By Jimmy Fraus
The Iona Gaels are a team that has won seven in a row and lead the MAAC, they are also a team that is 14-15 overall and are only 3-2 against the three teams tied for last in the conference.
If that doesn’t put the MAAC into perspective, I’m not sure what will.
This is going to be a conference that surely will only have one team make the big dance, but it will be a tournament that will have several games down to the wire, making it a must watch for “Madness” lovers.
Things get started Thursday in an 11-team tournament with three opening games, so let’s preview the teams that I think have the ability to make some noise this March.
No. 11 Niagara (13-1, 6-12 MAAC):
The Purple Eagles have struggled all season long but they do have a knack of pulling off upsets. They have a win against first-place Iona, second-place Quinnipiac and a win on the road against ACC member, Pitt.
One big stat to keep an eye on is that they shoot free throws at an efficient rate (73% on the year). Games late in the year are often decided by who can be the most consistent at the line.
Look out for this team led by Forward Marvin Prochet to win some games they have no business winning this week.
No. 8 Marist (12-18 , 7-11 MAAC):
If you like efficiency, this is your team of the tournament. They are second in the conference at 36% from three and second in overall field goal percentage at 52%.
The 1-2 punch of Brian Parker and Ryan Funk (definitely the best name in the conference) have combined for over 25 ppg this season. Marist will go where Parker and Funk take them, and I think they will lead them to a few wins.
No. 7 Manhattan (10-20, 8-10 MAAC):
After a terrible 2-10 start to the season in non-con play, Manhattan bounced back and has had a very solid season in conference. The Jaspers are all about defense. If they do not hold an opponent to under 70 they rarely win. In nine of their ten wins, they have held their opponents to under 70 points, the only win coming against Niagara where they scored a season-high 90 points, winning that game 90-80.
They also struggle to score, last in the league at 57 points per game, but somehow they have eight conference wins. I think I love this team because I grew up watching the 2013-14 Chicago Bulls led by Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah (4th is MVP voting) tear up the Eastern Conference while scoring and giving up the least amount of points in the NBA. You don’t have to watch them, but I know I will.
The Top Five
No. 5 Siena (16-15 over, 11-7 MAAC)
The Saints have been the surprise team of the MAAC this year. Coming off an 8-24 season in 2017-18, Siena was projected to be at the bottom of the conference again this year, but that has not been the case. They have wins against Iona, Harvard, Canisius and two against Manhattan. They don’t do anything spectacularly well, but they know how to win, they are one of those three teams above .500 overall in the MAAC (I mean, what a conference).
No. 4 Rider (16-14, 11-7 MAAC)
Rider was the favorite to be a the top of the conference in the preseason, and while they didn’t get there, they still had a quality season. They would have been regular season champions if not for a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season including three games decided by four or fewer points. With five players averaging over 10 points per game, they can go to several players for the big bucket. This should be the dark horse to take down 1-seed Iona.
No. 3 Quinnipiac (16-13, 11-7 MAAC)
The Bobcats have been an up and down bunch this year. They have not been streaky either direction. Their largest win-streak is three and they haven’t lost more than two games in a row all season. They lost their last game to Manhattan 62-58 in a game that was back an forth the whole way.
Quinnipiac also plays in a ton of close games. 14 of their 29 games have finished with a margin of 6 or fewer points, a number I deemed to mean the game was close (very scientific, I know).
No. 2 Canisius (14-16, 11-7 MAAC)
Missouri fans may recognize Canisius as the former home of last year’s star transfer Kassius Robertson, but this team has still kept up their good form since his departure. They lead the MAAC in assists per game at 15. Even though they have played much better down the stretch, the only way I see them winning anything is if the tournament was changed to a mascot contest because a Golden Griffin is by far the best mascot in the MAAC.
No. 1 Iona (14-15, 12-6 MAAC)
The Gaels are looking to make MAAC history by becoming conference champions for the fourth straight year. This year, though, has not felt the same as the previous three. Even if Iona does win the tournament, Iona would still be three wins short of 20, which would be the first time in eight years that the team didn’t reach that mark. This team is still the favorite to win the tournament, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this team didn’t even win their first game. One interesting stat about this situation is the top seed in the MAAC tournament hasn’t won the tournament since 2010. They will be looking to end that hex when they start their tournament run this Friday.