Albany County

Wild MAAC men’s basketball’s closing regular-season weekend ahead

Siena still has chance for No. 1 seed
Siena plays Friday at Canisius.
Siena plays Friday at Canisius.

LOUDONVILLE — Split between Friday and Sunday, there are nine games left in the MAAC men’s basketball regular season.

At this point, the standings should be pretty well sorted out.

Key words there: should be.

Instead, a five-way tie for first place is still in play. 

Four teams have a shot at earning the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament that starts next Thursday in Albany. 

Only two teams enter the regular season’s closing stretch not tied with at least one other team in the loss column.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so that’s quite a few years,” MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said. “I can’t recall a year as uncertain as this one heading into the last weekend of the season, from top to bottom.”

Ahead of Siena College’s 9 p.m. Friday game at Canisius — a contest that will be aired on ESPNU — the Saints are one of the MAAC’s four teams capable of earning the No. 1 seed for the tournament, along with Iona, Quinnipiac and Rider. Siena’s path to the top seed requires it to win Friday at Canisius and Sunday at Niagara, for Rider to beat Iona on Friday and for Quinnipiac to lose one of its two remaining games . . . but Siena could also still finish as low as the No. 6 seed for the tournament, too.

“The good thing is we put ourselves in a great position that if we take care of business, do the things we can do, we’ll really complete a good regular season,” said Siena head coach Jamion Christian, whose team lost earlier this season to Canisius and beat Niagara.

Siena junior Thomas Huerter said the Saints — who were picked to finish last in the MAAC — have some knowledge of what the standings look like ahead of their final two games, but aren’t consumed with figuring out tiebreakers.

“We’re definitely aware of where we stand and where we could finish,” Huerter said. “But we don’t let that affect our preparation or how we play.”

The same goes for Canisius (10-7 MAAC, 13-16 overall) ahead of its matchup with Siena (10-6, 15-14) to close out its regular season.

“I don’t remember seeing anything quite like this year,” Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon said of the MAAC’s parity. “I’m sure there are a lot of factors going into it, but I can’t pinpoint just one.”

Overall, it’s been a down year for the MAAC, a conference ranks as the 28th best in the country out of 32. The statistical database also shows how much fun the MAAC has been this season; home teams have won only 54.4 percent of MAAC games this season, which is the third-lowest winning percentage for any conference, and no league has had fewer games decided by 20 or more points.

“The thing that’s going to be different [in this year’s MAAC tournament] is you can’t say someone is favored over someone,” said Iona head coach Tim Cluess, whose program has won the last three conference championships. “Everything is going to be a pick’em game. . . . I don’t think you’ll be able to call any game an upset.”

MAAC teams struggled during the non-conference season. Those poor starts to the season, paired with a balance league season, will likely limit the ability of the eventual MAAC tournament champion to avoid needing to compete in a play-in game in the NCAA tournament. But the way the league’s teams have competed since the start of January has left Ensor encouraged the conference tournament should deliver a memorable stretch of days in Albany.

“From a truly league perspective, parity is what drives competitiveness,” Ensor said. “Then, everyone thinks they have a chance.”

That is true regardless of how the regular season’s last weekend goes. Above all else, that’s why Christian and his fellow MAAC coaches aren’t sweating too much how the regular season’s final days play out beyond how each of their own teams perform. 

“I’m always worried about the controllables,” Christian said.

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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