PMI, Week 1
In the first week of my unofficial semester break, I've done a handful of chores (laundry, shopping) I'm glad are over and plenty of fun things (parties, TV-watching, sleeping in) I hadn't done in a while.
I've also watched some college hoops and poured over some stats in preparation for the season debut of the Press MAAC Index -- or PMI, for short -- my top-to-bottom rankings of MAAC teams.
As I wrote last week, December is the time when season story lines start to develop. It's also the time when teams start to accumulate enough of a body of work to come out with some sort of rankings. If it were up to me, late December, when most teams are taking a break for exams and the holidays and when most teams have completed their nonconference slates, would be when the first media and coaches polls would come out.
Were that the case, it wouldn't be completely impossible for bad teams to slip through the cracks (two years ago, UConn was ranked 10th in the country in December, then wasn't even good enough to earn an NIT bid in March), but it would be a lot tougher. Enough teams have been tested in one way or another in non-conference play (and in early league play in the MAAC) to have at least a basic idea of how teams are playing and how they're adjusting to new players and, in some cases, new coaches.
In the MAAC, for instance, we've seen enough to know that Siena probably isn't the greatest team in league history (which would have been a reasonable expectation in November), that Fairfield has taken a step into the top tier of the league, and that Loyola is really going to miss the frontcourt players it lost to graduation.
There's a lot we still don't know, and I'm sure the PMI will see some major shakeups between now and March. But now is as good a time as any to break it out.
A quick rundown of what this is and isn't. At the risk of overstating the obvious, it is not simply the MAAC standings. It also is not a rankings system based on any type of mathematical formula. It is not necessarily a ranking of which teams have the best chances of postseason play.
Simply, if I had an AP poll ballot and these 10 teams were the only teams in the country, this would be my ballot. For instance, Pitt has a higher RPI than UConn and is ahead of the Huskies in most computer ranking systems, including Ken Pomeroy's, but UConn is ahead of the Panthers in the polls because the voters simply think that right now, the Huskies are better.
For what it's worth, I'm not a huge proponent of RPI as a measurement of performance, but since it's a number people across college basketball understand and frequently use when ranking teams, I figured I might as well include it along with each team's record.
The PMI will be released every Tuesday morning. If you're up late Monday night on the East Coast or live in a more western time zone, you might read this post in the last few hours of Monday. But since it's Tuesday in Puerto Rico and the Maritime provinces and it will be soon everywhere else, I figured it'd be OK to post it now.
1. Siena (5-3, 2-0 MAAC, 117 RPI)
2. Niagara (7-2, 1-0, 55)
3. Fairfield (8-3, 2-0, 106)
4. Rider (5-2, 1-0, 142)
5. Manhattan (5-3, 1-1, 207)
6. Iona (4-5, 0-2, 128, 225)
7. Marist (3-6, 1-1, 234)
8. St. Peter's (3-6, 1-1, 230
9. Loyola (3-7, 0-2 , 255)
10. Canisius (3-6, 0-2, 222 )
A quick summary of why I ranked them this way:
Siena has clearly been less impressive than many thought it would be early on. If the Saints truly were one of the best teams in the country, I think they would have beaten Wichita State and/or Oklahoma State. But having said that, neither of those losses (and certainly not the loss to Tennessee) is a serious blemish, they've taken care of business against the teams they should have beaten, and they've given me no reason to think they're not the best team in the league.
I've been incredibly impressed with Niagara, which has played up to expectations in virtually every game and which just handily beat a half-decent South Florida team on the road. I didn't put out preseason rankings, but if I did, I would have struggled between Niagara and Fairfield for the No. 2 spot. So far, I think they've shown that Rob Garrison and Bilal Benn are good fits, Tyrone Lewis is, as expected an elite player in this league, and Benson Egemonye is a much better player than he was early in his career.
Fairfield has played well and won at least a couple of games (American and Holy Cross among them) that it wouldn't have won last year. But simply put, they've been less impressive than Niagara, who I think would have blown out Fordham even if it didn't bring it's A game.
I think those are clearly the best three teams in the league right now. I still think Rider is a title contender, but not unless the Broncs start playing a lot better than they're playing right now. Ryan Thompson has been inconsistent, nobody is shooting the ball well and one of these days, free-throw shooting is going to lose them a game.
I saw Manhattan in person last week and was impressed. I was even more impresed with the numbers Chris Smith put last weekend against Princeton, and if he continues to be a game-changer, I think the Jaspers are a dark-horse contender.
Iona has some good young players, including this week's MAAC Rookie of the Week Scott Machado, and has done some good things, none more impressive than taking Wisconsin to the wire in the Paradise Jam. ... Marist has good enough guard play to win some close games and exceed expectations. ... None of the teams in the bottom three have any real post presence or the guard play to make up for their deficiencies down low.
Lastly, before I go, I haven't gotten in any politics in a while, so a quick note: Say what you want about George W. Bush. But don't say the son of a slick-fielding Yale first baseman doesn't have cat-like reflexes.