Mid Major Quality

Siena

The Siena Saints once again will look to establish their program as a ‘Gonzaga-East’ if you will. Returning are four starters and the 6th man of the year in the MAAC. Last season, the Saints won 27 games and once again won a first round NCAA Tournament and gave top seeded Louisville all they can handle.

The lose of Kenny Hasbrouck at shooting guard, the leader of the Saints the past several seasons is a big one, but not a huge concern. Clarence Jackson, the aforementioned 6th man now slides into the starting lineup and should excel in his new role. While he does not yet offer the intangibles, defense and ball handling Hasbrouck provided, he may offer more athleticism and range.

The other four starters all will make a claim to be First Team All MAAC. Eddie Ubiles spent a summer honing his game against his peers at the LeBron James Skills Academy. Alex Franklin worked out in Las Vegas, and Coach Fran McAffery reported Alex is in the best shape of his life. Ronald Moore is the steady floor general of the Saints who will continue to be a coach on the floor and Ryan Rossiter, who ranked 11th nationally in offensive efficiency last season has put on muscle to go with his cerebral game.

Newcomers have received plenty of praise; Denzel Yard and Jonathan Breeden fill guard spots off the bench with O.D. Anosike fills a much needed void bringing size and athleticism off the bench. Davis Martens also offers size, as a 6′9 foreign import who will be eligible starting 2nd semester. Coach Mac went on to say that you could expect to see some dunks in traffic from the 6′3 Yard.

Holdovers to not be forgotten are Owen Wignot and Kyle Downey. Downey will likely take on a bigger role this season after contributing well as a freshmen, including his heroics at Marist.

Taking care of the ball and creating turnovers once again will be a trademark of the Saints, while shooting a higher percentage. To take the next step, to a possible Sweet 16, improvements must be made on the glass and outside shooting.

Oakland

The Oakland Grizzlies return to action this season looking to improve upon 2008-2009’s 23 win total and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last years season ended in a spot in the Collegeinsider.com postseason tournament (what?).

Offensively, Oakland was terrific, boasting the 32nd most efficient offensive in all of the country, led by the nation’s leading assist man, Johnathon Jones. Who also led the Summitt League in assist to turnover ratio. His face numbers on the year were 13 points and 8 assists a game.

The 20+ win squad included five freshmen and sophomores in their rotation, experience is something that can’t be taught, so that number certainly will bold well for the Grizzlies this year. Only one player who saw time is lost, guard, Erik Kangas.

Ledrick Eackles is at the forefront of a three man recruiting class along with Jay Thames, a redshirt freshmen who spent last season becoming acclimated to the college game. Keith Benson, Blake Cushingberry and Will Hudson are the three other returning starters to join Jones. Benson was the 14th most efficient player in the country offensively last season while Hudson ranked a strong 65th.

Obviously, defense is a concern and must improve for Oakland to get into the NCAA Tournament, as they were an abysmal 259th in defensive efficiency.

They will get early tests in their schedule against; Oregon, Syracuse, Memphis, Kansas, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.

Utah State

Utah State returns four starters off of a 30 win team that was awarded an 11 seed in last years NCAA Tournament. Which resulted in a heartbreaking loss to Marquette.

There are a couple of numbers to look at other than the amount of returning players, Utah State ranked 17th nationally in offensive efficiency and 4th in effective FG%. They shot the ball in the Top 30 of 2point, 3point and Free Throw shooting ratings. To combine that with a low turnover rate and a decent offensive rebounding rate, the Aggies are an excellent team on the offensive end of the floor.

There is room for improvement on the defensive side as an increase in turnovers and defending the 3 point line would go along way, but an emphasis on defending the paint, defensive rebounding and contesting two point shots can go out the window. An interesting statistic is Utah Sate’s opponent’s shot a very high percentage at the line, 74.5%. A number that ranked 345th nationally and is guaranteed to go down this season, as you simply have no control over that number and can chalk it up to luck as the national average was 68.9%.

Coach Stew Morrill has accomplished an impressive record, after his first year of 15 wins, the Aggies have never won fewer than 23, while making the NCAA Tournament or the NIT in each season.

This year, they have plenty of talent back. The major loss is graduated big man Gary Wilkinson and Stavon Williams also left the program. Jared Quayle returns after posting an offensive rating of 120.8, good for 55th nationally. Tai Wesley, Tyler Newbold and Pooh Williams are also returning to the starting lineup. Key reserves will include; Brady Jardine, Matt Formisano, Modou Niang and Jaxon Myaer.

The freshmen class is a well received group and offers a unique talent; 7′1, Anthony DiLoreto. Others of note include; Preston Medlin and Tyrone White.

Akron

The Akron Zips finished off their 4th consecutive 2o+ win season last year under head coach Keith Dambrot culminating in their first NCAA Appearance under him. They are in for another great season as they return nearly everyone and add a unique player to the MAC Conference, a league, which they should be favorites in.

The Zips return 9 out of 10 contributors from last years squad, the lone loss coming in the form of big man Nate Linhart. Anthony Hitchens, Chris McKnight, Darryl Roberts and Steve McNees are the four returning starters on a team that ranked 59th nationally in defensive efficiency that creates a lot of turnovers. Akron did not fair well on the glass or withblocking shots, those problems should be helped out this year in the addition of 7′ freshmen, Zeke Marshall, who surprised many by picking Akron, as he is a National Top 100 recruit. While he is still rail thin at 218lbs and needs to development, his sheer length and size will be a valuable addition for a team looking to make the next step forward.

To improve, Akron must shoot the ball better, finishing with a disappointing effective FG% of 48.1%, bad enough to rank 207th in the country. Amongst its’ Mid Major peers, Akron fared well, losing narrowly to Dayton to and VCU, while defeating Niagara in last years OOC schedule, while ultimately performing very well in the MAC. They will get their chance at pulling what would be perceived as an upset vs the likes of NC State and Texas A&M early this season.

The coaching and foundation of a very good roster is in place for Akron to once again make the tournament and perhaps advance into this weekend this March.

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