Just because the race for the regular-season championship has already been decided (Siena has a four-game lead, and holds every tie-breaker, with four games remaining) doesn't mean there isn't a little suspense left concerning MAAC play.
It's more than enough to get your humble blogger to settle into the reclining chair in front of the 42-inch screen tonight for an attractive double-header of Fairfield at Rider, 7 p.m., on ESPNU; and, Siena at Niagara, 8 p.m., on ESPN2.
So, those are good enough places to start in describing what remains at stake.
Even with the regular-season title secured, there is much to be accomplished by Siena.
For instance, Siena could continue to make a strong case for an NCAA tournament at-large berth (should it fall in the conference's post-season tournament) by padding its current 21-4 overall record.
Siena, too, is playing for history, as in:
- If it wins tonight, it becomes the MAAC's first 15-0 team since La Salle won all 16 of its league contests in the 1989-90 season, and remains a possibility to turn in just the third perfect regular season (1989-90 La Salle, and the 1987-88 La Salle team that finished 14-0). No conference team has ever finished 18-0, the number of league games played since the 1997-98 season.
- It would add to its current 15-game winning streak, longest nationally.
- It would at least maintain its four-game lead over pursuers, and only one team in conference history (1985-86 Fairfield) has ever won a league title while finishing four games better than the second-place team.
- Overall, Siena has won its last 18 league contests (it won its last game of 2008-09, three MAAC tournament games last year and all 14 conference games this season).
Winning at Niagara, though, won't be easy despite some struggles on the part of the Purple Eagles (6-8 in MAAC play and 13-13 overall). And, Niagara has been 5-9 in its last 14 games.
But, Niagara does have four starters back from its team of a year ago that handed the Saints their last league loss, a 100-85 decision at the Taps Gallagher Center on Feb. 27, 2009.
And, Niagara is pretty tough at home, accumulating a 34-8 home-court record since midway through the 2006-07 season.
Siena, though, is the only MAAC team with two victories at Niagara in that stretch. And, the Saints also won a game there early in the 2006-07 season, predating the 34-8 run. Overall, Siena has won three of its last four games on Niagara's home court since Fran McCaffery has been its head coach.
Niagara, too, still has plenty to play for. Its 6-8 MAAC record is good for a sixth-place tie with regional rival Canisius..
The conference's top six teams have a first-round bye for the league's post-season tournament, so it's obviously important for the Purple Eagles to avoid that scenario.
And, then, there's a nice individual milestone that might not come tonight for a Niagara player, but will before the season is over.
Senior 5-foot-11 guard Tyrone Lewis needs 13 more rebounds to become the only active Division I player with career totals of at least 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals.
Tonight's other televised game, Farfield at Rider, also comes with considerable intrigue.
The Stags are currently 9-5, good for a share of third place with Saint Peter's (second-place Iona is 10-4).
Finishing second or third in the final standings would mean avoiding a potential meeting with Siena in the post-season tournament until that event's championship game.
The Stags, though, will finish out the season without standout junior wing player Yorel Hawkins (knee injury), who had been averaging 14.6 points per game. Even without Hawkins, though, Fairfield played well at Siena on Monday night. The Saints' 69-67 victory was its smallest margin in conference play to date.
Rider, which returned four starters from a strong team a year ago, could remain in contention to finish at least third with a victory tonight. The Broncs are a disappointing 7-7 in league play but a strong finish would ease those negative emotions.
Rider already seems to be turning things around with four wins in its last five games, including an 88-80 victory in the first meeting with Fairfield in Bridgeport, Conn., on Jan. 30.
And, Rider's 6-foot-6 senior standout Ryan Thompson is making a strong-late season push for all-league honors having scored 101 points in his last four games (25.3 points per contest).
The two other MAAC games tonight also could also affect the final regular-season standings.
Canisius hosts Marist tonight, and a win for the Golden Griffins would ensure they'll remain no worse than in a tie for sixth in the standings.
Also, Iona will try to keep its hold on second place in the standings tonight when it hosts Manhattan.
And, then, there are games you won't see tonight.
The Iona at Loyola women's game, and the Saint Peter's at Loyola men's game, both originally scheduled to be played today, have been postponed due to the record snowfall in the Baltimore area earlier this week.
The games will be played on Wednesday, Feb. 17 with the women's game at 4:30 followed by the 7 p.m. men's contest.
Your blogger, though, is happy to report that snow has avoided the rest of the conference's geographic territories.
It ensures that game-time temperatures in one upstate New York living room will be a cozy 68 degrees, significant amounts of popcorn will be prepared, some cold beverages will be chairside, and the 42-inch screen will be set for good night's workout allowing for viewing of tonight's two televised men's contest.
It doesn't get much better than that.