Monday, March 4, 2013

MAACachusetts: An In-Depth Preview

Springfield's MassMutual Center hosts MAAC basketball championships for second straight season.  (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College)

It is one of the nation's best mid-major leagues, and for the second straight year, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference comes to the home of the James A. Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to crown its men's and women's champions for the 2012-13 season in an event billed around the conference as "MAACachusetts."

Last year, Loyola and Marist emerged from the Bay State victorious, and both have realistic chances of defending their titles.  Ten teams, nine games, one winner on each side.  Before we offer a full analysis of the men's field and opening rounds, here's a look at the women's bracket and our picks on that side of the draw:

Preliminary Round: Thursday, March 7th (all times Eastern)
#7 Canisius (11-18, 8-10) vs. #10 Saint Peter's, (2-27, 2-16) 12pm: The Pick: Canisius
#8 Loyola (12-17, 7-11) vs. #9 Manhattan, (7-22, 4-14) 2pm: The Pick: Loyola

Quarterfinals: Friday, March 8th
#2 Iona (18-11, 13-5) vs. Canisius/Saint Peter's winner, 9:30 am: The Pick: Iona over Canisius
#3 Fairfield (17-12, 11-7) vs. #6 Siena, (12-17, 8-10) 11:30 am: The Pick: Siena
#1 Marist (23-6, 18-0) vs. Loyola/Manhattan winner, 1:30 pm: The Pick: Marist
#4 Rider (15-14, 10-8) vs. #5 Niagara, (14-15, 9-9) 3:30 pm: The Pick: Niagara

Semifinals: Saturday, March 9th (coverage on ESPN3)
Iona-Canisius/Saint Peter's winner vs. Fairfield/Siena winner, 9:30 am: The Pick: Iona over Siena
Marist-Loyola/Manhattan winner vs. Rider/Niagara winner, 11:30 am: The Pick: Marist over Niagara

Championship: Monday, March 11th (coverage on ESPNU at 12pm)
The Pick: Marist over Iona

And now for the men...
Preliminary Round: Friday, March 8th
#8 Marist (10-20, 6-12) vs. #9 Siena, (7-23, 4-14) 7:30 pm: The Red Foxes come into the tournament on a roll, winning five of their last seven and capping off that stretch with a convincing 73-60 victory over Fairfield yesterday.  Center Adam Kemp has had five of his ten double-doubles in that span, and the 6-10 junior is quickly becoming one of the best big men in the conference.  Guards Devin Price and Isaiah Morton have the unique blend of being able to score and pass in equal parts for head coach Chuck Martin, who now has a healthy Jay Bowie to team with Chavaughn Lewis on the wing.  For Mitch Buonaguro and the Saints, the game plan starts and ends with double-double machine O.D. Anosike, whose senior season tailed off a bit from his numbers over the past two years.  The Staten Islander is aided immensely by Siena's backcourt, led by Evan Hymes and Rakeem Brookins.  Rob Poole also gives the Saints an extra scoring punch, but even though the two teams split their regular season series, it appears that Marist has just a little more in the tank as they look for their first MAAC Tournament win against Siena in what will be their sixth attempt.  The Pick: Marist

#7 Fairfield (17-14, 9-9) vs. #10 Saint Peter's, (9-20, 3-15) 9:30 pm: The Stags come to Springfield on a three-game losing streak, first dropping their BracketBuster game to Albany before an anemic 31-point effort against Manhattan Friday night and yesterday's loss to Marist.  When talking with Fairfield play-by-play announcer Bob Heussler after the Marist game, he admitted that the Stags were not playing their best basketball, and expressed concern with how to handle John Dunne and the Peacocks.  Sydney Johnson will have his hands full trying to stop the outside shooting of Desi Washington and playmaking ability of Yvon Raymond and Chris Burke, not to mention the post presence of Darius Conley, but Fairfield; who has been a boom-or-bust team since their win over Iona, has the personnel to get the job done.  The keys to this game will be how soon Derek Needham makes his presence known out of the backcourt, (the senior guard only had one field goal against Marist, and it came with 1:19 left in regulation after the final outcome was already decided) and whether or not freshman forward Amadou Sidibe can stay out of foul trouble.  If the Stags can capitalize on both, the matchup will be theirs for the taking.  Saint Peter's will make them earn it though, but ultimately this one will go to Fairfield.  The Pick: Fairfield

