Friday, March 3, 2006

MAAC Tournament Preview

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The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference came down to the final day of the season, when Manhattan completed a sweep of Iona to win the league by one game over the Gaels. The Jaspers won their last three conference games to overtake Iona in the final game. Marist finished one game behind the Gaels, while two other teams finished at least .500 in the conference.

Favorite: This conference is likely to come down to the top two teams in the league, Manhattan and Iona. However, since the Jaspers beat the Gaels twice during the regular season, they have to be considered the favorite headed into the conference tournament. They are 9-1 against the MAAC teams with an above .500 record overall, with the lone loss coming at Marist. Moreover, they have been playing without star C.J. Anderson, who was ruled academically ineligibile midway through the season. In his place, a trio of players have stepped up and formed the best troika in the conference. Guards Jeff Xavier and Jason Wingate are both very solid scoring guards, while post man Arturo Dubois is one of the best big men in the MAAC.

Contenders: Iona was looking like a potential Cinderella team in the early season after starting 7-0 and almost beating Kentucky. However, they have not been as impressive since then and have four losses at home within the conference. Still, the Gaels are the highest-scoring team in the league and also have one of the best defenses. Steve Burtt and Ricky Soliver form one of the best backcourts in all of mid-major basketball, while Kiril Wachsmann is a very good rebounder and a solid scorer down in the paint. Marist had won 8 in a row earlier this season, but have since lost 3 of their last 7. They are the one of the best shooting teams in the conference and are also a very good defensive team. Jared Jordan leads the nation in assists, and is also a very good scorer and a solid defender. Will Whittington is a good perimeter scorer and shooter, while James Smith and Ryan Stilphen form a very good forward tandem.

Sleeper: I hate to go with the fourth place team as my sleeper, but this team has a legit shot at winning the conference tournament. Siena has defeated Iona on the road and has lost to Manhattan twice by a combined 8 points. Moreover, they have won their last five conference games. They are a primarily perimeter-oriented team and they don't play anyone taller than 6-7 for double-digit minutes. Antoine Jordan is an excellent guard who is one of the best rebounders for his size in the country. Kojo Mensah is another outstanding all-around guard, while Kenny Hasbrouck and Tay Fisher are also contributors in the lineup.

Prediction: Just like the regular season title, the conference championship is likely to come down to Manhattan and Iona. And just as in the regular season, Manhattan is going to defeat Iona and win the title. Both teams are very similar, in the fact that they each have a very good backcourt and a solid inside player to balance out the offense. Therefore, I think the difference is going to be the role players. Manhattan has better role players. Freshman Devon Austin could be the "x-factor". He had 12 points in the season finale, and has the potential to be a big-time scorer. Manhattan is going to pull of their third win over Iona, and get the MAAC's automatic bid.

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