Last season in the MAAC tournament championship game, Iona punched its ticket to its second straight NCAA tournament, knocking off in-state rival Manhattan. A week ago, the Gaels and Jaspers met in their final meeting of the regular season with Manhattan pulling out an 80-77 overtime win over the MAAC regular season champion. They will enter as the top two seeds in Springfield this week, but getting back to the title game will prove to be difficult, I mean after all, Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said it himself, “This is not a one-bid league.”
Quinnipiac, a newcomer to the MAAC this season, has seen instant success with its frontline of Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame each grabbing 10 rebounds per game. Canisius guard Billy Baron is flying under the radar nationally for the season he’s had. He’ll try and replicate the success Iona had as the four-seed last year and lead the Golden Griffins to the Big Dance.
Siena is the last team in the MAAC with a winning conference record as first-year head coach Jimmy Patsos has his Saints riding a four-game winning streak — the only team to beat Manhattan in the last month — heading into the tournament.
When: March 6-10
Where: MassMutual Center, Springfield, Mass.
Final: March 10, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
The Gaels have been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, earning the automatic bid in 2013. The league’s most efficient offense has some experienced and talented offensive weapons in Sean Armand, A.J. English and David Laury. Iona can get out and run on its opponents, which help makes up for its defensive, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the MAAC in terms of efficiency. The Gaels have won 12 of their last 13, though Quinnipiac, Canisius and Manhattan — three of the other contenders in the MAAC — have all defeated them this season.
And if they lose?: Manhattan
Iona has the MAAC’s most potent offense. It’s toughest competition is Manhattan, the conference’s most efficient defenses. They have the offensive talent with George Beamon and Mike Alvardo — the two leading scorers — along Rhamel Brown inside. The Jaspers will go in with some added motivation after having their magical run as the six-seed ended inside the MassMutual Center a season ago.
- Canisius: Billy Baron has the scoring prowess to lead the Golden Griffins to the title in his last chance at an NCAA tournament appearance.
- Quinnipiac: The Bobcats control over the glass — an average of eight more than any other team in the MAAC — can spoil hopes of a Iona-Manhattan rematch.
- Siena: The Saints, picked 10th in the MAAC preseason poll, have exceeded expectations. Can a magical tournament run cap Patsos’ first year?
- Billy Baron, Canisius: The second leading scorer in the conference at 25.1 point per game. He’s also hit some clutch shots this season.
- Rhamel Brown and George Beamon, Manhattan: The duo combines for 32 points and 12 rebounds per game for the Jaspers.
- Sean Armand, Iona: Leads the high-powered Iona offense, which has five players averaging double figures, with 17.8 points per game.
CBT Prediction: Manhattan over Canisius