Rick Pitino, Iona Gaels, MAAC Tournament Preview

CBB Review prepares you for every conference tournament leading up to Selection Sunday. Up next: The MAAC Tournament.

The MAAC Tournament has a familiar team at the top, as Iona brought home their third regular season conference championship in the last five years. That hasn’t always resulted in tournament championships though, and this year, there are a few sleepers that could test them.

2023 MAAC Awards

Player of the Year: Nelly Junior Joseph, Iona

Freshman of the Year: Tahj Staveskie, Canisius

Transfer of the Year: Daniss Jenkins, Iona

Coach of the Year: Baker Dunleavy, Quinnipiac

First Team:

  • G: Dwight Murray, Rider (15.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 39.3 3P%)
  • G: Javian McCollum, Siena (15.6 PPG, 3.7 APG, 2.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG)
  • G: Noah Thomasson, Niagara (19.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.4 APG)
  • G: Daniss Jenkins, Iona (15.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.2 SPG)
  • F: Nelly Junior Joseph, Iona (15.4 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.5 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 55.0 FG%)

Second Team:

  • G: Dezi Jones, Quinnipiac (12.4 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 40.9 3P%)
  • G: Walter Clayton Jr., Iona (16.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.9 SPG, 42.3 3P%)
  • G: Ant Nelson, Manhattan (15.1 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3.6 RPG, 2.0 SPG)
  • F: Supreme Cook, Fairfield (13.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 0.6 APG, 54.9 FG%)
  • F: Josh Roberts, Manhattan (12.2 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.8 BPG, 70.7 FG%)

MAAC Tournament Simulation

First Round – Tuesday, Mar. 7

8. Mount St. Mary’s (12-19, 8-12) vs. 9. Canisius (10-19, 8-12) – 5 p.m. on ESPN+

Could Canisius go on an unprecedented run and win the MAAC Tournament? As crazy as it sounds, the Golden Griffins have won five of their last six games, which included three of the top five seeds. The one loss in between? At Mount St. Mary’s, by a point. To their credit, the Mountaineers have also won four of their last five. This is a neutral game though, so I’m willing to side with Canisius to continue the hot play.

Mat’s Pick: 9. Canisius

7. Fairfield (13-17, 9-11) vs. 10. Saint Peter’s (12-17, 7-13) – 7 p.m. on ESPN+

Shaheen Holloway’s departure, plus a few other Peacocks who made their marks in March last year, was really felt. The Peacocks only won a dozen games in Bashir Mason’s first year on campus. They are also 356th in points per game out of 363 teams. Now, Fairfield isn’t an offensive juggernaut themselves, but the Stags did win both regular season matchups between these two.

Mat’s pick: 7. Fairfield

6. Manhattan (12-17, 10-10) vs. 11. Marist (10-19, 6-14) – 9 p.m. on ESPN+

If you’re looking for a reason to pick a Marist upset, it would be because of Patrick Gardner. The Red Foxes’ center averaged nearly 19 points per game, second most in the conference. But aside from him, it’s been a work in progress for a team that has five freshmen. However, Josh Roberts should be able to match up pretty well inside with Gardner. Plus, Ant Nelson is a bear to guard and should control the tempo from start to finish.

Mat’s Pick: 6. Manhattan

Quarterfinals Day 1 – Wednesday, Mar. 8

1. Iona (24-7, 17-3) vs. 9. Canisius – 7 p.m. on ESPN+

I don’t usually pick major upset picks like this, but Canisius has me second-guessing myself. They’re just playing too well to ignore. However, I also can’t ignore the Gaels’ 30 and 21-point wins over the Grifs.

Mat’s pick: 1. Iona

2. Rider (16-13, 13-7) vs. 7. Fairfield  – 9:30 p.m. on ESPN+

Dwight Murray has been instrumental in Rider’s success this season but has had a few duds lately. However, all you really need to look at is a two-point Broncs loss to Iona on Mar. 4. Rider had 27 bench points in that game, and all of those scoring options may be too much for Fairfield to keep up with.

Mat’s pick: 2. Rider

Quarterfinals Day 2 – Thursday, Mar. 9

3. Quinnipiac (20-11, 11-9) vs. 6. Manhattan – 7 p.m. on ESPN+

Baker Dunleavy has done an incredible job with Quinnipiac this year, which is why he earned my choice for MAAC Coach of the Year. The Bobcats improved by six wins from a year ago and four of those came in conference play. With that being said, after a 15-5 start, his team has gone 5-6 over their last 11 games. Meanwhile, Manhattan has been trending somewhat upward and did just beat Quinnipiac on the road on Feb. 26. Talk about making everyone forget about the Steve Masiello firing two weeks before the season started.

Mat’s pick: 6. Manhattan

4. Siena (17-14, 11-9) vs. 5. Niagara (15-14, 10-10) – 9:30 p.m. on ESPN+

Once 11-4 in MAAC play, Siena has been a trainwreck as of late. The Saints have lost five in a row, including a 33-point bombing by Iona. It’s clearly not the same Siena team that we saw beat Seton Hall, Florida State, and St. Bonaventure in non-conference play. All of that off to the side, Niagara hasn’t been much better. The Purple Eagles have lost five of six heading into the MAAC Tournament. That’s a lot of recent losses between these two, but one team has to win. Give me Siena, because all of that talent has to start coming back together, right?

Mat’s Pick: 4. Siena

Semifinals – Friday, Mar. 10

1. Iona vs. 4. Siena – 6 p.m. on ESPNEWS

I hate the setup of the MAAC Tournament. Siena and Niagara were the only known matchup outside of the first round and was the LAST quarterfinals game to go. Their reward? Playing the next game in the tournament on less than 24 hours’ notice against the top team in the conference who just got a whole day’s break. Had Siena not fallen off late in the season, this could’ve been a very intriguing championship game. But given the recent play and Iona’s dominance in the MAAC, the Gaels seem like the smart choice.

Mat’s Pick: 1. Iona

2. Rider vs. 6. Manhattan – 8:30 p.m. on ESPNEWS

The more and more I look at this Manhattan team, the more and more I like them. They have a good guard/big man combo and have six seniors who bring loads of leadership. The Jaspers also play tremendous on-ball defense, ranking second in the MAAC in steals per game. But what makes Rider tough is their ability to make tough shots. The Broncs are first in the MAAC in FG%, doing most of the damage inside the arc. It should be a hard-fought game, and I’m actually going to choose the upset.

Mat’s pick: 6. Manhattan

Championship – Saturday, Mar. 11

1. Iona vs. 6. Manhattan – 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU

I firmly believe that the difference between the one and the two seeds in the MAAC Tournament was as big of a gap as any conference in America. Iona is that good across the board. It obviously starts with coaching, but the Gaels just boast a ton of firepower. Nelly Junior Joseph, Daniss Jenkins, and Walter Clayton Jr. are three-headed monster. I wouldn’t want to play this team in March.

Mat’s pick: 1. Iona

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