Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Some Opinions on Tournament Results

You want picks for the MAAC tournament champions?

OK, let's see ...

The Siena men and Marist women each were dominant this season, each finishing with 16-2 conference records and each finishing with a two-game lead over the second-place team.

On the men's side, Siena suffered regular-season losses to second-place Niagara and third-place Rider.

On the women's side, Marist suffered regular-season losses to second-place Canisius and third-place Fairfield.

So, it would most definitely would appear that the teams with the best shots of upending the respective top seeds in the tournament would be the teams that finished second and third in the final standings since the evidence is there that those were the only ones capable of doing it in the regular-season.

This humble blogger would be absolutely shocked if anything team other than one of the top three men or women rose up to win this season.

We'll stick with the "chalk" this year. It says here that the Siena men and the Marist women will go on to represent the conference in the NCAA tournament.

The last time there was a "major" upset in the MAAC tournament came in the 2001-02 season when Siena finished 12-18 overall in regular-season play and, then, swept four MAAC tournament games to get to the NCAA's.

But that team had first-team all-conference caliber players in Dwayne Archbold and Prosper Karangwa. And, it had two very solid contributors in 6-foot-9 forward James Clinton and 6-6 forward Andy Cavo who got healthy just in time for the tournament. Each were severely limited for much of the regular season with injuries.

It was clear to close observers of the MAAC that season that the 20o1-02 Siena squad had as much talent as any conference team. And, it all got healthy and came together at the right time.

How good was that Siena team? It won a so-called NCAA tournament "play-in game" (between the teams seeded No. 64 and 65) over Alcorn State and, then its 15-point loss to eventual national champion Maryland ended up being the closest game the Terps played in that year's NCAA tournaemnt.

There are no teams like that out there this season that are going to rise from the lower levels of the final regular-season standings and surprise the field in this year's event.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the chances of the top teams:



WHAT IT HAS: The best talent in the league. Four of its players (Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles, Alex Franklin and Ronald Moore) were picked either to the first or second team post-season all-star squads, and its fifth starter (Ryan Rossiter) was a questionable omission. One of its bench players, freshman Kyle Downey, is a member of the all-rookie team. Siena has talent, depth and an uptempo style that often overwhelms opponents with a trapping defense.

WHAT IT DOESN'T HAVE: Inside depth. If reserve center Josh Duell, who missed the last two games of the regular season with a calf muscle injury, isn't close to 100 percent, then Siena basically has no one to give Rossiter a break inside. Also, free-throw shooting has been a problem. Siena show 66.5 percent from the stripe on the year. Down the stretch of a close game, this could be an issue.

HOW TO BEAT SIENA: Only two teams have done it. Rider stayed close and, then, put the ball in Ryan Thompson's hands in the closing seconds and let him make a game-winning play. Niagara did it (this past Friday) in impressive fashion (100-85), using its roster-wide athleticism to cause the Saints problems on a night when the Saints didn't match Niagara's intensity. The Purple Eagles just played with more passion that night, and had the talent to back it up.

The best hope is to catch Siena on an "off night," although that is less likely to happen now.
Niagara or Rider, a meeting that figures to be an attractive one in the semifinals, will get the chance to upset Siena in the finals, and each has already proven to be capable of knocking off the top team.


WHAT IT HAS: Two first-team all-league players in 6-5 Bilal Benn and 5-11 Tyrone Lewis, a second-team selection in 6-10 Benson Egemonye and a very near all-star in sophomore point guard Anthony Nelson. Benn led the conference in rebounding, whie averaging 14.1 points. Lewis is one of the conference's best outside shooting threats.

WHAT IT DOESN'T HAVE: It relies heavily on creating turnovers and, then, attacking the basket. If opponents can slow the pace and protect the ball, they slow Niagara. A good half-court team can give Niagara a problem. That said, Siena plays the same way as the Purple Eagles. If the two meet for the title, the one that can make its style work best will win, and it would be an entertaining contest if it happens.

HOW TO BEAT NIAGARA: Protect the ball, don't let Niagara, one of the national leaders in steals, get extra possessions via creating turnovers. Make players other than Tyrone Lewis take perimeter shots.


WHAT IT HAS: Ryan Thompson, who might be the best player in the league, and very good supporting cast.

WHAT IT DOESN'T HAVE: Depth. Beyond the starting five, there just isn't a lot of help, which doesn't bode well for getting three wins in three nights. Also, experience. Its starting five includes two sophomores and a freshman.

HOW TO BEAT RIDER: Try to wear it down. In close games, the Broncs can't keep Reingold on the court offensively, either, or teams will foul him. Ringold is among the league's worst free-throw shooters (33.6 percent on 37-of-110 to date this season).

TEAM MOST LIKELY TO CREATE SOME UNEXPECTED SURPRISES: Either Iona, or Saint Peter's. Both teams have young talent. Each will be significantly better next season, maybe even title contenders, but the overall talent is there right now for an upset or two. It just depends how each's young players handles the pressure of a tournament situation now.



WHAT IT HAS: The best talent in the league. Junior Rachele Fitz, a 6-1 forward, is the league's top inside player, and was the conference Player of the Year as a sophomore (and, will be again this season). Guard Julianne Viani might be the MAAC's second-best player, and third-team pick Erica Allenspach, now a sophomore, was the league's Rookie of the Year as a freshman. A quality starting five, and quality young players who come off the bench and contribute.

WHAT IT DOESN'T HAVE: The height it had from past seasons. Gone from last year's team are two 6-3 players (Meg Dahlman and Sarah Smerdel) who were major contributors. The Red Foxes don't quite have the inside game it did in recent years. And, yet, it still only lost two conference games, so it does still have plenty.

HOW TO BEAT MARIST: Keep Fitz away from the paint offensively, and keep Viani in check. Force the rest of Marist's players to make the key plays. Defensively, Marist always double-teams inside scoring threats. Opponents need to recognize the double teams and make good passes to open teammates. Marist is very good, but not quite so invulnerable as in the last few seasons. Not only did it lose regular-season games to Canisius and Fairfield, but it needed a late-game rally to nip Siena in a late-season contest, too.


WHAT IT HAS: Some of the best outside shooters in the conference. Canisius is among the national leaders in 3-pointers made per game, and long-range accuracy. It has a go-to player in forward Marie Warner, and a clever point guard in Brittane Russell.

WHAT IT DOESN'T HAVE: A good low-post presence. Warner is capable of bringing it inside to score, but the Golden Griffins don't have a true post-up player, which is a weakness on both ends of the court.

HOW TO BEAT CANISIUS: Be extremely active on defense in order to contest outside shots. If Canisius doesn't make a minimum of 10 or 12 three-pointers in a game, it's not likely to win. But, that's easier said than done. Having to play that type of perimeter defense for an entire game wears down defenses. Offensively, teams need to attack the basket to take advantage of the Griffs' lack of a true inside presence.


WHAT IT HAS: A quality go-to player in senior forward Baendu Lowenthal, height in 6-3 Stephanie Geehan, who makes perimeter shots, a long-range bomber in Lauren Groom, another offensive weapon in freshman Desiree Pina and an under-control, cerebral point guard in Megan Caskin.

WHAT IT DOESN'T HAVE: Despite Geehan's height, she isn't a post-up player. The Lady Stags also don't handle the ball extremely well when it's not in Caskin's hands Still, there's plenty of talent on the roster.

HOW TO BEAT FAIRFIELD: One theory is to use full-court pressure to force Fairfield to use up a portion of the shot clock just getting into its offense. The team's best play comes in the half court, so limiting its time to do that can help. Also, keep the ball out of Caskin's hands, yet back off her when she does because she only looks to shoot as a last resort. While Fairfield probably won't hurt itself with turnovers, its offense doesn't run smoothly without Caskin being heavily involved in its direction.

TEAM MOST LIKELY TO CREATE SOME UNEXPECTED SURPRISES: Siena. The Saints nearly knocked off Marist in a late-season. Even in losses, the Saints have played well for long stretches. Siena has one of the best front courts in the conference and some outside shooting. Turnovers have been a major issue, though. If Siena can protect the ball, hold turnovers under 15 in games, it can compete.

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