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October 18, 2010

League preview: MAAC

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

15. Metro Atlantic Athletic

By Mike Huguenin

Siena has won the past three league titles, but key personnel losses -- including coach Fran McCaffery, who went to Iowa -- opens the door for Fairfield to ascend to the top.

The departures of PG Ronald Moore, F Edwin Ubiles and F Alex Franklin likely will be too much for Siena to overcome. The returns of G Clarence Jackson and F Ryan Rossiter -- who averaged a double-double last season and will be a leading contender for league player of the year -- give the Saints hope, though.

Fairfield is led by sophomore G Derek Needham, who averaged 16.2 points and 5.4 rebounds last season. He heads the league's best backcourt, and if senior F Greg Nero's back problems are gone, the Stags will have one of the league's best frontcourts, as well. Yorel Hawkins is the other key frontcourt player for coach Ed Cooley, who should be getting some entreaties from bigger programs after this season.

Iona lost coach Kevin Willard to Seton Hall, but the Gaels -- who were rebuilt quickly by Willard -- return all five starters. This was a defense-minded group last season and that shouldn't change. G Scott Machado is the headlining talent.

Saint Peter's has made a steady climb in the league standings, and the trio of Gs Wesley Jenkins and Nick Leon and F Ryan Bacon gives the Peacocks hope they can win the league. Jenkins and Leon form the league's best guard duo and give the Peacocks a chance for a postseason bid of some sort.

Canisius, Rider, Loyola and Niagara will vie for the other spot in the top half of the standings. Canisius has a solid frontcourt and needs Julius Coles to provide consistent production in the backcourt. Rider returns four starters, but the Broncos lost star Ryan Thompson; Fs Mike Ringgold and Novar Gadson are the key guys this season. Loyola needs Jamal Barney to have a bounce-back season; he was the MAAC's leading scorer in 2008-09 but slumped last season. Niagara lost a lot of firepower, and the Purple Eagles need a big season from G Anthony Nelson, the team's lone senior and the top returning scorer (9.9 ppg).

Manhattan and Marist combined for five league wins last season, and combining for eight this season is an admirable goal.

F Ryan Rossiter, Siena (6-9/260, Sr.)
F Mike Ringgold, Rider (6-7/215, Sr.)
G Wesley Jenkins, Saint Peter's (6-2/195, Sr.)
G Scott Machado, Iona (6-1/180, Jr.)
G Derek Needham, Fairfield (5-11/180, Soph.)
F Ryan Bacon, Saint Peter's (6-7/205, Sr.)
F Yorel Hawkins, Fairfield (6-5/207, Sr.)
G Julius Coles, Canisius (6-4/183, Sr.)
G Clarence Jackson, Siena (6-4/188, Sr.)
G Anthony Nelson, Niagara (6-1/175, Sr.)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: G Derek Needham, Fairfield
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: G Kevon Moore, Niagara (6-3/185, Soph.; transfer from UNC-Wilmington)

1. Fairfield
2. Siena
3. Iona
4. Saint Peter's
5. Canisius
6. Rider
7. Loyola (Md.)
8. Niagara
9. Manhattan
10. Marist

Best frontcourt: Canisius
Best backcourt: Fairfield
Most underrated player: F Alejo Rodriguez, Iona (6-8/235, Sr.)
Coach on the rise: Fairfield's Ed Cooley
Coach on the hot seat: Canisius' Tom Parrotta

New coaches: Mitch Buonaguro at Siena (promoted from assistant), Tim Cluess at Iona (had been coach at Division II C.W. Post)
Regular-season winner last season: Siena
Tourney winner last season: Siena
League RPI rank in each of past three seasons: 15th in 2009-10, 13th in 2008-09, 17th in 2007-08
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2009, Siena as a No. 9 seed in the first round
2011 conference tournament: March 4-7, Bridgeport, Conn.

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