2013 Tournament Breakdown: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
This is going to be a complete free-for-all. One of the most parity-addled conferences in the land goes to a true neutral site (as in there are zero MAAC teams in the state of Massachusetts) to fight it out for one NCAA berth. It's the kind of wildly entertaining spectacle that championship week is designed for, even if it totally undermines what you just played a whole regular season for.
There are four or five teams that have a very realistic chance of winning the event, and a couple other quasi-darkhorses on top of that. Ken Pomeroy actually has the 4-seed, Iona, as the nominal favorite even though he projects the Gaels only have a 55 percent chance of winning their quarterfinal and they likely would draw top-seeded Niagara in the semifinals. That's nuts.
Key Matchup: No. 4 Iona vs. No. 5 Canisius
Two potent offenses and terrible defenses duel for a (presumed) shot at Niagara in the semis. The Gaels won by 10 at home and lost by three in Buffalo in the return game. Based on limited data (all three games were close and Niagara went 2-1 in them), it's not clear there's a strong preference for the Purple Eagles, but Iona probably is the more "dangerous" of the two teams in terms of winning the whole event, if that makes any sense. If it loses, several other teams stand to benefit in terms of win equity.
Team to Watch: Rider
The Broncs swept the 1-seed Niagara this season and if there's a "better side" of the bracket in this wide-open event, I think Rider is on it, paired with Loyola (Md.) as the other favored seed to make the semis.
Hottest Storyline: The young and the bestest?
Last season, Niagara was an absurdly young team. In fact, they are still extremely young, but all of last season's battle-testing won them the regular-season crown maybe a year ahead of when that could have been expected. Niagara's top five players in terms of possession usage while on the floor are freshmen or sophomores, which bodes really well for the next two seasons. Can the Purple Eagles jump-start that next-stage leap by making it to the NCAAs this year?
The pick: IonaFlip a coin three times and you may be just as accurate, but the Gaels have probably the most impactful player in the league (Momo Jones, who uses an enormous possession load fairly well) and the experience of having made the dance last season (plus the taste of blowing a 200-point lead against BYU in the play-in round). The best bet, though? A wild tournament.