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Jeff Eisenberg

MAAC Preview: New challengers hope to overtake Siena

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Our

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conference preview series continues with the MAAC. Here's a look at the projected standings, three must-see games and the conference's three most intriguing storylines entering the new season.

Does Fairfield have the size to win the league?

It's hardly unusual for a MAAC team to have to rely on undersized post players, but Fairfield has more front court questions than most of its peers. Since last year's primary interior scorer and rebounder Anthony Johnson has graduated and top recruit Majok Majok failed to qualify, the only players taller than 6-foot-5 left on the Stags' roster are 6-foot-11 junior Ryan Olander and 6-foot-7 redshirt senior Greg Nero.

Olander, a reserve as a freshman and sophomore, needs to have a breakout season as a junior after averaging

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5.9 points and 4.2 boards last year. Nero showed tremendous promise averaging 12.4 points and 6.4 rebounds two years ago, but he's still slowly working himself back into shape after missing all of last season with a weakened immune system.

The good news for the Stags is that they have plenty of talent on the wings and their point guard is perhaps the league's best returning player. Sophomore Derek Needham nearly led Fairfield to the NCAA tournament as a freshman, scoring 16 points in the

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MAAC title game to help the Stags take an 11-point halftime lead before falling in overtime to heavily favored Siena.

How big a step back will Siena take?

Remove the head coach and three accomplished seniors from a Siena team that has dominated the MAAC the past three years, and what do you get? Amazingly enough, a team with enough returning talent to still contend for the conference crown.

Even though Siena will miss coach Fran McCaffrey and stars Alex Franklin, Ronald Moore and Edwin Ubiles, they return the league's top post player in 6-foot-9 senior Ryan Rossiter and an explosive backcourt scorer in Clarence Jackson. It's hard to know what Siena has besides those guys because McCaffrey played his starters an unbelievable 152 minutes a game last season, but several guys will have a chance to flourish with increased playing time.

Maybe the most likely to blossom is 6-foot-7 sophomore forward O.D. Anosike, the brother of former Tennessee women's star Nicky Anosike and a strong rebounder in limited minutes off the bench a year ago. The biggest question mark will be at point guard, where either promising true freshman Rakeem Brookins or seldom-used sophomore Jonathan Breedan needs to show he's ready to inherit the starting job from Moore.

Can Iona make progress under a new coach?

It may have been a tad unconventional for Iona to pluck new coach Tim Cluess from the Division II ranks, but the former C.W. Post coach could not have stepped into a better situation. He inherits a youthful team that finished third in the MAAC behind Siena and Fairfield last season and appears capable of being in the thick of the league race the next couple years.

All five starters return for Iona including all-conference caliber performers in junior point guard Scott Machado, senior power forward Alejo Rodriguez and sophomore forward Kyle Smith. Machado in particular is a star in the making, having followed up a MAAC freshman of the year season in 2008-09 by averaging 12.5 points and 3.9 assists last season.

Cluess went 98-23 in four seasons at C.W. Post and enjoyed success at the high school and junior college level prior to that. If he proves he can recruit at the Division I level and his underclassmen-heavy team continues to make progress, he be just as successful at Iona as well.

More Conference Previews:

ACC: It's banner or bust this season for Duke, Five ACC storylines to watch, ESPN's Jay Bilas scouts the ACC, 15 must-see ACC games, Q&A with Wake Forest freshman Carson Desrosiers

America East: Will Boston University's recruiting pay off?

Atlantic Sun: Expect a three-way battle at the top

Atlantic 10: How Xavier basketball rose from humble origins, Five A-10 storylines to watch, Ex-Richmond star Greg Beckwith scouts the A-10, 15 must-see A-10 games, Q&A with Dayton freshman Juwan Staten

Big East: Villanova hopes to redeem itself for last year's poor finish, Five Big East storylines to watch, Ex-West Virginia star Mike Gansey forecasts the Big East, 15 must-see Big East games, Q&A with Syracuse's Kris Joseph

Big Sky: It's completely wide open at the top

Big South: Coastal Carolina seeks elusive NCAA bid

Big Ten: Stacked Big Ten is rich in returning talent, Five Big Ten storylines to watch, Ex-Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves forecasts the Big Ten, 15 must-see Big Ten games, Q&A with Illinois freshman Meyers Leonard

Big West: UC Santa Barbara takes aim at second straight title

Ivy League: Can Harvard win without Jeremy Lin?

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