Happy New Year.
The New Year, kind of like the beginning of baseball's spring training, brings fresh hope for athletic teams. That's the sense within the MAAC where women's teams begin league play on Monday and where men's teams have 16 of their 18 conference games still to play.
So, for now, hope beats eternal.
And, rather than make New Year's resolutions for conference teams, we'll concentrate on each team's expectations for the rest of the way.
IONA: No more nights off like its most-recent game, a loss at sub-.500 Hofstra. Games like that serve as a reminder of how hard a team needs to play. The expectation here is great, a potential 18-0 conference record.
FAIRFIELD: A season of transition as new players continue to find chemistry with returnees and everyone adjusts to a new coach, resulting in its best play down the stretch and.
LOYOLA: A continued season of positive surprises, the continued emergence of sophomore guard Dylon Cormier as one of the conference's best perimeter players and the potential to legitimately challenge either for the regular-season or post-season titles.
RIDER: Like Fairfield, a season of transition as the Broncs adjust to key losses, new personnel and a sluggish start. But the talent here is too good for Rider not to eventually get at least to .500 overall and cause some late-season damage.
SAINT PETER'S: Another team in transition, after losing four starters. The regular-season record might not wind up being pretty, but there's a good chance things start coming together as the year progresses and the Peacocks earn some impressive late-season victories.
SIENA: The expectations with just six healthy scholarship players right now aren't very high, but the Saints are far exceeding those. Wins over Albany, Princeton and Florida Atlantic, three pretty good mid-major teams, are early eye-openers. Siena won't contend for a league title, but will be better than expected.
NIAGARA: An abundance of talent, but very young. A growing-pains season this year, but on some nights, particularly as freshman Josh Turner gets up to speed, the Purple Eagles will be very good and will be even better in subsequent seasons.
CANISIUS: More transition with the loss of four starters from last season, and even more ahead with three talented transfers currently practicing and becoming eligible a year from now. Still good enough to upset a few teams, but the best days begin next season.
MANHATTAN: A continuation of new confidence, new pride and a new culture within the program. The team's early season success is no mirage. Young players from past seasons have matured rapidly, and Manhattan is poised to return to the upper half of MAAC teams very soon.
MARIST: Yet another very young team that has had some eye-opening early season results that aren't a mirage. Marist should be fun to watch mature this year and move back to being a very solid team and possibly better than that next season.
MARIST: Even head coach Brian Giorgis admits his team isn't as good as last season, but he still believes it's good enough to win the conference title, and we haven't seen any real strong evidence to believe otherwise. It won't go 18-0 in the MAAC like last year, but we'd be surprised if it didn't win at least 14 conference contests.
LOYOLA: Year-long contention for the regular-season title, particularly since Miriam McKenzie, it's top scorer, returned after missing three games with a shoulder issue. If she and do-everything Katie Sheahin stay healthy the Greyhounds are poised to overtake Marist if the Red Foxes falter at all.
FAIRFIELD: A way to overcome early season rebounding issues, mostly through hard work which has been the program's calling card in recent years. Don't expect the Stags to drop below the top four positions in the standings.
SIENA: Much better than the 2-7 start thus far. Like a year ago, when the Saints started 1-8 before going 11-7 in league play, the current team is poised to go on a similar run.
RIDER: An 8-3 mark so far after winning just five games all last season. It has all the parts in place to continue to be strong. It would not be a surprise to see the Broncs finish in the top four this year.
SAINT PETER'S: A struggle right now with a young roster that's only going to get better as the season progresses.
CANISIUS: It might not be this year but Canisius is waiting in the wings to capture a league title if Marist slips at all. The Golden Griffs are the league's only team without a senior on the roster, but still look strong.
NIAGARA: A strong non-conference schedule (Niagara is currently 3-9) has toughed this team up for conference play. Won't contend this year, but will cause some problems.
IONA: It all depends on the health of senior forward Kristina Ford, who missed the team's last game with a leg injury. If she comes back healthy Iona can contend for league honors. If not, then the Gaels will fall back some.
MANHATTAN: An active four-game winning streak is no mirage. The Jaspers need to rebound better, but have more than enough offensive firepower to cause problems in the league this season.