Siena Saints Blog: Hey Raphielle, we haven’t seen you since the MAAC tournament last year but we’ve been keeping up on your blog posts about this year’s college football season. It’s good to talk to you again.
Raphielle Johnson, collegehoops.net / New York Metropolitan: Likewise, hope you are doing well.
SSB: Let’s cut to the chase. In your eyes, how do you see the MAAC playing out this year? Who are the top teams in your eyes and how does the rest of the conference shake out?
Johnson: Siena is the clear favorite to win the MAAC again. While some could see the schedule as a bit too much, it offers opportunities on two levels: building a strong resume (especially if they win some of those games) and getting more experience against teams that they could see in March from a talent standpoint. The Saints would have beaten Vanderbilt regardless of the schedule last year, but after playing at Memphis was there really a team that they’d see with better talent than the Tigers? I say no.
As for who could challenge them, I’d go with Fairfield and Niagara as the primary suspects. The Stags have just about everyone back and their backcourt should have some more depth to give Jonathan Han a break without a serious drop off. As for the Purple Eagles, Coach Mihalich seems to plug in another one or two guards into his system every year and they still score points. With Bilal Benn and Rob Garrison now eligible the backcourt is even deeper when you consider guys like Tyrone Lewis and Anthony Nelson are also back. And don’t forget post player Benson Egemonye, who I think can challenge for league honors.
The middle looks to be a logjam of four teams who could even break into second or third if things break well for them. Loyola, Manhattan, Iona and Rider are those teams, and if they can build upon their development in the MAAC Tournament last year I can see the Jaspers being a possible dark horse with Devon Austin and Antoine Pearson leading the way. Canisius is a year older but I don’t think they have enough to make a major move in the standings, however they should finish ahead of Marist and St. Peter’s.
SSB: Do you think there is a more exciting mid-major team to watch in the North East this year?
Johnson: In terms of pure excitement, I’d say no. But thanks to the amount of talent back at Cornell the gap isn’t as big as some would think. Cornell didn’t win their tournament game, but that first taste of postseason play along with an Ivy League that is pretty weak behind them (Penn could challenge) could make them a team to watch in March.
Also keep an eye on the race at the top of America East. Vermont has Marqus Blakely, MIke Trimboli and Michigan State transfer Maurice Joseph on the perimeter, which gives them a shot in that league. And for a guard who gets little pub, Boston University’s Corey Lowe is a spectacular player.
SSB: Many people nationally will remember the sophomore trio of Ronald Moore, Alex Franklyn and Edwin Ubiles. In what aspects of their game will you see the most maturity having started the full two years they have been at Siena?
Johnson: One part of the game for each of those three that has come along is just their maturity. With that experience has come the confidence that they can compete with anyone on any level. Franklin was the eye-opener for me, especially when he went off for 30-18 in the BracketBusters game at Boise State. You could tell in March that it was all coming together with the skill and belief in themselves and the team. That should only improve this year, and with three guys like that it as a result makes a guy like Kenny Hasbrouck all the more dangerous.
SSB: Do you think this Siena team has a shot at winning half their games against Top 25 teams?
Johnson: I believe so. They’re not going to be intimidated by anyone on the schedule, and the Saints have the talent necessary to win a few of those games. Some people have been quick to forecast a Tennessee/Georgetown semi in Orlando; they’d better calm down with that.
SSB: What are your thoughts on the now named preseason player of the year Kenny Hasbrouck. What kind of value do you put in these preseason festivities? In the past three years the Preseason POY has won the POY. Do we see a repeat?
Johnson: I also like Hasbrouck to win the award. MVP of the tournament, I really don’t know where else you’d go with that vote. Franklin? Rider’s Ryan Thompson? As for preseason honors, you have to take them with a grain of salt, although in recent years the voters have done a good job of predicting what will happen throughout the year. As long as the players/teams honored don’t live off of those accolades they shouldn’t be much of an issue. Nothing’s won in October or November.
SSB: Kenny has made mention of shooting for the NBA. What are your thoughts on players from this conference trying to make it to the league?
Johnson: It’s a tougher road, due to the relative lack of exposure. To use college football as an example: Matt Cassel’s NFL prospects were helped immensely by the fact that he went to USC. Had he been a backup at a smaller school…doubt he even makes a team as a free agent much less get drafted. The thing that guys like Hasbrouck and recent guys from the MAAC have to deal with is the nitpicking at weaknesses. The fact that they normally don’t fit the NBA mold in regards to a particular size or level of athleticism can cause some teams to pass without giving them so much as a fair look. But as Jason Thompson going 12th proved last year, if you can play you’ll be found.
Johnson: They can, but this league is tough due to the fact that most of the MAAC schools are located in the same general area. Six schools in New York, then Fairfield (CT), St. Peter’s and Rider in New Jersey. Loyola may have a slightly different recruiting base being in Maryland, but when you’ve got all those schools mining the same areas for talent things are spread a bit more evenly.
For Siena to be a NCAA team year-in and year-out, Coach McCaffrey will have to continue to be pro-active in regards to the scheduling. Some years it may be too much, but that’s the risk you take in building a perennial power at that level. It worked for Temple and UMass in the 80s and 90s, and Gonzaga into the new millennium. Anyone, anywhere, anytime.
SSB: Raphielle, it’s always great getting your insight about the world of Northeast college hoops. We’ll certainly be following your collegehoops.net blog, and look forward to seeing you in Albany at some point this year.
Johnson: Thanks, hope to talk to you soon. Be well.