By Jimmy Fraus
It is finally March. That means, of course, that means that it’s time for the MAAC conference tournament. That’s right, the Metro Atlantic is set to begin its 2020 tournament on March 5 with Siena coming in as the favorites.
This has been a tournament that has been dominated by Iona as of late. The Gaels have won the past four tourneys dating back to 2016. This year though, Iona struggled to ever get off their feet, and have crawled to the finish line on a three game losing streak. So it is safe to say that the field is wide open.
The one seed in this year’s tournament is Siena. The Saints finished the year 19-10 overall and 15-5 in conference. After starting the season 10-10, Siena did not lose another game the rest of the season and are riding a nine game winning streak into March. Four of those nine wins have finished in a one possession game. The Saints have been successful in close games all year long, finishing 7-4 in games decided by six points or fewer. That is exactly what teams who are successful in March do, win the close games.
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E.J. Crawford and the Iona Gaels have experienced a season full of adversity. Head Coach Tim Cluess led Iona to an unprecedented fourth straight conference tournament championship last season, but has missed this entire season with an undisclosed, non-life threatening illness. Senior Crawford has been the leader in his place averaging nearly 19 points on the season, leading the MAAC. Even though Iona finished the season at just 9-11 in conference, Crawford is a believer in this team and is still aiming for the trophy this March.
“It means everything. We don’t want to be the Iona team that messes it up. We came here for one thing. We win chips. Anything else is a bust in our eyes. That’s how we feel.” Crawford told that to the New York Post in the days leading up to the tournament. The Gaels are still a talented team with a championship pedigree, and that extra motivation of playing for Cluess could push them to their fifth straight trophy.
Everyone loves a potential cinderella. This year’s team in the MAAC could very well end up being Niagra. The Purple Eagles love the three ball, shooting it at a conference best 37% in 2019-’20. Anytime a good three-point shooting team gets hot, opponents should watch out.
I see this year’s favorites, Siena, winning the title this year. They have gotten hot at the right time and have a pretty easy path to the final as a one seed. No one should be surprised if Iona is the final MAAC team standing again in March.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org