MAAC Tournament Preview

March 6th, 2008

As many as six teams have a shot at automatic bid
By Raphielle Johnson

This season, the MAAC staged one of the most competitive races in league history with four teams having a shot at the regular season title heading into the weekend. When the dust settled, Siena and Rider shared the crown with the Saints receiving the top seed (and an NIT berth should they not win the NCAA bid) in this weekend’s conference tournament that takes place on their home floor. Along with the top two, Niagara and Loyola (MD) went into the final weekend with chances at the top spot, with Fairfield and Marist not far behind.

The bottom four teams in the standings will tip things off on Friday night, with Iona and Manhattan favorites to send Canisius and St. Peter’s home respectively. On display will be the nation’s top scorer (Charron Fisher of Niagara), one of the best big men in the country (Rider’s Jason Thompson) and a team in Siena who knocked off Stanford on this very court. Should be an exciting tournament, and it’s anybody’s guess who will end up winning it. Here’s a preview of the MAAC Tournament.

Conference computer numbers (courtesy of RPI: 17th, average non-conference SOS rank: 22nd, average non-conference RPI rank: 17th.

Projected number of NCAA bids: One.

Tournament Schedule (all games played at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY, all games prior to the final on MAAC TV/MSG)

First Round (Friday March 7th)
#8 Manhattan vs. #9 St. Peter’s (7:30 PM)
#7 Iona vs. #10 Canisius (10 PM)

Quarterfinals (Saturday March 8th)
Quarterfinal 1: #4 Loyola vs. #5 Fairfield (2:15 PM)
Quarterfinal 2: #1 Siena vs. Manhattan/St. Peter’s winner (4:30 PM)
Quarterfinal 3: #2 Rider vs. Iona/Canisius winner (7:30 PM)
Quarterfinal 4: #3 Niagara vs. #6 Marist (10 PM)

Semifinals (Sunday March 9th)
Quarterfinal 1 winner vs. Quarterfinal 2 winner (6 PM)
Quarterfinal 3 winner vs. Quarterfinal 4 winner (8 PM)

Final (Monday March 10th)
Semifinal winners (7 PM, ESPN2)

#8 Manhattan vs. #9 St. Peter’s

Category Manhattan St. Peter’s
Points per game Antoine Pearson (12.1) Wesley Jenkins (13.0)
Rebounds per game Rashad Green (5.0) Todd Sowell (10.6)
Assists per game Pearson (2.3) Nick Leon (2.72)
FG percentage Andrew Gabriel (50.0) Ryan Bacon (60.0)
3PT percentage Pearson (40.6) Jenkins (41.8)
Assist/Turnover ratio Darryl Crawford (1.2) Leon (0.91)

Regular season meetings: Manhattan 65, St. Peter’s 62 (December 7th at Manhattan) and St. Peter’s 78, Manhattan 68 (February 3rd at St. Peter’s).

Both teams enter this game looking to end losing streaks, Manhattan having dropped their last three games and St. Peter’s the last four. The fortunes of the Jaspers (11-18, 5-13) have hinged on one thing throughout: when they show a commitment to defense they’ve got a chance. But when they don’t, with the second half of their loss at Iona on Sunday being a prime example, they’re in trouble. Manhattan was last in the MAAC in both field goal percentage defense and three-point percentage defense, and ninth in rebound margin.

On the other end of the floor, sophomore guard Antoine Pearson runs the show. A third-team All-MAAC performer, Pearson led the team in scoring, assists and three-point percentage. Five Jaspers in all average at least eight points per game, with Devon Austin and Chris Smith being the others in double figures. A guard-heavy (guard Rashad Green leads the team in rebounding) rotation relies on serviceable interior play from the likes of Laurence Jolicoeur, Andrew Gabriel and Brandon Adams. The Jaspers can put some points on the board, but Barry Rohrssen’s team will have to defend better if they want to advance.

As for the Peacocks (6-23, 3-15), turnovers have led to their demise on many occasions this season. Nick Leon has stepped in at the point after SPC was essentially without on in 2006-07, but no Peacock has an assist-to-turnover ratio over 1.0. Freshman Wesley Jenkins, a member of the league’s All-Rookie Team, leads the team in scoring and three-point percentage. Senior big man Todd Sowell averages a double-double (12.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg), with Darrell Lampley being the other Peacock averaging double figures in scoring.

