The annual Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball media day was short on surprises.
Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos and Niagara coach Joe Mihalich were funny.
The Siena men were picked to win the league.
And Saints senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck was named preseason player of the year.
The Siena accolades amounted to mere formality as the defending regular-season and tournament champion looks forward to an even better season than 2007-08, when the Saints reached the second round of the NCAAs.
All 10 coaches in the league picked Siena No. 1, including, of course, the Saints’ Fran McCaffery, who loves the team’s prospects, but has already been careful to temper expectations.
The MAAC lost Rider center
Jason Thompson, a first-round draft pick of the Sacramento Kings, to graduation, but McCaffery said he believes the overall talent in the MAAC is the best it’s been in his four seasons at Siena.
“We need to stay healthy. You’re always one injury away from your team going sideways,” McCaffery said. “Number two, confidence is a big part of this game, and how well we’re able to play early will determine whether we can survive what I think will be the most grueling conference schedule that we’ve ever played. Obviously, we’re playing the same teams, but the teams are better, and the players are better.
That includes the Saints, too, though.
Still, McCaffery predicted last year that whichever team won the conference would do so with 13 or even as few as 12 wins out of an 18-game schedule, and that proved to be true.
“I would hope that we could win more than 12 or 13 games in the league, but it could be true [again],” Hasbrouck said. “Every game is a challenge, just like last year. A lot of people thought we were going to blow out every team we played most of the time, and it didn’t happen. It was one-, two-point games in the last five minutes of each game we played in the conference.
“You just never know what type of game you’re going to be looking at, because everyone wants to compete. We have a big target on our back now, and everybody we play against is going to be real amped to play us.”
“There’s no night where you can look and say, ‘Well, there’s one [win], or there’s two.’ That’s not the way it is,” McCaffery said. “I’m
excited about what people are saying about our program, but we recognize the challenge ahead of us.”
Fairfield was picked second in the coaches’ poll; Rider, with a solid core back despite the loss of Thompson, was picked third; and Niagara was fourth, despite losing Charron Fisher to graduation.
Hasbrouck was a clear favorite to be named preseason player of the year, and teammates Alex Franklin and Edwin Ubiles joined him on the first team, along with Rider’s Ryan Thompson and Fairfield point guard Jonathan Han.
The second team consisted of Anthony Johnson (Fairfield), Gary Springer (Iona), Brian Rudolph (Loyola), Antoine Pearson (Manhattan), Tyrone Lewis (Niagara) and Harris Mansell (Rider).
The third team is Frank Turner
(Canisius), Marquis Sullivan (Loyola), Devon Austin (Manhattan), David Devezin (Marist) and Wesley Jenkins (Saint Peter’s).
A notable omission from the preseason teams was Siena point guard Ronald Moore.
“Terrible. Ridiculous,” Hasbrouck said. “I think Ron deserves 10 times more credit than he gets now. People don’t realize that we have three top scorers on our team, and Ron gets the ball to all of us. He allows us to play our game.”
“When you look at the list of players, it’s not like you can look at any one guy and say, ‘Well, he shouldn’t be on it,’ ” McCaffery said. “If you look at our program, Ronald Moore makes us go. He’s just a winner, he’s got character, he’s smart, he’s competitive. When he’s got the ball, everybody feels good.”
The top women’s honors didn’t hold any surprises, either, as Marist, a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament last year, was picked No. 1 in the MAAC, and 2007-08 player of the year Rachele Fitz of the Red Foxes was picked 2008-09 preseason player of the year.
Siena was picked No. 7, although that might be ambitious now that senior Shondaya Burrell was suspended from school for violating school policy last Friday.
She was picked for the preseason first team, but the Saints will have to move forward without her.
Senior forward Heather Stec was picked for the third team.
“It’s unfortunate for our program,” Siena coach Gina Castelli said. “We really appreciated what Shondaya did for us, but we have a team, it’s about the team. I’ve been around Siena a long time, and no matter what, there’s not one person that’s greater than the team. That’s the most important thing that we take from it. I believe in the team that we have going forward.”
Neither Castelli nor the school would comment on the specifics of Burrell’s suspension.
In a statement released on Friday, athletic director John D’Argenio said, “Suspending someone from something that they deeply enjoy doing is not a decision that is made lightly, but actions have consequences. Part of our mission is to teach our students responsibility and accountability.”
“It was not my decision. None of this was,” Castelli said. “It was not a basketball-related issue.
“It happened fairly quickly. It was within a week that everything came through. Shondaya’s a good kid, we’re going to miss her. We’re happy just that our team has come together and handled it well. They love Shondaya, we all did, and we wish her well, but I think they understand they’re part of a team.”
1. Siena; 2. Fairfield; 3. Rider; 4. Niagara; 5. Loyola; 6. Manhattan; 7. Iona; 8. Canisius; 9. Saint Peter’s; 10. Marist.
1. Marist; 2. Fairfield; 3. Canisius; 4. Saint Peter’s; 5. Loyola; 6. Iona; 7. Siena; 8. Manhattan; T9. Niagara, Rider.
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