By Kevin Sweeney
The MAAC Tournament is rapidly approaching, with first round action beginning on Thursday. I’ll be at the Times Union Center all tournament providing updates and analysis of all the games. Let’s take a look at the key for each team to earn the MAAC’s auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament.
- Monmouth: Strong play from the supporting cast
- The Hawks have Justin Robinson, the leading candidate for MAAC Player of the Year, but have struggled to replicate the production of forward Deon Jones, who is out with a hand injury. In order for Monmouth to beat the likes of Iona or Siena, they will need more production from their role players to replace Jones’s production. Players like Austin Tilghman, Pierre Sarr, Collin Stewart, and Je’lon Hornbeak have to step up for the Hawks if they want to reach the Big Dance.
- Iona: Hold opponents under 70 points
- While Iona is usually seen as a team who wants to play in shootout-style games, the numbers say that defense is the key to Iona’s success. The Gaels are 11-0 in games in which they allow under 70 points, but are just 8-10 in other games this season. Iona’s athleticism and length allows them to bother opponents with full-court press or zone looks. However, the Gaels struggle to defend in the paint, as center Jordan Washington is one of the most foul-prone players in college basketball. Defense will decide the Gaels’s fate in Albany.
- Siena: Feed off of the home crowd
- The Saints have the tremendous advantage of playing the conference tournament at their home venue, the Times Union Center. On the season, the Saints are 12-2 at home, with their only losses coming in tight battles with Iona and Monmouth. With Saints fans well-regarded as some of the best fans in the MAAC, expect huge crowds for all of the Siena games this weekend. Having the support of 8-10,000 fans would be a huge boost in difficult games.
- Saint Peter’s: Grind it out
- Saint Peter’s doesn’t play the most exciting brand of basketball. They aim to slow the game down, play good defense, and score enough points to win. They allow the least amount of points and the least amount of possessions per game in the MAAC. They feature two of the best defenders in the league in Chazz Patterson and Quadir Welton. Patterson’s length allows him to guard the best players in the league, including AJ English and Shane Richards.
- Fairfield: Pick up the pace
- One of the things that makes the quarter-final matchup between Saint Peter’s Fairfield is that the teams are basically polar opposites. Fairfield loves to run up and down the floor, shoot 3’s and get easy buckets. They rank top-25 in tempo in all of college basketball. With Marcus Gilbert, Tyler Nelson, and Curtis Cobb leading the way, the Stags have enough firepower to beat any team in the league on any given night.
- Manhattan: Force turnovers
- For the Jaspers to win a third consecutive MAAC Championship, they will need to force a lot of turnovers. Coach Steve Masiello, a Rick Pitino disciple, has an excellent reputation for his full-court pressure defense. This year, the Jaspers have forced more turnovers per game than any other MAAC team. This boom-or-bust style could lead them to glory. The only issue is that the style that the Jaspers play is very taxing physically. Without much depth, I can only wonder if Manhattan has enough stamina to win 4 games in 5 days.
- Canisius: Get hot from downtown
- Even though they are just the 7th seed, the Golden Griffins are one of the most dangerous teams in the league. They are capable of fireworks every time out, with explosive players like Malcolm McMillan and Kassius Robertson in the backcourt and match-up nightmares like Phil Valenti and Jermaine Crumpton in the frontcourt. If they get hot at the right time, the Griffins could shock the league this weekend.
- Rider: Ride Okereafor and Thomas
- For the Broncs to pull off a stunning performance this weekend, they will need their 2 leaders to have strong tournaments. Okereafor, the 5th-year senior from England, is putting together another good season, leading the team in scoring and assists. Thomas, a 6’7″ forward, has been coming on strong lately. He leads the MAAC in field goal percentage and is third in rebounding. If the veteran duo can be big for the Broncs, they have a chance to make some noise in the conference tournament.
- Quinnipiac: Dominate the paint
- The Bobcats will need to impose their will inside in order to pull some upsets this weekend. With strong players down low such as Chaise Daniels, Donovan Smith, and Abdulai Bundu, Quinnipiac has the size down low to bother some of the upper-echelon teams in the league. However, they will also need to get support from their guards if they are going to make some noise in the tournament.
- Niagara: Someone other than Scott and Blackman must step up
- We all know the scoring capabilities of guards Matt Scott and Emile Blackman, but for the Purple Eagles to have a sustained run in the tournament, they will need support from the other contributors. If a player like freshman Marvin Prochet, who has shown signs of greatness this season, can have a great weekend, Niagara has a chance to knock off some good teams this weekend.
- Marist: Play like there is nothing to lose
- If Marist had any sort of success this weekend, it would be one of the great stories of the weekend. There are no expectations for the Red Foxes. That being said, Marist has nothing to lose. They have the freedom to play loose and just have fun. Sometimes removing the pressure to succeed can make a team play better than they have all year. With players like Khallid Hart and Brian Parker manning the backcourt, the Red Foxes have enough talent to make some noise.