MAAC Final Preview: Top Two Seeds Face Off for Title

March 8th, 2010

The time to determine who will earn the MAAC's automatic bid is finally here and the matchup between Fairfield and Siena (7 PM, ESPN2) should not disappoint. Of course the Saints won both regular season meetings but they had to hold in in the second, winning by just two points at the Times Union Center on February 8th. Derek Needham scored 26 points in that game for the Stags but he also had five turnovers, as did Sean Crawford. That was essentially the difference (along with two more free throws for Siena): fifteen turnovers to ten for the Saints. In front of what should be close to a sellout crowd (if not a total sellout), Fairfield must take care of the basketball and avoid lengthy Siena runs.

Another key for Ed Cooley's team: avoid foul trouble. Anthony Johnson picked up three fouls in the first half in yesterday's semifinal win over Niagara, but with the Purple Eagles not having the same amount of size inside the Stags weren't penalized as much as they would be tonight. Ryan Olander stepped up with seven first-half points on Sunday and a similar performance will be needed from him tonight. Going up against Ryan Rossiter and Alex Franklin, Johnson will need all the help he can get despite his ability to be a force in the paint by himself. The two Siena veterans make up the best frontcourt tandem in the MAAC, possessing the ability to control the game on both ends of the floor. 

As for the Siena perimeter play, this is where they can be at their most explosive when clicking on all cylinders. Point guard Ronald Moore leads the nation in assists and does a masterful job of running the show; he got some jumpers to fall against Rider on Sunday afternoon and if that's the case again tonight look out. Clarence Jackson also had a standout performance on Sunday, scoring seventeen points in the Saints' runaway win over the Broncs. But the one player for Siena to watch has to be Edwin Ubiles, who did not have much of an impact on Sunday's game.

The senior from Poughkeepsie made just four of fourteen shots from the field for nine points; he scored ten in the win over Manhattan on Saturday. If there's one player on the court for either team who's "due" for a breakout performance it would be Ubiles, who led the Saints with eighteen in the aforementioned win over Fairfield. How he plays could be the ultimate deciding factor in who wins tonight. Fairfield clearly has to win to get to the NCAA Tournament, but while their resume lacks an RPI Top 50 win it would be tough to argue that Siena wasn't one of the 34 best remaining teams should they lose. But that's a risk Fran McCaffery and his team would rather not take.

Pick: Siena by seven.