The tri-state area could see as many as five teams dancing if everything goes right.
Hofstra: The Pride could be in for a fine season if its newcomers can step in. Stevie Mejia, the hardworking David Imes and Matt Grogan lead a group that will scrap and fight for every point, every rebound and every win. The addition of Connecticut transfer Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Penn State transfer Taran Buie will add some much-needed scoring to the roster. Junior forward Stephen Nwaukoni and sophomore Moussa Kone got valuable experience last season and will give coach Mo Cassara the depth he needs. There is also the addition of Fresno State transfer Daquan Brown. The 6-10 junior will give the Pride some size in the middle when he becomes eligible in December. There is also the possible addition of Shaquille Stokes, who the Pride is still waiting on the NCAA for. Freshmen Jordan Allen, Kentrell Washington, Dallis Anglin and Darren Payen are all expected to push for playing time. Prediction: With just seven teams eligible for the CAA, the Pride has a golden opportunity to earn its first NCAA berth since the Jay Wright era. George Mason will be a tough out, but the Pride will get it done.
St. John's: Steve Lavin has a great recruiting class to go with a solid group of sophomores returning. D'Angelo Harrison, Amir Garrett, Sir'Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene played well as freshmen last season. Add to that freshmen Jakarr Sampson, Our Saviour New American grad Chris Obepka and senior God'sgit Achiuwa and the Red Storm shouldn't have an issue returning to the NCAA Tournament. The schedule isn't easy, but the Red Storm has more than enough depth and experience returning to handle the rough road. Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch and Monroe CC transfer Orlando Sanchez could really make the Red Storm a tough out in the Big East. Prediction: The Red Storm will return to past glory with a solid showing in the Big East and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Stony Brook: Stony Brook is at a point where it is reloading instead of rebuilding. Mid-major programs that get to that point generally are ready to take the next step and become a perennial mid-major power. Dave Coley, Tommy Brenton, Leonard Hayes, Anthony Jackson and Marcus Rouse are all experienced players who played a big part in last year’s 22-10 campaign. Stony Brook lost several potent offensive players in Bryan Dougher, Dallis Joyner and Al Rapier, but coach Steve Pikiell added several talented freshman to the fold, including guards Ryan Burnett, Carson Puriefoy and Ahmad Walker. The key to the incoming class could be 6-8, 255-pound bruiser Jameel Varney. If Varney plays the way Stony Brook thinks he can, look out. Prediction: Look for the Seawolves to go dancing (in the NCAA Tournament).
Fordham: With Chris Gaston, Brandon Frazier, Bryan Smith and Devon McMillan back, the Rams will be competitive. How competitive will depend on several newcomers, including Travion Leonard, Jermaine Myers, and Mandell Thomas. Gaston will be counted on early to carry the load, but if any of Tom Pecora’s newcomers can show some fight, the Rams might have enough of what it takes to qualify for the Atlantic-10 Tournament, which comes to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Prediction: It’s going to be rough for the Rams, who will be looking for more scoring. But Pecora’s coaching will keep them in the mix.
Iona: The Gaels got a huge break when former Half Hollow Hills West standout Tavon Sledge (Iowa State transfer) was granted a waiver to play immediately. He instantly stabilized the Gaels backcourt, which already returns two solid players in Lamont “Mo Mo” Jones and Sean Armand. The frontcourt is where the Gaels will need to improve as Taaj Ridley and Nyandiqisi Moikobu are the only experienced players returning. Prediction: Iona's backcourt will be among the best in the MAAC, but the frontcourt could prevent it from really making noise.
LIU: The Blackbirds were the most fortunate of all local teams when four of its top players –Julian Boyd, Jamal Olaswere, C.J. Garner and Troy Joseph– had their suspensions lifted. LIU is the team to beat in the NEC, but not by much as Wagner is expected to make a huge push. Prediction: As always, you never know what can happen in one-bid leagues, but we’re convinced LIU’s experience will carry it into the NCAA for the third straight season.
Manhattan: The Jaspers have a ton of experienced players back led by former Roslyn star George Beamon (19 ppg), the MAAC’s leading returning scorer. Beamon isn’t the only player Manhattan coach Steve Masiello has to count on. The Jaspers may have the best frontcourt in the MAAC with Rhamel Brown, Roberto Colonette, Emmy Andujar and 6-10 freshman Adam Lacey. Prediction: The Jaspers win the MAAC regular season and tournament title in a banner season.
St. Francis: St. Francis has a chance to make some real noise in the NEC. With four quality players back (Ben Mockford, Akeem Johnson, Travis Nichols, Jalen Cannon) the Terriers won’t have any problem scoring or rebounding. Mockford (11.8 ppg) is an excellent shooter, while Johnson (11.3 ppg, 5.1 reb), Nichols (9.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Cannon (8 ppg, 8.8 reb) will provide everything else. Prediction: St. Francis will improve on its record (15-15, 12-7 NEC) from last season, scare the daylights out of the rest of the conference with a run to the tournament semifinal.
Wagner: How can a squad improve on a 25-4 record? A team can do that by adding a transfer with oodles of potential. Wagner has four quality returning starters in Latif Rivers (14.6 ppg), Jonathan Williams (13.4 ppg, 5 reb), Kenny Ortiz (8.1 ppg, 4.5 reb) and Naofall Folahan (4.3 ppg, 3.7 reb, 1.7 blocks). What could put Wagner over the top is the addition of Michigan State transfer Dwaun Anderson, who was Michigan’s Mr. Basketball following a great senior year in high school. Prediction: Wagner will push LIU to the limit in an exciting NEC tournament championship game.