Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Men's Standings, With Four At Top, Never Closer

It was the 2000-01 season for MAAC men's basketball, and the final standings were a thing of beauty if you adhered to the philosophy of parity former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle enjoyed so much.

That season Siena, Iona and Niagara all finished with a share of the top spot in regular-season play with 12-6 records. And, as if that wasn't tight enough at the top, three more teams ... Marist, Rider, Manhattan ... were all a game behind with 11-7 records.

The league had never seen anything like that before, and there hasn't been anything close to that since.

Until now.

We're only eight games in, 40 percent of league play competed. But, 2012-13 threatens to outdo that 2001-02 season of parity, at least at the top.

There are currently four teams sharing first place with 6-2 records ... Manhattan, Quinnipiac, Canisius and Iona. And, your Hoopscribe can't ever remember a season nearing the halfway point with four teams still holding a share of the top spot.

It took a wacky weekend of results to create the logjam on the leaderboard.

It started on Friday night when Canisius handed Iona its second conference loss of the season, an 85-83 decision.

In that one the Golden Griffins looked to have pulled free and clear with a 20-point lead early in the second half. And, then, the Gaels stormed back to gain a five-point advantage with 4:52 remaining.

But the high-flying Gaels suddenly were grounded after that, scoring just two points over the last 4:52 to fall on their home court to suffer their second conference loss.

That outcome left Manhattan and Canisius with a single loss entering play on Saturday.

And, then, the Jaspers, the league's preseason choice to capture the regular-season crown, suffered an even more improbable setback.

It dropped a 71-67 decision to the league's remaining winless team in conference play, Fairfield.

The game, played on the Stags' home court, the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Ct., featured a halftime ceremony honoring teams and coaching staff from the 1985-86 and 1986-87 Fairfield teams that advanced to NCAA tournament play.

And, then, the current edition seemed to channel some of that good play from those old teams to knock off Manhattan.

The Jaspers played their second straight game without leading scorer George Beamon (a shoulder bruise), and they missed him.

And, then, that left Canisius as the lone conference team with a single league loss.

But, not for long ...

On Sunday afternoon Canisius met up with Monmouth in West Long Branch, N.J.

The Hawks trailed by 14 points at one second-half juncture and were still down by five in the closing seconds.

Junior forward Andrew Nicholas, though, made a three-pointer with 10 second remaining to cut the Canisius lead to two, 82-80.

Monmouth was forced to foul Canisius and seemingly picked the wrong player to foul, senior guard Billy Baron. All Baron had done to date this season was to shoot 92 percent from the foul line, the fifth-best percentage nationally.

And, then, Baron missed the front end of a one-and-one situation.

Monmouth secured the rebound, fired it to midcourt and into the hands of Nicholas who took a couple of dribbles and, then, drained the game-winning three-pointer with a second remaining.

Crazy stuff, all helping create one of the tightest races for the top spot, up to now, in conference history.

And, the quartet isn't alone in the title race. Rider is only a single game back at 5-3.

No comments: