Here's another in the series previewing men's match-ups for the upcoming MAAC post-season tournament.
No. 4 Saint Peter's (11-7, 17-13) vs. No. 5 Loyola (10-8, 15-15), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
WHAT SAINT PETER'S HAS: A very stingy defense. The Peacocks' all-over-the-court athleticism allows it to get to shooters quickly and pressure the ball in the half-court. The result is that they hold opponents to .378 percent shooting from the field, the fourth-lowest total nationally. Offensively, though, the team is 308th (of 335 teams) nationally in points scored, but Saint Peter's does have offensive weapons, particularly in forward Ryan Bacon, guard Wesley Jenkins and Nick Leon and 6th man forward Jeron Belin, who attacks the rim. And, the team has a veteran, experienced class including four seniors in the top six, a formula that traditionall results in success. The program's 11 conference victories in each of the past two seasons matches the best two-year mark for victories in back-to-back seasons in the 30 years the program has been in the MAAC. Its 17 overall victories matches the most in one season since a 19-victory season in 1994-95.
WHAT LOYOLA HAS: A good coach (Jimmy Patsos) who has turned that program around since a 1-28 finish the year before his arrival. A better-than-averaged front-court duo in 6-10 center Shane Walker and 6-7 forward Erik Etherly. A prototypical senior point guard/leader in Brian Rudolph. Very good depth with three bench players contributing regularly. Wins over both top seeds, Fairfield and Iona, this season.
WHAT SAINT PETER'S DOESN'T HAVE: Height. The Peacocks' tallest starter is 6-foot-7. The team also lacks the signature star who takes over games. Jenkins, a career 1,500-plus point scorer, might have fulfilled that role but year-long knee issues have hindered him slightly and his 12.9 points-per-game average is best on the team. Still, the Peacocks have succeeded this year with balance, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. St. Peter's also comes in with a 3-4 record in its last seven games with three of those losses coming against teams that finished higher in the standings and the fourth at Canisius, always a difficult place to play.
WHAT LOYOLA DOESN'T HAVE: A singular talent. Walker's 11.0 points-per-game average leads the Greyhounds. Jamal Barney, the league's leading scorer in the 2008-09 season, might have helped. But his off-court issues were a concern for the second straight year and he was dismissed from the team in midseason. Still, a balanced attack with four players averaging between 9.2 points and 11.0 is difficult to defend. Loyola also doesn't have momentum, going 4-5 in its last nine league contests.
HOW SAINT PETER'S CAN WIN: With hustle, desire, athleticism. No team in the conference can match the athleticism Saint Peter's has through its eight-man playing rotation. That trait, and overall team quickness, makes its defense so effective and often gives opponents problems. The veteran leadership and knowing how to make plays, a characteristic developed over time, never hurts. And, there has been some some confidence built from a recent one-point loss to Fairfield, the tournament's top seed.
HOW LOYOLA CAN WIN: Walker controls the paint like he does on some nights. Etherly provides interior defense. Drummond and Robert Olson, in particular, provide a strong perimeter game. Mostly, though, the team needs to play intelligently and needs to play bruising defense, two things Patsos demands regularly but doesn't regularly get. The Greyhounds, though, fit on the "any given night" category and are certainly capable of making a tournament run.
SAINT PETER'S JOHN DUNNE: "We have four seniors dying to get a win in this tournament. This is new for us, not having to play in the play-in round (the current seniors have been in the play-in round two of their three previous seasons). We have to get the first one to get confidence and we'll take it from there. I know our guys are chomping at the bit to get this game started. Three of our guys (Jenkins, Leon and Bacon) lost 18 games in a row as freshmen. Then, to see them progress to win 11 conference games in each of the last two years is rewarding. We're just as good as anyone. We have to share the ball and continue to defend the way we're capable of, but if we do those things I like our chances."
LOYOLA'S JIMMY PATSOS: "We're excited, but John (Dunne) has done a great job at Saint Peter's. We have our hands full in this game. We have a little more depth than they do, but this game will be a test of wills. We want to play a little faster than they do. This is our 3rd winning conference record in the past 7 years. What you have to do in this league is become relevant. We haven't become champions yet but we're a relevant program. We give a good show everywhere we go. You always get a good game out of Loyola. We beat every team in the league except Rider. We've got as good a shot as anyone else up there. (in Bridgeport)."
WHAT'S AT STAKE: Advancement to Sunday's semifinal round, likely against top-seeded Fairfield.