MAAC Tournament Preview: Eckel looks at St. Peter's, Rider and Monmouth as the games return to New Jersey for the first time in 17 years
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament returns to New Jersey this week. Can a New Jersey school return to the NCAA Tournament with a MAAC title?
Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall will host the MAAC beginning Tuesday night with three play-in games (none featuring the three New Jersey schools). The last time the tournament was held in the Garden Sate was 2003 when Trenton’s Sovereign Bank played host. When the league was founded in 1982 the first eight years of the tournament saw its semifinals and finals at the Meadowlands Arena.
New Jersey’s trio of MAAC schools — St. Peter’s, Rider and Monmouth — are the two, three and four seeds respectively. Regular-season champ Siena is the top seed.
Here’s a look at the three Jersey schools’ chances this year and their history in the tournament.
The Peacocks (17-12, 14-6) have been to the MAAC title game seven times, the most recent 2011 when they won their third title. They are the only N.J. school to win a MAAC title.
This year, despite being the #2 seed, they don’t have an easy road. They will face the winner of Tuesday’s Iona-Canisius play-in game, Wednesday (9:30). While St. Pete’s has beaten Iona twice this season it was a one-point win and a three-point win. In tournament play, St. Pete’s is 3-8 vs. the Gaels. Iona has also won the last four MAAC titles and five of the last seven. Canisius would appear an easier quarterfinal foe, but the teams split their two regular-season meetings. And here’s a note on the Golden Griffins: They’re nine losses by five points, or less, leads the nation.
The Broncs (18-12, 12-8) moved into third place with a win in their final game of the regular season and probably couldn't have picked a better quarterfinal match-up if the league let them pick it themselves. Rider faces the winner of Tuesday’s Niagara-Marist play-in game, Thursday (7 pm). While the Broncs are 0-3 against Niagara in tournament play, they beat the Purple Eagles by 18 points the last time they met. Rider also swept Marist this season and won both games by double figures.
The MAAC Tournament has not been kind to the Broncs, and especially head coach Kevin Baggett. Rider has only been to the finals twice (2005, 2008) in 22 years and lost both times. Baggett, now in his eighth season, has never made it to a semifinal game.
The Hawks (18-13, 12-8) had a chance for the top seed late in the season, but fell to fourth place. That means instead of facing a play-in team in the quarters they get fifth-seed Quinnipiac (15-15, 10-10). The schools split this season with each winning by double figures on their home floor. They have also met once in the tournament with Monmouth coming away with the win in that one.
This is Monmouth’s seventh year in the league and the Hawks have made it to the finals twice, 2016 and last year. Both times they lost to Iona.