MAAC Friday Preview: Saints Return to Niagara Falls

February 12th, 2010

Tonight's game between Saint Peter's and Loyola has been postponed due to the snowstorm that hit the Mid-Atlantic this week. The game has been rescheduled for February 17th at 7 PM. 

Game of the Night: Siena at Niagara (8 PM, ESPN2)

The Purple Eagles find themselves in the middle of a three-team fight to avoid playing in the Friday opening round doubleheader at the MAAC Tournament with Rider and Canisius, and tonight they host Siena in a game to be nationally televised. Niagara is the last MAAC team to defeat the Saints, who are currently on a 15-game win streak and have already locked up the top seed in the conference tournament. A win tonight gives Fran McCaffery's team the outright regular season crown and you can bet they'll be looking to avenge last year's defeat at Gallagher.

These are the two highest scoring teams in the MAAC but the Saints have been far more efficient this season, and they also hit nearly 47% of their shots from the field. Niagara, on the other hand, ranks 9th in the MAAC in field goal percentage and has struggled rebounding for much of the season. Tyrone Lewis has dealt with his fair share of injuries this season but when on can be one of the most dangerous players in the conference. The Purple Eagles will need him to be clicking on all cylinders tonight and the same goes for Demetrius Williamson, who has played solid basketball of late. Both will also need to hit the boards hard given the Saints having two of the MAAC's best interior players in Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter.

Niagara opponents average nearly fourteen offensive rebounds per game, contributing to the Purple Eagles overall rebounding margin of minus-3.2. The only teams worse are Manhattan and Marist, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what the struggles have done to their respective seasons. Niagara needs to run to make up for their shooting numbers but that's playing right into Siena's hands, who are led by one of the nation's best point guards in senior Ronald Moore. Moore leads the country in assists with just under nine per game, and when you've got players like the aforementioned bigs, Clarence Jackson and Edwin Ubiles to pass the ball to you're going to be in good shape. If Niagara can't turn the Saints over at a high rate their home court edge is likely to go out the window.

7p Fairfield at Rider (ESPNU)
Big game for both teams, especially the Stags since they're currently tied for third with Saint Peter's and have hopes of moving into second by season's end. Rider, on the other hand, has their primary focus on separating from Canisius and Niagara in the middle of the the MAAC standings. Derek Needham has been the best freshman in the MAAC as well as one of the nation's best, and he's got the ability to take over this game given his skill and the Broncs' sometimes questionable defense. But if Ryan Thompson can duplicate his outstanding performance in Rider's 88-80 win at Fairfield two weeks ago this will be a tough one for Fairfield to steal on the road. Given their offensive weapons, also including Justin Robinson and Novar Gadson just to name two, this is a good matchup for Rider. 

7p Marist at Canisius
Not saying that this is a must-win for Tom Parrotta's Golden Griffins but it's pretty close; if you want to avoid having to win four games in four days you can't lose games like this one. The Red Foxes are extremely young and don't match up particularly well with the likes of Greg Logins, Tomas Vasquez-Simmons and Elton Frazier. And Frank Turner is a handful as well. If Korey Bauer has the game of his life inside then Marist can hang around for a bit. But even that would be a stretch. 

7:30p Manhattan at Iona 
Iona won the first meeting in rather workmanlike fashion, using their defense to short-circuit a second half Jasper rally. They're deeper than Manhattan and with Scott Machado at the controls tend to make better decisions with the basketball than Barry Rohrssen's club. The key for Manhattan: getting scoring from Rico Pickett without his shot selection suffering in the process. If he can score with efficiency then Manhattan's got a shot in this rivalry affair and the same goes for Darryl Crawford. But the Gaels' depth and interior size could prove to be too much in the end.  

Weekly Honors (announced on Monday)

Player of the Week: F Alex Franklin (Siena)
Franklin accounted for 23 points and seven rebounds in the Saints' emphatic win over Iona. 

Rookie of the Week: G Derek Needham (Fairfield) 
20 points, five rebounds and four steals in the Stags' win over Saint Peter's. 

Sunday's Schedule

2p Loyola at Iona (MAAC TV)
2p Marist at Niagara
2p Siena at Canisius  

Monday's Schedule

7p Fairfield at Manhattan
7p Rider at Saint Peter's (MAAC TV)