MAAC Championship Preview

    
March 1st, 2007
In a season that saw teams picked to finish in the middle of the MAAC when the season began compete for the regular season title, it all comes to a climax in Bridgeport, CT this weekend. Marist, preseason pick to win the conference, held up their end of the bargain in winning the conference’s regular season title, their first ever outright MAAC crown. Led by the dynamic backcourt of seniors Jared Jordan and Will Whittington, the Red Foxes went 14-4 in conference play, finishing a game ahead of streaking Niagara. The versatile Charron Fisher, a junior who averaged twenty-one and eight for the Purple Eagles this season, has led the way on the offensive end for a team that has five players averaging double figures in scoring. And like Marist, Niagara arrives in Bridgeport on an eight-game winning streak. These two teams will have to wait until the end of the first round games on Friday night to know who they will face on Saturday.

 

Loyola (MD) and Siena tied for third in the MAAC, but the Greyhounds get the tiebreaker due to their season sweep of the Saints. Loyola is led by All-MAAC performer Gerald Brown and third team member Marquis Sullivan, one of the better backcourts in the MAAC. Siena comes into the tournament as one of the league’s younger teams, something that should definitely bode well for the future (they will most likely be the favorite to win the league next season). Senior forward Michael Haddix has been a mainstay for Fran McCaffrey’s squad throughout the season, as has sophomore guard Kenny Hasbrouck. And in freshmen Manny Ubiles, Kenny Moore and Alex Franklin, the Saints have a talented trio of youngsters who can play with anyone.

 

Just below these two are Manhattan, host Fairfield and Rider, three teams that certainly have the talent needed to make a run to the tournament title. Manhattan took a little while to adjust to first year head coach Barry Rohrssen, but the Jaspers caught fire in January and hung around the top of the league standings for a while. Like Siena, this is a young team (Guy Ngarndi is the only contributing senior that the Jaspers will lose this year) that should compete for the conference title next season. Fairfield went through a brutal stretch to begin the season, stumbling out of the gates with a 3-15 record. Then they got hot, closing out the season with a record of 10-3, including wins over Niagara and two over their first round opponent Loyola. Unlike Manhattan and Fairfield, Rider hasn’t done as well down the stretch, going 3-5 in their last eight games. But in Jason Thompson the Broncs have one of the more versatile players in the league, so long as he avoids foul trouble.

 

At the bottom of the league are three teams that have limped down the stretch in Canisius, St. Peter’s and Iona. The Golden Griffins, who had a five-game win streak at one point in the season (including a win over Marist), have lost their last eight games. Their opening round opponent, St. Peter’s, went on a seventeen game losing skid before finishing out the regular season 2-2 in their last four. And Iona, the last team in Division I college basketball to win a game this season, has battled injuries all season long, forcing Jeff Ruland to rely on freshmen more than he may have wanted to when the season began. A positive for the Gaels has to be that their only conference win came at the expense of Rider, their first round opponent.

 

Format: Two opening round games on Friday will decide which teams play the top two seeds, Marist and Niagara, in Saturday’s quarterfinals. All games will be played at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, CT.

 

Dates: March 2nd-5th (all games available on ESPN Full Court, final on ESPN 2, all times EST)

 

Opening Round: Game 1: #8 Canisius vs. #9 St. Peter’s (7:30 PM)

Game 2: #7 Rider vs. #10 Iona (10 PM)

 

Quarterfinals: Game 3: #4 Siena vs. #5 Manhattan (2 PM)

Game 4: #1 Marist vs. winner Game 1 (4 PM)

Game 5: #2 Niagara vs. winner Game 2 (7:30 PM)

Game 6: #3 Loyola (MD) vs. #6 Fairfield (10 PM)

 

Semifinals: Game 7: winner Game 3 vs. winner Game 4 (6 PM)

Game 8: winner Game 5 vs. winner Game 6 (8 PM)

 

Final: Game 9: winner Game 7 vs. winner Game 8 (9 PM, ESPN2)

 

Canisius vs. St. Peter’s

Canisius won both game between the two teams, by three at home and a twenty-one point blowout in Jersey City. Of course, the Peacocks were mired in a seventeen-game losing skid at the time, and they’ve found a way to take better care of the basketball of late. It’s tough to win games when you’re averaging over sixteen turnovers a game, something that during the season has found a way to negate the fact that SPC has four players averaging at least ten points per game. Juniors Raul Orta and Todd Sowell, along with sophomores Kevin Spann and Akeem Gooding, have led the way in year one of the John Dunne era. Expect better things from this group next season, as they also had to adjust to life without Keydren Clark this year.

 

The Golden Griffins are led by a trio of seniors, guards Chuck Harris and Corey Herring and forward Darnell Wilson. But the man to watch is a freshman; 5’10” guard Frank Turner, a point guard that has a good assist to turnover ratio (1.45:1) and can find his own shot as well as get his teammates involved. Like the Peacocks, the Griffs have a first year head coach, former Hofstra assistant Tom Parrotta. Just like the Hofstra teams he helped recruit and mold; this outfit likes to use their guards to attack on the offensive end.

