MAAC tournament: Preview, prediction, TV info

Coach Tim Cluess and Iona are trying to make a third straight NCAA tournament. (USATSI)

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What: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship.

When: March 6, 8-10.

Where: All games played at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.

Bracket: View tournament field here.

TV: Championship game on ESPN2 (March 10, 7 p.m. ET).

Last year's champ: Iona (20-13, No. 15 seed)

What matters: The top of this league is very good at the mid-major level. The 1-4 seeds (Iona, Manhattan, Canisius and Quinnipiac) are all capable of winning this tournament -- and winning in the NCAA tournament. I recently attended a terrific Iona-Manhattan game, and afterward Manhattan coach Steve Masiello was insistent on how tough the conference is and how legit each of the top four teams are.

"I hope they all lose," Masiello said when referring to the MAAC tournament. He has no interest in playing any of them. Unfortunately, that's highly unlikely.

Iona, the top seed, is probably the best team. It's 11th in offensive efficiency on and has won 12 of its past 13. The Gaels' defense is lacking, but they love to get out and run and push you every possession. The Golden Griffins of Canisius have Billy Baron, a tremendous player who's capable of putting the team on his back for a big run.

Quinnipiac, which just joined the league this season, is the only group of the four that didn't lose to each of the other three. The Bobcats swept Manhattan. But the Jaspers have tremendous balance and in George Beamon an all-league player, who Masiello said will finally be 100 percent healthy for the start of this tournament.

Who matters: Isaiah Williams leads the conference in points per shot, averaging 1.31. He's a slender but aggressive guard who propels the offense nearly as much as his highly respected teammate, Sean Armand.

Rhamel Brown (league-leading 3.7 blocks per game) is a great centerpiece at Manhattan, and he's flanked by Beamon and Emmy Andujar. Nobody plays more than Baron at Canisius, who's averaging 39 minutes per game.

Quinnipiac is a terrific rebounding team. Ike Azotam leads the league in snares, hauling in 10.3 per game, while teammate Ousmane Drame has a 20.4 rebound percentage rate when he's on the court, which is among the best in college hoops.

Niagara, the worst team in the league (3-17) has the second-leading scorer in the country. Antoine Mason's 25.1 points per game only trails Creighton's Doug McDermott.

Fun fact: Averaging 68.8 possessions per game in league play makes the MAAC the fastest conference in college basketball. While there's no guarantee the top four seeds hold, if they do, the semifinals and finals of this league's playoff can be as good as any -- any -- in the country, from a watchability standpoint. The league is 7-32 in NCAA tournament history, the last win coming courtesy of that solid Siena team in 2009.

Prediction: Going with Manhattan, but it's like I'm drawing straws. The Jaspers are the best defensive team in the league. I love Beamon's game, and Brown in the middle is a solid force. They've also got a great deep threat in the lanky Rich Williams. The key will be starting point guard Michael Alvarado's ankle. He left the Iona game last Friday with a twist. He's got to be able to play for the Jaspers to reach their first NCAA tourney in 10 years.

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

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