Friday, February 27, 2009

Last Weekend Still Has Drama

It's the last weekend of regular-season play in the conference, and the league championships for men and women are already decided.

But that doesn't mean there aren't some interesting storylines still to play out before the league's upcoming post-season tournament.

Start with tonight's men's matchup between first-place Siena and second-place Niagara at the Taps Gallagher Center on the Purple Eagles' campus. And, even without traveling there, we'll get a look since it's being televised over ESPNU.

(Personal note: While it's hard to beat the seat from in front of the 42-inch TV monitor, this humble blogger will most definitely miss visiting Buffalo's Anchor Bar, the original home of the chicken wing).

Siena has a three-game lead in the league standings with two remaining games (it also plays at Canisius Sunday afternoon).

Still, there's plenty at stake for both the Saints and Niagara.


A Siena victory would give it a four-game advantage over Niagara, truly establish its dominance this season and continue to build a case as one of the best teams ever to play in the conference.

Only once in the league's previous 27 years of existence has the league's regular-season crown been decided by a four-game margin. That was done by the 1985-86 Fairfield team, which finished 13-1 in league play.

A Siena victory would also add to its credibility as a strong candidate for an at-large NCAA tournament berth should it fail to capture the conference's automatic bid that goes to its tournament winner.

Siena, currently 22-6 and rated No. 24 nationally in the Ratings Percentage Index, would need to win its two games this weekend and advance to the MAAC's championship game before losing in order to keep its at-large hopes alive.

Individually, Saints' senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck could strengthen his candidacy for conference Player of the Year consideration with a strong weekend of play.

In conference play only, Hasbrouck averages 17.1 points (third in the league), 48.0 percent field goal accuracy (13th), 2.2 assists (14th), 1.9 steals (third) and 1.7 three-pointers made per game (9th).

Un a year when there isn't truly a single individual standout in the conference ... if Hasbrouck can finish out strong this weekend, it could be enough for the preseason's Player of the Year selectee to be the post-season honoree, as well by virtue of being the best player on the MAAC's best team.


The Purple Eagles are likely to finish second in MAAC play, needing one victory in its final two games (its last game is against Marist on Sunday), but a victory over the Saints would give it a psychological boost if the teams meet again in the post-season tournament's championship game.

Niagara is also trying to strengthen its case for a national post-season tournament berth should it not win the conference tournament.

Currently with a 22-7 record, Niagara has clearly made a strong case for inclusion in the NIT should it not win the MAAC's automatic bid to the NCAA's. That case, though, would weaken were Niagara to falter down the stretch. It probably would still be an NIT team even with a loss to Siena today, but likely couldn't afford losing to Marist, too.

Niagara appears to be playing well at the right time with a 6-1 record so far this month, the only loss coming in a 90-87 decision at Rider, the conference's third-place team.

It gives tonight's game a big-game feel, even without there being a consequence to the regular-season standings.

"This game is big," said Niagara's sophomore point guard Anthony Nelson. "They (the Saints) are 15-1 and we're second in the league. This is basically a game to see how far we've come."

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