Last weekend was a crazy weekend in the MAAC, with results flipping the standings and power rankings in ways that we didn’t expect. So, what is there to look out for this weekend in the MAAC?
Can the Saints survive Buffalo?
The final undefeated team left in the conference is the Siena Saints, and there’s now a target placed on their backs, right before the most physically demanding road trip of the season, Buffalo. It’s where great teams go to die, even when the hosts aren’t great.
Last year, Iona’s undefeated MAAC season abruptly ended against Niagara, after weeks of talk about potentially going 20-0. Even in 2009 and 2010, when Fran McCaffery coached the Saints, their gaudy records were tarnished in trips to the Buffalo area. So far this season, Niagara is undefeated at home, winning all five games they’ve played there, and Canisius has played above their level in true home games. Niagara is likely the bigger threat to Siena, as they hold a 4-2 league record with wins over Fairfield, Rider, and Quinnipiac.
The Saints could once again be down two starters due to injury, as well. Star point guard Javian McCollum and starting forward Jayce Johnson are both game time decisions for Friday night. While they won at home against Rider without both, it’s much harder to win games shorthanded on the road. If McCollum is unable to play, then Siena will have to rely on freshman point guard Zek Tekin, who has struggled with turnovers early in his career.
KenPom gives the Saints a 29.6% chance of returning to Albany unscathed despite ranking nearly 100 points higher than both teams that are on the docket.
Iona’s get-right weekend at home
The most shocking result in the MAAC so far was the blowout victory for Quinnipiac against Iona last Sunday afternoon. On that day in Hamden, the Gaels fell behind immediately, and couldn’t bring the game back at all.
This weekend comes a test of Iona’s mental toughness, with games at their fortress against Fairfield and Rider. Facing two talented — yet disappointing — teams that will be desperate for wins, and knowing the target that Iona has on its back, this stretch is incredibly important.
Nelly Junior Joseph must win the battle in the paint with Supreme Cook and Chris Maidoh against Fairfield on Friday. The Stags offense is predicated on post ups, and Nelly is excellent at defending those. Against Rider, Berrick JeanLouis’ point-of-attack defense will be very important, as they like to use their guards to create in the mid-range and around the basket.
Daniss Jenkins has looked like the MAAC Player of the Year, but without his running mate Walter Clayton Jr. last weekend, Iona’s offense struggled to create momentum. Regardless of whether or not Clayton plays this weekend, the Gaels will need to get more rhythm in their offense.
While at-large hopes are mostly dead, a loss this weekend could possibly put the Gaels two games behind first place with a majority of their remaining schedule coming on the road.
The Mount finally return home
The MAAC did not do newcomer Mount St. Mary’s a favor in their early scheduling. Four of the Mountaineers first five games of the MAAC season were on the road, including their first Buffalo trip.
Head coach Dan Engelstad is excited to return home with his team, calling Knott Arena a “special basketball environment” on my MAAC RedZone stream last week. Now, five of the next six games for the newcomers will come in Emmittsburg.
The Mount are one of the most well-supported teams in the MAAC, averaging about 2,000 fans per home game last year, which would’ve ranked them third in the league. Coming off a loss to Marist on Sunday, it’s important for the Mount to get a bounce back win at home on Friday against Manhattan. Including non-conference play, the Mount have only played four Division-I home games, and lost three of them. That stretch was the worst of the year for star guard Jalen Benjamin, who had to come out of the second game injured after nine minutes, missed the third game, and struggled in the fourth.
On the bright side for the Mount, Jaspers guard Ant Nelson, who’s been averaging 17 points per game in league play, averages just 11 points and a whopping five turnovers on the road.
Quinnipiac’s momentum builds
After an 0-3 start to their conference season, a switch flipped for the Bobcats of Quinnipiac.
On New Year’s Day, Quinnipiac won its first league game, on the road against Manhattan behind five triples from Matt Balanc. Then, last Friday, the Bobcats notched a road win against a good Rider team that couldn’t keep pace when Tyrese Williams hit five 3s of his own.
All of that led to Quinnipiac’s magnum opus to this point, a demolition of Iona at home. The Bobcats led by as many as 32, getting big performances out of Paul Otieno and Dezi Jones, and never trailed. With three straight wins bringing the Bobcats back to .500 in league play, this weekend is a chance to launch towards the top of the league. Head coach Baker Dunleavy had to get the team refocused on this weekend, where they host Saint Peter’s on Friday, before making their first trip to Mount St. Mary’s.
Iona will be out for revenge on Jan. 29, but if the Bobcats can get to that game with a 6-3 record, they build themselves some cushion.
Canisius is back at Koessler
It takes a lot of snow to make Buffalo shut down, but that’s what happened in the dying days of the last calendar year.
The blizzard came at the expense of Canisius, whose basketball arena, Koessler Athletic Center, had to be shut down for a period of time because of the massive snow that fell in New York. Even before the storm, the Griffs hadn’t played a true home game since Nov. 20, spending a month on the road in non-conference play.
With the scheduled home games moved off campus, Canisius lost both, and had their losing streak extend to nine games. The Griffs went back on the road last weekend, getting their first two MAAC wins against Manhattan and Saint Peter’s, but now, finally return home. With Marist and Siena on the docket for this weekend, Canisius is presented with the chance to play in front of a home crowd with the chance to bring their record to .500 in the league.
Xzavier Long and TJ Gadsden are playing their best basketball right now, and if the Griffs can get leading scorer Jordan Henderson back from injury, they’ll look as good as they have at any point during the season.