It’s finally March and conference tournament time is upon us–the precursor to March Madness. Here’s another conference tournament preview to whet your pallet.
When and Where: March 8-11 in Springfield, Mass.
The Front Runners: Unlike last year, when the Iona Gaels was head and shoulder better than everyone else, there is no real clear-cut favorite this year. The No. 2 Rider Broncs (18-13, 12-6) are playing the best basketball coming in having won five straight, earning themselves a first round bye. No. 1 Niagara (18-12, 13-5 MAAC) could have a date with No. 4 Iona in the semifinals if all goes according to plan. Niagara has the second-best offense in the league–behind Iona. The defending champ, No. 3 Loyola (MD) (21-10, 12-6) also has as good a chance as any.
The Best of the Rest: If No. 5 Canisius can pull a win over of Iona in their quarterfinal game, they’ve got a real good chance to upset Niagara as well. They’ve beaten both Niagara and Rider on the road this season in conference while also taking down the Temple Owls in Philadelphia. They also lost a tight game at Detroit by five after blowing a six-point second half lead. Outside of the top five seeds, there’s really no dark horse in the MAAC.
Who to Watch For: Niagara has two of top three scorers in the league in Antoine Mason (18.3 ppg) and Juan’ya Green (17 ppg). The third-leading scorer in the country–Iona’s Lamont Jones (23.2 ppg)–will also be on display. The wild-card, however, is Canisius’ do-it-all point guard Billy Baron. Baron averages 16.1 points, 5.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game but is prone to turnovers. For the Golden Griffs to advance, he’ll need to do a better job of protecting the ball.
Who’ll Be Dancing?: I think Iona has the most talent in the league, but Loyola (MD) has one of the easier roads if they can get past Manhattan in the quarters. For that reason, I think the Jimmy Patsos‘ Greyhounds will repeat as MAAC tournament champs.