Senior guard Raul Orta adds some experience and leadership to the backcourt, and other contributors include Akeem Gooding, Ryan Bacon and Tim Spitler.
If the Jaspers can force St. Peter’s to make contested shots, they should advance to play Siena. But if they allow SPC to shoot 52% like they did in their February 3rd victory, they’ll be in trouble.

#7 Iona vs. #10 Canisius

Category Iona Canisius
Points per game 65.8 (9th) 61.7 (10th)
PPG allowed 69.2 (3rd) 73.6 (10th)
Field goal % 43.5 (4th) 39.6 (10th)
FG % defense 42.5 (3rd) 44.0 (7th)
3PT % 31.3 (10th) 33.7 (8th)
3PT % defense 36.4 (7th) 35.2 (6th)
Rebound margin + 0.6 (4th) - 2.2 (8th)
Turnover margin - 0.61 (5th) - 4.45 (10th)

Category Iona Canisius
Points per game Dexter Gray (11.2) Frank Turner (12.7)
Rebounds per game Gary Springer (7.7) Greg Logins (5.4)
Assists per game Kyle Camper (3.81) Turner (4.48)
FG percentage Devon Clarke (61.6) Tomas Vasquez-Simmons (56.0)
3PT percentage Clarke (42.9) Jovan Robinson (39.2)
Assist/Turnover ratio Camper (1.26) Turner (1.16)

Regular season meetings: Iona 66, Canisius 59 (February 8th at Iona) and Iona 57, Canisius 52 (February 18th at Canisius).

As the saying goes, it’s tough to beat a team three times in a single season, and the Gaels will attempt to do so in Friday’s nightcap. In ending a two-game skid with an 87-75 win over rival Manhattan on Sunday Iona (12-19, 8-10) eclipsed eighty points for the first time since an 87-81 win over New Hampshire on December 15th. This is an older group, but they spent the early part of the season getting reacquainted with each other (guys like Dexter Gray, Kyle Camper and Gary Springer missed large blocks of time last season) as well as new head coach Kevin Willard. Camper leads the team in assists, spearheading a deep backcourt that also features the likes of Milan Prodanovic, Rashon Dwight and De’Shaune Griffin. Freshman Andre Tarver, who has missed five games this season, may also see some time.

Up front is the trio of Gray, Springer and Clarke. All three lead the team in at least one major category, and expect senior John Kelly to see a few minutes every now and then as well. Averaging less than ten minutes per contest for the season, Kelly went for 14 and 7 on “Senior Day” against Manhattan. Iona won’t overwhelm you with their rebounding numbers, but they are more than capable of holding their own on the glass.

Very little has gone right for the Golden Griffins (5-24, 2-16) this season, but some growing pains were expected with the loss of three senior starters. Frank Turner has been the workhorse for Tom Parrotta’s squad, leading the team in both scoring and assists. Turner is a quick guard who also possesses good court awareness. After Turner, the scoring is evenly distributed amongst seven players averaging between 5.6 and 7.4 points per game. But the lack of a consistent secondary option is the reason why this team is last in the MAAC in scoring and field goal percentage. It also doesn’t help when you’ve got the worst turnover margin in the conference either.

Iona, on paper at least, should win this game. However, the two have played a couple of close games this season so it wouldn’t be a shock if the Golden Griffins hung around for a bit.

#4 Loyola (MD) vs. #5 Fairfield

Category Loyola (MD) Fairfield
Points per game 72.2 (4th) 66.0 (8th)
PPG allowed 71.4 (5th) 69.1 (2nd)
Field goal % 43.1 (6th) 43.4 (5th)
FG % defense 42.6 (4th) 45.1 (8th)
3PT % 34.9 (7th) 38.0 (4th)
3PT % defense 33.8 (3rd) 38.1 (t-8th)
Rebound margin + 1.6 (2nd) + 0.6 (5th)
Turnover margin - 1.84 (8th) - 1.24 (6th)

Category Loyola (MD) Fairfield
Points per game Gerald Brown (18.8) Jonathan Han (11.7)
Rebounds per game Michael Tuck (7.2) Anthony Johnson (7.3)
Assists per game Brian Rudolph (4.32) Han (6.14)
FG percentage Tuck (51.1) Johnson (50.7)
3PT percentage Marquis Sullivan (43.2) Han (44.9)
Assist/Turnover ratio Brett Harvey (2.95) Han (1.76)

Regular season meetings: Fairfield 69, Fairfield 67 (January 4th at Fairfield) and Loyola 67, Fairfield 63 (January 11th at Fairfield).

