Friday Night in the MAAC

January 9th, 2009

A full slate in the MAAC on tap tonight, with a showdown for first place being the marquee event. A week after Fairfield went to Albany and failed to take down the defending chanmps, 3-0 Rider gets their shot at the Times Union Center in a rematch of last year's MAAC Tournament final. Of course two of the main characters in that chapter are gone (Rider's Jason Thompson and Siena's Tay Fisher) but both teams stand to be a factor in the title chase until the end of the regular season. Fairfield, who lost two league games last weekend, finds themselves in need of a win tonight at Loyola (MD) and the Greyhounds haven't been much better in losing seven of their last ten games.

The other two teams in that 2-2 logjam will meet in Riverdale tonight, with Marist taking on Manhattan. R.J. Hall has gotten better as the season has progressed and Coach Martin has a forward in Ryan Schneider who's played some very good basketball this season. Another bonus for Marist is the return of point guard David Devezin, who will be playing in his fourth game since sitting out five due to injury. But the Red Foxes will have their hands full with Barry Rohrssen's Jaspers, a team that has one of the conference's better quartets (Chris Smith, Antoine Pearson, Devon Austin and Darryl Crawford). Rounding out the schedule is Joe Mihalich taking one of the best backcourt rotations in the MAAC to Jersey City, and an interesting point guard matchup in New Rochelle between quick junior Frank Turner and freshman Scott Machado. With the exception of the Canisius/Iona game (7:30 start) all games are at 7 PM and the Rider/Siena game can be seen on ESPNU.

Rider (8-5, 3-0) @ Siena (10-5, 4-0) on ESPNU

The game of the night in the MAAC, and the individual matchup between two of the conference's most versatile (and best) players will be an entertaining one to watch. Rider's Ryan Thompson and Siena's Edwin Ubiles are outstanding basketball players on the wing for their respective teams, and neither has failed to show why they were preseason All-MAAC selections. I know that some pundits have been quick to note the Saints as a disappointment due to their inability to get a headline non-conference win, but those people need to be honest in regards to the level of that schedule.

Three games in Orlando against teams that should make a run at postseason play, as well as trips to Pitt and Kansas (the Jayhawks may be young, but it's tough to win at Allen Fieldhouse) doesn't look like a lineup of cupcakes to me. Siena has had some trouble in two areas this season: rebounding and three-point shooting. The former can be explained by that schedule for the most part, while Tay Fisher was a key ingredient when it came to accuracy from behind the arc. Another individual matchup to keep an eye on is Mike Ringgold and Alex Franklin inside. Both are a bit undersized for their positions, but they can get the job done inside. These are also two of the best in the MAAC in turnover margin (Siena 2nd, Rider 3rd), and Tommy Dempsey has some capable shooters in his stable as well, most notably senior Harris Mansell. My pick: Siena. 

Fairfield (9-6, 2-2) @ Loyola (MD) (5-10, 1-3)

Reigning MAAC Player of the Week Jamal Barney will lead the Greyhounds into battle against a talented Fairfield team looking to end its two-game conference skid. Last year's game was an exciting affair, with the Stags winning it in the final minute. But then Loyola knocked them out of the MAAC quarters for the second year in a row. Ed Cooley's got some very good players to choose from, most notably perimeter mainstays Jonathan Han and Warren Edney, along with forwards Greg Nero and Anthony Johnson. Normally this isn't a team that's going to rack up a lot of points, even though they did score 81 in a loss at Siena. But tonight could offer an opportunity to snap out of their recent shooting doldrums, with the Stags making less than forty percent of their shots in three of their last four games. Loyola is dead last in the MAAC in both field goal and three-point percentage defense, and they also are ninth in rebounding margin. The issue for both teams has to be taking care of the basketball since both rank in the bottom half of the league in turnover margin. My pick: Fairfield.  

Canisius (5-9, 0-4) @ Iona (6-9, 1-3)

While the aforementioned Turner vs. Machado matchup should captivate those in attendance at the Hynes Center, Canisius needs this game simply to pick up their first conference win of the season. Last year the Golden Griffins struggled on the defensive end, with their youth routinely being punished by teams all year long. But this year it's been the offense that's to blame, with Coach Parrotta's team ranking ninth in field goal percentage and tenth in three-point percentage. Newcomers Chris Gadley and Julius Coles have helped, but this is a team that quite frankly struggles to consistently get quality looks from the field. The Gaels aren't exactly going to light up the scoreboard either, but they've been a bit more consistent when it comes to knocking down shots. Senior Gary Springer is back in the lineup after missing seven games with an ankle injury, and his double-double against Fairfield last week was instrumental in Iona picking up their first league win. This one should be tight, expecially if Canisius can play well on the offensive end. My pick: Iona. 

Niagara (12-3, 3-0) @ St. Peter's (4-10, 1-3)

This could be painful to watch for fans of the Peacocks, a team that is right there with Canisius when it comes to the worst offensive team in the MAAC. St. Peter's is averaging just over fifty-six points per game, and they rank tenth in field goal percentage and ninth in three-pont percentage. But they've got one of the better sophomores in the conference in Wesley Jenkins, and classmate Nick Leon isn't too bad either. This group, however, willl have its hands full with a versatile lineup rotation that can come at you in waves. The talk has been about transfers Bilal Benn and Rob Garrison, but there's also returnees Tyrone Lewis and Anthony Nelson. And I'm willing to bet that I'm leaving someone out, but that's to mention Benson Egemonye inside. Look for this game to provide the largest margin of victory on the schedule tonight. My pick: Niagara

Marist (6-10, 2-2) @ Manhattan (8-6, 2-2)  

This one should be a good matchup, fitting for two teams tied in the standings. Marist has won three of their last four with the lone defeat being a two-point decision at Binghamton, and all the Bearcats are doing right now is leading a conference in America East that's better than most people think. Ryan Schneider has been the man, even with the dribble drive motion system that tends to favro guards. Why is that? His versatility, with the ability to score either inside or behind the arc, has been the key for the senior who started out his career at Vermont. Add to his team-high sixteen points per game nine rebounds per contest and you've got a guy who could make a serious run at league honors after not being named to any of the preseason teams. Manhattan's got a versatile forward of their own in senior Devon Austin, but the emergence of guards Chris Smith and Darryl Crawford has meant that he hasn't had to shoulder the offensive load. This game should go down to the final minutes, and it's anyone guess who will win. My pick: Manhattan.