Monday, March 4, 2013

Women's Preliminary Preview: Loyola vs. Manhattan

Here's another preview of preliminary round games for the upcoming MAAC women's tournament ...

No. 8 seed Loyola (7-11 in MAAC play, 12-17 overall) vs. No. 9 Manhattan (4-14, 7-22), Thursday at 2 p.m.

WHAT LOYOLA HAS: Definitely some late-season momentum with season-ending victories over Fairfield  and Saint Peter's. Only three teams enter the tournament having won their last two games (or, more), and the Greyhounds are one of them. Loyola also has the requisite go-to player, senior guard Katie Sheahin, the do-everything performer who is the league's only player to lead her team in points (14.4 per game), rebounds (6.5), assists (80 overall) and steals (71). If she has a good game, Loyola is capable of knocking off any team. Some support comes from hard-nosed forward Alyssa Sutherland (8.0, 5.1), point guard Kara Marshall (7.4) and long-range bomber Nicole Krusen (6.0, 48 3-pointers made this season).

WHAT MANHATTAN HAS: A final-game victory over Niagara as a nice springboard to post-season play. Junior guard Monica Roder (58 3-pointers made this year) is among the best long-range shooters in the league and, at 6-foot-1, is tall enough to shoot over defenders. Toni-Ann Lawrence is an athletic foward (6.1 rebounds per game) and comes in with the confidence of games of 17 points, 7 rebounds and 23/8 in the Jaspers' last two contests. And, steady point guard Allison Skrec leads the MAAC in assists (5.0 per contest) and is as good at running an offense as anyone in the league. Manhattan also knows it can play with most teams, having lost six conference games by seven points or less. And, there's that one-three-one zone defense, used almost exclusively, that regularly confounds opponents.

WHAT LOYOLA DOESN'T HAVE: The proverbial "second fiddle" to Sheahin's strong solo work. Sutherland is the team's next-best scorer, at just 8.0 per contest. She, Marshall and Krusen are all capable of putting up mid-teen scoring nights, but none of them do it regularly. To expect that kind of support over four games might be expecting too much. The Greyhounds, too, can be victimized inside. They get outrebounded by 2.6 per game and Sheahin is, by far, the team's leading rebounder ... from the guard position.

WHAT MANHATTAN DOESN'T HAVE: Like Loyola, Manhattan hadn't had a consistent second-option to Roeder for much of the season ... and, Roeder, almost exclusively a ong-range shooter, is easier to defend than Loyola's Sheahin. Lawrence, though, has been providing the good second option of late. Otherwise, Manhattan struggles to score points and ranks last in the MAAC for points-per-game average (51.4), although that's partially related to its defensive scheme that forces opponents to run down the shot clock to find open looks. The Jaspers are also woefully thin (literally) inside with slender freshman Shayna Erickson and sophomore Ashley Stec as two of the team's top inside players, and get outrebounded by 7.3 per contest.

HOW LOYOLA CAN WIN: Revert to mid-season form when it had a three-game winning streak, including a lopsided 64-43 victory over second-seeded Iona. In that game, Loyola had three players in double figures. In another of the three-game streak, it had four players with at least nine points. Loyola can continue to advance as long as Sheahin plays well and gets good offensive support, but that hasn't been there all season. Still ... Sheahin missed two games with flu-like symptoms and wasn't anywhere near her best for several other games while she battled through the illness. It does appear that she's fine now.

HOW MANHATTAN CAN WIN: Roeder will need to find, and make, open looks. Lawrence will need to continue her offensive contributions of late. And players like Erickson and Stec will need to be consistent. And, that defense will need to confound opponents for a full 40 minutes each game. In an early season game against Marist, for instance, Manhattan only trailed by a point at halftime before getting outscored by 20 after the intermission. Mostly, the Jaspers need better overall offensive production. Manhattan was close to being pretty good this year, but just not there often enough as its 7-22 overall record attests.

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