Women’s Basketball MAAC Tournament Preview: Who Gets to the Big Dance?

The most wonderful time of the year is finally upon us! No, I’m not talking about Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Arbor Day. It’s MAAC Tournament time people!

It’s been another interesting season in a league that never fails to produce storylines. Fairfield is 19-1 in league play in Joe Frager’s final season, Quinnipiac is looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019, and Marist is having a terrible, no-good, very bad (injury-riddled) season.

The MAAC Tournament picture may look clear-cut at first, but there are teams that know they can compete and win against the top of the league. It wouldn’t be March Madness without a little havoc. Let’s get a look at the teams trying to vie for the MAAC’s automatic bid to the field of 68.

But first, a look at the bracket.

The Top Dog:

Fairfield

Record: 22-6, 19-1 in the MAAC (1-seed)

First game: Winner of no. 8 Iona and no. 9 Rider, Wednesday at 1 p.m. 

The Stags are reminiscent of the Marist team from 2019-20. In Frager’s last season, Fairfield feels like a team of destiny with Lou Lopez-Senechal being nothing short of electric in her fifth year. Lopez-Senechal averages 19.7 points per game, and though no one else on the team scores double-digit points per game, the supporting cast is strong.

Rachel Hakes, Andrea Hernangomez, Sydney Lowery, and Sam Lewis are all experienced players in their own right and can pick up the slack on any night where Lopez-Senechal doesn’t drop 30. Fairfield is 4-0 against Quinnipiac and Manhattan and should have no worries getting past the Iona-Rider winner. A potential semifinal matchup with Niagara is interesting, but the Stags should be the odds-on favorite to get the job done in Atlantic City.

Other Contenders:

Quinnipiac

Record: 19-10, 14-6 in the MAAC (2-seed)

First game: Winner of no. 7 Saint Peter’s and no. 10 Marist, Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.

The Bobcats didn’t quite live up to their preseason expectations to win the MAAC. Last season petered out with a disappointing loss to Rider in the quarterfinals. This season, Mackenzie DeWees and Mikala Morris hope to make more of a run. They can match Fairfield’s depth and ended the regular season with four wins in their last five games.

Quinnipiac can win it all, but it’s going to have to navigate a tricky bottom half of the MAAC bracket. The Bobcats should be able to get past the Marist-Saint Peter’s winner, but having to potentially play Manhattan and Fairfield Friday and Saturday is a difficult task. The Bobcats have the veteran leadership to wear the crown at the end, but will the scar tissue from last season come back to bite?

Manhattan

Record: 19-10, 14-6 in the MAAC (3-seed)

First game: Winner of no. 6 Monmouth and no. 11 Canisius, Thursday at 12 p.m.

I wasn’t sold on the Jaspers coming into this season after a pedestrian 2020-21, but they’ve made some improvements in this campaign. Courtney Warley is a steady presence in the middle and Dee Dee Davis is one of the quickest guards in the MAAC and is a real scoring threat at 18 points per game.

Manhattan also has the experience it takes to make it through the bracket. They’ve only lost one game since Feb. 5, but the Jaspers also have to navigate the bottom half of the bracket. Monmouth could be a challenging quarterfinal matchup, but the real fun will come if the Jaspers and Quinnipiac make it to the semifinals.

Dark Horse:

Niagara

Record: 14-14, 11-9 in the MAAC (4-seed)

First game: no. 5 Siena, Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

Niagara is the kind of team that no one wants to see. If Angel Parker wasn’t good enough on her own, her sister Aaliyah is the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.2 points per game. Head coach Jada Pierce hasn’t made a real run in the MAAC Tournament, but this could be the season. Parker is as dynamic as they come, and players like Ally Haar and Olivia Mason add more experience.

If the Purple Eagles can beat Siena, they have a chance to give Fairfield a run for their money in the semifinals. Niagara is a fun team to watch. They play hard and fast and their press has caused problems for just about every MAAC team. A Fairfield-Niagara semifinal would be an interesting clash of styles.

Anything Can Happen:

Monmouth

Record: 14-15, 9-11 (6-seed)

First game: no. 11 Canisius, Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

The Hawks had a fast start to MAAC play before falling back to earth in the second half of the conference schedule. Monmouth has lost seven of its last eight games and seems to be cratering instead of peaking for Atlantic City.

Stella Clark is a solid player and leads the team in scoring at 11.7 points per game. Belle Kranbuhl is a good young post player, and the Hawks have a bunch of players who can contribute. A season sweep of Quinnipiac is impressive, but the poor finish to the year makes Monmouth a wild card at Boardwalk Hall.

Saint Peter’s

Record: 12-17, 9-11 in the MAAC (7-seed)

First game: no. 10 Marist, Tuesday at 11:30 a.m.

