Ten players to know for the 2017-18 season: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

With Justin Robinson gone from the fold, Monmouth will turn to the likes of Austin Tilghman (above) and Micah Seaborn to lead the team in 2017-18. (Source: Monmouth Athletics)

CALGARY, Alta. — Entering the 2017-18 season, the MAAC will be without several familiar faces from a year ago.

Several of the conference’s biggest stars from 2016-17 have moved on to the next chapter in their respective basketball careers, leaving massive shoes to fill in the process. The Siena Saints have arguably lost the most, with Brett BispingMarquis WrightLavon Long, and Javion Ogunyemi having graduated.

Not to be outdone, the Monmouth Hawks will be without the reigning MAAC Player of the Year, in Justin Robinson, who will be anxiously waiting to see if his name is called in the 2017 NBA Draft on June 22nd.

In 2017-18, seemingly every team has an opportunity for a player or two to step up and seize a starring role with their respective program. Minutes are there for the taking, and coaches are looking for someone to step up and lead their team.

Here are ten players to keep an eye on in the MAAC for the upcoming season.

Disclaimer: This particular list could have easily been 15-20 players.

Isaiah Reese – Canisius Golden Griffins

2016-17 Stats: 7.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.4 spg; 42.3% FG

Canisius had a trio of freshmen guards emerge as potential stars last season, as all three averaged at least 3.8 points per contest, while two of them played in all 34 games. With the Golden Griffins losing three of their top four scorers, there are opportunities galore in the back court for one of them to step up in a big way.

The leading scorer of the three last season was Isaiah Reese, a 6’5” guard from Miami. Reese appeared in all 34 games, averaging 7.1 points per contest in just under 21 minutes of court time a night.

Reese brings size to a back court that is otherwise on the smaller side. He shoots the ball well from the floor, but struggles from distance (26.3%). If he can improve his three point shooting as a sophomore, he will be a star in the MAAC for the next three seasons, and will take some of the load off the shoulders of big man Jermaine Crumpton.

Aaron Walker, Jr. – Manhattan Jaspers

2016-17 Stats: 8.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.7 apg; 41.2% FG

From top to bottom, it’s going to be a down year for the MAAC as a whole. Ten of the 15 players named to All-MAAC teams last season have moved on, as have two of the five players named to the All Rookie team.

Fortunately for the Manhattan Jaspers, the bulk of their production returns from last season. A key player in this year’s rotation is Aaron Walker, Jr., who will be entering his second season in the NCAA. The freshman guard was one of six players to appear in at least 31 games last season and average at least 5.0 points per contest.

Walker’s 8.9 points per contest were good for the fourth-best mark on the team last year, despite playing under 19 minutes per game. He will be a big piece to the puzzle for Manhattan over the next three years, and will look to play a big part in helping the Jaspers contend for a MAAC crown in 2017-18.

Austin Tilghman – Monmouth Hawks

2016-17 Stats: 7.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.4 apg; 50.8% FG, 45.5% 3PT

Heading into the 2017-18 season, all eyes will be on Monmouth, especially after the back-to-back strong seasons they put together. But, the eyes will be looking to see how the Hawks account for the departures of Robinson, Chris BradyJe’lon Hornbeak, and others.

One player who will be looked upon to take on a much bigger role will be senior guard Austin Tilghman. Last season, he averaged a career-high 20.1 minutes per contest, and shot above 50.0% from the floor for the second straight year (50.8%).

Tilghman’s career high for points per game in a season is 7.0, which he averaged last season. He put up a career-high 21 points in a win over Marist back in January, and added 18 points in a non-conference win over the Princeton Tigers at the end of November.

He showed that he’s capable of leading the offense for the Hawks, and his production will undoubtedly increase in accordance with the influx of minutes.

Chaise Daniels – Quinnipiac Bobcats

2016-17 Stats: 13.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.7 bpg; 51.4% FG

In recent years, Quinnipiac has been known for having some of the conference’s more dominant big men patrolling the paint. From Ousmane Drame in 2014-15, to the emergence of Chaise Daniels in 2015-16, the Bobcats have intimidated the rest of the MAAC in the paint over the past four seasons.

This season, it’s time that Daniels gets the national attention he deserves. With the Bobcats losing freshmen guards Peter Kiss and Mikey Dixon to power conference programs on the transfer market, a premium has been put on the production from Daniels in his senior year.

Daniels has improved his offensive production in each of his three seasons, averaging a career-best 13.0 points per contest last year. He has been as consistent as they come on defense, averaging 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in each of the past two seasons. Daniels led the team in both categories in 2016-17.

Nico Clareth – Siena Saints

2016-17 Stats: 13.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.1 spg; 37.7% FG

If you don’t know who Nico Clareth is by now, it’s about time that you wake up.

The Siena Saints lose as much talent and production as any team in the country this season, as four of their top five scorers have all graduated. That leaves Clareth as the undisputed go-to option on offense for head coach Jimmy Patsos in 2017-18.

Despite playing in just 22 games last season, Clareth finished third on the team in scoring as a sophomore, averaging 13.7 points per contest. To make that number even more impressive, he only played an average of 25.1 minutes per night, down over a minute from his freshman average (26.6 mpg).

With the bulk of the production gone from last year’s roster, opposing teams will focus more on Clareth, and the 6’5” guard will see his fair share of double teams. He has the talent to combat opposing defenses, but will need a secondary scorer to emerge to shoulder some of the load.

Regardless, Clareth is one of the biggest names back in the MAAC this season, and will be in contention for conference player of the year at season’s end.

Jerome Segura – Fairfield Stags

2016-17 Stats: 5.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.1 apg. 1.1 spg; 39.0% FG

Fairfield’s back court rotation was hit hard on the transfer market this off-season, as both Curtis Cobb and Jerry Johnson, Jr. found new homes for the remainder of their collegiate careers. Add in the departure of Amadou Sidibe, and the outlook doesn’t look the best for the Stags in 2017-18.

However, they return one of the top scorers in the conference in senior guard Tyler Nelson, and point guard Jerome Segura is set to receive the national attention he deserves. While his numbers won’t blow you away, his importance to the Fairfield program this season simply can’t be understated.

He played the second most minutes on the team last season, averaging 30.6 per night out. Segura’s 4.1 assists per game were a team-high, and he led the Stags in the category for the second season in a row. Nelson is the team’s go-to scorer, but Segura provides stability at the point guard spot.

If he can cut down on his turnovers (2.6 per game in 16-17), his game will elevate to another level.

Dominic Robb – Niagara Purple Eagles

2016-17 Stats: 8.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 0.7 apg, 2.2 bpg; 46.1% FG

Much of the attention around Niagara focused on the back court duo of Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes. Not enough attention and praise gets directed to the front court, but in 2017-18, that’s about to change.

Dominic Robb has quietly had a strong start to his collegiate career with the Purple Eagles. The 6’8” forward out of Pittsburgh improved in three main categories as a sophomore, increasing his scoring average by close to three points per game. He almost doubled his rebounding average (6.3 from 3.2), and doubled his blocks per game.

Alongside Marvin Prochet, who is also a junior in 2017-18, the Purple Eagles have some considerable talent up front. While they may not be the most talented big men in the conference, they are effective at what they do.

The 2017-18 season is the year Robb breaks out and averages close to a double-double per game.

Schadrac Casimir – Iona Gaels

2016-17 Stats: 7.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.4 apg; 42.5% FG, 42.7% 3PT

As a freshman back in 2014-15, Schadrac Casimir burst onto the scene, averaging 14.5 points per contest, while shooting over 40% from three point range. Then, as a sophomore in 2015-16, he appeared in just four games before missing the rest of the season.

Casimir received an extra year of eligibility, and played his sophomore season in 2016-17, but struggled to find the groove he had as a freshman. On a talented Gaels’ team last year, Casimir averaged 7.0 points per contest, while shooting 42.7% from three point range.

With a handful of stars departing Iona following last season, the need is there for another player to step up and shoulder some of the offensive load, and Casimir has proven that he can lead the team on offense. While Tim Cluess has added some more key graduate transfers to the mix, Casimir has the experience in the system to step up and take on a bigger role in 2017-18.

Look for the sharp-shooting guard to regain some of the form he showed as a freshman, and get his point per game average up into double-figures.

Brian Parker – Marist Red Foxes

2016-17 Stats: 12.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.1 apg; 45.3% FG

Last season, the Red Foxes were led by Khallid Hart. Some writers and publications even tabbed Hart as the preseason MAAC Player of the Year. Now, with Hart having graduated, the leadership role shifts to junior guard Brian Parker, and Marist will be in great hands.

Ever since he stepped foot on campus, Parker has been a star for the Red Foxes. While Parker’s production dipped slightly from his freshman numbers, he still averaged 12.9 points per contest, which was good for second on the team behind Hart. Add in his 5.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists, and Parker is the type of guard every coach would love to have on their team.

For two seasons, Hart and Parker formed one of the top offensive guard tandems in the MAAC. Now, with Hart out of the picture, the attention turns to Parker and fellow junior Ryan Funk, who averaged 12.4 points per game last season.

Simply put, Marist will be in great hands moving forwards.

Malik Johnson – Canisius Golden Griffins

2016-17 Stats: 3.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.0 spg; 30.4% FG

As stated above with Reese, the Golden Griffins had a talented trio of freshmen emerge as potential stars in 2016-17. In Malik Johnson, they may have found their star point guard for the next three seasons.

The 5’10” guard from Richmond, Virginia appeared in all 34 games last season, and averaged 27.1 minutes per contest, the highest mark among the three freshmen guards. Johnson led the team with 4.4 assists per contest, and put together an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.51-to-1.

With Canisius having point production in the form of Reese and Crumpton, among others, there was a need for a pass-first point guard. With Johnson taking on that role, the Golden Griffins have a reliable ball handler in the back court who can facilitate the offense. That could be the difference between a top half finish in the MAAC and a bottom half finish.

– T. Bennett