MAAC Tournament Preview: Favored Host Fairfield Looks to End Siena's Reign

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MAAC Tournament Preview: Favored Host Fairfield Looks to End Siena's Reign

This weekend, the MAAC tournament will take place. Hosted by No. 1 seed Fairfield, the tournament starts on Friday, Mar. 4 with the bottom four teams playing in play-in games. The quarterfinals then take place on Mar. 5. The semifinals will be on Mar. 6. Finally, the championship game will be televised on ESPN2 on Monday, Mar. 7.

For a little recent history of the MAAC tournament, Siena has won the last three tournaments and has made it to the championship game in four straight years. Last year's runner-up was Fairfield, which lost to Siena in overtime.

The lowest seed to ever win the MAAC tournament was No. 8 seed Fairfield in 1997. That year, the Stags won three games, beating No. 1 seed Iona in the quarterfinals, No. 4 seed St. Peter's in the semifinals and No. 2 seed Canisius in the championship game.

Here is a list of how many championships each of the current members of the MAAC has won:

Iona—7

Siena—5

Fairfield—3

Manhattan—3

Niagara—2

Steve Burtt Jr. led Iona to its MAAC leading seventh MAAC tournament championship back in 2006.

St. Peter's—2

Canisius—1

Loyola (MD)—1

Marist—0

Rider—0

 

First Round, March 4

 Game 1: No. 8 Niagara vs. No. 9 Marist

Niagara and Marist split the regular season series, but Niagara deserved to have swept. The Purple Eagles were absolutely terrible at the start of the year. Since then, they have improved and can actually be a Cinderella team in the MAAC tournament. The Purple Eagles showed their improvement in the second meeting with Marist when they won 77-60.

Since beating Manhattan back in early January, Marist has really struggled. It is no surprise this team was picked to finish last in the MAAC.

All in all, everything is going Niagara's way in this one. The Purple Eagles are the hotter team, they have better coaching, better experience, more leadership and more talent.

My pick: Niagara by 12


Siena looks to win its fourth straight MAAC championship.

Game 2: No. 7 Siena vs. No. 10 Manhattan

Barry Rohrssen managed to take Manhattan to a new low this year with his Jaspers finishing in last place. However, one of their three regular season wins did come over Siena. But, when you look at that game, it was a fluke by both Manhattan and Siena.

First off, Siena was playing without point guard Rakeem Brookins. Second, Siena was awful for the first 30 minutes and Manhattan had its only good offensive performance of the season during that game. During the final 10 minutes, Siena showed how much better it is when compared to Manhattan.

Manhattan may stay close with Siena in this one, but ultimately the Jaspers will have no chance against the Saints.

My pick: Siena by nine


Quarterfinals, March 5

Game 3: No. 2 Iona vs. No. 7 Siena

Iona has been playing great recently. The Gaels only February loss came at the beginning of the month in a close defeat at Fairfield.

With Iona's recent success, the Gaels will not lose to an inferior team like Siena.

My pick: Iona by nine  


Game 4: No. 3 Rider vs. No. 6 Canisius

Rider finished the season on a tear, winning seven of its last eight games. However, the one loss came at home to Canisius. Earlier in the season, Rider only beat Canisius by one point. Although Rider is the favored seed, Canisius still stands a chance in this game.

Rider's defense allows Canisius to get a lot of looks from three-point range. The Golden Griffins like to shoot and they are pretty good at it, too. If the Golden Griffins have just a normal day from beyond the arc, they will be able to stay close with Rider. 

Second, Rider is not such a great rebounding team, which neutralizes Canisius' disadvantage on the glass. The Golden Griffins are not a great rebounding team, but they have been able to win the rebound battles with Rider. 

But what Canisius will have to do to beat Rider is make free throws. When Canisius shot 60 percent from the line in the first meeting, they lost. When it shot 90.9 percent from the line, they won.

In a playoff game, free throws come up so big. As the season neared its end, Canisius got better and better at the foul line. The Golden Griffins got good enough that they are a legitimate upset threat.  

