Rider beat Saint Peter's last night to remain tied for first place in the MAAC with one game left.
Siena beat Niagara, turning the four-way tie atop the conference into a three-way tie as we head into tomorrow's games, which, fittingly, are the first games in March.
Who said March Madness was limited to tournament play?
This is my fifth year covering the MAAC and about my 15th following college basketball closely. This is the wildest and craziest final weekend I've ever seen in the MAAC, and I can't think of any other time in my lifetime that a conference title picture has been cloudier than this one.
Going into tomorrow's games, five teams have a chance to earn a share of the league title, and -- more remarkably -- four have a chance to win the top seed in the MAAC tournament and an automatic NIT bid in the even that they don't win the MAAC tourney.
I think the most amazing thing (full disclosure: if I haven't mentioned it already, I am a 2007 graduate of Fairfield) is that Fairfield, which a month ago was dead and buried, can actually get the top seed if the Stags beat Rider tomorrow and Loyola and Siena both lose.
I'll have a story in tomorrow's Trentonian previewing the rematch between Rider and Fairfield (the Stags won the teams' first meeting 88-76 in Bridgeport), but here's a basic outline of what it will take for each team to win the top seed and the NIT bid:
- Loyola: Just needs to beat Marist.
- Rider: Needs a win, a Loyola loss at Marist AND a Siena loss at Saint Peter's or a Niagara loss at Canisius.
- Siena: Needs a win, a Loyola loss at Marist and a Rider loss to Fairfield or a Niagara win over Canisius.
- Fairfield: Needs a win at Rider, a Loyola loss at Marist and a Siena loss at Saint Peter's.
Here's a further explanation, which looks at each tiebreaker situation.
- The key thing in this whole picture is that Loyola beat Siena twice. That's why if the Greyhounds win, they have the top seed. Why? Because if Loyola wins, three scenarios are possible: if Rider and Siena both lose, its simple: Loyola has the best record in the conference and wins the title outright. If Loyola finishes tied with Siena, Loyola wins the tiebreaker because it beat Siena twice. If Loyola finishes tied with Rider, the two teams split their regular season games. That means the next tiebreaker is how they did against the next highest team in the standings: Siena. While Loyola beat Siena twice, Rider beat the Saints only once. OR if all three teams win, Loyola would be 3-1 against the other two teams, while Rider would be 2-2 and Siena would be 1-3.
- Rider can get the top seed if the Broncs win the conference outright (which would happen if they win and both Siena and Loyola lose) or if they finish tied with Siena and Loyola is ALONE in third. The key there is alone, because Loyola being alone in third is very unlikely. In order for that to happen, Loyola would have to lose AND Canisius would have to upset Niagara (which did happen earlier this year, but is unlikely to be duplicated) . The reason for that is that if the Broncs are tied with Siena for first and Loyola and Niagara are tied for third, Niagara, by virtue of its two wins over Loyola, would become the third-place team. That would mean the tie-breaker between Siena and Rider would be the teams' record against Niagara. Siena beat the Eagles twice, while the Broncs beat them only once, meaning Siena would win that tie-breaker.
- Siena can get the top seed by winning it outright or by finishing tied with Rider and having Niagara and Loyola tied for third. (See above for explanation).
- Fairfield needs a lot of help, but is in a unique situation: the Stags cannot win the title outright, but despite being a game back in the standings, have the best record in head-to-head games against the other teams with which they could potentially be tied. If the Stags win and Loyola and Siena both lose, there would be either a four-way or five-way tie for first. If Niagara beat Canisius, the Stags would have a 5-3 record in the mini-conference (the conference containing the teams in the tie), while Niagara, Siena and Loyola would be 4-4 and Rider would be 3-5. If the Stags win and Siena, Loyola and Niagara ALL lose, that would put the Stags in a tie with Loyola, Siena and Rider. Fairfield and Loyola would each be 4-2 in the min-conference. That would leave Marist and Niagara tied for fifth. Those two teams split, but Niagara went 4-4 against the teams that would be tied for first, while Marist went only 3-5. That means Niagara would be the No. 5 seed and since Fairfield split with the Eagles while Loyola lost to them twice.....Fairfield would be the No. 1 seed.
Now, that was easy, right?
This is really, really, really really interesting stuff, and I just sat in my apartment figuring it out (or at least attempting to) for the past hour and a half. So PLEASE drop a few comments and tell me what you think of the whole mess!
Enjoy the rest of your weekend and Happy March!