These are macro-level pieces; micro-level nonsense will occur sporadically throughout the site's preview. We're doing this in the construct of what a story may look like, so bone up on all that crap that you ignored while in English class, staring at the clock and hoping that none of that stuff would ever permeate your brain ever again.
The MAAC isn't the nicest block in the neighborhood. There's a lot of "under construction" going on, but there are a few acceptable pieces of property. Vagrancy is a bit of an issue, but helping hands from some of the better-off residents kind of keeps things from turning into alternate-1985 in Back to the Future. A lot of folks ignore that section of town because it's not too glamorous, but residents there keep plugging along in their own way.
Underlying background information -- team storylines -- that structures the plot.
This was a pretty ugly team to watch last season, despite the run to the NCAA Tournament. The team's raw shooting percentage was on point -- it ranked 17th last year -- but the overall adjusted offensive efficiency of the squad was among the nation's worst, ranking 49th in the country. The reason? Giving the ball away on about 56 percent of the team's offensive opportunities (and this had little to do with a horrendous clearing game). Teams with a relatively diminished talent core -- individually and in totem -- need to value possession opportunities, not only to maximize scoring opportunities but to insulate defensive exposure. Canisius has struggled with that over the last two years, and if the Golden Griffins are going to move toward Siena's position in the league, Canisius needs to take care of the bean. Compounding the issue for 2013, of course, are the losses of Simon Giourmetakis, Jimmy Haney, and Travis Gibbons. Icky!
The Titans really need to find some offense this season. Detroit's issues on that end of the field in 2012 are well chronicled, but there remain serious concerns about what the Titans can do with the bean in 2013: Detroit lost two of its top four scorers -- Joel Matthews and Scott Harris -- and Matthews had been the bell cow (when he played) for an offense that finished only 50th in adjusted offensive efficiency a year ago. The parts that remain are varied in quality -- Shayne Adams is a league threat with his ability to finish -- but there is still an amorphous blob of existence that Matt Holtz will need to define.
I should write something here about Detroit's defense -- it has the potential to be among the stronger units in the MAAC this spring, especially with Jordan Houtby again running through the midfield with a pole -- but it's the building blocks to the Titans' offensive struggles that will get some extra words. Detroit was absolutely atrocious at clearing the ball (56th nationally) and limiting turnovers (57th nationally) in 2012, and that's going to be an issue for the Titans again in 2013 if they can't straighten out their fundamentals. This killed Detroit from an efficiency standpoint last year, and with three February games in 2013 -- all against competition above the Titans' head -- Detroit is going to need to come out of the gates with a renewed appreciation for doing the little things to give them stronger opportunities to score.
Peter DeLuca is quietly establishing himself as a nice backstop to a defense that -- at times -- desperately needed him to make stops. It's not DeLuca's 57.0 save percentage that makes me think he could be the best keeper in the league; it's that he accomplished that rate while ending almost 40 percent of the Dolphins' defensive possessions with a stop while also seeing the 10th-most shots per defensive possession in the country. He takes on fire and not only survives, but actually thrives. He's the core of Jacksonville's defensive effort, and may be -- once again -- the pivot for whether the Dolphins can hang defensively with their opponents.
It's Steve Manitta's first tour of duty with the Jaspers, and he has a lot of work to do. The Jaspers were bad last year -- real bad -- ranking as the fifth-worst team in the country. An overhaul is necessary if Manhattan hopes to do some work in the MAAC, and where Manitta goes this season will be an important story as to what the ceiling for the Jaspers will look like down the road.
Manhattan will only play a third of its games this season at home. That's only five opportunities to avoid riding a bus while enjoying the comforts of Riverdale. We'll see how that plays out.
Connor Rice and Jack Doherty can really play; they should be, from the start of the season to the end, in the conversation for All-MAAC first team honors. The issue for the Red Foxes, though, is that they may, once again, struggle a bit to maximize their ability. With concerns at the face-off dot again plaguing Marist coming into the year, there is the potential that the Red Foxes could play at a possession deficit compared to their opponents once again. Combined with lingering issues around Marist's ability to maintain possession -- the Red Foxes turned the ball over on about 51 percent of their offensive opportunities last year -- it's a concern that Marist won't be able to let their nuclear weapons destroy things as much as they could, creating a tidal wave of momentum. This is a definitively decent team entering the spring -- two overtime losses took the shine off what could have been a solid year for the Red Foxes -- and there are a lot of pieces in place to challenge Siena for the conference's pole position. The question that is out there is whether Marist can help itself.
How will the Saints deal with an existence that doesn't include the services of Bryan Neufeld and Tom Morr? Morr had been a horse for Siena, driving the defensive unit's overall raw shooting percentage and stopping a high volume of shots to end defensive possessions (about 32 percent). He was the backbone to a unit that was among the nation's top-third in overall adjusted defensive efficiency, and with six -- six! -- goalies vying for the vacancy between the pipes, Morr's absence may loom large for a Siena program that had been playing above its MAAC residence the last few seasons. As for Neufeld, it's just not his lost points that impacts the Saints' overall offensive potential; it's that he was the hub for much of Siena's overall offensive work. He finished the year in 2012 as the 24th-ranked attack in the Player Statistical Index, strong indicia of his overall value to the Saints' offensive effort. His ability to finish and share was vital to Siena's success, and much of that will now fall to Danny Martinsen alone (which is fine, but having two players of that caliber is obviously a better situation).
The Keydets were among the worst teams in the country last year, and it could have been a lot worse had Stephen Robarge not won 100,000 draws. VMI was offensively and defensively incompetent, yet somehow -- due to a decent clearing game and Robarge's heroics -- managed to play about four more offensive possessions per game than their opponents to give themselves a chance. Robarge is gone, off to the great work-all-day-and-get-a-W-2 in the sky; where do the Keydets end up without him? Toward the league -- and national -- basement would be a safe assumption unless something magical happens.
Underlying background information -- guys to know to impress people at cocktail parties -- that structures the plot.
Tim Edwards, A/M (So.)
Adam Donner, D (So.)
Shayne Adams, A (Jr.)
Jordan Houtby, LSM (Sr.)
Peter DeLuca, G (Jr.)
Cameron Mann, M (Sr.)
Alex Grandal, SSDM (Sr.)
Brian McGrath, A (Sr.)
Jack Doherty, A (Sr.)
Connor Rice, A (Sr.)
Danny Martinsen, A (Sr.)
Erik Casparius, D (Sr.)
Rory Dillon, D (Jr.)
Matt Lindemann, G (Sr.)
Four important conference games that will define the discussion.
GAME I: Siena at Marist -- April 20
GAME II: Siena at Canisius -- April 6
GAME III: Marist at Canisius -- March 23
GAME IV: Detroit at Marist -- March 16
Illustrating the landscape of the universe.
This looks like Siena's league again in 2013, but Marist and Canisius should provide a challenge. The biggest race will likely be for the two through four spots in the conference tournament, where Marist, Canisius, Jacksonville, and Detroit will throw hands for those positions. Manhattan and VMI are likely toast.