With just a handful of MAAC regular season games remaining in 2014, it appeared the conference’s top three teams were Iona, Manhattan, and Quinnipiac. However, Siena upset what seemed to be the league’s natural order by defeating the Jaspers, 67-63, dropping Manhattan (13-4 MAAC) to third place and giving Jimmy Patsos his first premier win at the Loudonville-based school.
Steve Masiello’s team should have won this contest; any team that goes to the free throw line for 42 attempts likely should win, but the squad shot a woeful 45.2 percent from the stripe. Combined with a failure to defend the three-point line — the Saints made nearly 40 percent from deep, and Ryan Oliver, a 6-foot-3 guard whose only made 33 percent of his threes this year, converted two crucial bombs in the final minutes — and the Jaspers dropped a game it needed to win if only to keep pace with the Gaels. Manhattan’s final two tilts are against Iona and Canisius, and while both are at home, it isn’t as if the Jaspers can easily close out the rest of MAAC play.
As for the other top two, Iona was leading Rider by double-digits but a veil of disinterest covered the team, and turnovers and lackadaisical defense helped Rider cut the lead to just three before the Gaels pulled out the win. Now 14-2 in MAAC play, Iona hasn’t lost in more than a month, and are the clear favorite for the league tournament’s top seed. The league’s dark horse, though, is Quinnipiac (13-4 MAAC). Arguably the biggest surprise in their first MAAC season, the Bobcats aren’t a great defensive team, but what Tom Moore’s club does well, they really do it well — specifically, grab a ton of their own misses and limit opponents’ additional possessions. St. Francis PA transfer Umar Shannon recently rejoined the lineup, and he could be the difference when the conference converges in Springfield for the city’s final MAAC tourney. Shannon isn’t a threat within the arc but he has the automatic green light from the perimeter: in his first game back, a win against Canisius, Shannon made four of six threes.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.