The final two-part edition of our Top 65 games delves into the exciting stretch run of the final five weeks. These highlighted games should have tremendous implications on seeding and conference standings with heated rivals doing battle in the final push towards March Madness. Here’s a preview of what’s guaranteed to be the best slate of games 2009-10 has to offer (top games of November/December and January in case you missed it):
Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.
February 1- Texas @ Oklahoma State(#33 overall)- Hard to imagine you won’t see plenty of scoring in this Big 12 clash. The point guard situation is a bit dicey in Stillwater with Byron Eaton’s departure, but Travis Ford loves to run and James Anderson can score with the best. Expect this to be one of the toughest tests for Texas in their pursuit of a regular season Big 12 title.
February 6- Texas @ Oklahoma (#25 overall)- This could very well be another test. Two freshmen will have to fill major roles for Jeff Capel’s squad with Tommy Mason-Griffin helping out Willie Warren in the backcourt and Tiny Gallon bulldozing opponents in the paint with Blake Griffin in LA. It’s entirely possible defensive stud Avery Bradley could earn the job of trying to lock down the quick Warren.
February 6- Villanova @ Georgetown(#31 overall)- A Big East clash in February between two teams that have top-three aspirations in the conference. The point guard duel is a dandy with Chris Wright of the Hoyas matched up with Scottie Reynolds of the Wildcats. This should prove a worthy test for Villanova’s thin frontline trying to contain Greg Monroe, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims.
February 6- Michigan State @ Illinois (#37 overall)- The orange-clad students right on top of the floor will be out in full force to support their Illini in hopes of knocking off the loaded Spartans. With Chester Frazier departed, it could be the freshman guard D.J. Richardson trying to contain potential All-American Kalin Lucas. There’s some tremendous outside shooting in this one from State’s Durrell Summers to the Illini’s Demetri McCamey.
Ray Floriani from College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the Northeast (NEC) and Metro Atlantic Athletic (MAAC) conferences.
Predited Order of Finish:
Siena (15-3, 20-8)
Niagara (14-4, 21-10)
Fairfield (13-5, 19-10)
Rider (12-6, 19-10)
Loyola (MD) (11-7, 16-13)
Manhattan (9-9, 16-13)
Iona (7-11, 11-17)
Canisius (6-12, 10-19)
St. Peter’s (5-13, 11-18)
Marist (4-14, 10-20)
WYN2K. The MAAC was formed in the 80s and tipped off the 1981-82 season. Yours truly covered the first MAAC contest ever, an Iona romp over Army at the Gaels’ Mulcahy Center. The MAAC began with six charter members – Army, Fairfield, Fordham, Iona, Manhattan and St.Peter’s. Four schools – Fairfield, Iona, Manhattan and St.Peter’s – remain from that original group as change has altered the league over the years. The conference tournament previously alternated between Buffalo and Albany, but two years ago it was in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Last year Albany, NY, hosted it and will once again showcase it come this March. Some brief notes…
Siena, the defending champion, returns a strong cast with three players who could be considered for player of the year honors: 6-3 senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck, 6-6 forward Edwin Ubilies and 6-5 forward Alex Franklin, both juniors.
Niagara’s fine junior guard Tyrone Lewis was MVP of the MAAC tournament as a freshman. Niagara captured the title in 2006-07.
Niagara and Canisius (the ‘dreaded’ western New York swing) are a few miles apart, but six of the league members – Rider, St.Peter’s, Iona, Manhattan, Fairfield and Rider – are within a 120 mile radius, which makes for a not too distant road trip.
Predicted Champion.Siena (#13 NCAA). The Saints captured last season’s MAAC tournament championship, then gave a great showing in the NCAAs, as Siena defeated Vanderbilt 83-62 (see below) before falling to Villanova in the second round. That momentum of March should carry over into this year as coach Fran McCaffery has virtually everyone back. Siena, in theory, could make this a two bid league. If the Saints earn 15 or 16 conference wins, have a respectable non-conference showing against a murderous slate and get knocked out of the MAAC tournament, they could go as an at-large based on last year’s strong NCAA showing. That idea, however, is not one the competitive McCaffery is looking at as a realistic option, nor is it likely to happen.
