Thursday, February 19, 2009

Siena set up for Historical Domination

In the previous 27 seasons of MAAC basketball, only one regular-season champion has ever finished regular-season play with a four-game edge in the standings over that season's runner-up.

Siena, this season, could become just the second team to create that distance in the standings of a league where parity is historically the norm.

The only conference team ever to finish four games ahead of the pack was the 1985-86 Fairfield team, which finished 13-1 in league play while second-place Iona was 9-5 that season.

Not even the unbeaten La Salle teams (1989-90, and 1987-88) finished with that big a margin. The 1989-90 team that finished 16-0 in conference play was two games better than 14-2 Holy Cross. The 1987-88 Explorers, 14-0 in the MAAC, were three games better than 11-3 Saint Peter's.

And, here's a historical coincidence: The head coach of the 1985-86 Fairfield team was Mitch Buonaguro, who is currently a Siena assistant coach.

The current Siena team has a 15-1 MAAC record. Niagara, which lost Wednesday (90-87) at Rider, is second with a 12-4 record.

Each team has two games remaining, including a Feb. 27 meeting at Niagara which is the next conference contest for both. If Siena wins there, its standings' lead over Niagara would increase to four.

The Saints then could ensure keeping at least that big a lead by winning its final game on March 1 when it plays at Canisius, the league's last-place team.

The MAAC is a team where parity is almost a tradition. Regular-season champions have only earned at least a three-game edge over its closest competitor four times in the previous 27 seasons.

The 1985-86 Fairfield team had its precedent-setting four-game advantage, while titlists with three-game edges have been Manhattan in 2003-04, Iona in 1997-98, and La Salle in 1987-88.

Teams have won regular-season crowns with a two-game margin in the standings six times, meaning the regular-season champ has either won by just a single game or there has been a tie for the title in 17 of 27 seasons since the MAAC was formed.

In fact, there have been eight ties (5 in the 11 seasons since the MAAC expanded to its current 10-team format), and there have been nine times that the regular-season champ held a single game's advantage over the second-place team.

Niagara coach Joe Mihalich has seen most of the MAAC history with 11 seasons as Niagara's coach and nine as an assistant at La Salle when that program was still in the conference.

"This is the 20th year that I've been in this league, and the league has never been better," said Mihalich, recently. "I mean, never from top to bottom. So, for (Siena) to win as many games as they've won is really remarkable."

There are two more games for Siena to win. If the Saints finish those out, it becomes all the more of a remarkable season.

In fact, it arguably would stamp Siena, at least in the opinion of this humble blogger, among the best five teams in MAAC history.

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