Yahoo! Sports is breaking down each league for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 31 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 18 league, the MAAC.
In coach Steve Masiello's first season at Manhattan, the Jaspers went from laughingstock of the MAAC the previous year to one of the league's best teams.
Now the Jaspers will try to prove the nation's biggest turnaround was no fluke.
Returning for Manhattan is league player of the year candidate George Beamon and three other starters from the team that won 21 games and finished 12-6 in the MAAC last season just one year after the program bottomed out during a disastrous 6-25 campaign. The Jaspers also add a large recruiting class that should push the returners in practice and give the program greater depth than it had a year ago.
Manhattan's best returning player is definitely Beamon, a 6-foot-4 all-league wing who can beat opposing defenders off the dribble or from behind the arc. Beamon scored in double figures in every game he played last season, averaging 19.0 points and 5.6 rebounds and shooting 42.7 percent from behind the arc.
Headlining the supporting cast for Beamon is sophomore Emmy Andujar, a versatile 6-6 forward capable of producing double-digit points, rebounds or assists any given night. Defensive standout Rhamel Brown led the MAAC in blocked shots despite logging only 19.1 minutes per game off the bench, while point guard Michael Alvarado became a more efficient scorer last season but still needs to cut down on his turnovers.
It remains to be seen whether 6-foot-9 Maryland transfer Ashton Pankey will receive a hardship waiver enabling him to help Manhattan right away next season, but the Jaspers have enough returning talent to contend in the MAAC with or without him. It won't be easy, however, because the top of the MAAC boasts a handful of quality teams capable of out-dueling Manhattan.
Defending MAAC tournament champion Loyola lost Justin Drummond to a transfer but still returns plenty of talent including skilled big man Erik Ethlerly and point guard Dylon Cormier. Siena also could return to contention for the first time since Fran McCaffery's departure thanks to elite big man O.D. Anosike and the small but dangerous backcourt duo of Rakeem Brookins and Evan Hymes.
And then there's last year's regular season champion Iona, the league's mystery team as a result of questions about how the Gaels will fare without star point guard Scott Machado, whether nine newcomers will mesh and if they'll have top 50 recruit Norvel Pelle.
If Pelle is academically eligible to play at the start of the second semester in December, he gives Iona an athletic high major-caliber big man who blocks shots, runs the floor well and has expanded his offensive repertoire. If not, the Gaels will be a perimeter-oriented club that relies on high-scoring but erratic MoMo Jones, perimeter shooter Sean Arnand and Toledo transfer Curtis Dennis.
MAKING A LIST
Best shooter: Sean Armand, Iona
Best playmaker: Juan'ya Green, Niagara
Best defender: Rhamel Brown, Manhattan
Coach on the rise: Steve Masiello, Manhattan
Coach on the hot seat: John Dunne, Saint Peter's
Three must-see games: 1. Iona vs. Paradise Jam, Nov. 16-20 (How much will the Gaels miss Scott Machado and Mike Glover? This should provide an early indication); 2. Manhattan at Louisville, Nov. 11 (Steve Masiello returns to Louisville to open the season against a top-five squad); 3. Loyola at Memphis, Dec. 30 (Good barometer for the Greyhounds before conference play heats up)
FACTS AND FIGURES
New coaches: Kevin Baggett, Rider (Had been Rider's associate head coach); Jim Baron, Canisius (Had been coach of Rhode Island)
Regular-season winner last season: Iona
Tourney winner last season: Loyola
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2011-12: 18th; 2010-11: 16th, 2009-10: 15th
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2009, Siena as a No. 9 seed in the first round
More conference previews from Yahoo! Sports:
Southern Conference (No. 19): Trading soccer for hoops has paid off for College of Charleston star and Great Britain Olympian Andrew Lawrence; Davidson is loaded for another run at a league title, NCAA bid
Southland Conference (No. 28): Pat Knight's epic rant had unintended benefits for Lamar; Oral Roberts assumes the role of instant favorite in its new league