Sunday, February 27, 2011

Women's Preview: Canisius vs. Niagara

The fields have been decided, the seeding positions have been established.

That means it's preview time ... time to preview the upcoming MAAC post-season tournament. Women up first.

We'll start with Thursday's preliminary (play-in) round of games. All contests will be at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Ct.

No. 7 Canisius (6-12 MAAC record, 10-19 overall) vs. No. 10 Niagara (0-18, 1-27), noon.

WHAT CANISIUS HAS: Young talent, and that will be a theme for all four of the league's play-in round squads. The Golden Griffins have a "Fab Four" of freshmen in 6-4 forwards Jen Lennox and Jamie Ruttle, 6-1 Courtney VandeBovenkamp and 5-9 guard Jen Morabito and all four have won at least one conference Rookie of the Week award this season. Morabito and Ruttle both made the all-MAAC Rookie team, and Ruttle is a strong contender for Rookie of the Year honors. The Griffs also have some veteran standouts in senior guard Micayla Drysdale and junior Stephanie McDonald.

WHAT NIAGARA HAS: The recurring theme: Good young players and better days in future years. Forwards Shy Britton and Chanel Johnson had strong performances this year. Meghan Waterman is a defensive standout and senior Liz Flooks is one of the league's top long-range threats. Grace Cunningham, a junior, has been solid since moving into the starting lineup as point guard.

WHAT CANISIUS DOESN'T HAVE: Experience. The freshmen have been inconsistent, as freshmen are prone to be. The inside players need to gain strength and maturity. Canisius is also capable of turning it over as evidenced by 25 turnovers in Sunday's season finale at Siena.

WHAT NIAGARA DOESN'T HAVE: Bodies, for one. The Purple Eagles are down to eight players and recently finished a game with just four players on the court. Freshman forward Kate Gattuso, one of the team's top inside players, is no longer with the team. The team also lacks victories. Niagara's 0-18 conference record is just the second winless season by a MAAC team (Iona went 0-18 in 2002-03) since the league expanded to an 18-game schedule in 1997. Outside of Flooks, there's also not a lot of offensive firepower, particularly since all-league caliber point guard Kayla Stroman went down with an injury after eight games. Still ... Niagara lost by 7 points or less in four of its last nine outings, including a gutsy triple-overtime setback to Rider when it was forced to play a portion of the last OT with just four players due to fouls and injuries.

HOW TO BEAT CANISIUS: Pressure the ball-handlers and force the team into turnovers. A faster-than-desired pace also seems to affect the Canisius inside players.

HOW TO BEAT NIAGARA: Just play remotely well. Due to Niagara's injuries and inexperience it certainly isn't expected to win a game unless the opponent plays poorly.

HOW CANISIUS CAN WIN THE TOURNAMENT: It probably can't, but it could cause some trouble (it did beat fourth-place Siena this year) with its combination of height/length and perimeter athleticism. If its outside game is allowed to fire away, it can make treys. And if the tall inside players contribute, Canisius can be a difficult opponent.

HOW NIAGARA CAN WIN: While it won't win the tournament, there's a chance it could upset Canisius. Its battles with its proximitous rival are always spirited and the Purple Eagles could make this play-in game interesting. And, Niagara has proved itself to be a resilient bunch, playing its best basketball late in the season as the losses mount, so it will likely be on a mission to get a win in the tournament.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: The winner advances to Friday's 9:30 a.m. quarterfinal-round game against second-seeded Loyola.

No comments: