Conference battles highlight busy Monday night

The New Year holiday is over and it’s time for conference play. America East opens in earnest tonight and the biggest game on the schedule is Stony Brook hosting Vermont. Also, Manhattan starts MAAC play up again by hosting Rider and Hofstra hosts VCU. Here’s what to look for in all of the big games.

Stony Brook vs. Vermont — This is the only game on the America East schedule tonight that should be competitive. The rest involve some odd combination of UMBC, Binghamton and Hartford against superior opponents. Then again, it’s conference play, so you never know. What I do know is that the Seawolves are going to get quite the test from the Catamounts tonight. This game is going to be SLOW. Vermont averages 62.1 possessions per game, 329th in the country. It’ll also probably be low-scoring, as both teams rely on their defense to win games.

A key match up in this one is Tommy Brenton on the glass versus Brian Voelkel. Both of them have strong rebounding and passing skills out of the post and the player that wins the individual battle inside is going to help his team win the game. There’s also a good veteran versus freshman thing going on with Bryan Dougher and Four McGlynn. Pomeroy predicts a three-point for Stony Brook, but it’s essentially a toss up.

Manhattan vs. Rider — There are three more MAAC conference games on tap for tonight after Fairfield moved to 3-0 in the conference last night by taking down Canisius. This is a rematch of a game that the Jaspers already won in Lawrenceville, 71-55. The Broncs have been quite the mystery this season and a few weeks time hasn’t done anything to change it. Rider fell to Stony Brook by 17 it’s last time out. Manhattan will need a full effort, but should be able to control this game at Draddy Gymnasium.

This is Manhattan’s first game back at home after a three-game road trip, so I’m sure that Steve Masiello’s team is ready to have some familiar sight lines. Look for the Jaspers to pound the glass against Rider in this game. Thus Roberto Colonette and Rhamel Brown should make a big impact. I’ll be in the Bronx for full coverage of this one tonight.

Hofstra vs. VCU — The entire Colonial Athletic Association is in action tonight with the Pride drawing the toughest out of the lot. On the plus side the game is at the Mack, so Hofstra can hope for another raucous home environment like there was on Thursday against Iona. On the down side, having played in the Final Four last season I’m pretty sure Shaka Smart’s team understands how to handle boisterous crowds. The Rams come in riding a seven-game winning streak and are a heavy favorite in this one, even on the road.

In order for Hofstra to pull off the upset the Pride will have to contain Bradford Burgess. The 6’6″ forward is going to be a tough assignment for any Hofstra player. He’s been held under 10 points just twice this season and he’s scored 19 points in each of VCU’s last two wins. Mike Moore has been on fire lately for Hofstra. He’ll need to have another big night for the Pride to have any shot of pulling the upset tonight.

Columbia vs. Fairleigh Dickinson — The Lions continue non-conference play with a very winnable game against the Knights. FDU comes into the game at 1-10 with losses to NJIT, Lafayette and St. Francis (PA). The team really hasn’t gelled yet this season and at Levien Gymnasium Columbia should be able to control tempo and the game. This should be a contest where the Lions are able to find their defense again. FDU is in the bottom 25 offenses in the country. Kinu Rochford is the only player with an offensive rating above 100 on the team and he’ll likely be matched up with John Daniels or Blaise Staab for most of the night.

Columbia certainly can’t overlook the Knights, because FDU did beat St. Peter’s earlier this season, but this should be a good opportunity to make sure everything is tuned up before finishing non-conference play on the road at Colgate and Elon, two more difficult games that the Lions could really use.

NJIT vs. Lafayette — If the Highlanders are going to finish .500 this season this is the type of game they’ve got to have. The Leopards come into the Fleisher Center at 5-8, but their worst loss is to Sacred Heart. Lafayette also lost a close game to Long Island, but that one was in Pennsylvania. The Lafayette offense comes to play every game so to win you have to keep up.

NJIT can’t play themselves into a big hole like they did on Friday against LIU. The Highlanders have the potential to pull the upset at home if they can get out and guard the three-point line, something NJIT really failed to do in the first half against the Blackbirds. That’s the place that Lafayette makes its living, shooting 39.8%, the 21st best mark in the country.

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