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3 things to watch in the MAAC this weekend

Fairfield’s winning streak; Quinnipiac looks to protect home court ; & can Saint Peter’s keep it rolling?

NCAA Basketball: Quinnipiac at Florida
MAAC legend Walter Clayton Jr. contests Quinnipiac forward Amarri Tice’s shot attempt.
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

After a month off, MAAC play returns this weekend with two days of games. Here are three things to keep an eye out for this weekend.

1. Fairfield’s winning streak

The longest winning streak in the MAAC entering the new year belongs to the Fairfield Stags. Interim head coach Chris Casey has done an admirable job getting his team to bounce back, and buy in, after a difficult first month of the season. Since losing to Iona in their MAAC opener on the first day of December, the Stags have won six games in a row.

During the streak, the Stags are holding opponents to just 25 percent from behind the arc, and have three different players averaging at least 12 points per game. Caleb Fields has not needed to do as much on-ball creation, and it has made him significantly better. Over the last six games, he is shooting 38% from 3 on seven attempts per game.

The emergence of Jasper Floyd has changed the identity of the Fairfield team. Instead of playing slow, he allows them to force turnovers and run in transition. The Stags lead the MAAC with 12.7 fast break points per game during the win streak. A backcourt of Floyd, Fields, and the final form of Jalen Leach, who is this team’s top scorer, is extremely potent offensively.

Fairfield returns to MAAC play with a road game at Siena tonight before hosting a Marist team that has been among the best in the conference so far this year. Against Marist, two excellent backcourts will go head-to-head in what could be a matchup of two of the league’s best teams.

2. Quinnipiac looks to protect home court

Quinnipiac boasts a 9-4 record as the calendar flips to January. The Bobcats split the Buffalo trip in early December, defeating Niagara after losing by 20 to Canisius. Tom Pecora’s team has been better on the road than at home according to Bart Torvik, but will need to hold serve in Hamden this weekend.

The Bobcats open the weekend by hosting a Rider team that badly needs a win. The Broncs started 0-2 in the MAAC with losses to Siena and Fairfield, but have since picked up their first two Division I wins over Stonehill and Delaware. Rider had an extremely difficult, yet still disappointing, non-conference season and will no doubt be focused and prepared for the return to MAAC play.

The matchup of Wofford transfer Amarri Tice on MAAC preseason player of the year Mervin James should be fascinating. Tice has been one of the league’s most underrated players so far this year, adding a physical element to the Bobcats lineup. He’s commanded the glass and forced plenty of turnovers, while also scoring efficiently.

Standing 6-foot-7-inches and weighing 220 pounds, Tice is about as good of a matchup as there is in the league for James, who currently leads the MAAC in scoring with 19.2 points per contest.

Quinnipiac also faces Manhattan on Sunday. The Jaspers return Daniel Rouzan and Xinyi Li to the rotation for Friday’s matchup with Niagara, according to Pete Janny, so they’re as close to full strength as they’ll be.

3. Can Saint Peter’s build off December?

On Friday night in Jersey City, the last two MAAC champions will do battle. Iona and Saint Peter’s each love to press and turn over their opponents. The Peacocks, who swept the Buffalo trip, are coming off of a 5-1 December.

The Peacocks won just three MAAC road games all of last season, but have already won their first two in 2023-24. Neither of SPU’s games this weekend are on the road, but continuing their winning ways at home would put the Peacocks in a great position for a bye very early on.

Saint Peter’s boasts the MAAC’s best defense according to KenPom. During their strong December, SPU held their opponents to 62.5 points per game, and led the conference in turnover rate defensively. However, on Friday night, the SPU offense will need to step up. The Peacocks currently rank 10th in the MAAC in press offense efficiency, while Iona is the top team against pressure.

Saint Peter’s faces Mount St. Mary’s on Sunday, which has struggled to close out games due in part to how turnover-prone it is offensively. The Mount are a much more favorable matchup for SPU than Iona in that sense.

BONUS: Sacred Heart versus Merrimack!

Two future MAAC schools duke it out in the NEC on Saturday in North Andover. Each team picked up a win in their respective conference openers on Thursday, with SHU defeating Saint Francis, and Merrimack defeating FDU.

Talking about the NEC as a whole this season, Sacred Heart head coach Anthony Latina quoted former University of Bridgeport head coach Bruce Webster after Thursday’s win.

“I don’t know if we’re all good, I don’t know if we’re all bad,” Latina said. “We’re all about the same, so whoever steps up and plays the best is going to win this league. It could be anybody.”