Friday, January 8, 2010

Siena, Niagara Ready to Renew Rivalry

The MAAC's two premier programs of recent years will meet Saturday (Jan. 9) at 1 p.m. at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., and, as usual, it's a key confrontation in terms of the regular-season championship race.

Siena, at 4-0, remains the last unbeaten men's team in conference play. Niagara is 3-1 (its loss against Iona), but already knocked off a previous unbeaten team with a 77-68 victory over now 3-1 Fairfield earlier this week.

The Siena-Niagara match is an enticing one on many counts. The primary one, of course, is that the Saints and Purple Eagles, again, look like the conference's top two teams.

These are the two teams that met in last season's championship game. Siena has won the last two MAAC post-season tournaments. Niagara (2007) is the last team other than Siena to go to the NCAA tournament.

Niagara is also the last team to beat Siena in conference play, earning a 100-85 victory in a regular-season game last season on Feb., 27.

Additional storylines?

Siena has a 28-game home-court winning streak on the line, third longest on the Division I level.

The contest features some of the top individual talent around the league, including several candidates not only for first-team all-star honors, but potential Player of the Year candidates.

Niagara's Bilal Benn is well-established as one of the conference's most-versatile players. The 6-foot-5 forward might well be the best rebounder, inch-for-inch, in the country. He leads the MAAC with 10.5 rebounds per game while also getting 15.5 points per game. He has seven double-doubles to date, the most of any conference player.

Another Niagara senior, 5-11 guard Tyrone Lewis, averages 16.5 points and his 2.6 3-pointers per contest leads the league.

Niagara has three players averaging double figures (6-2 guard Rob Garrison is the third, averaging 11.1 ppg.), and a fourth player, junior point guard Anthony Nelson, averaging 9.4 points.

Siena, with the most-balanced offense in the league, has four players averaging between 12.4 points (center Ryan Rossiter) and 15.1 (guard Clarence Jackson). In between those two are senior forward Edwin Ubiles (14.6) and the team's other senior forward Alex Franklin 15.0.

And, then, there's senior point guard Ronald Moore, whose 8.7 assist-per-game average is No. 1 nationally.

"For God's sake, what's their weakness?" said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich, talking about Siena to the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union. "They have a terrific point guard, they have shooters, they have athletes and they have speed."

But, Mihalich's team has all of that, too.

Which, of course, makes their first meeting of this season so highly anticipated.

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