Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The 2-3 Zone - Feb. 20th

A look at our top dogs in the MAAC:
1. Rider (18-9, 11-5 MAAC) - A three-game losing streak is far from the vote of confidence we were looking for in a top-seeded team. Still, how long can this tailspin possibly continue? Furthermore, the fact that all of the team's recent losses have been competitive down to the wire makes me think that the Broncs are a bounce or two away from regaining their swagger. Coach Tommy Dempsey: "If we win these final two, we'll be hanging a banner up in our gym." I have even easier math: one dominant big man normally equals March success.

2. Loyola (Md.) (16-12, 11-5 MAAC) - A four-way tie atop the current MAAC standings is largely a product of the Greyhounds' recent streak. Monday night's comeback over Rider was a thing of beauty, especially against a team that was reeling from back-to-back losses and was likely hungry for a victory. Senior Brian Tuck's 16 second-half points was as impressive a performance as Patsos' and company have seen all season. The Greyhounds have now won 9 of their last 11 games. Watch out.

Three movers-and-shakers in the MAAC
3. Siena (16-10, 11-5 MAAC) - Earlier this season, the '2-3 Zone' pegged them as easily the most athletic team in the conference and a clear-cut favorite to win the tournament - which just so happens to be in Saints' own backyard. Shaky losses to Loyola (Md.) and Manhattan have us singing a different tune. Still, a look at the bigger picture makes the Saints' slide a bit deceiving: Manhattan has won 2 of 3 games and is playing poised basketball down the stretch and Loyola (Md.) is finally living up to pre-season hype. Siena also went into the Zoo down in Trenton and took down top-ranked Rider (80-77) with first-place on the line. Key in March: Siena's tremendous depth.

4. Niagara (17-8, 7-3 MAAC) - Forget about the near-loss to St. Peter's on Monday night, or the lapse to Fairfield in Albany right after the Stags were killed by Canisius two days before. As long as this team has Charron Fisher, they have a legitimate chance to win the MAAC. In fact, aside from losing to a red-hot Fairfield team and to Rider, the Purple Eagles have won five of six games - including a convincing win over the Greyhounds. Joe Mihalich is experienced, the team is experienced, several tiebreakers fall the Eagles way - what else could you ask for heading down the stretch?

5. Fairfield (12-14, 10-6 MAAC) - Unreal. It's hard to fathom that the same team that lost seven of eight games in early January, or the group that lost to Canisius by 19 (70-51 on 1/25) is now the "hottest team in the conference" (a direct quote in the post-game press conference from Marist head coach Matt Brady). Marty O'Sullivan's renaissance is easily one of the best storylines of the MAAC season. Jon Han is Cooley's "team MVP". Amazingly enough, the issue now moves away from if the Stags can avoid a play-in game to if the Stags can win the regular-season MAAC title. While the latter is highly doubtful, Fairfield will certainly spell trouble for any team that draws them in the tournament in two weeks.

- K.C.

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