Lamont Jones

2013 MAAC Tournament Preview

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The MAAC is wild, been that way all season. Ten teams from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference will finish the final act to an unpredictable conference schedule at the birthplace of basketball in Springfield, Mass.

Five teams are separated by only two games. Niagara enters Thursday with a No. 1 followed by Rider, Loyola (Md.), Iona, and Canisius — each team has a realistic chance to go dancing on Monday night. Each team has at least five conference losses, which shows how balanced the conference is.

Last season, the top-seeded Iona was dropped in the semifinals by Fairfield, before Loyola (Md.) snatched the automatic bid.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: MassMutual Center (Springfield, Mass.)

When: March 8-11

Final: March 11, 9:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Favorite: Niagara 

The Purple Eagles begin the conference tournament as the top team, but in the MAAC the top team and the fifth place team are much different. Niagara limped through the last part of the season, going 4-4 over the last five games (2-2 with leading scorer Antoine Mason out).

And if they lose?: Rider. The Broncs has won five straight and seven of eight after dropping three consecutive. Rider ended the season on the road, beating both Niagara and Canisius in a span of three days. The Broncs are playing its best basketball at the right time of the season. Rider has also beaten Niagara twice, even when the Purple Eagles were with and without leading scorer Antoine Mason.

Sleepers: Iona could also go as far as Lamont Jones takes the Gaels. Jones has only gone under 20 once in the last dozen games. He’s also played well against some of the MAAC’s. Canisius is also in the mix aftering spliting with Loyola (Md.) and Rider, while only falling to Niagara by one. Canisius is a solid team, more than able to make a three-day run in Springfield. Loyola (Md.) is back strong after earning the MAAC’s automatic bid last season.

Studs:

Lamont Jones, Iona: The senior guard is the leading scorer in the MAAC with 23.2 per game.   Jones has gone for over 30 points three times in his last seven games, most recently a 35 point (22 second half) outburst in a win against Loyola (Md.).

– Antoine Mason, Niagara: Mason is the leader scorer. The 6-foot-3 scorer is getting back into game mode after

– O.D. Anosike, Siena: The senior forward is a double-double machine this season with 16 on the season. The 6-foot-8 Anosike is averaging 12.9 points and 11.4 boards per contest.

– Billy Baron, Canisius: The classic ACC to A10 to MAAC transfer has been very productive in his first season for the Golden Griffins averaging 16.6 points and a conference-high 5.1 assists per game. Baron and his father, first-year head coach Jim Baron are a big reason why Canisius has improved by 13 wins this season

Others: Rhamel Brow, Manhattan; Erik Etherly, Loyola (Md.); Juan’ya Green, Niagara

CBT Prediction: Iona over third-seeded Loyola (Md.). Last season the Gaels won the regular season title, only to see the Greyhounds dance to the tourney.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.