MAAC Quarterfinals Preview: Top Six Join the Party

March 6th, 2010

The MAAC quarterfinals take center stage on Saturday with the top six teams joining the fray along with Friday night winners Manhattan (94-79 over Loyola) and Canisius (72-54 over Marist). The biggest storyline: can Siena pick up their third consecutive MAAC crown? Anything less will likely mean a trip to the NIT despite a solid RPI due to their lack of any RPI Top 50 wins. The other seven teams can essentially go out on the floor not having to worry about the consequences of a loss; while Fairfield and Iona hold out hope for an NIT berth everyone else pretty much knows that they'll be done for the year if they don't win three more games. Should make for an interesting Saturday in Albany. 

#4 Saint Peter's vs. #5 Rider (2:30 PM; MSG)
Regular season meetings: Saint Peter's 77-67 (January 15th at Rider); Rider 72-66 (February 15th at Saint Peter's)

The first quarterfinal promises to be an entertaining matchup with the two teams boasting some of the MAAC's best scorers. Wesley Jenkins can fill it up from the perimeter for the Peacocks, who can also look to Nick Leon and Ryan Bacon for points. But John Dunne's squad is better equipped to play in the half-court, leading to a clash in philosophy at the Times Union Center. Ryan Thompson and the Broncs will look to play at a higher tempo, averaging sixty-nine points per game on the season. But they've had issues on the defensive end of the floor this season, a major factor in Rider not living up to preseason expectations. Rider opponents average an efficiency of 102.9, a number that will get you beat when facing quality opponents.

The Peacocks are also the better rebounding team, averaging just over thirty-eight rebounds per game on the year. Rider has a rebounding margin of nearly minus-3, meaning that Mike Ringgold and company will have to do yeoman's work on the glass in this matchup. Justin Robinson has been a steadying influence for Rider much of the season, giving Rider four capable scorers averaging double figures on the season. Saint Peter's will need a player such as Jeron Belin (8.0 ppg) to step up should this game get into the seventies; they'll also need to manage their turnovers given the current rate of over 24%. Rider does a better job of taking care of the basketball and if they can rebound the Broncs may have the edge.

#1 Siena vs. #9 Manhattan (4:30 PM; MSG2)
Regular season meetings: Siena 83-68 (January 18th at Siena) and 66-58 (January 24th at Manhattan)

Siena's quest for a third consecutive MAAC title begins with Manhattan, who lit up Loyola Friday night (94-79) thanks in large part to Rico Pickett (33 points). The Jaspers can score but they didn't offer up much of a challenge to the Saints in the meeting at the Times Union Center on January 18th. Far more competitive in the second meeting, whether or not Manhattan can hang around Saturday afternoon will depend upon two areas: shot selection and the play of their frontcourt. You can't expect to beat Siena if you're getting little or nothing from your forwards; Ryan Rossiter and Alex Franklin are going to produce no matter what. Brandon Adams provided 14 points and five boards on Friday night, and the same will be required of him Saturday.

Another good sign for Manhattan on Friday night: freshman guard George Beamon scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench. While the Saints may not get a large sum of their points from their reserves the starters more than make up for that; few teams can match that so it's important to get something from the bench if you're going to beat Siena. Fran McCaffery's team didn't look to be in a charitable mood last week, taking out the anger from their performance at Butler out on Rider and Marist. When this team is clicking on all cylinders conference opponents have a very hard time knocking them off. Edwin Ubiles may be the one to watch this weekend given his displeasure with being names Second Team All-MAAC. His versatility and athleticism make him a tough guard for anyone; if Manhattan can't slow him down they'll be in for a long afternoon.

#2 Fairfield vs. #7 Canisius (7:30 PM; MSG2/MASN)
Regular season meetings: Fairfield 58-52 (January 2nd in Buffalo/HSBC Center) and 76-74 (January 18th at Fairfield)

Canisius took care of business on Friday night, ending Marist's season with a routine 72-54 beating of the Red Foxes. But they've got a much tougher challenge in front of them in the first game of the night session in Fairfield, taking on a team that boasts the MAAC's Rookie, 6th Man and Defensive players of the Year. But both regular season meetings were close, with the Stags winning both by a combined eight points. The man who hurt Canisius in the second meeting, Yorel Hawkins, is out for the season so that's one less offensive weapon the Griffs have to worry about. But with Derek Needham, Anthony Johnson and Mike Evanovich still at Ed Cooley's disposal Fairfield still has plenty to work with.

Elton Frazier scored seventeen on Friday night while Greg Logins added a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Canisius was also able to take advantage of Marist's youth and inability to take care of the basketball, forcing seventeen turnovers on the night. It's unlikely they get the same numbers out of Fairfield, who turned the ball over just two times in that second meeting. The Stags rank second in the MAAC in offensive efficiency, but they do average just under fifteen turnovers per game. The Golden Griffins can force turnovers if they turn this into a scramble, and to be honest this is a game that wouldn't be a huge surprise if the underdogs found a way to win.

#3 Iona vs. #6 Niagara (9:30 PM; MSG/MASN)
Regular season meetings: Iona 63-60 (January 2nd in Buffalo/HSBC Center) and 64-47 (January 16th at Iona)

Also falling into the category of "it wouldn't be a huge surprise if the lower-seeded team won" is the final game of the day. Iona dominated the Purple Eagles in the second meeting, a contest that you can point to as the low point of Niagara's season. But as Joe Mihalich's teams are known to do they made their move the month of February (5-2 for the month; 6-2 in their last eight games). A loss at Fairfield in the regular season finale temporarily stopped the momentum but given their experience this is a team that's more than capable of getting to Monday night. Five players average at least 9.7 ppg with Tyrone Lewis leading the way, and Bilal Benn ranks among the best rebounders in the MAAC. The key against a deeper (and bigger) Iona: rebounding.

Neither team has the best of rebounding margins but given the difference in tempo (NU: 70.4 possessions/game; IC: 66.6 possessions/game) Niagara's rebounding issues are a bit more pronounced. Opponents have an offensive rebounding percentage of 36.5%, the worst number in the conference by nearly two percentage points. That means that Demetrius Williamson and Kashief Edwards have to step up and help out Benn in the frontcourt. Niagara's guards are solid rebounders but they can only do so much. Thanks to the likes of Kyle Smyth and Alejo Rodriguez Iona boasts a higher field goal percentage, and if Scott Machado is on his game at the point MAAC Coach of the Year Kevin Willard has a team that's tough to beat. But expect this game to be more along the lines of the first meeting; Niagara looks to be rounding into form at just the right time and will be a tough out.