 

The winner of this one gets Marist on Saturday, and Canisius was able to knock off the conference champions at home earlier this season. St. Peter’s was swept in the season series by the Red Foxes.

 

Rider vs. Iona

The Broncs have plenty of talent on their roster, led by junior forward and first-team All-MAAC performer Jason Thompson. But they have been maddeningly inconsistent throughout the season. But when you realize that the team only has one senior on its roster (guard Terrence Mouton), you begin to realize just why it’s been difficult for this group to maintain any kind of positive momentum. Thompson is the one player that the Broncs can ill afford to have in foul trouble, but they face a team in Iona that is limited when it comes to depth. Yet this didn’t prevent the Gaels from getting their first win of the season over the Broncs back on February 3rd in New Rochelle. The Broncs do a good job of valuing the basketball, averaging more assists than turnovers per game on the season. With Iona averaging almost eighteen turnovers per game, this could be the difference in this one.

 

The Gaels have two seniors available, forwards Anthony Bruin and Justin Marshall. Dexter Gray, a transfer from St. John’s, was supposed to contribute but he ran into academic issues four games into his season. Junior guard Kyle Camper was supposed to take over the point, but he suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. And Gary Springer was lost before the season even began due to a knee injury. All this has resulted in freshmen and sophomores getting the majority of the minutes this year, something that should bode well for the future. But it didn’t help the Gaels much this year.

 

The winner will take on second seed Niagara on Saturday, and the Purple Eagles swept both teams in the regular season.

 

Siena vs. Manhattan

Within 48 hours, the Siena Saints went from competing for the MAAC title to the four seed, thanks to their loss to Marist and the head-to-head tiebreaker with Loyola. Besides Michael Haddix and David Ryan, this is a young group that you have to believe is capable of special things in the near future. But to look ahead to next season with this group would be to ignore the fact that there is enough talent on this roster to snatch the league’s automatic bid this year. Kenny Hasbrouck, a second team All-MAAC selection, can kill opponents by either slashing to the basket or hitting the three point shot. Manny Ubiles, only a freshman, is one of the MAAC’s best athletes, and classmate Kenny Moore can also provide a spark. They’ve fallen short in two classics with Marist, so you have to think that they’d like nothing more than to see their rival in the semifinals.

 

Manhattan is also a young team that will compete for the conference title in 2007-08. Arturo Dubois has been the Jaspers’ rock in the paint while the trio of Devon Austin, Darryl Crawford and Antoine Pearson has scored from the perimeter. Unfortunately for the Jaspers, however, they’ve had trouble at times putting the ball in the basket. And given the Saints ability to but the ball in the bucket, any prolonged droughts could spell trouble for Manhattan. Enjoy this game, because if the two teams meet in next season’s MAAC Tournament a lot more could be on the line.

 

Loyola (MD) vs. Fairfield

Two of the league’s best scoring guards get together in this one, Loyola’s Gerald Brown and Fairfield’s Michael Van Schaick. Brown, who led the league in scoring with twenty-two points per game, has only scored thirteen and twelve in his two games against the Stags this season, both wins for Fairfield. Can they slow him down for a third time this season? That remains to be seen, but Brown will need help from his teammates, most notably Marquis Sullivan. In those two games, the third-team All-MAAC selection averaged eleven points per game. And in an offense that relies so much on its primary scoring option, someone else has to step up. But we’ve seen it before in conference tournaments where one guy puts a team on his back and carries them through the weekend. So don’t be shocked if Brown gets it done for the Greyhounds.

 

Michael Van Schaick is the Stags’ only player averaging double figures in scoring, but he’s got two freshman forwards in Greg Nero and Anthony Johnson who have picked up the slack this season. In the two wins over Loyola, Johnson has been the better performer of the two, averaging 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. With Van Schaick putting up nineteen per in those two wins, it’s easy to see why Fairfield won both of those games. Whichever team gets more from their supplementary players will move on to the semifinals.

 

Marist and Niagara (both have byes)

The top two teams in the MAAC have to wait until the first round games on Friday night to figure out who they’re going to play on Saturday. This can be seen as either a gift (your opponent gets tired while you watch) or a curse (you come out of the gates rusty and get upset). Marist is led by one of the better guard tandems in the nation in Jared Jordan and Will Whittington, but how well they do this weekend may depend on forward Ryan Stilphen and center James Smith. In the season finale last Saturday, Smith went for 24 and 12 in the Red Foxes’ overtime win over Siena. Rebounding has been an issue at times for Marist, especially when their outside shots aren’t falling. But given the offensive firepower on this team, look for the Red Foxes to have little trouble putting the ball in the basket. Against teams on their side of the bracket, Marist has lost at Canisius and at Manhattan.

 

Niagara has one of the more balanced attacks in the MAAC, with five players averaging at least eleven points per game. In addition to the aforementioned Fisher, head coach Joe Mihalich can look to forwards Cilf Brown and J.R. Duffey for contributions, along with guards Lorenzo Miles and Tyrone Lewis. This versatility is what makes the Purple Eagles so difficult to defend, and this could lead to a decent run in this tournament for Niagara. Against teams on their side of the bracket, the Purple Eagles have lost road games to both Fairfield and Loyola this season.

 

My pick to win the MAAC: Marist.