January 23, 2009 2:37 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
Niagara at Siena (Metro Atlantic)
Times Union Center - Albany, NY
Saturday, 12:00 PM EST
One of the most honored traditions on this site is to spread the G!O!T!N! goodness around. Focusing on a small group of teams is what the traditionalists do, but TMM likes to keep things as complicated as possible. So we could talk about the No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle in the Horizon between Butler and Milwaukee, or the Miami-Buffalo MAC East faceoff, but those teams have been in this space all too recently. We're focusing on a game that we've had circled for a while: the showdown/throwdown between the two most talented teams in the Metro Atlantic (or just "the Met," if you're cool).
When Siena was struggling in nonconference play, Niagara filled the MAAC vacuum. The Purple Eagles were 10-3 on New Year's Day, even pulling a (minor) Red Line Upset against South Florida. The team had lost one of the nation's top scorers in Charron Fisher, but had plugged the scoring void with a couple of Big East transfers, Rob Garrison (UConn, 11.7 ppg) and Bilal Benn (Villanova, 13.8 ppg). And this version plays ballhungry defense, which has been one of the team's weak points in recent years. Niagara had one major meltdown at Marist and was dragged into a back-alley brawl against Iona, but otherwise has been very solid on D, forcing 16.7 turnovers per game. If there's a weakness, it's the 3. Since league play began, NU has been allowing 41.4 percent from outside.
In the other corner, the Siena Saints (14-5, 8-0), who fell off the map after a tough 2008 portion that included losses to Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh and Kansas. (The only L that needs any explaining is the Wichita State collapse the day after Thanksgiving, really.) But after facing teams like those, going up against the MAAC teams might seem pretty easy. And the only one of the eight games the Saints have really been in danger of losing was at Marist, when they were caught in a track meet that was survived through ball control. That's been the key strength of this team: just 11 TO's per game against league opponents. If Siena can get past Saturday's challenge, they'll likely cruise for a while -- no opponent until Nov. 7 (Rider) has a winning record, and the Saints have already knocked the Broncs by 10.
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