The computer’s MAAC tourney predictions all revolve around one team: Iona. The Gaels dominate everything you’ll in the simulation results. Basically, if you slip past them, whatever round you come across the MAAC’s most talented team, you’ve got a shot at winning a title. That’s especially true for a team like Fairfield. According to the sim results the semifinal between the Gaels and Stags is the gateway to the title. Almost 60% of the time Fairfield got past Iona, Sydney Johnson’s team won the league title.
Regular season MAAC play has come to its inevitable conclusion. The final day offered a few surprises as Rider beat Fairfield at home, Loyola (MD) pulled out a squeaker over Manhattan and Marist went off on Niagara. All of those results have been included in this final edition of the tempo-free MAAC and will also impact the projected tournament results that I will unveil on Tuesday afternoon. It’s been quite the ride. For some more reading on the MAAC, checkout out this Q&A Siena Saints Blog did with MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor.
I’d prefer to do a little more in depth investigation of each of these schedules, but the four MAAC contenders definitely have different levels of difficulty to climb over the final few weeks of the season. It obviously starts tonight with Iona at Loyola (MD). The Gaels are a slight favorite, somewhere between two points (KenPom, Sagarin) and just over a half point (Accuscore), and I can’t believe Vegas has it all the way up around 2.5 points.
After this game in Baltimore the schedule really breaks nicely for Iona. Here’s what the Gaels have remaining:
- Marist (H)
- Rider (A)
- Fairfield (H)
- St. Peter’s (H)
That’s a pretty easy schedule. There’s three home games and a tricky road game against a good Rider team. The Stags have been rolling lately, but it might come to and end here down the stretch. That’s because they probably have the hardest remaining schedule of any MAAC contender and it starts on Sunday against Loyola (MD). Here it is:
- Loyola (MD) (A)
- St. Peter’s (H)
- Iona (A)
- Rider (A)
There’s three tough games in there and they’re all on the road. Sydney Johnson’s club has a great chance to prove that the recent four-game winning streak is no fluke by going into some tough environments and getting the wins that would put them right back at or near the top of the conference standings.
For completeness here are the two middle schedules. First Manhattan:
- St. Peter’s (A)
- Siena (A)
- Canisius (H)
- Loyola (MD) (H)
The Jaspers have just one game against a MAAC contender remaining, but the rest of these aren’t givens either considering two are on the road. Manhattan will have to bring its offense to Jersey City and Albany in order to remain in the top four in the standings.
And here’s Loyola (MD)’s post tonight’s big game against Iona:
- Fairfield (H)
- Marist (A)
- Rider (A)
- Manhattan (A)
The toughest part about this schedule is that the Greyhounds have to go on the road for their three final games. That’s going to make things a bit more difficult, but only one is against a top contender – though another is against the very variable Broncs squad. In fact, with games against three of the four contenders remaining – and all of them at home – Rider is one of the most interesting teams to watch down the stretch. Tommy Dempsey’s team is just 8-6 in conference play right now, but after Saturday’s game at Niagara they will be the team outside of these four that has the biggest impact on the final MAAC results.
Then it’s off to Springfield and MAACachusetts.
There’s one team in the MAAC that has been fairly consistent this season. It’s not Iona. It’s not Manhattan. It’s Loyola (MD). The Greyhounds have played at about the same level all season as they’ve compiled a 10-2 record to tie the Gaels atop the conference standings. Jimmy Patsos has his team limiting the ups and down and thus limiting the ways they can lose games. Their variance is half of anyone else in the league. (Just don’t ask how the Niagara game happened.)
There’s a very clear cut No. 1 team in the MAAC this season. Iona has taken all comers and delivered convincing win after convincing win. It’s good enough that the Gaels are currently projected as a 12 seed in ESPN’s latest bracketology (playing Vanderbilt!). The big question now is if any team is going to challenge the Gaels. We’ll find out this week as more of the top teams have games against each other starting on Thursday with Iona vs. Manhattan and Fairfield vs. Loyola (Md.). Let’s look at what the per possessions stats tell us about those four teams.
Rider’s record might’ve said 3-11 when its game against Manhattan started, but the only numbers that really mattered were 0-2, as in the Broncs’ record in the MAAC.
The turn of the calendar to 2012 means the return of conference play and having most of those losses left behind in 2011. Rider looked like an unburdened team as it rolled to a 17-point halftime lead and held on for an 88-77 victory over Manhattan at Draddy Gymnasium on Monday night.
“This is a level of basketball where non-conference means nothing,” said Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello. “What matters is what you do in the conference. We go around the whole non-conference and get beat up and get ready for conference play. They’re the epitome of that and they’re ready to play.”
Rider spent most of the past two months having people wonder where the team picked to challenge for the MAAC title had gone. The Broncs lost to Pittsburgh, Drexel, La Salle, Florida, Princeton, Stony Brook and others early in the season. But the win pushed the Broncs’ conference record to 1-2 and helped Rider avoid being swept, even after losing 71-55 to the Jaspers in Lawrenceville earlier this season.
“It’s a new season in the sense this is all league play we’re in,” said Novar Gadson, who led Rider with 21 points. “Manhattan and Marist beat us earlier in the season and we don’t get to swept. For us not to get swept we have to come out aggressive and play with confidence.”
Rider couldn’t miss during the first half, shooting 17-28 from the field during the first half and scoring 52 points, that tied Syracuse for the most points scored in an opening half against Manhattan (9-6, 2-1) this season.
Most of the open looks were handed to the Broncs by slow rotations after Rider broke the press. Playing Manhattan for the second time this season seemed to give players like Jonathan Thompson more conviction against the Jaspers’ traps. While Rider turned the ball over 22 times, it also had 23 assists, led by Thompson’s seven.
Daniel Stewart scored 15 and Brandon Penn scored 12 and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Broncs. Rider shot 12-22 from three as a team and also out scored Manhattan 32-20 in the paint.
“We lost the game at the three-point line,” Masiello said. “They shot 54 percent from three, we shot 48. You cannot let a team like that shoot that percentage from the three.”
The Jaspers struggled with foul trouble during a good part of the opening 20 minutes. George Beamon picked up his second foul with 12:28 remaining in the half and sat the rest of the way. He played 26 minutes overall and scored 13 points on 4-12 shooting. The Jaspers’ hot hand was Kidani Brutus. He shot 5-8 from three and scored 19 points.
After the difficult first half, Manhattan closed to within seven points at 84-77 with 1:30 remaining in the game on Liam McCabe-Moran’s three pointer, but with a chance to get the lead down to five Emmy Andujar couldn’t get his lay up to go down and Rider salted the game away at the free throw line. As a team Manhattan shot just 12-39 (30.8%) on twos.
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.