Games of Friday, February 29
Matchup: Niagara (18-8, 11-5 Metro Atlantic) at Siena (17-10, 11-5), 7:00 p.m. EST
Rankings: Niagara, #151 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in MAAC); Siena, #121 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Siena, 82-74 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 24%
Prospectus: These two teams are each one win behind Loyola MD, which beat Canisius last night, for the MAAC lead with two games left. Siena last won the MAAC regular season title in 2000, while Niagara shared the crown with the Saints in 1999. The Purple Eagles won the MAAC conference tournament last season, as well as in 2005, while Siena won it in 2002 and 1999. The Saints took the first meeting between these two this year, a 94-84 decision at Niagara. Siena's star sophomore Edwin Ubiles scored 28 points on 11-of-14 shooting (4-of-4 from three), while Niagara's Charron Fisher scored 31 on 50 eFG% shooting in the loss. The Purple Eagles' offense is dominated by Fisher, who is first in the nation in the prodigiousness of his shooting, hoisting up 39 percent of Niagara's attempts while on the floor. Fisher is also second in percentage of possessions used, behind only Quinnipiac's DeMario Anderson, and fourth in percentage of minutes played. Fisher takes 22 shots a game, on average, as well as more than 10 free throws. Getting to the line is crucial for the Purple Eagles, who do not shoot well from the floor. The team ranks fourth in free throw rate (trips made per 100 field goal attempts), and Niagara converts at a healthy clip while at the stripe. Consequently, the Purple Eagles have gotten the second-highest percentage of their points from free throws of any Division I team, at 26.8 percent, behind only Arkansas Little Rock. Siena does a good job of keeping teams off the stripe, although Niagara made 26 trips (against 74 field goal attempts) in the first game. If the Purple Eagles can pull this game out, they'll have the best chance of any of the conference's teams that currently have five losses of earning at least a share of the title, as Niagara has an easier final game--against last-place Canisius at home on Sunday--than any of the contenders. The Saints play on the road against St. Peter's Sunday.
Matchup: St. Peter's (6-21, 3-13 Metro Atlantic) at Rider (19-9, 11-5), 7:00
Rankings: St. Peter's, #272 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 10 in MAAC); Rider, #128 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Rider, 82-66 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 7%
Prospectus: Rider is tied with Siena and Niagara at 11-5, a half-game behind Loyola MD. If the Broncs can take care of business at home against the MAAC's second worst team, they'll be playing for at least a share of the conference regular season title at home against Fairfield on Sunday. Rider has been co-champion of the conference twice before, sharing with Niagara in 2005 and Marist in 2002, but has never won the MAAC outright, nor taken the conference tournament. The Broncs ran off a 10-game MAAC winning streak between January 6 and February 8 to move into first place, but then lost three straight games, to Siena, Fairfield, and Loyola MD, before pulling out a 73-72 victory at Cal St. Northridge in the BracketBusters last Saturday. Rider, which beat the St. Peter's Peacocks 76-67 on the road January 27, has the best offense in the conference, which is led by 6'11" senior Jason Thompson. Thompson has taken more than 14 shots a game and put up a 55 eFG% and 109.7 offensive rating. He also ranks in the top 20 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, and the top 40 in
block percentage. The Peacocks' best player is 6'7" senior Todd Sowell, who is 13th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and 51st in block percentage.
Matchup: Iona (23-6, 14-2 Metro Atlantic) at Marist (16-11, 13-3), 7:30
Rankings: Iona, #227 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 10 in MAAC); Marist, #163 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marist, 68-60 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 19%
Prospectus: Loyola MD's win last night mathematically eliminated Marist from contention for the MAAC regular season title, so the Red Foxes will have to try and sneak into the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tourney, something they have never done. Marist did take the MAAC regular season title last season, with a 14-4 record, but lost to Siena in the semifinal of the conference tournament and thus was relegated to the NIT despite its fine season. The Red Foxes knocked off a decent Oklahoma St. team in the first round of the NIT before falling to North Carolina St. Marist lost its two leading players from that team and was picked to finish fifth this year by the league's coaches. Interestingly, the MAAC coaches did an outstanding job of predicting how the league would end up. The preseason poll had Siena, Loyola, Niagara and Rider in the top four spots--exactly the teams that are now battling for the league title.
Matchup: Manhattan (11-16, 5-11 Metro Atlantic) at Fairfield (13-14, 10-6), 7:30
Rankings: Manhattan, #231 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 10 in MAAC); Fairfield, #206 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Fairfield, 70-65 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: Fairfield still has a fraction of a shot at earning a share of the MAAC title. The Stags will have to win their final two games, versus Manhattan and at Rider, have Loyola MD lose to Marist on Sunday, and have whichever team wins the Siena/Niagara game lose its Sunday contest, as well. Not very likely, of course, but the good news for Fairfield is that the Stags are playing very well heading into the conference tournament, having won their last six games. Fairfield has only one regular season MAAC title, which came in 1986, but has won the tournament three times, most recently in 1997. Manhattan, on the other hand, was the MAAC's most successful program of the last several years under coach Bobby Gonzalez, winning the regular season title in 2003, 2004, and 2006, and the tournament in 2003 and 2004. Gonzalez left for Seton Hall after the 2006 season, and Barry Rohrssen has struggled to continue the success he began. After an eight-game conference losing streak dropped them into the MAAC basement, however, the Jaspers have won three straight in the conference, including a one-point victory at home over Siena. Fairfield gave Manhattan its final loss of the eight-game streak in a 66-61 decision in Riverdale.
