MAAC Tournament Preview: Will Iona Three-peat?
Mark Konezny – USA Today Sports
We have MAACtion starting today!
Defending champion Iona won the first ever MAAC tournament in 1982. The Gaels have won ten overall, twice the amount of the next closest teams (Manhattan and Siena). However, despite 12 NCAA tournament appearances, Iona has only won a single NCAA tournament game. The Gaels won two of those previous ten MAAC titles in the past two seasons.
Overall, MAAC teams have a combined 16-50 record in the NCAA tournament. Canisius has the most tournament wins with six, and Siena had the most recent win in 2009. Quinnipiac is the only team in the league to never make the dance. Let’s take a look at this year’s tournament to see which MAAC team will make it on to your bracket.
2018 MAAC Tournament Overview
All 11 MAAC teams compete in the conference tournament, which will be played in its entirety at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York. The top five seeds receive a first round bye. The current betting favorite to cut down the nets is Canisius, which has only won one MAAC tournament in school history. That came in 1996.
Who Should Win
I think Canisius, which finished second due to a tiebreaker, has the slightly easier half of the bracket. The Griffs are the MAAC’s most balanced team, leading the league in offensive efficiency rating and checking in at second in defensive efficiency. Plus, the top seed historically doesn’t fare well in the MAAC Tournament, as Siena in 2010 was the last No. 1 seed to win the title. That’s the longest current “one seed drought” of any conference.
Canisius runs an efficient ball screen motion offense with three of the league’s best offensive players at the 2-4 positions in Isaiah Reese, Takal Molson, and Jermaine Crumpton. All three are at least 6’5 with handles and skilled passing ability. MAAC defenses simply can’t guard that trio in man to man, and zoning the Griffs simply isn’t an option, as Crumpton is one of the best high post offensive threats at the midmajor level. The Griffs’ ball movement is unrivaled in the MAAC, and they don’t turn it over. All that said, Canisius doesn’t manufacturing many points at the line nor the rim, which means an off-shooting night could spell doom.
Defensively, the Griffs have a few notable issues. One, Crumpton and Reese struggle to defend in pick and roll. Crumpton has slimmed down some, but he still lacks lateral agility. Two, Canisius doesn’t have a true big man, and thus have one of the worst post defenses in the country. Teams that can attack the rim (see Rider) gave the Griffs a lot of trouble. Oddly, head coach Reggie Witherspoon doesn’t really turn to zone all that much to address some of their defensive deficiencies. With that said, Canisius still limited MAAC offenses to the second lowest points per possession (ppp) in the league.
Canisius does potentially have a tough quarterfinal matchup against the winner of the 7/10 game between Quinnipiac and Siena. Quinnipiac runs a prolific spread pick and roll offense through outstanding 6’6 wing Cam Young, while Siena runs a flex offense that can expose the Griffs’ softness at the rim.
As for Siena-Quinnipiac, the Bobcats are more capable of defending in the paint than Siena is in defending pick and roll. Siena was eaten alive by Young in the first meeting off ball screens. When Jimmy Patsos tried to adjust in the rematch, Young routinely found Chaise Daniels rolling to the rim. However, Siena does have the advantage of playing on its home floor, which helped the Saints reach last year’s title game. Although that was a much, much better Siena team, as this year’s bunch has been decimated by injuries and defections, especially in the backcourt.
If Not Canisius, Then…
Top overall seed Rider has a dominant rim attacking and transition offense, led by outstanding point guard Stevie Jordan and a pair of matchup nightmares at the 3 and 4 in Dimencio Vaughn and Fred Scott, respectively. Per hoop-math.com, no team in the country attempts a higher percentage of shots at the rim than the Broncs. It can be excessively difficult to keep them out of the paint and off of the line.
Rider does have a few potential landmines in its half of the bracket. They will first play the winner of the 8/9 game between Monmouth and St. Peter’s. Monmouth enters the tournament in an unfamiliar role as a sleeper. The Hawks have disappointed the past two years as the top seed, but enter the tournament playing reasonably well. Monmouth has benefited from the recent return of Micah Seaborn, who just lit Rider up for 30 points on Feb. 22.
Monmouth will first have to get by an always tricky St. Peter’s team. Facing a John Dunne engineered defense is always a major challenge, especially when the Peacocks’ head coach has time to prep. SPU’s defense comes in on a roll, having allowed just .75 ppp in its last two games. SPU can shut team’s down with an excellent pick and roll defense that grades out in the 96th percentile nationally. However, the Peacocks simply can’t score enough points to warrant a dark horse label. Monmouth and SPU split the season series, even though Seaborn didn’t play in one contest and left the other with an injury.
Should Monmouth avoid being “Dunne’d” (MAAC parlance for getting shut down by the defensive mastermind), it can give Rider’s defense a world of trouble. The Broncs have major issues containing dribble penetration, which spells trouble against a Monmouth team that relies on breaking defenses down off the dribble. (The Hawks have the fourth highest free throw rate in the country). Both Seaborn and Austin Tilghman can blow by the Rider perimeter defense with ease.
No. 4 seed Iona didn’t have the MAAC regular season that many anticipated, as it dealt with locker room issues all year. But Tim Cluess in the MAAC Tournament is always dangerous. Cluess has coached the Gaels to the MAAC title game in all seven seasons that he’s been at the helm, winning it all four times. With Rickey McGill, Deyshonee Much, Schadrac Casimir, EJ Crawford, and a now healthy Zach Lewis, the Gaels can spread the floor in transition and shoot from anywhere on the court. Defensively, Cluess surprises teams with different looks from game to game in these tournament settings. He’ll use a full court press, a matchup zone, a 1-3-1, and half court zone traps. It’s why Cluess is one of the best tournament coaches in the country.
The Gaels will have to beat rival No. 5 seed Manhattan first and the prospect of prepping for its relentless full court pressure is never fun. However, the Gaels torched the Jaspers to the tune of 1.25 ppp in a season sweep. They only turned the ball over at a paltry 12% rate, while shredding Manhattan’s 2-3 zone in the halfcourt. I will say that Manhattan played the first meeting without senior guard Rich Williams, who has been on a tear recently.
Potential Dark Horse
The No. 6 seed Stags are playing their best basketball of the season, having won four straight and seven of nine. No. 11 seed Marist shouldn’t pose much of a threat, as Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson knows how to defend its Princeton style motion offense. (Although the Red Foxes did split the season series). If Fairfield does advance, it will face No. 3 seed Niagara, which will likely be without leading scorer Matt Scott, who hasn’t practiced since a bad ankle sprain on Feb. 16. Niagara has relied on out-gunning teams all year, which is difficult without Scott on the wing. Fairfield’s efficient pick and roll offense should also have success against a very poor Niagara ball screen defense. Definite value at 18/1.
First Round ATS Predictions
Quinnipiac +1 (top ATS prediction)
MAAC Championship Prediction
Canisius over Iona
Pictured above: Iona guard Rickey McGill; credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports