MAAC Tournament 2013: Niagara squares off with deep field

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

There are a couple of dangerous teams in the MAAC this March. Will top-seeded Niagara be able to avoid an early round upset, or will a lower seed such as Rider or Iona sneak up and cut the nets down?

The 2013 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament kicks off on March 8 with a deep field and plenty of teams hungry for the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. With seven teams in the MAAC finishing with conference records of .500 or better, we could be in for a couple of wild, upset-filled days.

Who, What, When

The MAAC Tournament takes place at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., March 8-11.

Format

All 10 teams will have a chance to cut down the nets this weekend. The top six seeds receive byes for the first round, while teams seeded 7-10 will have to play four days in a row if they hope to win it all.

Friday: No. 8 Marist vs. No. 9 Siena (Game 1); No. 7 Fairfield vs. No. 10 St. Peter's (Game 2)

Saturday: No. 1 Niagara vs. Game 1 Winner (Game 3); No. 4 Iona vs. No. 5 Canisius (Game 4); No. 2 Rider vs. Game 2 Winner (Game 5); No. 3 Loyola vs. No. 6 Manhattan (Game 6)

Sunday: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner; Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner

Monday: Championship

Who The Numbers Like

Iona. Despite entering as the No. 4 seed, the Gaels are the best team in the conference, according to Kenpom's efficiency rankings. Iona ranks 100th in the nation, which is aided greatly by an offense ranked in the top 25. No. 3 seed Loyola is second in Kenpom's ranking at 117th, while Canisius is right behind them at 118.

Who The Eyeballs Like

Niagara. Niagara won the regular season conference title for a reason: they know how to close out games down the stretch. They may not blow you away with big offensive outbursts or lockdown defense, but they're a quality team with plenty of veteran leadership.

Dark Horse

Rider. This team isn't getting much publicity heading into the tournament despite being the two seed. The Broncs have won five in a row and seven of their last eight, including two meetings with conference champ Niagara. Do not be surprised if Rider makes a run in Springfield.

Best Possible Title Game

Iona vs. Rider. For the reasons listed above, the Gaels are statistically the best team in the MAAC, while Rider is playing their best basketball of the season. Neither team is very good defensively, either, which means a lot of points would be scored with a shot at the Big Dance on the line.

Who Might/Will Get In Anyway

The only representative the MAAC will have at the 2013 NCAA Tournament will be the conference champion.

Players To Watch:

Lamont Jones: One of the best scorers in the nation, Jones is averaging 23.2 points a game with Iona this season. The battle-tested senior will have the ball in his hands late with the game on the line.

Antoine Mason: This sophomore guard for Niagara led the team in scoring with a little more than 18 points a night. Mason can be a bit inconsistent at times, but when he's on, the Purple Eagles are a tough team to beat.

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