Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tournament Men's Preview: Niagara vs. Marist

Here's another in the series previewing the MAAC men's tournament.

No. 6 SEED MARIST vs. No. 11 NIAGARA, 9 p.m. Thursday.

TEAM RECORDS: Marist is 9-11 in MAAC play and 12-18 overall; Niagara is 3-17 in MAAC play and 6-25 overall. The teams split regular-season meetings with Marist winning by a 78-64 score and Niagara earning an 80-74 decision.

WHAT MARIST HAS: Some of the best perimeter players in the league in 6-5 senior Jay Bowie (12.3, 5.3), 6-6 junior Chavaughn Lewis (17.3, 5.0) and 6-2 freshman Khallil Hart (14.6), the likely MAAC Rookie of the Year. There's also a quality big man patrolling the middle with the 6-10 senior Adam Kemp (10.0, 7.6, 56 total blocks). Marist also developed well under first-year coach Jeff Bower, who brought the experience of and respect earned from working in a variety of NBA capacities over the past 15 seasons. Marist had an 0-9 start to the season but has been 12-9 finish since. There's also good offensive balance with four players averaging double figures.

WHAT NIAGARA HAS: The league's most explosive offensive player in 6-3 junior guard Antoine Mason, whose 25.2 ppg. average is second-best nationally. He is capable of taking over games. And, opponents' attention to him opens things up for teammates to some extent. Senior guard Marvin Jordan is also an effective backcourt performer, and Monmouth transfer Marcus Ware, at 6-8, gives the squad its only true post presence. Freshman guard Wesley Myers has also been a solid first-year contributor. And, the team appears to still be playing with all-out intensity despite its lack of victories.

WHAT MARIST DOESN'T HAVE: A second post presence to go along with Kemp, which is why it operates at a 3-rebound per game deficiency. The Red Foxes basically play with four perimeter players and Kemp. Despite the perimeter-oriented style, Marist doesn't shoot well from long range. Only 14 teams nationally have a worse percentage from three-point range than Marist. And, its overall shooting percentage is 317th nationally of 343 Division I teams nationally. Also, there's not a lot of depth. Only two reserves are averaging at least 10 minutes of playing time per contest.

WHAT NIAGARA DOESN'T HAVE: Much success. Its current 10-game losing streak, though, shows the very minor difference between winning and losing. The Purple Eagles have lost seven of those games by six points or less with two of them coming by a single point. First-year head coach Chris Casey claims his team just needs to learn how to make a play or two down the stretch. It hasn't helped that five players with eligibility left the program since Mihalich moved to Hofstra after last season. Niagara's inside defense is limited, and teams score 82.1 points against the Purple Eagles. Only one team nationally has a higher points-against average.

COMMENTS: The meeting of seeds six-11 is traditionally the most-lopsided match of the preliminary round, but Niagara got a victory in its most-recent meeting with Marist, and the Purple Eagles string of "almosts" indicates that with just a little more, they could pull off an upset. Still, Marist has been effective of late, particularly in getting a 102-72 victory over Quinnipiac in its final game on Sunday.

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