Others Considered. Niagara and Fairfield are the prime candidates. The Purple Eagles return an outstanding guard in junior Tyrone Lewis. Big East transfers Bilal Benn (Villanova), a 6-5 guard and 6-2 guard Rob Garrison (UConn) will contribute to a strong cast. Fairfield has a defensive reputation anchored by 6-8 junior Anthony Johnson (7.3 RPG and 43 blocks). Senior lead guard Jonathan Han is vital on offense. Han averaged 11.7 ppg while handing out 6 assists per outing. Rider is a dark horse. The Broncs have a sharpshooter in senior guard Harris Mansell (13.7 ppg) and return another Thompson. Ryan Thompson, Jason’s brother, is a 6-6 junior forward who is a strong player (15 ppg) in his own right.
Key Games/RPI Boosters.
Rider @ St.Joseph’s (11/14/08)
Fairfield @ Memphis (11/15/08)
Niagara @ Villanova (Hoop Group Classic – Philadelphia) (11/19/08)
Siena v. Tennessee (Old Spice Classic) (11/27/08)
Marist @ Memphis (12/2/08)
Rider v. Rutgers (Trenton) (12/3/08)
Niagara @ Loyola (MD) (12/7/08)
Seton Hall v. St.Peter’s (Jersey City) (12/13/08)
Siena @ Pitt (12/17/08)
Iona @ Ohio State (12/20/08)
Marist @ St. John’s (Holiday Festival) (12/20-21/08)
Fairfield @ UConn (12/26/08)
Loyola (MD) @ Duke (12/31/08)
Siena @ Kansas (1/6/09)
Manhattan v. Iona (MSG) (1/24/09)
Siena @ Niagara (2/27/09)
Loyola (MD) @ Iona (3/1/09)
Jimmy Patsos has been on the job four years at Loyola (MD) and he has the second LONGEST tenure in the conference. The ‘grey beard’ among the group is Joe Mihalich who has been at Niagara for a decade. Mihalich has only had one season below .500 during his tenure.
Siena committed only 11.1 turnovers per game last season. Their turnover rating (TO divided by possessions) was 15.4 (anything under 20.0 is excellent).
Niagara has won at least a dozen MAAC contests in 8 of the past 10 seasons.
65 Team Era. MAAC schools have been a traditionally tough out and in several cases, got a win under their belt before a competitive second round exit. The conference is 6-25 (.194) over the era, but two of those wins are from the PiG (2002 and 2007). But in four of the last seven NCAA Tournaments, the MAAC has won a game in the Big Dance. Last year Siena thoroughly dominated #4 Vanderbilt in the first round, which should help the Saints cause several ways this winter. Besides Siena, LaSalle (1990) and Manhattan (1995 and 2004) were the other conference schools to post a first round NCAA win.
It was ironic that NBA scouts monitored the progress of Rider big man Jason Thompson last winter because the MAAC, for years, has been known as a guard oriented league. Thompson was the twelfth player to go in last June’s NBA draft.
The MAAC runs a unique postseason tournament (others conferences do it but there aren’t many) in that both the men and women play their tournaments at the same site. This gives the true hoop junkie a chance to see each school’s program showcased on the men’s and women’s side. It also makes for a real ‘good feeling’ atmosphere that reaffirms what college athletics is all about. It’s not uncommon to see a men’s team take a break from preparations to sit in the stands and cheer the women’s team on and vice versa.
Under the watch of veteran Commissioner Rich Ensor, the MAAC has been a pleasant media experience and the same for its fan base.
Cold winter nights at Manhattan’s Draddy Gym are classic. Where else can you sit press row with the ‘ubiquitous’ Ronnie (the ultra Jasper supporter) on one side and the school’s president, Brother Thomas Scanlon, on the other?