This is a quick wrap up of some things I’ve been meaning to write about from around the MAAC, since I haven’t gotten a chance to because Vincent and Ryan Restivo have been killing it on the beat. For more of their work check out the MAAC page.
The Race Is On Again For The Fifth Seed
There are two MAAC races every season. The first is for first place in the league and then there’s the race for fifth place. Finishing in the top five ensures a team an extra day of rest in Albany, NY as every team tries to win its way into the NCAA tournament.
Iona basically has taken all the drama out of the first one. Someone — most likely Rider — could still catch the Gaels even though they have a two-game lead on everyone else in the conference. (It’s worth noting that Iona would hold the tiebreaker in that scenario anyways since they already beat the Broncs twice.)
The race for the fifth seed on the other hand is a little more interesting. Three teams appear to have basically locked up that extra day of rest. After running a Monte Carlo simulation of the remainder of the regular season using Ken Pomeroy’s ratings Iona and Rider both earned a top five seed in 100% of simulations. Monmouth earned one in 99.6% of simulations. It would take a collapse of epic proportions for the Hawks to miss out on the bye, but it is worth noting that the schedule isn’t exactly easy down the stretch. Then there is Manhattan, who is two games clear of its competition and has an 85.7% chance of earning a top five seed. The Jaspers’ biggest hurdle is that fact that three of their final games are on the road. (And the last one is a tricky one against a Quinnipiac team that already beat Steve Masiello’s squad.) They’re not a lock, but close.
And then there’s the final top five seed. This is where things get much more tricky. Four teams – Canisius, Quinnipiac, Saint Peter’s and Siena – still have a chance. The simulation would have you bet on them in exactly that order too, with the Golden Griffins have almost exactly double the odds of Quinnipiac of earning that fifth and final spot. Why might the computer be wrong? A few thoughts:
- Phil Valenti is injured. But he has been now for five games, so Canisius’ KenPom rating has mostly taken that into consideration.
- Canisius plays two of the contenders for that top five slot on the road this weekend (the Griffs are at Siena and at Quinnipiac).
Why might it be right? Canisius’ final two games are at home against Niagara and Fairfield, two of the three worst teams in the league. Those two wins are the pocket aces that Jim Baron is currently slow playing on the rest of the teams trying to earn that fifth seed. Of course much stranger things have happened.
Manhattan Is… Different
Since Steve Masiello arrived in the Bronx, Manhattan has been one of the best defensive teams in the country year in and year out. This season though the Jaspers rank 201st in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency and sixth in the MAAC in defensive efficiency allowing just more than a point per possession.
One of the reasons is because Manhattan’s paint defense has taken a step backwards without Rhamel Brown patrolling the backline. The Jaspers’ block rate has been cut in half (to 7.3% from 15.2% last season) and teams are taking advantage of an easier time around the rim. Manhattan’s opponents are making 48.9% of their two-point attempts, 214th nationally.
It might not just be Brown though that Jaspers miss. Mike Alvarado and George Beamon were both excellent – and in my opinion underrated defenders. The Jaspers are forcing more turnovers than ever before – they’re sixth nationally in turnover percentage with a quarter of all possessions ending in a turnover – they’re just gambling to do it.
“I think the biggest problem we’re having is our ball containment and I think we miss George [Beamon] and Mike [Alvarado] the most and what’s happened is now it exposes our lack of a shot blocker which we had in Rhamel [Brown] because we’re getting beat off the bounce so I do think you’re right in that situation,” Masiello told Restivo last week. “I love the way we’re playing passing lanes I think we’re getting out and disrupting teams offices better I love the way we’re pressing I love how we’re forcing teams to turn the ball over.”
There are two basic ways to beat Manhattan’s defense this season. Play patient basketball and find good shots – which Iona did well in its win last Friday, or crash the offensive boards – which Quinnipiac and Siena did especially well when both of them faced the Jaspers earlier. Masiello’s team will see both of those styles again during the final four games of MAAC play. Manhattan takes on Siena on Saturday and plays at Iona and hosts Quinnipiac during the final weekend of the season.
What’s for sure is that Manhattan’s offense has picked up the slack for its defense. The Jaspers are third in offensive efficiency in MAAC play, behind on Iona and Siena. Manhattan gets to free throw line consistently and happens to be good at scoring in the paint, mostly thanks to Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey. It’s a formula that has Manhattan right in the thick of the tournament seeding race and holding onto hopes of another NCAA tournament berth.
“I think we’re guilty of our own I don’t want to say success, but our own branding where we’re known for this defensive juggernaut that just bothers people and doesn’t let you get anything,” Masiello said. “We’re a different team this year it doesn’t mean we’re not good we’re just different.”
The MAAC tournament moving to Albany, NY was supposed to be a huge boost to Siena’s NCAA tournament chances. Well, this season the Saints need all the help they can get. While Siena does have seven wins, they are ninth in terms of efficiency margin – even behind Fairfield. It’s partly due to the blowout loss earlier in the season to Canisius, but Siena’s defense has also been atrocious in conference play, allowing 1.11 points per possession. Jimmy Patsos’ team is 3-1 in MAAC games decided by four points or fewer. They’ve won 1.7 more MAAC games than expected and I’d attribute that not grit or heart or experience, but to some good old fashion luck. When it runs out this team could be in even more trouble.
The Griffs on the other hand have experience some bad luck. Whether it is injuries or a 1-4 record in MAAC games decided by four points or fewer. They’re 2.5 games below their expected pace. If that were the case Canisius would have already separated from the pack in that fight for the fifth seed.
Also living on borrowed time?: Iona and Monmouth (both +1.4 wins)
Waiting for their luck to turn around?: Fairfield (-1.2 wins) and Quinnipiac (-1.1 wins)