“I really do think we can win the MAAC this year”: Griffs confident they can contend this season

By Samuel Brouwere

Sports Reporter

Flashback to March 28, 2015 at the Fleisher Center in Newark, NJ and the Griffs had just lost a heartbreaker to the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders in the quarterfinals in the Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT). Now back to the present day. The Griffs are another season older, and of the 13 players on the team; 6 are new. The players returning are healthy and are able to provide veteran leadership for the team. This is a very different team from a season ago, and there should only be optimism for this team to succeed this season.

For the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference team coaches’ preseason poll, the Iona Gaels were voted as the favorite to win the conference. In the poll, the Gaels almost received a unanimous vote to be the favorite of the conference. They were followed by the Monmouth Hawks, Manhattan Jaspers/ Rider Broncs (tied for third in poll), and the Siena Saints. The Jaspers were the only other team to receive a first place vote in the poll. The Griffs, Quinnipiac Bobcats, Fairfield Stags, Saint Peter’s Peacocks, Marist Red Foxes and Niagara Purple Eagles rounded out the poll.

When asked about how he sees his team stacking up against the other teams in MAAC, senior guard Jamal Reynolds said “I think we are just as good as anybody in the MAAC ,but at the same time you got to go out and prove it. Manhattan has won two straight MAAC Championships so obviously they are given the slight edge as being a favorite. Also, Iona has dominated the conference in the Regular Season, but I think we are as good as anybody in the MAAC.”

The Griffs placing sixth in the preseason poll shouldn’t discourage the team or their fans, as it could ultimately help them in the end. They are a very talented young team that isn’t receiving a lot of high expectations, thus this should allow them to potentially slide under the radar in the conference.

In the 2014-15 season, the Griffs finished with a total record of 18-15 and a conference record of 11-9. The Gaels finished in first in the conference with a record of 26-9 and a 17-3 conference record. The Gaels, as mentioned already are the preseason pick to win the MAAC, are returning a lot of players from last season. The biggest returning player is senior guard A.J. English. He was unanimously tabbed MAAC Preseason Player of the Year and named unanimously to the MAAC Preseason First Team. Topping Iona is certainly a big challenge for the Griffs, however, it isn’t impossible to do as long as the Griff players play to their ability and play as a team.

Canisius ultimately finished in fifth place in the conference. A key thing that the Griffs definitely will need to improve upon is their home record against conference opponents. The Griffs finished with a 5-5 record against home opponents in the 2014-15 season. Home court advantage is quite the advantage for a team; especially a young team. The Griffs will need to capitalize on their opportunities at home against their conference opponents this season if they wish to have a strong MAAC record.

Some key home conference games for the Griffs this season include two consecutive games on Dec. 4 and 5. The Griffs play the Hawks and then the Bobcats. These games start the Griffs season for conference play. By having conference play start at home, the Griffs should be able to take advantage of this and get ahead quickly within the conference.

Another key game the Griffs have is when the play the Jaspers at home on Jan. 7. The Jaspers ranked third in the preseason poll. The Jaspers have won the MAAC Tournament Championship the past two seasons. The Griffs have an opportunity in this game to make a statement within the conference and it can be done. Last season the Jaspers struggled on the road against conference opponents with a record of 5-5 in those games. Beating the Jaspers in that game can be done, and if the Griffs are able to pull it off, a lot of confidence could be generated for the remainder of the season.

Also, the home game against the Gaels on Feb. 5 may be the biggest game of the Griffs season. the Gaels will be a tough team, as indicated by their almost unanimous selection as the best team in the conference. If the Griffs are able to beat the Gaels or even keep it close that would help the Griffs confidence level for the home stretch of the schedule. The rival Purple Eagles will play the Griffs in their building on Jan. 22 and then will play at the Koessler on Feb. 25. This year the Purple Eagles aren’t as talented as they have been in the past, as shown by their 11th place in the preseason poll. However, these games are always close as they’re hated rivals and should provide for some good basketball games. It can’t be repeated enough that the Griffs have to capitalize on their opportunity to play their conference opponents at home.

The MAAC Championship is where teams go to fight for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. In the 2014-15 season, the Jaspers won the championship and received a bid to play in the NCAA Tournament. Even though this tournament is a long way away, the Griff players are expressing a good level of confidence that they can win the MAAC Championship with hard work.

Senior guard Jamal Reynolds compared the ultimate goal of the team from last season to this season, by saying “Last year we said we wanted to win the MAAC Championship, but it was different because we had just graduated five seniors. It was a whole new team so we kind of knew that we had to rebuild. This year we got guys coming back and we got more experience coming in. So I really do think we can win the MAAC this year.”

The Griffs won’t just have the championship given to them, it will take hard work for all players. The Griffs appear to have that mentality that they have to work at it to get better every day. When talking about his team’s expectation for right now, Reynolds said “Getting better every day is the most important thing.”

Junior Phil Valenti summed up how every player in that locker room feels, by saying “I just want to win man. I know that’s what everybody wants to do.” The Griffs appear to have the right mentality and confidence level moving into this season. The Griffs season starts this Friday against  Hofstra.

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