This Week in the MAAC

February 3rd, 2010
In a conference where the best race is the one for second place the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference will receive a welcome diversion (for some) in the form of the ESPNU BracketBusters event on February 19-20. The top two teams, Siena and Iona, will take part in the eleven-game event with the Gaels hosting William & Mary on the 19th while the Saints receive the headline game of the weekend. Siena will take on Butler in venerable Hinkle Fieldhouse on the 20th while the other eight MAAC schools have been paired up for non-televised games (times will be announced on February 8th for the non-televised matchups). The full schedule:

February 19th
William & Mary at Iona (9 PM ESPNU)
February 20th
Siena at Butler (11 AM ESPN2)
James Madison at Canisius
Fairfield at Vermont
New Hampshire at Loyola
Towson at Manhattan
Marist at UC Irvine
Niagara at Milwaukee
Rider at Hofstra
Buffalo at Saint Peter's

With the exception of Marist the non-televised games have made travel manageable; not really sure why the Red Foxes would have to travel across the country but them's the breaks. Last year saw six conference schools win their respective games in the event, and BracketBusters also guarantees a return date within the next 21 months which will help out with scheduling. But with one month (six games) left before everyone meets up in Albany for the MAAC Championships the deeper concern for teams two through ten is to put themselves in the best position for a run at the league title.

Who can make a run? Rider
The Broncs scraped out a close win over Manhattan last week and followed it up with their best performance of the MAAC slate thus far with an 88-80 win at Fairfield on Saturday. Ryan Thompson stepped up in both games, averaging a double-double (28 points, 10 rebounds) and he was named MAAC Player of the Week as a result. Justin Robinson has been their most consistent player this season, and if the talent of guys like Thompson and Novar Gadson can show up on a nightly basis this is a team to keep an eye on in two respects: moving up the conference seed line as well as possibly making a run in Albany. Tommy Dempsey's squad doesn't lack for talent but they'll need to be on their A-game offensively if they're to continue their current play.

Who may be in trouble? Niagara
There may be no team happier (outside of Marist) that the calendar has moved into February than the Purple Eagles, who went 3-7 in January. Two areas that have plagued Joe Mihalich's team all season long: rebounding and field goal percentage. It's rather telling that Niagara's record when shooting at least forty percent from the field is 9-1; that means that they've shot below that mark in fourteen games this season. The good news for Niagara: they finished the month with six players scoring at least nine points in their 86-77 win at Loyola on Sunday.

They've been hurt by the injury issues of Tyrone Lewis but they're going to need all hands on deck to help out Bilal Benn on the boards. Friday's game against rival Canisius is huge; already two games behind the Golden Griffins in the loss column, a loss would give Canisius the sweep of the season series and hand them an important tiebreaker.

Weekly Honors

Player of the Week: G Ryan Thompson (Rider)
28.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game in the Broncs' 2-0 week.
Rookie of the Week: G Derek Needham (Fairfield)
For the seventh time this season Needham won the award, averaging 15.5 points and 8.0 assists in the Stags' 1-1 week.

Upcoming Schedule

Friday February 5th
7p Canisius at Niagara
7p Iona at Siena
7p Loyola at Rider
7:30p Saint Peter's at Fairfield
9p Marist at Manhattan (ESPNU)

Sunday February 7th
Noon Canisius at Saint Peter's (MSG)
2p Iona at Marist
2p Loyola at Manhattan

Monday February 8th
7p Fairfield at Siena (MASN, MSG)
7p Niagara at Rider

Team to Watch: Canisius
The Golden Griffins have a pair of vital contests this week in regards to their possible seeding for the upcoming MAAC Championships. First up is a trip to Niagara Falls to take on a team they needed overtime to knock off last week. Following that is a trip to Jersey City to take on Saint Peter's who could very well finish anywhere from second to eighth themselves. Frank Turner has been the constant in the backcourt but Canisius is going to need solid games from Greg Logins and Elton Frazier if they're to have a successful weekend.

Also: With wins over Iona and Fairfield, Siena can wrap up yet another regular season title. They welcomed back Edwin Ubiles, who missed the previous four games with shoulder and back injuries, in their 79-60 win at rival Marist on Saturday afternoon. With his offensive versatility and the ability to make things tough for opposing teams at the top of the Saints' press, Ubiles' return makes Siena even tougher to beat.

Niagara will likely determine their seeding fate this weekend with their home date with Canisius followed by a trip to Rider on Monday night. Two wins and they're back in business while two losses would make them the most likely candidate to finish seventh. The same can be said for Rider, who hosts a Loyola squad that they should beat on Friday night ahead of the Purple Eagles' visit.