These two foes split their regular season, with the road team winning each both contests. Loyola’s (18-13, 12-6) got one of the best guards in the MAAC in senior Gerald Brown, once again an all-conference selection. But their fortunes may ultimately rest upon the shoulders of Marquis Sullivan. Moved to the bench halfway through the year in order to simplify his role, Sullivan has to be consistent in his role as the Greyhounds’ secondary option. Michael Tuck increased both his scoring and rebounding numbers this season, and he’s got some help inside from the likes of Omari Isreal and Hassan Fofana. Fofana has been bothered by injuries for most of the season, so he isn’t seeing as many minutes as last season.

In the backcourt, Brett Harvey and Brian Rudolph handle the point guard responsibilities for Jimmy Patsos’ club. Harvey led the MAAC in assist-to-turnover margin this season, while Rudolph led the Greyhounds in assists per game. The only issue regarding Loyola is the fact that they don’t force too many turnovers. The Greyhounds only force thirteen per game, eighth in the conference.

As for the Stags (14-15, 11-7), this team caught fire once Jonathan Han’s production picked up. The junior point guard from Brooklyn led the team in points, assists, three-point percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. After an embarrassing 88-60 loss at Canisius on February 1st, Fairfield won seven straight games before losing the finale at Rider. After Han, seven players average between 4.9 and 9.6 points per game. Sophomores Anthony Johnson and Greg Nero are both capable of scoring inside, with Nero moving to the bench to make way for fifth-year senior Marty O’Sullivan after O’Sullivan put together a solid stretch of games during the win streak.

Herbie Allen joins Han in the backcourt, and forwards Warren Edney and Mike Evanovich can provide some scoring punch as well. In Fairfield’s win at Loyola, Evanovich went for twenty points. Something tells me the Greyhounds won’t forget about him in their scouting report this time around, as he was left open behind the arc on a few occasions in the first half of that game. Senior Mamadou Diakhate is a role player who won’t see too many minutes but can provide some defense. Diakhate has battled injuries for most of the year, missing seventeen games.

This quarterfinal is essentially a toss-up, but I’ll take Loyola to move on to the semifinals.

#3 Niagara vs. #6 Marist

Category Niagara Marist
Points per game 77.0 (3rd) 70.0 (5th)
PPG allowed 73.3 (9th) 68.7 (1st)
Field goal % 40.7 (9th) 45.4 (2nd)
FG % defense 44.0 (6th) 41.8 (1st)
3PT % 31.5 (9th) 39.0 (2nd)
3PT % defense 33.6 (1st) 33.7 (2nd)
Rebound margin + 0.1 (6th) + 1.2 (3rd)
Turnover margin + 2.11 (2nd) - 1.73 (7th)

Category Niagara Marist
Points per game Charron Fisher (27.8) Louie McCroskey (12.2)
Rebounds per game Fisher (9.3) Spongy Benjamin (6.9)
Assists per game Anthony Nelson (5.18) David Devezin (4.43)
FG percentage Benson Egemonye (63.6) Benjamin (57.2)
3PT percentage Stanley Hodge (35.9) Ben Farmer (41.6)
Assist/Turnover margin Nelson (1.88) Devezin (2.15)

Regular season meetings: Niagara 76, Marist 67 (December 22nd at Niagara) and Marist 84, Niagara 65 (January 21st at Marist).

With the two teams splitting their two regular season meetings, it’s pretty easy to see what the difference was in the two games: Charron Fisher. The nation’s leading scorer, Fisher went for a seemingly routine 27 in their win in December. But in the return meeting, Fisher was 4-21 from the field for seventeen points as Marist won in a blowout. Fisher leads the Purple Eagles in rebounding as well, and he’ll get scoring help from the likes of sophomore Tyrone Lewis (last year’s tournament MVP), senior Stanley Hodge and Benson Egemonye. Freshman Anthony Nelson has taken over at the point, ranking among the league leaders in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.

