By Brandon Scalea
It’s almost March, which is by far the best time of the year for college basketball fans.
The MAAC Tournament for men’s and women’s basketball will be held at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York, and a shot at the coveted NCAA Tournament will be on the line. The winner of each tournament will receive the conference’s automatic bid to March Madness, one of the greatest stages of American sports.
Here’s how The Rider News predicts the men’s and women’s championships will turn out. But remember, crazy things happen this time of year.
The women’s tournament
Nothing is for certain in postseason college basketball, but there’s one thing that’s pretty close: This is Quinnipiac’s tournament to lose. The Bobcats not only went 18-0 in conference play this year, but are also coming off a season where they went all the way to the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs. The team recorded a huge, upset win over Miami in the second round of March Madness in 2017, pushing the mid-major school in Hamden, Connecticut, into the public eye.
Quinnipiac, coached by Tricia Fabbri, is by far the most dominant team in the MAAC. Over the last seven seasons, Fabbri’s teams have won nearly 80 percent of their games and have claimed two of the last three MAAC titles. You should fully expect the Bobcats to steamroll through their side of the bracket and meet second-seeded Marist in the title game.
While the Red Foxes aren’t exactly slouches — the team won nine straight conference championships from 2006 to 2014 — they will be overmatched by this Quinnipiac team that has its mind already set on a deep NCAA Tournament run.
After starting MAAC play 0-2, Rider did a nice job of rebounding to win 10 of its last 16 conference games and clinch a first-round bye. Unfortunately for the Broncs, who lost in the MAAC Championship last year, they’ll have the tough task of facing Quinnipiac in the semifinal.
However, we do expect Head Coach Lynn Milligan’s Broncs to leave Albany with at least one win, as it will topple Fairfield in the quarterfinal.
The men’s tournament
For the fourth time since joining the MAAC two decades ago, Rider has clinched at least a share of the regular-season title and, along with that, the first seed in the conference tournament.
For the past few weeks, beat writers and fans all across the MAAC have been saying that this year’s tournament is wide open since the conference’s hierarchy has been destroyed — Iona, Manhattan and Siena all had slightly disappointing regular seasons.
Not to mention, despite having the No. 1 seed, the Broncs have probably the toughest possible path to the March 5 title game. In the quarterfinal, Rider will face the winner of the Monmouth/St. Peter’s game. The Hawks recently snapped the Broncs’ 10-game winning streak by routing them in West Long Branch. As for the Peacocks, Rider swept them but only by a combined seven points.
This is unideal, but for a Broncs team that went 15-3 in conference play, it should be a winnable first test.
OK, so we’ll say Rider faces Monmouth and grinds out a 79-72 win that requires an A-plus effort.
Next up would be the winner between two teams that have won the last four MAAC Championships, Iona and Manhattan. Yikes.
This Rider team says, “No big deal.” The Broncs will face Manhattan in the semifinal and defeat the Jaspers by double digits.
Waiting in the championship game will be second-seeded Canisius, barely breaking a sweat in wins over Quinnipiac and Fairfield, respectively. Yes, the Golden Griffins not only get a share of the regular-season title, but a cakewalk on their side of the bracket.
But this is the matchup everyone wants. Canisius won the first game between these two teams, 70-69, and Rider won the second, 83-82.
The first seed of the MAAC Tournament hasn’t won the championship since 2010. This is the year that streak ends.
Rider will win the title and punch its March Madness ticket. The Broncs will beat Canisius by three points in a roller coaster of a game.