Quarterfinals: Saturday, March 9th (coverage on ESPN3)
#1 Niagara (18-12, 13-5) vs. Marist/Siena winner, 2:30 pm: Joe Mihalich has taken a young Purple Eagles squad expected to make a jump to the middle of the pack and overachieved with them, earning a regular season title and two first team all-conference selections in guards Antoine Mason and Juan'ya Green, the latter of whom is one of the two favorites to be named MAAC Player of the Year.  Freshman T.J. Cline has also landed a spot on the All-Rookie team this season as Mihalich gets frontcourt contributions as well from Ameen Tanksley and La Salle transfer Devon White despite being guard-oriented.  If Marist advances out of their play-in game as expected, the Red Foxes will have the clear size advantage up front with Adam Kemp, who should exploit Niagara early and often.  If it comes down to making three-pointers, the Purple Eagles might have a slight edge, but Marist has stayed with Niagara in each of their two regular season matchups in what is the deepest MAAC in recent years.  With that said, we'll call the upset and take Marist to advance, as the Red Foxes are far from your typical No. 8 seed.  The Pick: Marist

#4 Iona (17-13, 11-7) vs. #5 Canisius, (18-12, 11-7) 4:30 pm: Tim Cluess and the Gaels have finally righted the ship after losing six of seven with each loss coming by three points or less, getting big wins over Loyola and Siena this past weekend to avoid the play-in round.  Iona is also the only MAAC team to feature one player on each of the conference's honors, with third-teamer and Rookie of the Year candidate David Laury joining second-team honoree Sean Armand and first-team selection Momo Jones, who is second in the nation in scoring as he looks to give the Gaels a repeat in the Player of the Year voting, following Scott Machado, who won the award last year.  Iona has finally picked up the fourth and fifth scorers Cluess so desperately craved all season in the form of Tre Bowman and Taaj Ridley, with Tavon Sledge contributing when needed.  A total team effort will be needed to take down the Golden Griffins, who are led by Billy Baron, having a career season playing for his father, former Rhode Island coach Jim.  Third-team all-MAAC selection Harold Washington joins Baron in the backcourt, and the two of them will combat Jones and Armand while Chris Manhertz challenges Laury inside.  This could be one of the more intriguing and exciting games all weekend, with the slight edge going to Iona in what will be an affair where the first team to 90, or even 100, wins.  The Pick: Iona

#2 Rider (18-13, 12-6) vs. Fairfield/Saint Peter's winner, 7:30 pm: The Broncs came on late under first-year coach Kevin Baggett and managed to steal the No. 2 seed with a sweep of Niagara and Canisius in Buffalo, no easy task for anyone in the MAAC.  Jonathon Thompson (Jason's brother) and Anthony Myles give the southern New Jersey school their token double-figure scorers, and double-double threat Daniel Stewart should have his way with no matter who Rider faces, even a Fairfield team that we picked in this spot, one that swept them in the regular season.  The Stags' backcourt of Derek Needham and Colin Nickerson will see increased opportunities only because Rider has an extreme liability at the point in the form of former St. John's transfer Nurideen Lindsey, who has actually regressed since leaving the Red Storm high and dry in the middle of last season.  Josip Mikulic can also influence the game for Fairfield before the seven-footer gets into his standard foul trouble, but we're just not sold on Rider getting it done here.  The Pick: Fairfield

#3 Loyola (21-10, 12-6) vs. #6 Manhattan, (12-17, 9-9) 9:30 pm: Aside from Iona and Canisius, this will be the most exciting matchup of the weekend, pitting bruising big man Rhamel Brown against the Greyhounds and first-team all-MAAC selection Erik Etherly for the second time in seven days.  The Jaspers also have a steady hand at the point in Michael Alvarado to match Loyola's Dylon Cormier, and a shootout is to be expected with three-point specialist Robert Olson going up against Manhattan freshman Shane Richards.  Although Loyola no longer has the muscle inside that Brown will use to his advantage for Manhattan, but the Greyhound bench is much deeper than Manhattan's, and that will prove to be the deciding factor in a matchup where the interactions between head coaches Jimmy Patsos and Steve Masiello will be fun to watch and chronicle live.  The Pick: Loyola

Semifinals: Sunday, March 10th (coverage on ESPN3)
Niagara-Marist/Siena winner vs. Iona/Canisius winner, 2pm: The Pick: Iona over Marist
Rider-Fairfield/Saint Peter's winner vs. Loyola/Manhattan winner, 4:30 pm: The Pick: Loyola over Fairfield

Championship: Monday, March 11th (coverage on ESPN2 at 9pm)
The Pick: Loyola over Iona

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