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It's tournament preview day at the HSBC Arena today.

Well, not necessarily in the actual matchups. Other than Iona finishing first and St. Peter's finishing last, nothing is certain when it comes to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men's basketball standings.

But when Canisius (15-9, 7-8) plays Manhattan (12-13, 9-6) at 1 p.m., followed by Niagara (13-11, 10-5) against Loyola (5-19, 2-13) at 3:30 p.m., it will provide a dry run for the conference tournament, which returns to the downtown Buffalo site in less than two weeks.

It will be the first time this season the MAAC has played in HSBC Arena. There's only one chance to get the kinks out.

It's a different scenario from past years, when Canisius used to play a healthy number of its home games downtown and Niagara added a handful there, too.

But both schools have stayed closer to campus this year and the breakup of the Big 4 agreement has eliminated the early season non-conference doubleheaders.

Come March 2 and the start of the conference tournament, the Griffs and Purple Eagles will have as much of a home-court advantage at HSBC Arena as Manhattan and Loyola.

For Canisius coach Mike MacDonald, the thought of home-court advantage in the tournament is overrated.

"It will be a good warm-up for the tournament, especially with it being a Sunday afternoon game," MacDonald said. "Sometimes you get those strange times in tournaments. It will be good to get in there and get a feel for the Arena.

"It definitely is different, not playing in the Arena until February . . . but you know, the rims are still 10 feet high and the court is still 94 feet long. If you make a big deal out of it, then it becomes more of a deal in the players' minds. When we went to UB, Bonnies and Bucknell we didn't take a shoot-around and we had good shooting nights. We're just going to go play."

They're going to go play a Manhattan team that dropped a second-place battle to Niagara on Friday at the Gallagher Center.

The Jaspers don't want to end the dreaded Buffalo trip without a win. Even though they've fallen into a fourth-place tie behind Iona, Siena and Niagara, they're a threat to take the tournament and its automatic NCAA bid.

"They could win this tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament. Everybody in this league knows it," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "They have the talent."

That talent hasn't been successful in Western New York. Manhattan has lost 10 straight games in Erie and Niagara counties -- eight in the regular season and two in the MAAC Tournament.

Add playing in a big arena with different depth perception and Jaspers coach Bobby Gonzalez isn't sure how his team will respond.

Gonzalez is familiar with HSBC Arena. He came to Buffalo as an assistant with Providence in the 1997-98 season when the Friars barely got by Canisius.

"It was a war, an absolute war," Gonzalez recalled. "We had to go 1-3-1 half-court trap in the second half to come back and get the 'W.'

"I know it was a big arena and I remember we just couldn't make shots. We had to go off the dribble a lot more than we would have liked. . . . I'm interested to see how our guys react."

Also of interest will be how Niagara reacts to second place. After struggling in the beginning of the season, the Purple Eagles have been solid of late. Their only blemish in the last six games has been a loss to MAAC leader Iona last weekend.

They face a struggling Loyola team that leads only basement dweller St. Peter's. The Greyhounds start three freshmen and one sophomore and are coming off an 83-66 loss Friday at Canisius.

In MAAC women's action today, second-place Fairfield (20-4, 13-2) hopes to rebound after an ugly win at Canisius when it takes on Niagara (9-15, 6-9) at noon at the Gallagher Center. The Griffs (7-16, 4-11), meanwhile, host third-place St. Peter's (14-8, 9-5) at 5 p.m. at the Koessler Center.

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