And, so it begins ... the MAAC's post-season tournament begins on Thursday with women's preliminary games (or, play-ins, if you will). Tournament previews begin right now.
We'll begin with the women's preliminary round games and all, games of course, are at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. ...
No. 7 Seeded Canisius (8-10 in MAAC play, 11-18 overall) vs. No. 10 Saint Peter's (2-16, 2-27). Thursday at noon.
WHAT CANISIUS HAS: A potential all-MAAC level guard in senior Ashley Durham (11.6 points per game), who made the transition from the point over to shooting guard effectively this year. That opened the way for multi-talented guard Kayla Hoohuli to get more minutes and allowed freshman Tiahana Mills to take over the point guard duties. The Griffs also have a bruising inside presence with 5-11 senior forward Ashley Wilkes, and more size with 6-3 forward Jamie Ruttle, although she is more finesse than power. Canisius, as usual, is also adept from long range and is the conference's only team with three players who have made at least 40 3-pointers this season.
WHAT SAINT PETER'S HAS: More talent than expected from a team with only two victories over an entire season. Jessika Holmes, a slender forward, is among the league leaders in steals. Another slender forward, Krystal Edwards, is an explosive scorer. Kaydine Bent is strong in the post at both ends, and Aziza May ranks with with the better point guards in the league. It was enough for the Peacocks to be close in most of their conference games this season. And, as Siena discovered, the Peacocks have one of the leaue's best long-range shooters in Bridget Whitfield if she's left open. She was a perfect 8-for-8 from beyond the bonus stripe against the Saints in a recent game.
WHAT CANISIUS DOESN'T HAVE: Scoring depth. In Sunday's season-ending loss to Siena it didn't get a single point from its reserves. Right now, the Griffs also are without Mills, its best point guard, who missed this past weekend's two games with a badly sprained ankle. Her status for the MAAC tournament is to-be-determined, but the guess is there's enough time to get her ready to play. Canisius also can be beaten inside. Despite having one of the league's taller players in Ruttle, it gets outrebounded by close to two per contest.
WHAT SAINT PETER'S DOESN'T HAVE: They, too, come up "short" on the boards. Despite good rebounders in Homes (7.2 per game) and Bent (7.1), the Peacocks get outrebounded by 6.9 per contest. There's also not a lot of dept. Only five players see more than 12 minutes of court time per contest. Saint Peter's is also last in field goal percentage (32.3%) in the league, and last in points scored (53.2).
WHAT CANISIUS HAS TO DO TO WIN: Make sure Mills gets healthy. Without her against Siena on Sunday, Cansius committed 21 turnovers. It entered that game averaging a very reasonable 16 per contest. Mills also helps create better shots for teammates and gives the team another shooter opposing defense have to guard. Ruttle will literally need to come up big, and Wilkes will have to play physically and effectively inside. And, the three-point shooters (Durham, Hoohuli and Jen Morabito) will have to hit a good number from bonus territory. Canisius has enough talent to cause opponents some trouble, but hasn't put it together on a consistent basis yet this year. Yet, with their potential to make long-range shots the Griffs have the proverbial "puncher's" chance to score a knockout in almost any game.
WHAT SAINT PETER'S HAS TO DO TO WIN: Play at its best. Its top five players have all had big games this year, but they just haven't done it night in and night out. When May is not only setting up teammates, running a controlled offense and hitting her shots, the Peacocks play well. Edwards, Bent and Whitfield can be effective scorers. Holmes is a defensive thief and contributes offensively, too. To expect a team without a lot of depth, though, to come out of the preliminary round to win this event is expecting a little too much. But, that doesn't mean Saint Peter's isn't capable of at least one upset.