Matchup: Dartmouth (9-15, 2-8 Ivy League) at Cornell (18-5, 10-0), 7:00
Rankings: Dartmouth, #326 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 8 in Ivy); Cornell, #127 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Cornell, 83-60 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 2%
Prospectus: Cornell's magic number to clinch the Ivy League title is two--a win over the Ivy's worst squad at home coupled with a Brown loss versus Princeton, or a sweep of Dartmouth and Harvard tonight and tomorrow, will send the Big Red to the NCAA Tournament. Cornell will be the first Ivy team other than Princeton or Penn to win the league since the Big Red's last title in 1988 (in 2002, Penn, Princeton, and Yale all tied for the league title, but Penn won the three-game playoff), and also the first besides the Killer Ps to advance to the NCAA Tournament since that 1988 Cornell team. The Big Red is getting consideration as a potential 13 seed, and Cornell could be a dangerous squad for a power-conference team to face in the first round because of its three-point shooting ability. Cornell ranks third in the country with a 41.1 team percentage from beyond the arc, and its 78.8 percentage at the free throw line is second best. The Big Red shot 63.8 eFG% from the floor in a 73-63 win at Dartmouth February 16, its highest eFG% of the Ivy season.
Matchup: Princeton (5-19, 2-7 Ivy League) at Brown (15-9, 7-3), 7:00
Rankings: Princeton, #305 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 8 in Ivy); Brown, #155 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Brown, 64-50 in 56 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 6%
Prospectus: The Bears blew their chance to make the last two Ivy weekends suspenseful by losing at Cornell last Saturday night, and now will try to stave off mathematical elimination for at least one night with a win over the Tigers.
This game is interesting in that both teams run the Princeton offense. Brown coach Craig Robinson was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton in the early 1980s, playing under coach Pete Carril. The Princeton footprint can be seen in the Bears' slow pace, 62.8 possessions per 40, and the high percentage of their field goal attempts that are from long range (41.1). The Tigers shoot an even higher percentage of their field goals from three (43.9), and play at an even slower pace (59.1/40), so this game could be a particularly drawn out one, with each team milking the 35-second clock. In the first game between these two, Princeton lost 65-63 at home on February 16 in just 55 possessions. As is their wont, the Bears got to the line frequently in that win, shooting 81 percent as many free throws as field goals to bolster their nation-leading free throw rate.
Matchup: Harvard (8-18, 3-7 Ivy League) at Columbia (13-12, 6-4), 7:00
Rankings: Harvard, #270 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 8 in Ivy); Columbia, #228 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Columbia, 70-64 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 25%
Prospectus: The Lions have lost twice to both Brown and Cornell, but beaten up on the Ivy underlings, including Harvard, which Columbia defeated 73-64 on the road February 16. The Lions were expected to be a contender this year in the Ivy League, and while they have gotten the improvement on defense they needed to reach that status, the team's offense--second best in the Ivies last year--has regressed to a unit that scores less than a point per possession, despite the team having returned virtually all of its minutes from last season. The Crimson has struggled in its first season under new head coach Tommy Amaker, but did beat both Princeton (in overtime) and Pennsylvania at home last weekend, the first time Harvard has swept a series against the Ps since 1987.
Matchup: Pennsylvania (10-16, 5-4 Ivy League) at Yale (10-14, 4-6), 7:00
Rankings: Pennsylvania, #285 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 8 in Ivy); Yale, #245 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Yale, 76-67 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 21%
Prospectus: The Bulldogs have a history of giving the Quakers trouble in New Haven, as Yale beat Pennsylvania at home in 2005 and 2007. In both those years, the loss to the Bulldogs was the only Ivy League defeat for the Quakers, who won three straight Ivy championships from 2005-07. This year Pennsylvania is in serious rebuilding mode, with three freshmen among the team's top five in percentage of minutes played. The Quakers beat Yale 78-65 at home on February 16 in the teams' initial meeting this year.
Matchup: Kennesaw St. (9-20, 6-9 Atlantic Sun) at Mercer (11-17, 6-9), 7:30
Rankings: Kennesaw St., #308 in Pomeroy Ratings (11th of 12 in A-Sun); Mercer, #279 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Mercer, 81-74 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 25%
Prospectus: This is the last game of the season for both of these Atlantic Sun teams, and a rematch of the January 5 game that saw Mercer win 77-75 in overtime. Mercer started its season with a bang, beating Southern California 96-81 in Los Angeles to spoil freshman phenom O.J. Mayo's collegiate debut, but the Bears then proceeded to lose five in a row, which put them on the path towards their third straight losing season. The Fighting Owls of Kennesaw St. moved from Division II to Division I for the 2006 season, and finished at .500 in the Atlantic Sun in both 2006 and 2007.
Matchup: Holy Cross (15-12, 5-8 Patriot League) at Lehigh (13-14, 6-7), 9:00
Rankings: Holy Cross, #176 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 8 in Patriot); Lehigh, #251 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Holy Cross, 58-57 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 45%
Prospectus: Holy Cross has been the most successful Patriot League program of the 21st century, as the Crusaders won the league tournament three straight years from 2001-2003, lost in the championship game to Bucknell in both 2005 and 2006, and recaptured the crown by beating Bucknell in the final tourney contest in 2007. Holy Cross shared the regular season title with Bucknell last year, and won it outright in 2001, 2003, and 2005. The Crusaders are mired in seventh place this season, however, with injuries to key players Eric Meister, Adam May, Pat Doherty, and Alex Vander Baan having hurt the team picked in the preseason as the best in the Patriot League. If Holy Cross can get healthy soon--May and Vander Baan are still sidelined heading into tonight, the final regular season game of the year--it has the talent to run the table in the Patriot League tournament and get back to the Big Dance. The tournament seeding is still yet to be determined, and Holy Cross can finish with anything from the #5 to the #8 seed depending on this game and the other Patriot contests this weekend, but it's clear that no Patriot League team wants to play the wounded and dangerous Crusaders in the first round.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.