Niagara (19-9, 12-6) is one of the league’s best when it comes to scoring point, due more to their uptempo style than their accuracy. Niagara is ninth in the conference in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage. And despite giving up more points per game than any school other than Canisius, the Purple Eagles are the MAAC’s best when it comes to defending the three. Opponents shoot 33.6% from behind the arc, something that could come in handy against the conference’s best three-point shooting team.

Marist (17-13, 11-7) has been without the services of Syracuse transfer for two significant stretches, the second of which occurred because of an ankle sprain. In his stead, freshman guard Jay Gavin stepped in to become the team’s primary scoring option. His production is supplemented by the play of forwards Spongy Benjamin and Ryan Stilphen, and point guard David Devezin is one of the league better floor generals in his first season in Poughkeepsie. Role players Ryan Schneider, Shae McNamara, Ben Farmer and Dejuan Goodwin also are counted on for either perimeter shooting (Schneider and Farmer) or interior defense (McNamara).

The Red Foxes, while being the best perimeter shooting team in the MAAC, is also the best defensive team. Their points per game allowed and field goal percentage defense numbers are both tops in the conference, with three-point percentage defense ranking second. Depending on how successful they are in slowing down Fisher, Marist can move on the semifinals. But if he goes off, Niagara moves on.

Byes: #1 Siena and #2 Rider

Category Siena Rider
Points per game 77.7 (2nd) 78.0 (1st)
PPG allowed 72.4 (7th) 70.5 (4th)
Field goal % 45.0 (3rd) 48.9 (1st)
FG % defense 45.3 (9th) 42.1 (2nd)
3PT % 39.0 (t-2nd) 40.0 (1st)
3PT % defense 34.6 (4th) 38.1 (t-8th)
Rebound margin - 4.6 (10th) + 3.7 (1st)
Turnover margin + 6.24 (1st) + 0.50 (4th)

Category Siena Rider
Points per game Edwin Ubiles (17.7) Jason Thompson (20.2)
Rebounds per game Alex Franklin (8.0) J. Thompson (11.8)
Assists per game Ronald Moore (5.17) Ryan Thompson (3.50)
FG percentage Franklin (56.8) Mike Ringgold (61.9)
3PT percentage Ubiles (45.8) Harris Mansell (44.7)
Assist/Turnover ratio Moore (2.46) R. Thompson (1.38)

Siena vs. Manhattan and St. Peter’s: 3-1 (lost 73-72 at Manhattan on February 18th)
Rider vs. Iona and Canisius: 4-0

The Saints (19-10, 13-5) will have the luxury of playing on their home court in the MAAC Tournament, but the last time they won the tournament at home was in 2002. With three players averaging double figures and two between eight and nine points per game, the Saints are more than capable of cutting down the nets. Sophomore Edwin Ubiles and junior Kenny Hasbrouck were both first-team all-conference selections this season, and Alex Franklin increased his points per game output by six this season in making up for the graduation of Michael Haddix. Ronald Moore and Tay Fisher anchor the backcourt, while Josh Duell, Ryan Rossiter and Corey Magee supply bench help inside. The Saints may not be the best rebounding team out there, but they take care of the basketball, a quality that can prove to be invaluable this time of the year.

Rider (21-9, 13-5) will be looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994, and this just may be the team to get the job done. In senior Jason Thompson, Tommy Dempsey has at his disposal a center that could very well be a first-round selection in this summer’s NBA Draft. Averaging a double-double for the second consecutive season, Thompson is also adept at getting the ball out to open teammates when the defense collapses to stop him.

Ryan Thompson has stepped up his production from last season, becoming one of the league’s most versatile players (he leads the team in assists) in the process. Harris Mansell can shoot it from deep, and freshman Mike Ringgold was named to the conference’s all-rookie team for his efforts inside. Justin Robinson handles the point guard duties, but Ryan tends to be the one who makes the majority of the plays in regards to ball distribution. The Broncs lead the MAAC in all three major offensive categories, and they’re also the best rebounding team in the league. That could be enough to get them back into the NCAA Tournament.

My pick to win the tournament: Rider.