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MAAC tournament finds neutral court in Mass.

By Eric Vander Voort
On February 28, 2012

  • The Marist men's basketball team takes on Fairfield in last year's MAAC tournament.

This year's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament will take place at a new location—one that is not associated with any of its member schools.

The 2012 tournament will be held this weekend, starting today and culminating in the championship games on Monday, March 5, at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. The neutral-court location is change from previous years, as the 2011 tournament was held at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. and the three years before that at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

"The league really felt it was time to look at a neutral court option," MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor said.

Ensor said that other neutral-court locations submitted bids, such as the Mohegan Sun Arena and the Prudential Center, but the MassMutual Center had "by far the best bid."

The agreement for the tournament to be played in Springfield is for three years and features a partnership with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, also in Springfield.

The Hall of Fame has a MAAC exhibit on display, with a video running called the "Student-Athlete Experience" that features Marist's Leanne Ockenden along with nine other MAAC athletes.

"It is a new opportunity to brand the MAAC," Ensor said. "We are very fortunate to be able to have that year-round branding presence."

Ensor said that attendance was a concern for the conference with holding the tournament in Massachusetts, a state with no MAAC teams, but he said he is feeling confident heading into the weekend.

"We'll see if fans will travel," Ensor said. "We're encouraged. With the high level of play, that builds fan interest."

The tournament starts today with two women's games. The women's quarterfinals are on Friday morning and afternoon, and the men's two play-in games are Friday night. The women's semifinals are on Saturday morning, followed by the men's quarterfinals. The men's semifinals will take place on Sunday, the women's championship will be at noon on Monday and the men's championship will be at 7 p.m.

Both Marist teams will start their path to a MAAC title on Friday. The top-seeded women's team, with a first-round bye, will play the winner of St. Peter's and Canisius at 1:30 p.m. on Friday. The Red Foxes will be trying for their seventh straight championship and trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The women finished at 22-7 overall and 17-1 in the MAAC, with the only conference loss coming on the road to Manhattan.

"The injury to [Kristine Best] set them back a bit," Ensor said of the Red Foxes' season, "but Giorgis has done a great job building their confidence. It's a challenge for any team, staying focused for three days and avoiding upsets."

Ensor added that the gap between Marist and other teams in the MAAC has "narrowed a bit."

The men's team is the eighth seed in the conference and will square off against ninth-seeded St. Peter's on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. The Red Foxes finished 13-17 overall and 7-11 in the MAAC this year, but have won six of their last eight games.

Marist has beaten St. Peter's twice already this year, and a third win will earn it a matchup with top-seeded Iona on Saturday afternoon.

"Iona certainly has a dominant team and have certainly established themselves as the team to beat," Ensor said, "but there are four or five other teams that have the ability to win this championship."

Marist will be providing transportation for Marist fans wishing to travel to Springfield. A bus will be sent from the McCann Arena as long as 25 fans sign up. Buses will leave three and a half hours before the scheduled start time of the game and will return to Marist a half hour after the game. According to http://goredfoxes.com, the cost for Marist students is $5 for most games, which includes transportation and a ticket to the game. The first men's game on Friday night is free for Marist students. The cost for non-Marist students is $15, which does not include a ticket to the game.

Following the Student Booster Club general meeting on Monday night, Booster Club Events Director Marc Adamsky is encouraged that students will take up the offer.

"I think so," Adamsky said on if a lot of students will take the bus. "A lot have always wanted to, and based on what we saw at our meeting it looks like a lot of people want to go." Adamsky said that the low cost could be a factor.

All tournament games Saturday and after will be streamed live on http://ESPN3.com, and the women's championship will be televised on ESPNU, with the men's championship on ESPN2.


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