Here's another in the series previewing games and teams from the upcoming MAAC tournament.
Up now, men's preliminary round contests.
No. 8 seed Marist (6-12 in MAAC play, 10-20 overall) vs. Sienas (4-14, 7-23), Friday at 7:30 p.m.
WHAT MARIST HAS: Right now, nearly as much momentum and late-season success as anyone. Only two teams enter the post-season event on at least a three-game winning streak, and Marist is one (Rider, with a five-game streak, is the other). And, the Red Foxes have won five of their last seven games, with the losses against top-seeded Niagara by three points and No. 2 seed Rider (by four points). Marist has both an outside attack (guards Chavaughn Lewis averages 16.5 points per game, while Devin Price is at 14.2) and strong inside play with powerful 6-10 post Adam Kemp (10.3 points, 8.7 rebounds), whose play over the last seven games (18.9/10.4) has brought him recognition as one of the league's top big men. There's a pass-first point guard in Isaiah Morton (117 assists, 77 turnovers) and the "glue" of junior forward Jay Bowie (9.1, 4.9), whose return from an early season concussion coincides with the team's strong play of late. Marist has also lost four of its league games by six points or less, and some of its recent wins have come against higher-seeded teams Loyola, Niagara and Fairfield, indicating it can pretty much play with anyone.
WHAT SIENA HAS: One of the nation's best rebounders in senior forward O.D. Anosike, who ranks No. 2 nationally in that statistic (his 11.4 per game trails only the 11.5 of Colorado's Andre Roberson). And, Anosike led the nation in rebounds last season (12.5). Trenity Burdine, a 6-6 forward who had been inconsistent for much of the season has played well down the stretch and averages 8.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest. Sophomore swingman Rob Poole (11.4, 4.7) has had a nice season. The Saints have lost four league games by six points or less, and has played well against Marist in both meetings this year, earning a 79-75 victory in Poughkeepsie and dropping a 76-74 decision on Friday when Anosike missed the last several minutes of play with leg cramps.
WHAT MARIST DOESN'T HAVE: Of late, Marist appears to have just about everything it needs. Still, though, it is vulnerable inside ... even with Kemp in the lane. The team gets outrebounded by 4.2 per contest, Anosike has played well in both games against Marist, including a 20-point/21-rebound effort in the first meeting. He had 14/9 in Friday's contest while less than 100 percent in the latter portions of that meeting.
WHAT SIENA DOESN'T HAVE: Probably guard Rakeem Brookins (11.9 ppg.), its second-leading scorer, who is still contending with a back issues, has missed the team's last five regular-season games and has been termed "doubtful," by Saints' coach Mitch Buonaguro for Friday's contest. The Saints have little enough room for error as it is. The Saints have also struggled with turnovers all year, committing 124 more than opponents to date. And, the team has lacked consistency, which is to be expected from a squad whose top 10 players include seven freshmen and sophomores.
HOW MARIST COULD WIN: By playing like it has in its recent 5-2 late-season run. Kemp will need to continue to literally come up "big," particularly in Friday's match-up with Anosike. Lewis is one of the league's best younger players and can explode on any given night. Morton will probably have to take some open shots, as well as distribute, so that opponents can't slack off on him entirely. But, Marist has shown that, on a given night when everyone is healthy (which wasn't the case for most of the year), it not only can play with but can beat any league team. Whether it can come out of the preliminary round and win four games to capture the tournament championship is another matter. But, if one were to pick the team with the most chance for some surprise wins in the post-season event it would likely be Marist.
HOW SIENA CAN WIN: Get healthy, although it doesn't look like that's going to happen for Brookins, which is a big setback for the Saints. And, get mature. For Siena to have any sort of tournament run, some of its young players would have to play effectively over entire games rather than in brief spurts. Anosike would need to dominate the backboards, and the Saints would have to value the basketball. That's all a lot to ask, particularly from a team that, lately, only had seven players Buonaguro has been trusting to play extended minutes. Siena has shown that it can play with Marist. A preliminary round victory wouldn't be that much of an upset. But, anything beyond that would be a surprise.