Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Men's Quarterfinal Match: Manhattan vs. Siena

Here's another preview of men's teams and games in the upcoming MAAC tournament.

MANHATTAN (No. 3 seed) vs. SIENA (No. 6)
Saturday, 9:30 p.m.

WHAT MANHATTAN HAS: Enough to win 20 games overall, a 14-game turnaround from last season's 6-victory production and the best one-year improvement in Division I. It starts with George Beamon, the league's leading scorer who was a lightly used player as a freshman and, two years later, averages 18.4 ppg. There's a new attitude and a new playing style here and all that paid dividends. The team legitimately went 10 players deep (10 players got in at least 28 games and averaged at least 9.5 minutes per appearance), and used that depth for an up-tempo style that bothered teams. The Jaspers proved they could play with anyone, beating Iona and Fairfield during the regular season. The Jaspers rebounded by committee, doing enough overall work on the boards to outrebound opponents by an average of 3.0 per game.

WHAT SIENA HAS: Outstaning chemistry, a team that works well together. And, it needed to since there was a six-man rotation, due to injuries and ineligibilities, for almost the entire season. No Division I program's starters played more minutes than Siena's. Freshman Evan Hymes was a real find as a late point-guard recruit, and is currently the highest-scoring freshman in the program's history. Senior Kyle Downey finally got healthy after two injury marred seasons and probably should have been a third-team all-league pick. And, then, there's Ol' Mr. Reliable, 6-8 junior forward O.D. Anosike, who not only had a nation's best 22 double-doubles, but became just the second MAAC player in history to lead the nation in rebounding. Siena even has a regular-season victory over Manhattan as a confidence booster.

WHAT MANHATTAN DOESN'T HAVE: The Jaspers might not have their standout sophomore point guard Mike Alvarado, who suffered an eye injury in a game on Feb. 14 and has yet to return. Earlier this week, Manhattan coach Steve Masiello called Alvarado's return for this game 50-50. Without him, Manhattan has used Kadani Brutus at point guard, and he has looked out of place there. While the team has great balance behind Beamon on offense, there really isn't a sure-thing No. 2 offense. If Beamon doesn't score, Manhattan's offense could struggle ... particularly if Alvarado is out or at less than 100 percent.

WHAT SIENA DOESN'T HAVE: The Saints, too, have a point guard issue. Hymes ran into a basket support late in a win over Canisius on Sunday, suffered a knee bruise and hasn't practiced since. His status for Saturday's game is also up in the air and if he doesn't play, Siena is down to five players who saw any meaningful minutes this season ... none seemingly capable of playing the point ... and will almost assuredly be looking at a quick exit in the tournament. The Saints also lack depth, quite obviously, but get around that by playing an effective zone defense and not pushing the issue on offense without a clear-cut advantage. Only two teams have really been able to push the pace against Siena, but one of those was Manhattan, which won an early season meeting by 19 points.

HOW MANHATTAN CAN WIN: It's not hard to envision Manhattan causing some damage in the tournament, as long as Alvarado plays and is effective. Without him, the Jaspers are still capable of beating Siena but not likely to advance far beyond that. If Manhattan is at full strength, though, regular-season victories over Iona and Fairfield show what the team is capable of on a given night. The depth, theoretically, should keep Manhattan fresh for three games if it can continue to advance.

HOW SIENA CAN WIN: Expecting Siena to win three games in three nights, with a six-man roster, might be a little too much to ask. But, on a given night ... victories over Manhattan, Fairfield and Iona during the regular season show just what the Saints can do when they inflict their playing style on an opponent. For the Saints to beat Manhattan and cause any damage in this event, Hymes' knee has to be reasonably healthy and Downey needs to shoot well. Anosike also needs to turn in big numbers while recording his traditional double-double. But, by now, that's almost a given.

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