MAAC Championship Game
No. 4 Iona Gaels (19-13, 11-7) vs. No. 6 Fairfield Stags (17-15, 9-9)
One problem with the beginning of March Madness is conference upsets. Every year, the NCAA Tournament has an opportunity to have the best teams in the Field of 68. And every year, upsets happen in the low to Mid-major tournaments leaving a lot of what ifs. Well, when the MAAC Championship tips off on Monday night, two middle of the road teams will take the court. Instead of watching Rider and Canisius, the only 20-win teams in the conference battle for the automatic bid, we get the Iona Gaels and Fairfield Stags in what should be an intriguing matchup. The two teams split a pair of regular season meetings this year. The Gaels won the first game at home, 84-65. Meanwhile, the Stags returned the favor three weeks later to defeat the Gaels, 103-100 in overtime.
Interestingly enough, the Stags have won seven games in a row. Their last loss came to the No. 1 seed Rider Broncs two days before Valentines Day. Now, the Stags need one more win to go a month without a loss. They also have a chance to earn their first automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament in 1997. I remember that day clearly when they lost to the North Carolina Tar Heels by eight points in the first round. However, that Stags team only had 11 wins on the season. This team scraped past .500 with their latest winning streak.
The Stags have the MAAC’s leading scorer in Tyler Nelson. He is averaging 22 points per game. However, the Stags have plenty of perimeter players that can create their own shots. Freshman Jesus Cruz made plenty of plays down the stretch to send the Stags into the MAAC Championship game. Still, the Stags love to shoot the 3-pointer with their two biggest scoring threats.
Meanwhile, the Gaels haven’t had too many long winning streaks. They had a four-game winning streak spanning November and December. They also had a five-game winning streak early in conference play. If they win on Monday, the Gaels will have had their longest winning streak since. The Gaels use a balanced offensive effort on the offensive end.
They have five players that average double figures. They are just a bunch of smaller perimeter players that need to force turnovers to win. The quicker they play the better it will be. The Gaels also pass the ball extremely well. They averaged 16.5 assists in conference play. In all, the Gaels have seven players scoring between 8.6 points and 13.7 points. Therefore, the key to a victory is ball and player movement. They need to get every facet of their game involved early and often.
In the end, it will come down to 3-point shooting. The Gaels shoot over 25 3-pointers per game. The Stags shoot 27 3-pointers per game. May the best shooters win. If the last game is any indication, the winner may need to score over 100 to survive and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Score Prediction- Iona 98 – Fairfield 95