Siena has rolled right through their conference games in the new year, with the closest games being a pair of 66-58 wins over Loyola (the last team to beat them in Albany) and Manhattan. And the return of Edwin Ubiles, who missed four games due to shoulder and back injuries, sparked a 79-60 win over Marist last Saturday afternoon. Ubiles' return adds a swingman who can do it all offensively while also offering an imposing presence at the top of the Saints' full-court pressure on made baskets. Add him to an offensive attack that includes Ryan Rossiter and Alex Franklin inside, and Clarence Jackson and floor general Ronald Moore on the perimeter and you've got one of the more potent offenses around.
But if there's one advantage that Kevin Willard's Gaels may have it's the advantage of depth. With ten players averaging at least twelve minutes per game Iona will look to use their full-court pressure on makes in order to tire out opponents without the same luxury. But Siena is an entirely different animal given their desire to get up and down the court. So the pressure will still be present since that's how the Gaels play, but they do fall back into an active 2-3 zone that could pay dividends provided they step out and challenge shooters. Siena shoots just 31.2% from behind the arc and only Manhattan has taken fewer threes in conference games.
The key player for Iona tomorrow night: PG Scott Machado. If he can continue to show off his feel for the flow of games the Gaels are a good bet to hang around for all forty minutes. In front of a sold-out crowd that knows that two wins gets their team the MAAC crown, you need your point guard to show poise in leading a team with nine freshmen and sophomores. And Alejo Rodriguez, Mike McFadden and Jonathan Huffman need to lead a solid effort on the boards; Rossiter and Franklin are two of the best in the MAAC when it comes to rebounding. Look for this one to not be decided before the final TV timeout; the Saints are still the top dogs but the young Gaels aren't the type to roll over easily.
7p Canisius at Niagara
The rematch of the overtime game won by the Golden Griffins last week is important on two levels: the rivalry and seeding ramification for next month's MAAC Tournament. Niagara was able to bounce back with a win over Loyola on Sunday but if the season were to end today they'd be playing in the first round of the MAAC Tournament. The keys for the Purple Eagles: the play of Tyrone Lewis and keeping Elton Frazier from flying to the rim. If Lewis, who has missed games this season due to injury, can regain the form he displayed in his first three seasons at NU not only does Niagara have a good chance of defending the home floor but this is also a team with enough offensive talent to make a run up the league standings. But they've got to rebound at a higher rate, especially considering the forwards that the Griffs can throw at them.
7p Loyola at Rider
A loss here would be devastating for a Rider team that last week showed the look of a squad on the verge of turning the corner down the stretch. Ryan Thompson showed the skills that made him the preseason Player of the Year selection last week and Justin Robinson has been the Broncs' most consistent player. But if this team is to make a run they need Novar Gadson and and Jhamar Youngblood to be consistent options. Mike Ringgold is a very good defender and rebounder, and can also get Rider points in the paint. And in the Greyhounds they'll be faced with a team they should beat, but it's also a team that won't lie down either. Brett Harvey is back for Loyola but will they have enough offense to keep up with the Broncs? That remains to be seen.
7:30p Saint Peter's at Fairfield
The two teams tied for third get together in Bridgeport, and if the Peacocks can pick up the win they'd be in very good shape down the stretch. The backcourt of Nick Leon and Wesley Jenkins can be a handful for opponents and inside Ryan Bacon has the ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor. But they'll need to have an answer for Derek Needham, who's well on his way to winning MAAC Rookie of the Year honors. Anthony Johnson has played well inside for Ed Cooley's team and in Mike Evanovich the Stags have a big man who can hurt opponents from behind the arc. Arguably the most important game of the night, the winner takes a significant step towards a strong finish to the regular season.
9p Marist at Manhattan (ESPNU)
The two worst teams in the MAAC get the televised game this week, and with the Jaspers having lost seven straight maybe the Red Foxes can pick up their second win of the year. Candon Rusin has led a trio of freshmen for Chuck Martin, but Marist is simply too young this year to experience much success against an older league. As for the Japsers, they'll rely on the scoring prowess of Rico Pickett and Darryl Crawford but need to defend if they're to avoid the upset. Manhattan has the experience but will they be fully motivated to play? The answer will determine which team picks up the win.