Friday, March 2, 2007

MAAC Tournament Preview

Click here for a complete index of all the conference tournament previews.

The MAAC featured one of the most exciting championship races in the country. Marist and Siena faced off on the final day to decide who would get the regular season title, and the Red Foxes pulled it out in overtime. Siena dropped to the fourth seed. That gives you an idea of how close things were at the top—six teams finished above .500, and the top four teams were separated by only two games. It should be a great conference tournament.

Favorite: Marist came into the season as the favorite, and while they have struggled at some points, they didn’t disappoint, going 14-4 en route to a league title. They are the best shooting team in the conference, and they take care of the ball on the offensive end. However, their defense has not been overly impressive at times. They are led by one of the nation’s best point guards, Jared Jordan. He is a terrific all-around player and might have a future in the NBA. Will Whittington is an excellent three-point shooter, and James Smith and Ryan Stilphen form one of the better frontcourt duos in the MAAC.

Contenders: Niagara started off very slow in both the non-conference and MAAC portions of the season. They started 1-6 overall and only 4-4 in conference play. However, they have won 10 of their last 11 heading into the conference tournament. They lead the league in scoring offense, but are last in scoring defense. Five players average at least 11 points per game, including the forward duo of Charron Fisher and Clif Brown, who combine for about 38 points and 17 rebounds per game. Lorenzo Miles runs the show. Siena had won seven in a row before falling to Marist. They own arguably the best inside-outside combo in the MAAC in guard Kenny Hasbrouck and big man Michael Haddix. Edwin Ubiles is another double-figure scorer. Loyola (Md.) started off 9-2 in MAAC play before dropping four of their final seven league games. Former Providence transfer Gerald Brown is one of the best scorers in the country, and can carry the Greyhounds to a bid. Marquis Sullivan joins him in the backcourt.

Sleeper: Don’t forget Fairfield. Coming into the tournament as the #6 seed, the Stags had won seven in a row before dropping three of their last five league games. They are a balanced team, led by guard Michael Van Schaick, a good all-around player. Greg Nero and Anthony Johnson are an underrated forward duo, and Jonathan Han is one of the best distributors in the conference. Moreover, the tournament is in their backyard in Bridgeport, CT. Rider and forward Jason Thompson, a 20-10 lock every night, could also pull an upset or two.

Prediction: With so many teams close together at the top of the conference and the tournament taking place on a neutral court, expect one of the best and most wide-open tourneys in the country. Each of the contenders has something going for them: Marist has the best backcourt; Niagara has the most balance and scoring; Siena has shown they can beat anyone; and Loyola (Md.) has Gerald Brown. I think that Niagara will get to the finals on one side, and on the other, I feel that the #1-#4 battle between Marist and Siena will be a classic. However, guards win in March, and I love the Red Foxes’ backcourt of Jared Jordan and Will Whittington. Niagara’s inability to defend will ultimately cost them in the title game.

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