Friday, March 5, 2010

MAAC Tournament Preview

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Siena came into the season as the heavy favorite to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and the Saints certainly didn’t disappoint. They rolled through the conference at 17-1, winning the title by four games over Fairfield and five games over Iona. Saint Peter’s was the only other team to finish above .500 in MAAC play. However, that doesn’t mean the conference tournament is a lock for Siena; there are plenty of talented teams in the MAAC that have come close to taking down the Saints this season.

Favorite: Clearly, Siena is the hunted heading into the conference tournament. The Saints won 12 of their league games by double-figures, and clinched the title weeks ago. They are disciplined on defense despite forcing turnovers and pushing tempo, and their offense is excellent inside the arc. They have plenty of guys who can penetrate and score around the basket, led by versatile wing Edwin Ubiles and the nation’s leading assist man, Ronald Moore. Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter are double-double threats down low, and Clarence Jackson can really fill it up.

Contenders: Fairfield is a young team that is contending for the league title a year earlier than expected. The Stags were inconsistent through most of the league season, but won their last four regular season games and lost to Siena twice by a combined 10 points. They have one of the conference’s better inside-outside duos in Freshman of the Year Derek Needham and dominant forward Anthony Johnson. Iona started 9-3 in the conference before losing three of its final six to drop to third place. The Gaels are an excellent defensive team that forces turnovers in a half-court setting and contests shots. They are a balanced offensive group, led by guard Scott Machado and forward Alejo Rodriguez. Kyle Smyth leads a long list of players who can shoot the three.

Sleeper: Although Niagara was a relative disappointment this season, the Purple Eagles finished the season by winning six of their last eight. Only two of their nine MAAC losses came by double-digits. Niagara is a high-scoring offensive team with plenty of weapons. Tyrone Lewis can really fill it up, while Bilal Benn is a match-up nightmare at forward. Rob Harrison and Anthony Nelson are two more option. Rider, led by Ryan Thompson, is another disappointment that could win a game or two.

Prediction: Siena rolled over the competition throughout the entire MAAC season, and get to host the conference tournament on its homecourt. Not surprisingly, the Saints are my pick to get to the NCAA Tournament. There is a multitude of teams that can make a run at Siena, but the Saints have the experience and balance to fend off any opponent and get the win. Their numerous offensive weapons and excellent defense will be too much for the rest of the MAAC. For a team that likely won’t get an at-large bid if it doesn’t win the MAAC Tournament, Siena needs to win the auto bid – and it will.

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