Contrary to what every coach in the league will tell you, there isn't a ton of parity this year in the MAAC.
True parity comes when bottom-tier teams routinely knock off top-tier teams, and when no team is either dominant or uncompetitive. For such a scenario, look at the MAAC in 2007-08: Siena and Rider tied for the league title with 13-5 records and six teams had a shot at a share of the league title heading into the last game of the season.
This year, Siena is virtually unbeatable and Marist is the opposite, making the notion of real parity far fetched.
But that doesn't mean there isn't a great deal of parity -- and uncertainty -- in the middle of the pack.
With the way Iona has been mowing teams down of late, it's hard to dispute the Gaels' status as the second best team in the league. Yet Iona remains only one game ahead of Saint Peter's and Fairfield. With six games left to play, those teams aren't even out of reach of suddenly-hot Rider, Canisius or even Niagara, which remains capable of pulling off a string of wins down the stretch.
How spots two through seven play out is the most intriguing storyline of the week, which leads us to the rankings, where the top four teams remained the same but teams five through seven were re-shuffled.
1. Siena: Records: 19-4 overall, 12-0 MAAC; RPI: 44; Position: Stayed the same
The Saints are inching closer to clinching their third straight regular-season title -- a feat they can accomplish by beating Iona and Fairfield at home. They've plowed through the MAAC with astounding ease, making the biggest uncertainty how they'll perform at Butler on BracketBuster Saturday.
A win over the Bullodgs, 19th in the RPI, would greatly enhance their NCAA tournament resume, while a loss would likely put an at-large berth out of reach.
2. Iona: Records: 17-6, 9-3; RPI:83; Position: Stayed the same
Kevin Willard says the Gaels aren't sexy. But when you're on your longest winning streak in 10 years, you're clobbering teams that were supposed to be better than you and you're a near lock for a top-four finish after being picked ninth, you don't need any further style points.
I'd be very surprised if Iona upsets Siena on Friday, but I'm hoping for the sake of an interesting end to the sesaon that the game is competitive.
3. Saint Peter's: Records: 13-9, 8-4; RPI: 143; Position: Stayed the same
The Peacocks host Iona on Feb. 28 -- the final day of the regular season -- in a game that could have major seeding implications, especially since Saint Peter's will be going for a season sweep and playing at home.
If they can win Friday at Fairfield, they'll be very well positioned for a top two or three finish, given how the end of their schedule plays out: Their three toughest opponents -- Iona, Rider and Canisius -- all have to come to Jersey City.
4. Fairfield: Records: 15-7, 8-4; RPI: 131; Position: Stayed the same
I'm going to give the Stags the benefit of the doubt that they're a much better defensive team than they demonstrated last Saturday, when they allowed Rider to shoot better than 50 percent and Ryan Thompson to do whatever he wanted.
But a loss Friday could send them spiralling toward a long losing streak that would derail a once-promising season.
5. Rider: Records: 13-11, 6-6; RPI: 130; Position: Moved up two spots
I'm still not fully sold on the notion that the Broncs' three-game winning streak is the start of a major turnaround, but for the first time in two months, I'm ready to believe this team is capable of beating good teams down the stretch.
Are they a title contender? Not unless they keep improving. But they're no longer the kind of team that awful teams can beat and good teams can destroy.
6. Canisius: Records: 11-12, 6-6; RPI: 187; Position: Moved down one spot
As I wrote about in yesterday's Games of the Week
post, this three-game road trip could be the Golden Griffs' downfall.
After getting drubbed last night by Iona, the Griffs need to win at least one of their next two -- at Saint Peter's and at Niagara -- to avoid being put in a desperate situation down the stretch. Even if they lose those two games, they're hardly a lock for the play-in round. But losing both would require them to play well in a final stretch that ends with games at Loyola and at Rider.
7. Niagara: Records: 12-12, 5-7; RPI: 170; Position: Moved down one spot
Like their crosstown rivals, the Eagles have little margin for error over the next week.
Niagara will be favored Friday at home, but after that, the Eagles play at Rider before hosting Siena. With Tyrone Lewis in the lineup, I like their chances in the next two games, and it certainly helps that a guaranteed win over Marist awaits after the Siena game.
But in order to avoid the play-in round, they need to play a lot better in the final third of the season than they've played for the first two thirds.
8. Loyola: Records: 10-12, 3-9; RPI: 204; Position: Moved up one spot
The thought of moving a team up a spot after back-to-back home losses makes me sick, but I simply had to penalize Manhattan for getting anhilated Sunday by Saint Peter's, and for the fact that the Jaspers have now lost seven straight and 10 of 11.
9. Manhattan: Records: 7-15, 2-10; RPI: 226; Position: Moved down one spot
It remains true that the Jaspers' abysmal record is misleading given how close most of their recent losses have been. But you have to at least occasionally win to earn any measure of respect, and the aforementioned loss to Saint Peter's -- as well as the Peacocks are playing -- pushed me over the edge.
10. Marist: Records: 1-21, 1-11; RPI: 335; Position: Stayed the same
A Marist win now looks much less likely than a Siena loss.