The Week in the MAAC

December 14th, 2009

Iona, Niagara Pick Up Key Road Wins

Picked to finish ninth in the MAAC preseason poll, not much was expected from Kevin Willard's Gaels due to their overall lack of experience. But they've been far more competitive than that prognostication would indicate, with the Gaels' most recent success being a win at Providence on Saturday night. Kyle Smyth, who was named MAAC Rookie of the Week, led Iona with twenty-one points as they picked up their sixth victory of the season.

Iona won just eleven games all of last season and with a defense that ranks in the top 10 nationally in turnovers forced the Gaels will have more opportunities to surprise some people. When you're young you need a capable point guard running the show and Iona's got that in sophomore Scott Machado and inside freshman Mike McFadden has been a solid player. How well can the Gaels perform when conference play resumes will depend on them consistently scoring baskets; they'll face stiffer defensive tests than the Friar outfit that they hung eighty-two on over the weekend.

Niagara also picked up a non-conference victory on the road this weekend, knocking off Illinois State in the return game of their meeting in last year's BracketBusters event. Tyrone Lewis, who was named MACC Co-Player of the Week, hit five three pointers on his way to twenty-six points in the Purple Eagles' 76-68 win over the Redbirds. Niagara is an experienced team that's also quite versatile and players such as Bilal Benn aren't afraid to mix it up inside.

But their loss to Buffalo in addition to the non-conference losses incurred by Siena and Rider has likely made the MAAC a sure-fire one-bid league. But while the time between now and the return of league play is short there are still opportunities for the league to boost its collective profile. Fairfield, who was the only MAAC team to go undefeated last week, visits a hot Rhode Island squad that just picked up a win at Boston College next Sunday.

And Rider visits Rutgers tomorrow night in a game that sets up to be a game the Broncs could possibly steal with Gregory Echenique (eye) out of the Rutgers lineup. To get one of those two games, especially the Rhode Island contest considering their record, would be a serious boost to the MAAC's profile.

Weekly Honors

Players of the Week: F Anthony Johnson (Fairfield) and G Tyrone Lewis (Niagara)

Johnson earned his portion of the award by averaging a double-double in the Stags' 2-0 week. The senior from Lake Wales, FL led all scorers with 21 points in Fairfield's win over Sacred Heart and that came on the heels of a 16-point, 12-rebound performance in a win over Holy Cross. Lewis scored twenty-eight points in each of the Purple Eagles' two games, a loss to Big Four rival Buffalo followed by a win at Illinois State. In the win over the Redbirds Lewis became the 11th player in school history to pass the 1,500-point mark.

Rookie of the Week: G Kyle Smyth (Iona)

Smyth averaged 15.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in the Gaels' 2-1 week. Smyth led all scorers with a career-high 21 points in Iona's 82-73 win over Providence while also grabbing seven rebounds.

The Week Ahead

12/15 Rider at Rutgers 7:30
12/16 Canisius at Duquesne 7:30
12/17 Albany at Iona 7:30
12/19 Howard at Loyola 1:00
Manhattan at LIU 7:00
Rider at Monmouth 7:00
Saint Peter's at FDU 7:00
12/20 Fairfield at Rhode Island 1:00
Binghamton at Marist 4:00

Game of the Week: Fairfield at Rhode Island (December 20th)

This is the showcase of the league's light schedule during what is "Finals week" for many schools throughout the nation. Jim Baron's team has a number of versatile players who can cause mismatches on both ends of the floor, especially seniors Keith Cothran and Delroy James. The Rams will also look to speed things up, making the play of freshman guard Derek Needham that much more important in this road test. If Needham and Anthony Johnson can lead the way offensively the Stags will improve their chances of pulling off the upset.