MAAC Basketball 2011 Tournament: 3 Weeks to Go

Update III: See my post on the semifinal round of the MAAC basketball tournament.

Update II: See my post on the quarterfinal round of the MAAC basketball tournament.

Update: See my new post on the opening round of MAAC basketball tournament, as the tourney has now begun.

The MAAC men’s basketball regular season is hitting the home stretch and the conference tournament, held this year at the Arena at Harbor Yard, Fairfield’s home court in Bridgeport, Conn., is just three weeks away.

Each of the 10 MAAC teams has five remaining regular season conference games, starting with tonight’s action. In order to get a feel for where each contending team stands as the Tournament approaches, I got in touch with beat writers for six schools.* I asked them where they projected their team to finish in the standings, what their team needs to do in order to win the Tournament, and what factors could prevent them from making a deep run.

*I covered Iona, and I chose to omit Marist (3-10), Manhattan (2-11), and Niagara (2-11), as they will most likely be in the play-in round (as the 7-10 seeds) and won’t be making a serious Tournament run.

1. Fairfield Stags (11-2 in MAAC, 18-5 overall)
Remaining games: at Manhattan, at St. Peter’s, Marist, Siena, at Iona

On remaining games: I do not think the Stags will be caught in the regular season. Despite the recent loss to Rider, a two-game lead with five to play is a nice luxury and I can’t see the coaching staff letting the players lose any focus at this point in the season.

Why Fairfield can win: Fairfield needs to stick to its identity and it has a great shot at winning the tournament. Strong team defense and a well-balanced scoring attack are the traits that have put the Stags in first place. Having the tournament played on our home court is obviously a major advantage as well.

Why Fairfield could falter: Every team is capable of mental lapses and bad shooting nights. It’s kind of scary to think that a great, consistent season atop the conference can end in one bad night, but that’s the way it is in the MAAC.

–Tom Fitzpatrick, staff writer, The Fairfield Mirror

2. St. Peter’s Peacocks (9-4, 14-10)
Remaining games: at Marist, Fairfield, at Siena, Iona, at Rider

On remaining games: It will be tough for St. Peter’s to remain in second place. With five games remaining, only the Marist game is somewhat comfortable and that is on the road. The remaining four games are toss-ups. Both Fairfield and Iona will be very tough—I’ll go with a split. Siena and Rider on the road will also be tough; probably another split. So I would think 3-2 in the five remaining games.

Why St. Peter’s can win: St. Peter’s has played its best when players like Ryan Bacon, Jeron Belin, or Steven Samuels have stepped up. I don’t think Wesley Jenkins alone is enough for St. Peter’s to be in top form. Jenkins can win a game for them but St. Pete’s has played its best when they get contributions from multiple players and Bacon is the most important once you get past Jenkins.

Wesley Jenkins and Ryan Bacon, two keys for the Peacocks, go to work against the Gaels.

Why St. Peter’s could falter: St. Peter’s can win the MAAC but I believe its chances are less than 50/50. How they play their remaining five games will be a tell-tale sign. If they go 4-1 or better, that would be a serious indicator that they can contend. Anything less than 3-2 would be a sign that they could make a quick exit from the tournament.

–JC Hoops, contributor, The Jersey Journal

3. Rider Broncs (9-4, 17-8)
Remaining games: Canisius, Niagara, at Loyola, at Marist, St. Peter’s

On remaining games: I think Rider will finish second in the standings. This team is playing really well right now and if it takes care of business against Canisius and Niagara this weekend I like it to push on and finish in that second spot.

Why Rider can win: To win the MAAC tourney Rider will have to continue to shoot the ball well from three-point territory. The Broncs lead the conference in three-point shooting percentage and rank 11th in the country in that same category. If they get hot, look out. They just dropped 97 on a stingy Fairfield team. The key player is always going to be senior point guard Justin Robinson. The offens runs through him and he has a knack for taking over games in the second half. Another player to watch is Novar Gadson. At 6’7, 230, he has a Big East body and when decides to drive to the basket there aren’t many players in the MAAC who can stop him.

Why Rider could falter: Free. Throw. Shooting. Rider only shoots it at 63.4 percent from the line and outside of Robinson only two players—Brandon Penn and Jon Thompson—shoot at least 70 percent. Mike Ringgold shoots just 43.9 percent and opponents use the “hack-a-Shaq” technique against him because he struggles so much. If something comes back to haunt them it will be a 9-for-20 performance from the free throw line.

More: Rider team is very good on the road. Like I said above, 11-4 in road/neutral games, and I know Tommy Dempsey likes taking this team on the road because he thinks it focuses better.

