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MAAC conference tournament preview

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Back in October, the MAAC looked like a two-team league. Iona and Fairfield were both stocked with talent, both homegrown and of the transfer variety, and had some pundits speculating that this could feasibly turn into a two-bid — if not three-bid, WCC-in-2008-style — conference by the end of the season.

Alas, it didn’t happen.

Fairfield started off the season slowly, had a run late in the year but saw any real hope of an NCAA Tournament run dashed when point guard Derek Needham went down for the season with a broken foot. Iona had a promising start to the year but they dropped two winnable games — by winnable, I mean games in which the held an 18 point lead, one of which was with eight minutes left in the game — that essentially ended any real shot they had of putting together a resume strong enough to deserve at-large consideration.

But here’s the thing: just because the MAAC isn’t going to be sending two teams to the NCAA Tournament doesn’t mean that there isn’t talent in this league. Because there is. Loyola (MD) had a banner year for that program, Steve Masiello turned around Manhattan quicker than anyone thought possible and Siena can claim wins over Fairfield, Iona and Manhattan.

The Bracket

Where: Springfield, MS

When: March 2rd-March 5th

Final: March 5th, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2

Favorite: Iona

Would it be anyone other than Iona at this point? The Gaels are easily the most talented team in the MAAC. Scott Machado is an NBA caliber point guard, Momo Jones and Mike Glover are transfers from high-major programs and there are a number athletes and/or shooters filling out the roster. Iona can score with the best of them. They push the ball and allow Machado to make decisions; he may be the only point guard in the country that is a better passer than Kendall Marshall. The issue with the Gaels is defense, but in the MAAC, if they are clicking offensively, no one is going to be able to keep up with them regardless of the defense they are playing.

And if they lose?: Loyola (MD)

The Greyhounds did not end the season very well. They lost three of their last six games heading into the postseason. The good news? The three wins they had in that stretch came against Iona, at Manhattan and against a Boston U team that finished third in the America East. What does that mean? Well, I don’t know for sure, but it certainly means that while they are capable of losing on any given night, Jimmy Patsos’ team can beat anybody.

Sleepers: I don’t think Fairfield is going to make much noise. They’ve had a disappointing year and will be playing without their star point guard. I do, however, envision Manhattan being a nuisance. Masiello has himself a star in 6’4″ George Beamon and enough talent surrounding him that the Jaspers almost certainly make some noise. That is, if they can get past Siena in the first round.

Studs:

Scott Machado, Iona: I think the best story about Machado is that his first name is actually Michael, but he grew up a Knicks fan in the 90’s and refused to share a name with Jordan.

George Beamon, Manhattan: I don’t think there is a player in the conference that is as important to his team as Beamon is. Without him, who scores?

Mike Glover, Iona: Yeah, I’m going with two different Iona players in the studs category. Its because they are. The man’s nickname is ‘Optimus Prime’ and he averages 18.1 ppg and 9.1 rpg. You don’t need me to tell you he’s a stud.

O.D. Anosike, Siena: The nation’s leader in double-doubles — well, Divison I leader — Onisike has had just one game this season where he didn’t get either double-figure rebounds or double-figure points.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

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AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org