Conference Tournament Primer: Metro Atlantic Athletic ConferencePosted by Tommy Lemoine on March 6th, 2014
Day four of Championship Fortnight means three more conferences tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments. Today, the MAAC, MVC and WCC get started.
Dates: March 6, 8-10
Site: MassMutual Center (Springfield, MA)
What to expect: The highest seed has not won this tournament since 2010, but that could change this year with Iona atop the league standings. The offensive-minded Gaels have advanced to the Big Dance in each of the last two seasons – including as an at-large bid in 2012 – and look poised to make a return, winning 13 of their final 14 games and playing steady, efficient basketball along the way. The one loss in that span was to Manhattan, the Gaels’ most likely challenger in Springfield. George Beamon’s 20 points per game leads the Jaspers offensively, but it is on the defensive end where Steve Masiello’s squad has the distinct advantage – center Rhamel Brown is a long, game-changer in the paint who boasts the highest block rate in the country. If Manhattan and Iona meet up in the conference championship on Monday night, it will be must-watch television. And don’t ignore Canisius, either — the team’s electrifying point guard, Billy Baron, averages more than 25 points per outing and is capable of catching fire at any moment.
Favorite: Iona. Really, either the Gaels or the Jaspers could be considered the favorite here. KenPom has them ranked 75th and 77th, respectively, and both enter the tournament playing some of their best basketball of the season. Manhattan might benefit from taking on shorthanded Quinnipiac in the semifinals – the Bobcats are without third-leading scorer Umar Shannon – but besides that, call it a wash.
Darkhorse: Siena. Jimmy Patsos’ Saints knocked off Manhattan a couple weeks ago, and while I’m not sure they have the firepower or experience to win this tournament, they could sure as heck disrupt it. Beating Canisius, Iona and advancing to the title game, while unlikely, is not unfathomable.
Who wins: Iona. On the one hand, it feels like Manhattan’s time to re-enter the spotlight and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade. Yet, Iona has been too good and too consistent for far too long this season to pick against. Tim Cluess and the Gaels will go dancing for the third straight year.
Player to Watch: Billy Baron – Canisius. You should tune in to every Canisius game during this tournament, beginning on Saturday against Siena, just to catch Baron play. He’s that fun to watch, especially when he gets hot from behind the arc (and I mean way behind the arc). Don’t be surprised if the senior guard comes up with more late-game heroics, either.
Bubble Implications: None. Unlike 2012, when Iona sneaked in as a First Four participant, there are no MAAC teams in at-large contention year.