MAAC Weekend Preview: Lots Still Left on the Table

February 26th, 2010
The final weekend of the regular season offers up much intrigue with slots two through nine still up for grabs before next weekend's MAAC Tournament. Three teams are still in the running for the two seed and with Iona visiting Fairfield tonight the first domino will fall. Kevin Willard's Gaels, who have won four of six games this month, have already beaten the Stags (68-58 on January 24th) but their 56-54 loss to Saint Peter's back on December 4th keeps the Peacocks in play for the two-seed. Iona will face both this weekend while the Stags will deal with a surging Niagara on Sunday and Saint Peter's visits Marist tonight.

There's also the cluster of three teams directly below the battle for second place, with the most basic goal for Niagara, Rider and Canisius being to avoid playing on opening round Friday. The Purple Eagles (winners of three straight) and Broncs sit a game ahead of the Golden Griffins going into the weekend with Sunday's matchup in Lawrenceville between Canisius and Rider looming large. And if things were to break right for either of the two 8-8 squads (this would include Saint Peter's going 0-2) they could find themselves as the four-seed next week. Could the six-seed be the preferred position? You would avoid facing Siena until the title game if it gets to that point but it's tough to envision anyone looking to finish lower than they possibly can.

And unless Loyola knocks off Canisius tonight what's up for grabs for the Greyhounds is what color uniforms they'll wear against Manhattan next week. The Jaspers can finish either eighth or ninth depending on the weekend's results while the Greyhounds will need to go 2-0 and have the Griffs lose twice to move into seventh. The winner of that opening round game would get Siena next Saturday. There's still a lot to play for and that should make for an exciting weekend in the MAAC.

Game of the Weekend: Iona at Fairfield (Friday, 7:30p)
As much as the hype for this one will be about guards Scott Machado and Derek Needham facing off, another young Iona guard made the difference in the first meeting. Jermel Jenkins accounted for 14 points and seven assists in that 68-58 victory last month while Needham shot just 3-10 from the field. In addition to Jenkins the Iona bench came through on a night in which the starters struggled; Jonathan Huffman and Milan Prodanovic scored 13 points apiece while the Fairfield bench scored five points total. This is the area where Ed Cooley's team has to bring more to the table if they're to win.

Anthony Johnson, who scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the first game, likely represents Iona's toughest individual matchup tonight. He's got the muscle to bang inside and can also hit the mid-range jumper. But he will need help from the likes of Mike Evanovich and Ryan Olander if Fairfield is to win. With Yorel Hawkins out due to injury either one of these two (or even better both) will need to step up against the deeper Gaels. Colin Nickerson, the reigning MAAC Rookie of the Week, scored 20 points in their loss at Vermont last Saturday and should be a contributor off the bench tonight.

The Stags rank behind only Siena in offensive efficiency on the season but they were no match for the Gaels back in January. Iona assisted on seventeen of their twenty-one baskets in the victory but they've had an efficiency of more than 100 just three times in their last seven MAAC contests. If Fairfield can make that three out of eight they can defend their home court. Look for this game to not be decided until the game's final minutes; the emergence of Nickerson could be the deciding factor.

Friday's Schedule

7p Canisius at Loyola
7p Iona at Fairfield
7p Siena at Rider (ESPNU) The Broncs need wins this weekend more than the Saints in regards to MAAC Tournament seeding, but this is also important to the defending champs. Siena dropped two conference games last season: at Niagara and at Rider. They've already fallen at Niagara this season, meaning that they've got one final chance to avenge one of those two defeats. The "big three" of Alex Franklin, Ronald Moore and Edwin Ubiles did not play well in their loss at Butler so expect redemption to be on the minds of the three seniors. Ryan Thompson still has a shot at winning MAAC Player of the Year thanks to his play of late and a win here would bolster his case. The key for Rider: shot selection. Both teams will run but the Saints have been far better at finding good shots while doing so. If Rider plays "wild" they'll be in trouble.
7:30p Niagara at Manhattan
7:30p Saint Peter's at Marist

Sunday's Schedule

Noon Niagara at Fairfield (MSG/MASN) This is one of two games on Sunday (Manhattan/Loyola) that could be played again next weekend in Albany and both teams will play at a high pace. Joe Mihalich's Purple Eagles are playing their best basketball of the year at just the right time as they've been wont to do in the last four seasons (just six losses in February over the last four years). Tyrone Lewis has scored more than twenty points in two of Niagara's last three games and had 22 in the first meeting (a 77-68 Niagara win on January 4th), so expect the Stags to know where he is at all times. Add in the versatile Bilal Benn and Demetrius Williamson and you've got a team that's a tough guard for Fairfield. How much this game means will be determined on Friday but expect a game in the seventies regardless of the impact.
1p Manhattan at Loyola
2p Canisius at Rider
2p Iona at Saint Peter's
4p Marist at Siena

MAAC Weekly Honors (announced on Monday)
Player of the Week: G Ryan Thompson (Rider)
Rookie of the Week: G Colin Nickerson (Fairfield)