The MAAC regular season has come to an end with Rider and Canisius deadlocked in the top spot at 15-3. It is the first regular season title for the Broncs since 2007-08, while the Golden Griffins last won the title in the 1993-94 season.
Based on tiebreakers, Rider will enter this weekend’s MAAC tournament in Albany as the #1 seed while Canisius falls to the #2 spot. The full final standings are as follows:
#9 Saint Peter’s
In lieu of a regular weekly recap and now that we have reached the end of the season with no need for predictive power rankings, I will run through my thoughts on the tournament and lay out predictions for this weekend’s events.
#8 Monmouth vs. #9 Saint Peter’s – Thursday, March 1 (5:00 PM)
The entire New Jersey contingent is closely grouped this year, as the winner of this opening game will face top-seeded Rider on Friday. Monmouth and Saint Peter’s split the regular season series with each team winning by double figures on its home court, but the Hawks possess the tournament’s ultimate X factor in junior Micah Seaborn.
Seaborn played just one half against the Peacocks on New Year’s Eve before aggravating an ankle injury. He has since missed 11 games including the rematch with Saint Peter’s on Feb. 13, but returned two weeks ago with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists in Monmouth’s 93-89 triple-overtime win at Siena. The Texas native posted mixed results in the final two games of the season with a career-high 30 points against Rider before being held to just two at Fairfield.
Saint Peter’s enters the tournament off back-to-back wins against Quinnipiac and Siena while holding each opponent below 50 points scored. A John Dunne team making a run through the MAAC tournament isn’t unheard of (the Peacocks captured the 2011 title from the #4 spot), and it would surprise no one to see Saint Peter’s clamp down on the defensive end again Thursday evening.
For as good as the Peacocks’ defense has been this season, their sputtering offense has held them back far too often. I expect Monmouth’s pieces will come together and score enough to make it through to the quarterfinals.
#7 Quinnipiac vs. #10 Siena – Thursday, March 1 (7:00 PM)
Quinnipiac began MAAC play a surprising 6-4, but dropped seven of its last eight down the stretch to fall to the #7 seed in this year’s tournament. That lands the Bobcats into a road game Thursday night against Siena, which plays its home games at the Times Union Center, site of the MAAC tournament.
The Bobcats swept the season series from Siena, but will see different Saints squads in all three matchups. When Quinnipiac captured the 71-70 victory in Albany on New Year’s Day, Siena still had guard Nico Clareth in the lineup. When the teams hooked up again in Connecticut, Roman Penn was still healthy. With neither player available for Jimmy Patsos’ squad in the third go-round, attention will go elsewhere.
Evan Fisher torched the Bobcats for a career-high 21 points on 7-11 shooting while connecting on four triples in the first matchup, then added another 13 points in the second meeting. Even with the home crowd at its back, Siena will need a similar contribution from Fisher in order to get through to the quarterfinals.
One key battle to watch will be in the paint between Quinnipiac senior Chaise Daniels and Siena freshman Prince Oduro. The former went for 17 points on 6-9 shooting in the second meeting while Oduro was held to 13 combined points in the two regular season matchups. With Oduro playing well enough lately to snag the final spot on the MAAC All-Rookie team, it will be interesting to see if he has a larger impact on Thursday.
Despite playing in what promises to be a hostile environment, I believe Quinnipiac will be able to get past the Saints and into a quarterfinal matchup with Canisius.
#6 Fairfield vs. #11 Marist – Thursday, March 1 (9:00 PM)
Fairfield may be the league’s hottest team and thanks to a strong stretch run, Sydney Johnson’s squad has wound up with a favorable draw heading into Albany. The Stags captured their final four games and seven of their last nine to climb into the #6 seed. Fairfield and Marist split the season series with the earlier matchup in Poughkeepsie going to overtime.
Marist was able to win that first matchup despite star guard Brian Parker turning an ankle soon early on and playing just one minute. Parker missed one game following the incident, but returned to post 18 points in the rematch, though Fairfield took the game 83-79. For Marist to spring the upset, Parker will have to be at the top of his game, and the Red Foxes will need contributions from others. Freshman Austin Williams, who scored a season-high 23 points in the first meeting and another 12 in the rematch, will be one to watch along with juniors Ryan Funk and David Knudsen.
Although Tyler Nelson rightfully garners great attention for the Stags, Fairfield’s best advantage may come inside. Junior forward Jonathan Kasibabu has been on a tear to end the regular season, and could very well prove hard to handle by a Marist’s frontcourt hoping to get Tobias Sjoberg back from a two game absence. Kasibabu has finished in double figures each of his last five games with two double-doubles and a monstrous 73.7% field goal percentage.
I believe Thursday’s nightcap will prove to be a close game throughout, but Fairfield will pack enough firepower to pull away late and advance to take on Niagara.
#4 Iona vs. #5 Manhattan – Saturday, March 3 (9:30 PM)
Heated rivals Iona and Manhattan won’t square off until the seventh game of the tournament, but as the #4 vs. #5 pairing, it is the only game past Thursday of which we already know the participants. The Gaels and Jaspers battled in out in three consecutive MAAC finals from 2013-2015, but will meet in an earlier round of the tournament for the first time in over 16 years.
Iona has dominated the rivalry of late, winning the last six meetings in the series, but the Jaspers have scored the victory each of the last two times they faced off in the MAAC tournament. The Gaels’ Schadrac Casimir will be the key to this meeting. The redshirt junior has torched the Jaspers nearly every time he’s seen them, and is averaging 18.4 ppg with a 66.7% mark behind the arc in seven career meetings.
Rich Williams leads Manhattan with 14.7 ppg, and is playing his best basketball at the close of his career. The fifth-year senior has reached double digits in 15 of his last 16 games and eight in a row to end the regular season. Over his last four contests, Williams is averaging 21.7 ppg while connecting on 51.6% of his attempts.
Iona won both regular season meetings by 13 points, so on paper this would appear to be a one-sided affair. However, this is not a typical Iona team and Manhattan has a track record of turning the tables come tournament time. That said, I do think Iona pulls out a much closer victory late Saturday night with a quick turnaround for the semifinals looming.
Now that I’ve given thoughts on the known matchups, I’ll summarize my full predictions for the 2018 MAAC tournament:
#8 Monmouth def. #9 Saint Peter’s
#7 Quinnipiac def. #10 Siena
#6 Fairfield def. #11 Marist
#1 Rider def. #8 Monmouth
#2 Canisius def. #7 Quinnipiac
#6 Fairfield def. #3 Niagara
#4 Iona def. #5 Manhattan
#1 Rider def. #4 Iona
#2 Canisius def. #6 Fairfield
#2 Canisius def. #1 Rider
2018 MAAC Champions: Canisius
Hope everyone enjoys the latest rendition of the MAAC tournament. Happy March!
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.