Here's another in the series previewing the MAAC men's tournament.
No. 4 SEED CANISIUS vs. No. 5 SEED Siena, Saturday quarterfinal round game at 2:30 p.m.
TEAM RECORDS: Canisius is 14-6 in MAAC play, 20-11 overall; Siena is 11-9 in the MAAC and 15-16 overall. Canisius won both regular-season meetings by scores of 93-78 and 92-88 in triple overtime.
WHAT CANISIUS HAS: Arguably the league's best player and almost-certain Player of the Year choice 6-2 senior guard Billy Baron. His 24.4 point-per-game average is third-best nationally and his 5.2 assists-per-game rate ranks 48th on the national chart. He also gets 5.0 rebounds per game. Baron is more than content to work to get teammates better shots, but also more than capable of taking over and producing whenever the Griffs need a big play. He's got offensive help from guard Chris Perez (12.4 ppg.) and 6-10 center Jordan Heath (10.5, 5.5, 67 total blocks) as well as from freshman guard Zach Lewis (9.7). And, there's also the rugged play of undersized power forward Chris Manhertz (8.1, 6.7) who onlymissed three games after surgery to repair a badly broken nose in mid February. The Griffs also have better depth than in recent memory, with eight players averaging at least 10 minutes of playing time per contest. Canisius' 20 victories to date marks the first time the program has reached that total since the 1993-94 season.
WHAT CANISIUS DOESN'T HAVE: Surprisingly, there have been some inconsistencies, particularly regular-season losses to Monmouth and Marist. The Griffs have also been beaten by Manhattan twice during the regular season, but wouldn't have to face the Jaspers unless both teams get to the championship game. And, despite having two 6-10 players (Jordan Heath and reserve Josiah Heath) in the playing group, along with Manhertz, the Griffs aren't an overwhelming team on the boards. Their minus-3.9 rebounding deficiency ranks them 300th of 343 D-I teams nationally in that statistical category. Canisius can also be scored on, allowing 74.8 points per game. Only 53 teams nationallyallow more.
WHAT SIENA HAS: Momentum, courtesy of a four-game season-ending winning streak that pushed it into the top five of the MAAC standings. Two of those victories came against higher-finishing teams Manhattan and Quinnipiac. And, in the game before the win streak Siena lost a three-overtime decision to Canisius. Coach Jimmy Patsos is now in his 10th season coaching in the MAAC (the previous nine at Loyola) and might have done his best job this season with a youthful lineup that doesn't include a single senior on scholarship. But, two juniors (swingman Rob Poole, and guard Evan Hymes) have both gone over the 1,000-point career scoring mark. Brett Bisping, a tough 6-8 sophomore forward, averages 10.3 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds. He and 6-9 junior Imoh Silas (55 blocks) form a hard-playing inside duo. Or, Siena can go smaller and still have success. Freshman guard Marquis Wright directs the offense and leads the MAAC in assists (5.5 per contest). Both Wright and freshman forward Lavon Long are all-Rookie team picks.
WHAT SIENA DOESN'T HAVE: A true veteran presence without a senior in the playing group. The Saints have also been far better at home than on the road, a sign of a young team. But, the Saints rebound well (a 3.0 per game advantage, 91st-best nationally) and share the ball (61st most assists nationally) beyond expectations for such a young team. Still, there's no true go-to scorer, although Poole fills that role at times.
COMMENT: Baron scored 40 in the recent triple-overtime victory against Siena, and Patsos pledges not to let the Canisius guard get close to that many when they meet in the tournament. But, Baron finds other ways to be productive. He only had 21 points in the first meeting, but contributed 13 assists. Canisius has a significant advantage in experience, but Siena has improved dramatically as the season progressed and appears to be at its peak at the right time.