The Peacocks made a run to the MAAC Tournament finals last season after getting some help from Rider’s upset of Quinnipiac. This year, it will take some chaos for the Peacocks to make a return trip to the title game. Saint Peter’s comes in on a three-game losing streak that dropped them down to the 7-seed.

Kassondra Brown and Kendrea Williams both score around 15 points per game but there are questions about who steps up after them. The first-round matchup against Marist should be a coin flip after the teams split the season series. The Peacocks turned it over 29 times back on Feb. 17 in Poughkeepsie and will need to clean up their act if they want to survive and advance.

Winning a Game Would be Nice…

Siena

Record: 10-18, 10-10 in the MAAC (5-seed)

First game: no. 4 Niagara, Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

The Saints went from an 0-10 start to a first-round bye in Atlantic City. That shows you how crazy the league has been this season. Siena was the only team to knock off Fairfield in conference play and did it as part of a five-game winning streak. Since then, things have leveled out for the Saints, who won their final two games of the season.

In her fifth year, Rayshel Brown leads the team in scoring at 13.1 per game, and Margo Peterson is another experienced veteran at a shade over 10 points per night. Siena lost both regular-season games to Niagara and would likely have to deal with Fairfield in the semis. The Saints will likely be the victim of a tough draw.

Iona

Record: 10-15, 8-12 in the MAAC (8-seed)

First game: no. 9 Rider, Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

It was another middling year for the Gaels, who only won one game against the top four seeds in the MAAC. Juana Camilion is a really crafty player and Ketsia Athias has been solid this season. The problem is that the Gaels don’t have much offensive firepower and only shoot 27 percent from beyond the arc.

They could win the 8-9 game against Rider, but Fairfield after that is a very big ask. Billi Chambers will have to wait until next year to see if she can get the Gaels back to the upper-tier of the league. 

Rider

Record: 9-20, 7-13 in the MAAC (9-seed)

First game: no. 8 Iona, Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

The Broncs are a very interesting squad. They’ve given Fairfield and Quinnipiac some trouble and dropped 92 points at Niagara in January. Rider has also lost big to Siena and Iona. Lenaejha Evans, Mikayla Firebaugh, and Raphaela Touissant are a solid core and they have memories of a semifinal run last season as a 10-seed.

The Broncs are probably in a better position to put at least a bit of a scare into Fairfield in the quarters, but there’s no guarantee that they will get past Iona in the opening round. Their 2019-20 team that won a share of the MAAC and went 26-4 before the season got canceled feels like a distant memory.

Marist

Record: 8-20, 6-14 in the MAAC (10-seed)

First game: no. 7 Saint Peter’s, Tuesday at 11:30 a.m.

It’s been a brutal season for Red Fox fans but none of that matters now. It’s all about this week on the boardwalk. Marist needs to make shots if it wants to surprise some people and make a run. If they can shoot 40 percent from the floor and score 60 points, they can play with anyone. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

Brian Giorgis will have to hope Kendall Krick puts up more solid numbers as she nears the end of her career and that Trinasia Kennedy is ready to go after a hard fall into press row near the end of the Manhattan game. Everything needs to come together for Marist to go on a run. We’ve had tantalizing glimpses of what that looks like, but the team hasn’t been able to do it consistently.

The bracket isn’t easy. Saint Peter’s is a coinflip game and Quinnipiac and Manhattan lurk in the quarters and semis if the Red Foxes escape the first day. Crazier things have happened…

See You Next Season

Canisius

Record: 5-24, 3-17 in the MAAC (11-seed)

First game: no. 6 Monmouth, Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

Center Field feels bad about giving the Griffins a category to themselves, but Canisius is a long-term project. Being part of the Buffalo swing gives Sahar Nusseibeh’s team an advantage in MAAC play, but the Griffins haven’t won away from the Koessler Center all year. Canisius may start to make a climb in the MAAC standings next season as the team gains some more experience. For now, it looks like an early return to Buffalo.

Prediction:

It’s never a good idea to make a prediction but it’s just so tempting. Crazy things always happen in March, and the MAAC Tournament is never an exception. There’s no denying that the Fairfield, Quinnipiac, and Manhattan seem to have some space from the rest of the league. That said, all it takes is one game to flip things completely on their head.

I see this being pretty chalky at the top, and I think Fairfield grits out a win against Niagara in the semis and goes on to beat Quinnipiac in the finals. Frager finally gets his long-overdue trip to the big dance.

Edited by Bridget Reilly and Ricardo Martinez

Photo Credit: Marist Athletics

Author: Jonathan Kinane

I'm a senior from Syracuse, NY, studying sports communication and journalism. I consider myself a die-hard Syracuse University sports fan, but I also follow the Knicks, Giants, and Yankees in the professional ranks. Sports and writing have long been my passions and I am excited for another year with Center Field.

Leave a Reply