This weekend, March 6 through March 9, the teams in the MAAC will play in a tournament in Albany, New York for their chance to go to the national tournament. Usually, the MAAC only has one team representing on the national stage.
The preseason favorite in the MAAC was Siena, and they have lived up to expectations. They went 16-2 in the MAAC and 23-7 overall. Their only two losses in the MAAC were on the road to third place Rider and second place Niagara.
Siena is such a dangerous team that can dominate anywhere on the court. They have three players that average double-digit points per game and two players that average 7.4 rebounds per game. Senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck leads the team with 14.8 PPG and 1.9 steals per game. Siena also gets its points from Edwin Ubiles, who averages 14.7 PPG, and Alex Franklin, who averages 13.8 PPG and 7.4 RPG.
This team has a perfect balance of an underneath presence and a threat from three-point land. Both Franklin and Ryan Rossiter average 7.4 RPG, while Hasbrouck is shooting 37 percent from three-point land.
Siena has a relatively easy road to the finals, especially in the first round. They will face the winner of the Loyola-Canisius game, which are the eighth and ninth seeds of the MAAC. Siena has won all four games between the two possible first round challengers. I do not see an upset against Siena in round one.
In the second round they will be playing the winner of the Fairfield-Manhattan game; both teams failed to beat Siena once this season.
One of the biggest aspects going in Siena's favor is the fact that the tournament is in Albany, just miles away from Siena's campus. The home crowd and high play against the MAAC makes them the favorite to win and go to the national tournament.
Niagara finished second in the MAAC this season, going 14-4 in the MAAC and 24-7 overall. This is going to be Siena's largest threat to the national tournament. They have performed well against Siena this season, handing Siena one of their two MAAC losses in a 100-85 offensive explosion for the Purple Eagles.
While Siena's stats are impressive, Niagara's are even better. The Purple Eagles have four players that average double-digit points per game. The player to watch for the Purple Eagles is Bilal Benn. He averages 14.1 PPG and 9.1 RPG. He provides a strong senior presence capable of doing a lot of damage. In the 100-85 win over Siena he put up 21 points, 12 rebounds, and three steals.
Their first round matchup is fairly easy like Siena. They will face the winner of the Iona-Marist game, which are the seventh seed and the MAAC's worst, 10th seed Marist.
Marist really only has one major threat, and that is the senior forward Ryan Schneider. He averages 16.1 PPG and 8.2 RPG. He is unique for the MAAC because this conference is not known for its three-point shooting, but Schneider is the exception. This season he is 84-for-227 from behind the arc, making him a 37 percent three-point shooter. He is also an 87 percent free throw shooter, which is one of the best in the MAAC.
The only other player in double figures for points is David Devezin, who averages 10.2 PPG. He contributes in assists, leading the Red Foxes at 4.1 APG. Besides Devezin and Schneider, Marist doesn't have many threats, which landed them the last seed in the MAAC and the tournament.
After the top two powerhouses of the MAAC comes Rider, who was 12-6 in the MAAC and 18-11 overall. They are somewhat of a sleeper team because much of the attention will be on Niagara and Siena as the projected final game contenders. The Broncs will be facing St. Peters in the first round, the No. 6 seed in the MAAC.
The Broncs are led by junior Ryan Thompson, who averages 17.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG. Thompson has one of his best games against the Peacocks in the regular season, posting 25 points and six rebounds in a 78-67 win at St. Peters.
Since the Broncs are overshadowed by the top two seeds in the MAAC, it makes them somewhat underdogs, but they shouldn't be underestimated. They beat Niagara and Siena, both games at home. So it is not like Rider cannot compete with the fierce top two, but they will have to be at the top of their game to win this tournament.
The last two teams that have a chance to win are Fairfield and Manhattan.
Fairfield was ranked second in the MAAC before the season, but they went 9-9 in the MAAC and 16-14 overall. Fairfield has had the strangest season of any team in the MAAC. After losing key players Anthony Johnson to blood clots in the upper chest and Greg Nero to back spasms, they also lost the leader of the team Jon Han because of differences with the coach Ed Cooley. The situation escalated and ended Han's season after a 65-60 loss at Manhattan.
After Han left the team, senior Herbie Allen took over as the leading guard and has been a breath of fresh air for this Stags team. Allen averaged 17.6 PPG in the last five games of the season and was the spark Fairfield needed after losing all of its key players.
Greg Nero is also going to return for the Stags, and he led the team with 12.9 PPG and 6.6 RPG. Mike Evanovich provides a threat from three-point land off the bench. Since the teams witnessed so many injuries, Evanovich has done a nice job stepping in. In the last game of the season against Rider, he had 14 points and went 4-for-10 from outside the arc.
Fairfield may be battered and bruised, but they have a lot of fight left in them. The younger players are performing like this is their third year, and if all goes well, they could potentially make a run. The only problem for the Stags is that if they win their first round matchup against Manhattan, they will have to face Siena on their home court.
Manhattan is another team that could potentially make some noise in this tournament. They will face off against the Stags of Fairfield; the two teams split the season series 1-1. Fairfield came back from being down 10 in the fourth quarter to win in the most recent meeting.
Manhattan went 9-9 in the MAAC while going 16-13 overall. The Jaspers have three players who score double digits in points, led by junior Darryl Crawford. The biggest flaw for this team is the lack of size, which results in a lack of rebounds. Chris Smith leads the Jaspers with 5.6 RPG, and he is just 6'3". Their tallest player is Laurence Jolicoeur, who is 6'9", but he only played 17 games and averaged 2.8 RPG.
Like Fairfield, Manhattan has a very rough road to the finals. Both teams are equally matched against one another but outmatched against Siena, Niagara, and even Rider. They can compete, and I expect the winner of this game to give Siena a decent run, but Siena will prevail in the end.
While Siena is the early favorite, I feel Niagara is on a great run right now. They have won 10 of their last 11, including an emotional home win against Siena. They have the confidence and momentum, and I believe they will win this tournament and win a shot at the national tournament.