked like a couple of teams were headed for a jump in the standings.
Then suddenly, the realignment bug hit the conference. Loyola announced in late August it had accepted an invitation to join the Patriot League in July 2013. It looks like the Greyhounds will be allowed to play in the MAAC tournament, but it was nonetheless a tough way to end the summer after such a positive six months for the league.
Before Loyola moves out of the league, though, Jimmy Patsos' team will have a chance to defend its conference tournament title. The Greyhounds will miss forwards Shane Walker and Justin Drummond, and point guard R.J. Williams is suspended until January for a violation of team rules. However, forward Erik Etherly is an all-conference performer up front, and guards Dylon Cormier and Robert Olson are also back. Former Xavier transfer Jordan Latham could be ready for a bigger role.
Manhattan could be Loyola's biggest competition for the league title. Steve Masiello brings back five starters from a team that went 12-6 in the league and finished second in both offensive and defensive efficiency. George Beamon is one of the best scorers in the country, while Emmy Andujar can do everything. Rhamel Brown, who came off the bench, is the best shot-blocker in the league. Look for freshman C.J. Jones to make an impact.
The MAAC is going to be extremely deep this season, with a number of teams capable of making a run at the top of the league. Not much separates the projected third-place finisher from the team picked ninth.
As a result, it will be interesting to see if Iona and Fairfield take a step back after losing so much from last season. The Gaels had to say goodbye to Scott Machado and Mike Glover, two of the best players in school history. Even though Iona coach Tim Cluess still has plenty of options, it's impossible to lose players of that ilk and not feel the impact. Momo Jones has to take on more of a leadership role, but Cluess is looking to a number of talented newcomers to fill voids. If Norvel Pelle gets cleared to play, look out. Similarly, Fairfield no longer has Rakim Sanders and Ryan Olander, but veteran point guard Derek Needham is back to keep Sydney Johnson's troops in the upper part of the league.
Niagara and Siena are two teams looking to make jumps, led by all-conference stars Juan'ya Green and O.D. Anosike, respectively. Niagara won four of its final five conference games, and brings back five starters from that team. Green is a stud, and Antoine Mason is a terrific second option. Anosike led the nation in rebounding last season, and he's enough to carry Siena.
It really wouldn't surprise anyone to see Rider, Marist or Canisius make a run this season. Rider gets St. John's transfer Nurideen Lindsey; he's capable of scoring 20 on a given night. Marist brings back Chavaughn Lewis and Devin Price, and Virgin Island native Khalid Hart could surprise as a freshman. Canisius has a new coach in Jim Baron, as well as an influx of quality transfers, led by Kansas State import Freddy Asprilla and former UCF guard Isaac Sosa. Will Billy Baron get a waiver?
The MAAC could be one of the more fascinating leagues this season. There's no clear-cut favorite, and there's a ton of depth in the middle and bottom parts of the league. Every night should be wild.
"The league is really, really deep this year. Teams that stay healthy and have chemistry, those are going to be in the top of the league. Any team that finishes one through six in the standings will have a chance to win the conference tournament, That's how close this league will be. And I think people saw us get two bids last year. They now think, 'Wow, that league's a bitch.'
"Loyola and Manhattan will be one and two. So many teams bring back players, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Fairfield or Rider finish down in the standings. On paper, Iona is very talented. But they're a wild card, man. They're really going to miss Machado. He had a demeanor that kept everyone at bay and everyone happy. That's not easy to do with all the talent on the floor. If Momo has the ball in his hands, I don't know if he's keeping all the other guys happy. Maybe Canisius is a team that makes a pretty good jump. It wouldn't be that surprising."
The league's best
- MAAC Preseason Player of the Year: George Beamon, Manhattan. Prolific swingman led the league in scoring with 19 points last season. Puts up points behind the arc and at the rim.
- O.D. Anosike, Siena. The best inside player in the league, Anosike dominated throughout the season en route to 15 ppg and 12.5 rpg.
- Lamont "Momo" Jones, Iona. Momo becomes the go-to-guy in New Rochelle without Scott Machado and Mike Glover. Put up 15.7 ppg.
- Juan'ya Green, Niagara. As a freshman, Green flew under the radar nationally. Still managed to average 17.7 points and 4.8 assists.
- Erik Etherly, Loyola (Md.). On a balanced Greyhounds' team, Etherly stood out down low. Averaged 13.5 points and 7.5 boards.
Numbers to know
7. Seven players who averaged at least 15 points per game last season return. There will be plenty of impressive individual performances this year.
82.9, 19.3. Iona led the nation in scoring and assists last season -- and shot better than 50 percent from the field -- but the Gaels lose Scott Machado and Mike Glover. Will the Gaels be able to fill it up so efficiently again?
15. In Steve Masiello's first season at Manhattan, the Jaspers went from six wins to 21. The next step could be the NCAA tournament.
Previously in previews:
No. 20 -- Sun Belt
No. 21 -- Patriot League
No. 22 -- Ohio Valley
No. 23 -- Big West
No. 24 -- SoCon
No. 25 -- NEC
No. 26 -- Big South
No. 27 -- Southland
No. 28 -- Big Sky
No. 29 -- America East
No. 30 -- MEAC
No. 31 -- Great West
No. 32 -- SWAC