–Kyle Franko, contributor, The Trentonian

4. Loyola (MD) Greyhounds (8-5, 12-11)
Remaining games: Niagara, Canisius, Rider, at Niagara, at Canisius

On remaining games: Since early January, the Hounds have gone on a 7-3 run in the MAAC. Their play has been boosted by great bench scoring led by the pair of J’hared Hall and Justin Drummond. The trio of Drummond, Hall and Robert Olson gives Loyola three of the best and highest-percentage outside shooters in the MAAC. When the three of them are able to hit their shots, Loyola is tough to beat. Second place seems realistic for the Hounds as they stand a game back of second and hold the valuable season split with first place Fairfield.

Why Loyola can win: The Hounds are more than capable of winning the MAAC Tournament and they have proven that with wins over Saint Peter’s, Fairfield, Iona and Siena. When things are going well, this is one of the most dangerous and balanced rosters in the MAAC. If Loyola’s shooters can continue to take on a good bulk of the Hounds’ scoring, they have the ability to play with anyone.

Why Loyola could falter: Loyola sometimes struggles against a strong 2-3 zone defense and that was evident when Siena visited. The Siena defense gave Loyola fits as the Hounds were unable to hit the shots that Siena was giving them. They seemed to get frustrated and pass the ball around the perimeter as they struggled with scoring. Their offense sometimes seems to get into funks like this when playing against a tough zone.

–Rich Conforti, sports editor, The Greyhound

5. Iona Gaels (8-5, 14-10)
Remaining games: Siena, at Marist, at Manhattan, at St. Peter’s, Fairfield

On remaining games: Iona will likely be favored in four of its remaining five games. I think 4-1 is an optimistic estimate, with 3-2 perhaps being more likely. Either way, I think the Gaels will wind up in the 4/5 game in the Tournament, a rubber match against Loyola, with the winner likely to face Fairfield in the semifinals.

Mike Glover will be the Player of the Year in the MAAC, but he’d much rather be the MAAC Tourney MVP. (Credit: Warren Rosenberg/ICGaels.com)

Why Iona can win: Iona has the best player in the conference in forward Mike Glover. After taking the league by storm, Glover converted just 11-of-33 attempts and averaged a pedestrian 8.3 points over a four-game stretch in January. Teams used multiple defenders to frustrate Glover and prevent his easy conversions off feeds from point guard Scott Machado. But in Iona’s last game, Glover was back to his old ways, scoring 20 on 8-of-12 shooting, including several dunks. The Machado-to-Glover combination was clicking, and that is a key for the Gaels. Also, deep threats Kyle Smyth, Jermel Jenkins, and Sean Armand can stretch defenses and take some pressure off Glover.

Why Iona could falter: Iona’s 10 losses have been by an average of 4.1 points. That margin is even smaller for MAAC games. Often times a defensive lapse or a turnover in the final moments has been the difference in a one-possession game. Late-game execution will be critical if Iona plans to win the Tournament.

6. Siena Saints (7-6, 10-13)
Remaining games: at Iona, at Manhattan, St. Peter’s, at Fairfield, Marist

On remaining games: Siena has to maintain its spot in the top six of the standings if they want any chance of winning the tournament. Two weeks ago, I would have said no doubt. But Canisius has turned things on, so it will definitely be a race to stay out of the play-in round. If the Saints can go 3-2 over their last five games, they should be able to stay out of that round.

Why Siena can win: I think Siena is more than capable of winning the tournament. Remember, no other MAAC player has won a league championship game and every player on the Siena roster is undefeated in MAAC tournament games. The easiest way for the Saints to win a fourth straight MAAC title is to have Clarence Jackson back and healthy. That’s probably the biggest key. Other than that, everyone will have to step up.

Why Siena could falter: It will be a lack of consistency. Siena has been inconsistent all season. Their longest winning streak and losing streak is each three games. They haven’t been able to get the momentum going all year. You have to win three games to win the MAAC Tournament and the Saints haven’t shown the ability to be at their best for three straight games.

–Andrew Santillo, staff writer, The Troy Record

7. Canisius Golden Griffins (6-7, 12-11)
Remaining games: at Rider, Loyola, at Niagara, Manhattan, Loyola

On remaining games: Right now, they could finish in maybe fifth or sixth place and avoid that 7-10 game in the MAAC Tournament.

Canisius is the only team in the MAAC that has five players averaging at least 10 points per game.

Why Canisius can win: Considering they have five seniors [four of which are starters], they are capable of making a run in the MAAC simply because there isn’t a dominant team in the league. Fairfield is pulling away, but they aren’t as good as they were last season. It’s going to be challenging, but Fairfield can be beaten on its home floor in the Tournament.

Why Canisius could falter: Canisius has to rebound better and make shots—it’s really that simple. They are one of the more athletic teams in the league but sometimes they don’t block out in key situations, which leads to putbacks by the opposition. They are a better overall team than last year when they had Frank Turner but a go-to scorer hasn’t been established.

–Rodney McKissic, staff writer, The Buffalo News

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