It's tournament time ... "March Madness" ... the march to the "Big Dance."
If you're a fan of college basketball, it's otherwise known as the "Most Wonderful Time of the Year."
It's also time to begin looking at each men's and women's team as the MAAC tournament approaches.
We'll start with women's teams, since the women's event begins first.
In the case of the first-round (play-in round) games, we'll feature both teams in the match up in the same blog posting. So, here we go, all games at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.
IONA (No. 7 Seed) vs. RIDER (No. 10)
WHAT IONA HAS: The sure-thing Rookie of the Year in dynamic freshman 5-foot-7 guard Damika Martinez, who not only became the first freshman in conference history to lead the MAAC in scoring in its 31-year history (16.1 points per game), but the first to finish higher than fifth in the scoring race at the end of the regular season. Iona has several other solid players, including an early season first-team all-star candidate in Kristina Ford (14.4 pp., 6.8 rebounds), who somehow did not even make one of the three all-star teams, probably because she missed five games. Another freshman guard, Aleesha Powell (7.6, 3.3) was another all-Rookie team pick and point guard Suzi Fregosi leads the conference in assists (4.5).
WHAT RIDER HAS: Third-team all-MAAC player sophomore forward MyNeshia McKenzie (10.9 points, 9.0 rebounds), who also probably should have been a second-teamer after leading the MAAC in rebounding. Junior center Caitlin Bopp (9.0, 7.0) adds another strong rebounder as is forward Carleigh Brown (4.9 rebounds per game). Freshman guard Emily Fazzini (7.0) is a nice first-year shooting threat.
WHAT IONA DOESN'T HAVE: It looks like chemistry is lacking. After a strong first half, a portion of it played without Ford, things fell apart in the second half either when Ford returned. The Gaels finished 2-8 in their last 10 games. Certainly momentum is lacking.
WHAT RIDER DOESN'T HAVE: Good luck. Last year's leading scorer, Shereen Lightbourne, was lost in the preseason with a knee injury. Junior college transfer and athletic guard Sironda Chambers (10.0 ppg.) was lost after the first semester due to academics. Also at midseason the Broncs lost Ali Heller, last season's Sixth Player of the Year and one of the best long-distance shooters in the league, with a knee injury. And, on Friday, the program lost its senior point guard Alyssa Parsons to a knee injury, the third of her college career. That's five good players, so it's no surprise that the Broncs finished last in the conference.
HOW IONA CAN WIN: It can win this game just by playing solidly. The Gaels have much more talent on the court than the Broncs. Iona could also be the surprise team of the tournament. There's plenty of firepower, enough height and enough depth. If the Gaels can somehow find the blueprint for their first-half success, they can be a dark horse team in this event.
HOW RIDER CAN WIN: If the injuries didn't happen we could legitimately be talking about Rider having a real chance to do some damage in the post-season event. But, after an 8-3 non-league start that was the best of any MAAC team, the injuries took their toll. On a given night ... maybe Rider can beat Iona. But to expect it to cause serious damage in its depleted state is just expecting far too much.