After a long and eventful day on Saturday (the Manhattan/Siena chippiness followed by the ejection of Frank Turner), the four teams pegged by the coaches in the preseason to be the best will play in today's MAAC Tournament semifinals. The first game matches a Rider squad that's playing better basketball, especially on the defensive end of the floor, and regular season champion Siena. Unfortunately for the Broncs the better question going into the game is whether or not they can be competitive much less win the game. Both meetings were blowouts in which the Saints could have named the score if they wanted to. The level of defense that Rider played against Saint Peter's on Saturday must make an appearance if they're to beat the Saints.
O.D. Anosike left the game yesterday with a leg injury but by all accounts he should be fine and ready to contribute off the bench for the Saints. Siena got off to a slow start against Manhattan but once the Jaspers did enough taunting to get them riled up it was "game over". Alex Franklin is a guy that Rider could have their hands full with despite the presence of Mike Ringgold; the Philadelphia native played well in the win over the Peacocks but also fouled out. Rider cannot afford to have him in foul trouble today if they're to remain within striking distance. The individual matchup of Ryan Thompson and Edwin Ubiles could be a case of those two playing to a draw, but how does Rider deal with Ryan Rossiter and Clarence Jackson? Could be a case of too many questions yet not enough answers for the Broncs.
That game will be followed by Fairfield taking on an veteran Niagara squad that knows what it takes to be successful late in the season. The Purple Eagles knocked off a younger Iona squad late last night thanks in large part to Tyrone Lewis, who made the big plays late by getting to the basket. Fairfield beat Canisius in a game that turned for good when Frank Turner was ejected for a "flagrant foul" on Derek Needham, but the freshman scored a career-high 29 points in the win anyway. The two teams split the regular season series with the home team winning both, most recently Fairfield beating the Purple Eagles last Sunday.
Rebounding and foul shooting determined that contest with Fairfield owning a rebounding margin of plus-11 and shooting a far better percentage from the charity stripe (20-29 to Niagara's 13-28). Anthony "Peanut" Johnson was a man possessed in that one, scoring 24 points and grabbing 23 rebounds for Fairfield. He was the difference on an afternoon that saw both Lewis and Needham struggle from the field respectively, and Johnson could once again be the difference against a team that lacks his size and skill inside. But that was the same against Iona on Saturday night and Niagara got the job done. Bilal Benn is an outstanding player but he needs help from guys such as Kashief Edwards on the glass. If that help comes Niagara can win.
Siena over Rider
Niagara over Fairfield