My pick: Canisius by one

 

Game 5: No. 1 Fairfield vs. No. 8 Niagara

Although Niagara has been improving all season, the Purple Eagles will not pull off the quarterfinal upset. Fairfield is a distinct step above the Niagara team, plus the Stags get to play at home. 

Expect Fairfield's defense to smother Niagara and for the Purple Eagles to get dominated on the glass.

My pick: Fairfield by 17

  

Game 6: No. 4 St. Peter's vs. No. 5 Loyola (MD)

St. Peter's is very possibly the best defensive team in the MAAC. Although Loyola has a few strong offensive threats, the Greyhound offense is not good enough to overpower the Peacock defense. 

Just about all of Loyola's wins have come against weak defensive teams. 

Loyola's only other chance would be to get the St. Peter's players in foul trouble. This is possible considering that Loyola draws a solid amount of fouls per game, but it is not too likely.

My pick: St. Peter's by eight


Semifinals, March 6

Game 7: No. 1 Fairfield vs. No. 4 St. Peter's

This game's focus will definitely be on defense. St. Peter's and Fairfield are two of the better defensive teams in the MAAC. Both teams force a good amount of turnovers, and both force opponents to shoot poorly from the field.

In a game where the defense is about even (St. Peter's probably has a very slight edge), it comes down to who has the stronger offense.

Fairfield definitely has the stronger offense. The Stags have more legitimate scoring threats, plus Derek Needham always has the ability to create for himself.

St. Peter's struggles on offense and will need three-point shooting to beat Fairfield. Unfortunately, for the Peacocks, Fairfield plays very good defense on the perimeter and opponents make less than five three-pointers per game.

My pick: Fairfield by 10

  

Game 8: No. 2 Iona vs. No. 6 Canisius  

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Scott Machado from Iona leads the MAAC in assists.

The only way for Canisius to win this game is for the Golden Griffins to limit their turnovers. Iona forces 15 turnovers per game and uses those turnovers to get easy transition baskets.

From watching them against Manhattan twice, and against Liberty, I can see that Iona plays great pressure defense and you need to be able to find ways to get out of traps and ways to stay in control of the ball against Iona. 

Unfortunately, Canisius is only mediocre at doing that. The Golden Griffins average over 14 turnovers per game and only have a few ball-handlers. 

My pick: Iona by 12


Championship, March 7, ESPN2

Game 9: No. 1 Fairfield vs. No. 2 Iona

So, despite an upset by Canisius, I expect the championship game to come down to the top two seeds. 

Fairfield and Iona split the season series. The Gaels lost by four at Fairfield, and the Stags lost by five at Iona on the final day of the regular season. 

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This game will come down to two factors—field goal percentage and rebounding.

In the first meeting, Fairfield won in both categories and won the game. In the second meeting, those two categories belonged to Iona, and the Gaels won that game. Now, the only question is who will win those two categories in the final meeting.

It looks like Fairfield has a slight edge because the Stags' star players are less prone to getting in foul trouble.

Scott Machado and Mike Glover are the Iona leaders, and Glover tends to get in foul trouble, while Machado sometimes gets in foul trouble. 

Although Iona is a talented team, the Gaels are relatively inexperienced. In a hostile environment favoring the Stags, it will be easy for the Iona players to get rattled and very possibly commit some unnecessary fouls that will come back to bite Iona.

If Glover gets into foul trouble like he did in the first meeting with Iona, Fairfield will have a huge advantage on the boards. But as long as Iona keeps either Machado or Glover on the floor, the Gaels will have a chance to upset Fairfield.

Just because Fairfield is the more consistent offensive team, expect them to have the better field goal percentage.

And if Glover can stay out of foul trouble, Iona should win the rebounding battle, splitting the two main categories between the two teams.

So, the final and deciding factor will be the fact that Fairfield is playing on its home floor. The Stags will not let this one slip away in front of their fans.

My pick: Fairfield by three 

 

Follow Jesse Kramer on Twitter @Jesse_Kramer for more college basketball news and information. 

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