Dates: March 4-7
Site: Fairfield, Conn.
Championship game: Monday, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Outlook: Fairfield made the most of this season. The conference tournament site is chosen before the year, giving the Stags an inherent advantage entering this thing. Then again, they’re also really good. The MAAC regular-season champs (23-6, 15-3) opened the season 1-3, then went on a tear from December until late February, going 22-2 thanks to a particularly efficient defense.
They’ll be pushed by Iona (20-10, 13-5) and Rider (22-9, 13-5), both of which posted solid non-conference wins and pulled long win streaks. (Rider even won at USC). St. Peter’s (17-13, 11-7) showed flashes this season – such as when it beat ‘Bama – but isn’t on the level of the other three.
One team that won’t win it? Back-to-back-to-back champ Siena. The Saints (12-17, 8-10) have the MAAC player of the year in Ryan Rossiter, but have struggled to replace their horde of graduated starters under first-year coach Mitch Buonaguro, who replaced Fran McCaffery. Rossiter can only do so much.
Player to watch: Michael Glover, Iona
It’s tough to go against Rossiter, but I like Glover for two reasons: His team will be around longer and I’m a sucker for a killer nickname. The guy who teammates call “Optimus Prime” averages 17.9 points and 10.2 rebounds a game after taking a long road to get to Iona. The 6-7 junior forward isn’t a scoring binge like he was to start the season, but he remains the league’s most talented player and could be the difference in the tourney.
Are you a believer in offense or defense? If it’s the latter, Fairfield’s the team. But I think I’ll go against the cliché and go with the superior offensive team. The Gaels can shoot the ball, take care of the ball and have three guys besides Glover who can burn you. They’ve won seven straight entering the tournament, including the regular-season finale vs. Fairfield. If there’s a team good enough to go against the home-court edge, it’s Iona.
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