Friday, March 16, 2012

CIT Has Rare Post-Season Meeting of MAAC Teams

Call the upcoming meeting between Manhattan and Fairfield in the CIT post-season event the battle to be recognized as the MAAC's third-best team.

The teams tied for third place in the conference's regular-season standings with 12-6 league marks. They split regular-season games, Manhattan winning at home, 53-51; and Fairfield winning on its home court (Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.), 60-54.

The rubber match, oddly enough, comes not in the MAAC tournament but in second round of the tournament Sunday at 4 p.m. at Fairfield's on-campus Alunmi Hall that has a capacity of just 2,479.

Manhattan beat Albany in its first-round game of the event, while Fairfield held off Yale in its CIT opener.

The event decides follow-up match-ups after the first round and, as a money saver, seeks to pair proximitous opponents. Thus, the all-MAAC second-round CIT meeting.

Even with a host team, the game assuredly won't approach a sell-out crowd. The CIT is pretty much recognized as either the third- or fourth-most important of the four men's events, following the NCAA's Big Dance, the NIT, and sharing the leftovers with the College Basketball Invitation (CBI) event.

Fairfield's first-round game against Yale (located 20 miles away from Bridgeport) drew just 1,744 fans.

Manhattan's game at UAlbany saw a minuscule turnout of 458 at Albany's on-campus SEFCU Arena.

Still, it's a good game matching the two MAAC 20-victory teams that did not advance to the NCAA's. The other two 20-victory MAAC teams (Iona, 25-8) and Loyola (24-9) both got to the NCAA's and lost first-round games.

And, now, Manhattan (21-12) and Fairfield (20-14) are both still active and one of the two will still be playing beyond Sunday.

That's not a bad thing. Coaches love extending a season not only to get extra practices but extra game experience that, theoretically propels returning players into the next season.

Iona played in last season's CIT and advanced to the championship game, basically extending its opportunity to play together 23 days beyond its elimination from the MAAC's post-season event.

And, it's definitely great experience for both Manhattan and Fairfield.

The Jaspers will return eight of their 10 players who averaged at least 9.7 minutes of court time per game this season. Only the team's fourth and seventh-leading scorers will be out of eligibility.

The Stags lose two starters, including leading scorer and rebounder Rakim Sanders (16.9 points, 8.4 rebounds), but still should be one of the better teams in the MAAC next season.

But that comes later. For now ... a meeting of two very solid teams, particularly on the defensive end.

Manhattan's defense was the best in the conference in terms of opponents' field-goal percentage (40.5 percent), while Fairfield's points-against average of 61.1 was No. 1 among conference teams.

Most definitely an attractive contest for followers of the MAAC, and one that will prove whether Manhattan or Loyola can claim being the conference's third-best team this season.

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