Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tournament Women's Pre: Quinnipiac vs. Canisius

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

No. 4 SEED QUINNIPIAC vs. No. 5 SEED CANISIUS, quarterfinal round, Friday at 2:30 p.m.

TEAM RECORDS: Quinnipiac is 14-6 in MAAC play, 19-11 overall; Canisius is 9-11 in MAAC play, 13-16 overall. Quinnipiac won both regular-season meetins by scores of 66-55 and 65-51.

WHAT QUINNIPIAC HAS: One of the most-balanced offensive attacks and a smoothly run motion offense. Three players score in double figures, guard Jasmine Martin (15.3), and forwards Brittany McQuain (12.8) and Samantha Guastella (11.0). Junior point guard Gillian Abshire directs things as the MAAC's best point guard in many years. Her 6.8 assist-per-game average is seventh-best nationally, and her 3.71 assist-to-turnover ratio is second nationally. Three other players have shared the fifth starting position, with forward Maria Napolitano (5.1 ppg.) getting the most of the starts. The Bobcats also have strong depth with 10 players legitimately in the playing group. Only one player, Abshire, averages more than 30 minutes per game. Quinnipiac is second in the MAAC in scoring at 73.7 ppg. McQuain (9.2 rebounds per outing) and Guastella (6.1) are both potent inside players. There's also tournament experience, albeit in its former affiliation, the Northeast Conference. The Bobcats won that league's tournament a year ago to advance to the NCAA's, and four starters from that squad are still in place.

WHAT CANISIUS HAS: Some strong late-season play with a 4-1 record down the stretch. That included the required back-to-back season-ending victories over Fairfield (52.45 in overtime) and Rider (66-63) to sneak out of the play-in round and into the No. 5 seeding position and a bye into the tournament's quarterfinal round. As usual, the Griffs have some snipers with six players each with at least 10 three-pointers on the season. There's also a balanced attack with junior guard Kayla Hoohuli leading the team in scoring at 10.3 and senior forward Jamie Ruttle at 10.2. The team has plenty of height with the 6-3 Ruttle, 6-3 reserve Jen Lennox and 6-1 reserve Courtney VandeBovenkamp. There's also an emerging point guard in place in sophomore Tiahana Mills. Athletic reserve guard Crystal Porter has been solid of late, getting 16 points in 23 minutes in the season-ender vs. Rider.

WHAT QUINNIPIAC DOESN'T HAVE: The emphasis on offense means Quinnipiac's defense isn't quite as proficient. The Bobcats allow 67.8 points per game, ninth of the 11 conference teams. The team also relies heavily on three-pointers, taking 85 more than any other MAAC team. If the three-point shooting is off, and it shoots just 32.5 percent from bonus territory, only the sixth-best percentage in the league, then Quinnipiac will struggle on the offensive end. There's also the issue of not having a victory over one of the top three teams in the final standings. The Bobcats lost twice to No. 1 Iona, by nine and eight points; to No. 2 Marist by six and 19 points and to No. 3 Fairfield by one and nine points.

WHAT CANISIUS DOESN'T HAVE: A true go-to scorer. No MAAC team's leading scorer averages less than Canisius' (Ruttle, at 10.3 ppg.) And, despite the height, Canisius operates at a 1.9 rebound-per-game deficit. Ruttle and Hoohuli both had big scoring nights (17 and 16) vs. Fairfield on Saturday, and Porter (16) and Mills (19) both had strong offensive games Sunday against Rider. But, it seems that the Griffs don't get consistent offensive production from anyone.

COMMENT: Usually the match of the No. 4-No. 5 seeds is a toss-up, but Quinnipiac (a 14-6 MAAC record) has been the far superior team this year (Canisius was 9-11 in MAAC play). But, what looks like a likely victory for the Bobcats might not be so. The Griffs have been at their best in the last couple of weeks and a continuation of that late-season strong play should make this a very competitive meeting.

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