By: Carter Woodiel, KCOU Sports
The 2015 MAAC tournament gets underway Thursday. As with all of our conference previews, here’s what you need to know if you’re planning on tuning in.
Full Name: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, (FYI)
Tournament Location: First Niagara Center, Albany, N.Y.
How to watch: Quarterfinals and semifinals on ESPN3, championship on ESPN2, March 9 at 9 p.m. (Bracket)
Favorite to win: Iona
Now the winners of three out of the last four MAAC regular-season titles, the run-and-gun Gaels are the toast of the conference once again. Coach Tim Cluess has his team’s offense humming to the tune of 79.6 points per game, good for 7th in the country. Led by unanimous All-MAAC stars A. J. English and David Laury, both of whom average nearly 20 points per game, they have a total of four players averaging double figures in scoring. The Gaels were 17-3 in league play, highlighted by an undefeated record at home and an 11-game winning streak snapped on the last game of the regular season. Add an impressive non-conference win at Wake Forest in November, and Iona looks to be the heavy favorite to win its ninth MAAC tournament title.
Player to watch: A.J. English, Iona
Standout combo guard A.J. English is a big reason why the Gaels’ grip on the MAAC is so strong. He ranks second on the team in scoring (19.5 points per game) and third in rebounding (5.2 per game), while leading the Gaels in assist per game with 5.2. Lean but athletic, English possess a diverse offensive skill set. one that left one scout to project him as a possible first-round draft pick. If that doesn’t convince you, this dunk from the Gaels’ January matchup with Fairfield will: English is fun to watch.
Upset threat: Monmouth
Of all the threats to Iona romping through the MAAC tourney, the Hawks (13-7 in conference) are arguably at the top of the list. They beat Iona at home on Dec. 7, and were up 14 points at halftime in New Rochelle before letting the game slip away in a 69-68 loss. Monmouth is led by first team all-MAAC guard Justin Robinson, who notched 25 points in the win over the Gaels and 24 in the defeat. Seeded No. 4, Monmouth could meet Iona in the tournament semifinals. If that occurs, a big game from Robinson would be crucial for coach King Rice and the Hawks to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.
Semifinals: Iona over Monmouth, Manhattan over Rider
Championship: Iona over Manhattan
In the end, Iona’s high-flying offense is just to good for the other teams in the MAAC to keep up with. Look for the Gaels to make another NCAA tournament appearance.