Here's another in the series previewing match-ups in the upcoming men's MAAC post-season tournament.
No. 7 Siena (8-10, 12-7) vs. No. 10 Manhattan (3-15, 6-24)
WHAT SIENA HAS: Some tournament experience. Nine of its players were on last year's NCAA team, and its three seniors have been to the NCAA's three times. It has potentially the league's best inside-outside tandem in Ryan Rossiter (the likely MAAC Player of the Year who ranks 2nd nationally in rebounding) and guard Clarence Jackson. Freshman point guard Rakeem Brookins is one of the league's better first-year players and the team has at least a half-dozen other good role players, including sophomore O.D Anosike (6.9 rebounds per game), who joins Rossiter to form one of the conference's top inside tandems.
WHAT MANHATTAN HAS: Emerging, but young talent. Three of its best players are sophomore swingman George Beamon and freshmen guard Mike Alvarado and forward Rahmel Brown. And, several other players, notably transfer Demetrius Jemison and guard Kidani Brutus, both joined the team this year. It hasn't made for a lot of continuity and developed chemistry. Still, Beamon can score with anyone in the league (he's third in the conference in points per game), Alvarado is an adept ball-handler and Jemison (8.6 rebounds per game) has given the Jaspers a legit inside presence.
WHAT SIENA DOESN'T HAVE: Wins. The expectations were higher, but any team that graduates three of its all-time best performers like Siena did after last season, is bound to have a considerable dropoff. And, then, Jackson has battled severe ankle woes the whole season, missed nine games and practiced less than a dozen times. Brookins and Owen Wignot, two other starters, have missed games due to injuries as has key reserve Kyle Downey. Offensive efficiency has been up and down, as could be expected with Jackson hurt and a freshman (Brookins) running the team. All things considered, though, an 8-10 finish in MAAC play wasn't bad.
WHAT MANHATTAN DOESN'T HAVE: Experience, cohesive play, inside size. Tough to do well consistently when four of the top five players weren't in the progam last season and the fifth is a sophomore. Still, young players progress as the season goes on and the improvement in Manhattan's chemistry issues has been noticeable late in the year.
HOW SIENA CAN WIN THE TOURNAMENT: The program's 2001-02 team became the first and only MAAC team to win four tournament games and an automatic bid to the NCAA's, and the inclination is to think this year's version can do it again. On a given night, Siena can play with anyone, particularly if Jackson is healthy and provides an outside game to supplement Rossiter's inside prowess. The Saints' victories include one over second-place Iona and a recent 13-point loss at Fairfield that could have gone either way before the Stags took over in the final minutes. The current team, though, doesn't have anywhere near the talent of the 2001-02 team, so another four-game tournament run will be difficult.
HOW MANHATTAN CAN WIN: The Jaspers have to be fairly confident about the play-in game, having beaten Siena once and playing the Saints tough (losing 64-57) the other time. If Alvarado can direct the offense over a consistent stretch like he has in his better moments, then Manhattan will be very tough. Manhattan, though, is last among MAAC teams in scoring, but that can be solved if Beamon gets hot. No 10th-place team has evern won the MAAC tournament, and Manhattan isn't likely to do so this year. But, it could challenge Siena in this game. And, with all its young talent returning, Manhattan will use this season as a springboard to better things next year.
SIENA'S MITCH BUONAGURO: "We're excited about the tournament. I think we're finally getting healthy and getting the guys together for the tournament is a good plus. Our experience helps a lot. Ryan Rossiter and Clarence Jackson have been part of three championship teams. Some of the other guy shave gone through this and have been successful. With us it has been the inconsistency. Getting Clarence (Jackson) back healthy is a big key. He's getting close, and I believe we're at a good point right now in terms of chemistry."
MANHATTAN'S BARRY ROHRSSEN: "By this time of the year you hear the phrase that freshmen aren't freshmen any more. But, we're not just a young team, but a new team having to put so many parts together to form a cohesive unit. But, we've got many guys on our roster who haven't even played in this tournament before and Siena has guys who have been to the NCAA's. Still, I like to think that when you've had some success the kids feel that and know they can take the next step."
WHAT'S AT STAKE: A berth in Saturday's quarterfinal round and a meeting with No. 2 seed Iona at 7:30 p.m.