Here's another in the series previewing the upcoming MAAC women's post-season tournament.
No. 1 Marist (18-0, 27-2) vs. Saint Peter's-Rider winner, Friday at 1:30 p.m.
WHAT MARIST HAS: Let us count the ways ... or, in this case, the positives. The Red Foxes lead the MAAC in 12 different team-related statistics. But the program transcends the conference. Let's look how it stands nationally: No. 21 in both the Associated Press and USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches' Poll. No 1 nationally in points allowed (49.3), No. 1 in fewest turnovers (10.8 per game), the nation's longest winning streak (23) ... well, you get the point. Marist is balanced and deep. Two players, Erica Allenspach and Corielle Yarde, are first-team all-MAAC picks and those two, along with point guard defensive pest Elise Caron, rank with any perimeter trio in the conference. Size? How about 6-foot-4 sophomore Kate Oliver and 6-2 junior Brandy Gang up front, with effective 6-3 Maria Laterza coming off the bench? Depth? Eleven players average at least 2.6 points per game..
WHAT MARIST DOESN'T HAVE: A true "go-to" player that can produce 20 points in any game, but that might not be such a bad thing. Marist is so balanced, and its players so capable of offensive efficiency, that an offense that produces open shots for anyone looks to be even more difficult to defend than its teams of recent past when Rachele Fitz, the conference's top player for the past three years, was the offensive focus. The team also doesn't have much power inside. Despite the height, Marist's top two rebounders are guards Allenspach and Yarde. Still, the inside length is effective defensively. And, since no other MAAC team has a good enough inside game to take advantage of Marist's very slight inside deficiency ... it's not a real problem.
HOW MARIST CAN WIN: By just showing up? Actually, it's not quite that simple. Siena outplayed Marist over the last 16 minutes of their meeting this past Friday (Marist won by 13 points), but the question is whether an opponent can play with the Red Foxes for a full 40? Well, back on Feb. 6 Fairfield gave Marist its only true scare this season before falling 54-52 with the Red Foxes rallying from a 52-47 deficit with 3:30 remaining. How did Fairfield get so close? By outrebounding Marist by five and playing good perimeter defense (Marist made just 2-of-14 three-point attempts). Plus, every opponent brings its "A-level" game against Marist, a product of the Red Foxes winning or sharing the regular-season crown for an eighth straight season. In truth, though, Marist is so dominant (outscoring league opponents by 22.4 points per game) that anything other than another successful tournament run would be nothing short of the 1927 New York Yankees getting beat out for the American League pennant to the always sad-sack Washington Senators.
WHAT'S AT STAKE: A berth in Saturday's semifinal round against the winner of the Siena-Fairfield quarterfinal-round contest. But, there's more to it than that for Marist. With its 27-2 record and No. 21 nationaly ranking Marist is a candidate for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament should it lose in the MAAC's post-season event. But, with an RPI in the mid-50's (blame a relative down year for the rest of the conference's teams), Marist would likely need to advance to at least the tournament's championship game to strengthen its at-large hopes. The very strong probability, though, is that the Red Foxes will earn their NCAA trip by winning the MAAC tournament and getting the league's automatic bid to the national event.