Time now to take a look at match-ups for the upcoming men's version of the MAAC's upcoming post-season tournament at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yards.
No. 8 Niagara (5-13 in MAAC play, 9-22 overall) vs. No. 9 Marist (3-15, 5-26), Friday at 7:30 p.m.
WHAT NIAGARA HAS: A terrific backcourt in underappreciated senior Anthony Nelson, who only leads the nation in steals, and freshman and strong Rookie of the Year candidate Marvin Jordan. Junior forweard Kashief Edwards has also had a nice season, but that' he's only 6-foot-5 and the team's leading rebounder says plenty about the Purple Eagles.
WHAT MARIST HAS: Some very good young talent. But, the "young" label is also the problem Sophomore forward Sam Prescott is the team's leading scorer (11.9) and freshmen Jay Bowie and Anell Alexis look like good developing players. So, too, does freshman big man Manelik Watson.
WHAT NIAGARA DOESN'T HAVE: Experrience. The team's third- and fourth-leading scorers are freshmen. The next two are sophomores. The inside game is developing, but it's not there yet. Sophomore Scooter Gillette and freshman Skyler Jones are both talented yet both needed added strength to consistently handle the pounding in the paint on the college level. It has added up to head coach Joe Mihalich's second losing season in 13 with with program.
WHAT MARIST DOESN'T HAVE: Experience. Of Marist's active players its eight leading scorers are freshmen and sophomores. The team also has offensive difficulties. Prescott is the only double-figure scorer and the lowest leading scorer on any team in the league. Alexis, though, had 22 points and 8 rebounds in the final regular-season game and could help there. And, there are rebounding woes as well. Freshman big man Adam Kemp (6.3 rebounds) suffered a mid-season injury and isn't expected back for the tournament.
HOW NIAGARA CAN WIN THE TOURNAMENT: Despite the youth, Niagara won't be an easy team to eliminate from the tournament ... not after a 5-2 run in its last seven games (one of those a non-leaguer). The Purple Eagles have also played the top two teams, Fairfield and Iona, tough in the last month, losing by eight- and six-point margins respectively. If Nelson and Jordan can provide offense and the inside youth can step up a little inside ... well, on any given night Niagara is capable of an upset. But, probably not capable of one on four straight nights.
HOW MARIST CAN WIN THE TOURNAMENT: It certainly would be a surprise if Marist won more than one game in this year's event, but the future might be a different story. Young talent eventually matures, and Marist has more than enough young talent in place to make for optimistic thoughts of its next two or three seasons. Heck, a close game against top-seeded Fairfield two weeks ago (a 7-point Fairfield victory) probably created some optimism of itself.
NIAGARA'S JOE MIHALICH: "We looked at ourselves on Feb. 1 and didn't like were we were and the goal was to someone people don't really want to play on March 1. We had a good February. We're not the hottest team in the country, but we've had some recent success that has put us in a good frame of mind. With so many young guys ... it has taken them some time to learn on the job, and learn the hard wall. But, all the little things have been coming together. We're playing harder and making more shots."
MARIST'S CHUCK MARTIN: "If we get a win (over Niagara) it would be great for my young guys and would create some excitement in my lockerroom and some momentum going into the off-season. I'm really excited about our progress. It's hard to explain to people not here every day about how far we've come. Our talent level has improved. Do we need to add more pieces? No question. But, last year we had no big man and we've added three big kids to this year's team as well as some wing players. We did hit some tough times with injuries. If we had a healthy team the entire schedule our record would be a little better. We're an up-and-coming team with a chance to make big strides in the league next year."
WHAT'S AT STAKE: A berth in Saturday's 4:30 p.m. quarterfinal round against top-seeded Fairfield.