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College basketball coaches are fond of hailing the capabilities of an opponent even when it’s apparent their praises are much ado about nothing. But the head men won’t have to resort to embellishment at this weekend’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament in Springfield, Mass. Legitimate threats abound.

How even was the MAAC this year? For only the second time this millennium, seven teams finished .500 or better in conference. For only the third time in that span six teams finished .500 or better overall. And this is the first time both have occurred in the same season.

Niagara, the regular-season champ, must wait for the result of Friday’s pre-quarterfinal between Marist and Siena to learn its opponent. Eighth-seeded Marist (10-20, 6-12) is the favorite and might seem like easy pickings for the Purple Eagles (18-12, 13-5) minus the knowledge the Red Foxes enter having won three straight and five of their last seven. The burst includes wins over the Nos. 3 (Loyola) and 4 (Iona) seeds.

The 4-5 game between Iona and Canisius couldn’t be much more even on paper. The Gaels are 17-13 overall and went 11-7 in conference. The Griffs are 18-12 overall and also finished 11-7 in the MAAC. And of course they split the regular-season series, with each winning at home.

No. 2 Rider (18-13, 12-6) comes in as the hottest team in the league, with its season-ending sweep of Niagara and Canisius extending its winning streak to five games. The Broncs get the winner of the 7-10 game between Fairfield (17-14, 9-9) and Saint Peter’s (9-20-3-15). The one conference team Rider failed to beat this season? Fairfield.

And then there’s the 3-7 matchup between defending champ Loyola (21-10, 12-6) and Manhattan (12-17, 9-9). The Greyhounds swept the season series with a two-point homecourt victory Sunday, handing the Jaspers only their second loss in the last eight games.

The pre-quarterfinals will be played on Friday. Niagara faces the Marist-Siena winner at 2:30 Saturday followed 30 minutes later by the Griffs and the Gaels.

Sweat shop

Iona coach Tim Cluess and his staff ditched the coat and tie for team sweatsuits after the Gaels lost six of seven with the margin of defeat never more than three. While it’s surely coincidence Iona responded with season-ending victories over Loyola and Siena, Cluess isn’t taking an chances.

“We’re definitely wearing the sweatsuits in Springfield,” he said.

Fox trot

Here’s what guard Devin Price had to say as reported by the Poughkeepsie Journal after Sunday’s win over Fairfield sustained Marist’s momentum:

“I’m not shocked by the way we’re playing, but I’m inspired. I just think going into this tournament, we’re a scary team to play, and I think most of the teams in the MAAC know that.”

Final numbers

Niagara’s Antoine Mason and Juan’ya Green finished 3-4 in scoring in games within the MAAC. Mason averaged 18 points, Green 17.7. The leader was Iona’s Momo Jones at 22.3 followed by Chavaughn Leis of Marist at 18.3. Billy Baron of Canisius was sixth at 16.2 and teammate Harold Washington 12th at 13.3.

Other individual Top 10 statistical finishes from Canisius and Niagara:

Rebounding: Chris Manhertz, Canisius, 3rd, 10.1; Jordan Heath, Canisius, 7th, 6.5; Ameen Tanksley, Niagara, T8, 6.3. Offensive rebounding: Manhertz, 1st, 4.2, Heath, 8th, 2.6, Devon White, Niagara, 10th, 2.2. FG Percentage: Manhertz fourth, .556; Heath 5th, .528. Assists: Green, 1st, 5.2; Baron 2nd, 4.9. FT Percentage: Green, 3rd, .837; Baron, 7th, .800; Mason, 10th, .765.

Steals: Green, 2nd, 2.0; Marvin Jordan, Niagara, 6th, 1.4. 3P FG Percentage: Washington, 4th, .414, Baron, 9th, .394; T.J. Cline, Niagara, 10th, .386. 3P Made: Isaac Sosa, Canisius, 2nd, 2.8; Baron, 7th, 2.1; Washington, 8th, 2.0. Blocks: Heath, 3rd, 2.0; White, 6th, 1.1. Minutes Played: Green, 1st, 38.6; Mason, 6th, 36.5; Baron, 9th, 35.1.

Statement time

BN Big 4 Player of the Week: Junior forward Javon McCrea put up ridiculous numbers as the Bulls split last week, losing in OT at Kent State and then snapping Akron’s nation’s-best 19-game winning. McCrea totaled 58 points and 21 rebounds, went 26 of 40 from the field and blocked 12 shots. He’s up to three 30-plus point games on the season and 10 of 20 or more.

UB’s tied for fourth in the Mid-American Conference among playoff eligible teams with two games remaining. The other two teams in the logjam (Kent State, Eastern Michigan) both have the tiebreaker advantage over the Bulls. The top five finishes avoid a first-round campus playoff game and advance straight to the MAC Tournament in Cleveland.

The Bulls (12-17, 7-7) entertain Ohio U. (21-8, 12-2) at 7 tonight and finish the regular season Friday night at Bowling Green (12-7, 6-8). This will be UB’s final regular-season encounter with Ohio’s D.J. Cooper, a four-year starter, twice first-team All-MAC and one of the finer guards in conference history. He’s the MAC’s all-time leader in assists, 13th in Division I history in assists. 24th all-time in D-I steals and on the verge of scoring his 2,000th career point. Cooper has averaged 15.6 points, 7.7 assists while going 7-2 in his career against UB.

Bona fide

How tight is the Atlantic 10? Two games remain and Bona (14-13, 7-7) still could finish as high as a tie for fourth or miss out on the 12-team conference tournament altogether.

The Bonnies (14-13, 7-7) are tied for eighth with Saint Joseph’s and Richmond and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over the Hawks. Their most likely finish is somewhere between eighth and 12th but, as last season showed, one never knows. Bona’s combined record after Feb. 16 this season and last: 10-2.

Remaining games for teams from sixth to 13th place with conference records noted:

• Massachusetts (8-6): vs. Butler (9-5) Thursday, at Rhode Island (3-11) Saturday.

• Xavier (8-6): vs. Saint Louis (12-2) Wednesday, at Butler Saturday.

• Bona (7-7): At Dayton (6-8) Wednesday, vs. Fordham (2-12) Saturday.

• Saint Joseph’s (7-7): vs. Rhode Island (3-11) Wednesday, at Charlotte (6-8) Saturday.

• Richmond (7-7): at VCU Wednesday, vs. Duquesne Saturday.

• Dayton: vs. Bona Wednesday, at George Washington (6-8) Saturday.

• GW: at La Salle (10-4) Wednesday, vs. Dayton Saturday.

• Charlotte (6-8): at Duquesne Wednesday, vs. Saint Joseph’s Saturday.

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com