By Andrew Kahn
Billy Baron, the MAAC Player of the Year, played in the ACC and Atlantic-10 before coming to Canisius, giving him a better perspective than most on the quality of play across conferences. He says that if you were to strip the letters from the front of the jerseys, it would be hard to distinguish among different teams. “The top guards in this league can play with anyone,” he says. “It gets me frustrated when people say that [the power conferences are so much better] because I’ve seen the A-10 and the ACC and I’ve seen guys here like [Manhattan’s] George Beamon and [Iona’s] Sean Armand—those guys can play.” Baron believes the only major difference between the MAAC and the power leagues is the size of the players, an opinion echoed by many in the MAAC. “The talent level is not that much of a difference. The players are just bigger [in the Big Ten],” says Iona’s Tre Bowman, who started his career at Penn State.
An estimated 40 percent of Division I basketball players leave their original school by the end of their sophomore year. There’s no evidence that the MAAC is a more frequent destination for transfers than other conferences, but the league has gotten its fair share of notable newcomers. Baron started at Virginia before playing for his dad at Rhode Island and following him to Canisius for his last two years of eligibility. Bowman is one of two Iona starters who started in a major conference—the other is Mike Poole, who played three seasons at Rutgers. Manhattan has Ashton Pankey, who played for Maryland as a freshman. All three of these teams finished near the top of the MAAC.
“We’re a great transfer league,” says Jimmy Patsos, in his first year as Siena’s head coach after nine at Loyola (MD). “Players like the style.” The MAAC, as a whole, plays at the fastest pace in the country, according to KenPom.com, and Iona led the country in scoring the last two seasons. Several transfers mentioned style of play as a reason for coming to the MAAC.
The fast-paced style doesn’t mean any major conference player can come in and score at will. “They all think [they can dominate] when they first transfer,” Iona coach Tim Cluess says. “Then they realize how good the players are.” Patsos has been telling transfers for years, “It’s not going to be as easy as you think.” Yes, Luis Flores (from Rutgers to Manhattan) and MoMo Jones (Arizona to Iona) won Player of the Year in the MAAC, but Pankey’s stats at Maryland and Manhattan are very similar. Hassan Jarrett came to Siena from Rhode Island in 1996 with big hype and was a complete bust.
Players will continue to seek out the MAAC as a second (or third) home. Baron came because of his father, but also because he saw that a MAAC point guard could go from this league to the league. “[Former Iona guard] Scott Machado paved the way for me as far as making the NBA, which has been a dream of mine,” Baron says. Poole wanted to spend his final college season at Iona because he had a feeling he’d get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, a dream he’ll realize if Iona beats Manhattan tonight. Sure, the players he faced in the Big East were bigger. But bigger is not always better.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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