With four games left on the MAAC slate, the standings are starting to take shape. One glance at the conference standings, and you will see the teams have separated themselves into three distinct tiers:
At the top, Iona leads the pack two games clear of Manhattan, Quinnipiac, and Canisius, who remain deadlocked in a tie for second place. Iona looks to be in the driver’s seat for the regular season title while the other three have all but clinched a first round bye in the upcoming MAAC tournament.
Fighting for fifth place and the final tournament bye are Rider, Marist, and Siena. St. Peter’s also has a slim chance (0.4%) to grab the fifth spot, but we will focus solely on the former three for now.
Last week, Big Apple Buckets ran 10,000 simulations of the remainder of the MAAC schedule to determine each team’s chances of reaching that fifth spot and avoiding the Thursday round of tournament games. The results last week were:
- Rider: 82.1%
- Siena: 10.4%
- Marist: 7.4%
Fast forward a week and that all changed. Rider got handled by Manhattan before taking care of business at Fairfield, but a miraculous finish in Poughkeepsie on Valentine’s Day turned this into a two horse race (no Bronc pun intended). Factoring in last week’s results, Big Apple Buckets once again ran 10,000 simulations to get an update on each team’s probability to grab a bye:
- Rider: 62.7%
- Marist: 34.6%
- Siena: 2.3%
Rider is still the frontrunner to grab the fifth spot, but thanks to Jay Bowie’s heroics against Siena coupled with a 2OT victory over Monmouth, the Red Foxes have more than quadrupled their chances of grabbing that last bye. Meanwhile, a pair of heartbreaking losses to Marist and Canisius have seen Siena’s chances to move up in the standings nearly evaporate.
Although Rider plays three of their last four games at home, they have by far the most difficult schedule of their competitors. With two games against first-place Iona, and another against Canisius, the Broncs will face stiff competition down the stretch. The other game on their slate is a February 23 showdown against Siena which will have major implications in the race for the final bye. Even with a daunting schedule ahead, head coach Kevin Baggett is not content to simply hold on to fifth place.
“Obviously we’d like to stay out of the play-in game because that’s just another game you have to play but I’m not really looking at it as just staying in the fifthposition,” Baggett said. “We’re just trying to build some momentum going into the tournament and trying to put things together and address some things that we need to get better at. I’m honestly not looking at the fifth position. I’d rather prefer to climb the standings even higher.”
Trailing the front pack by three games with four to play and with Marist hot on their heels, perhaps Baggett’s squad should be more focused on ensuring they don’t have to make the trip to Springfield until Saturday.
Thanks to a miracle finish against Siena and a hard-fought 2OT win against Monmouth, Jeff Bower’s Red Foxes have played their way back into the picture for the fifth spot. While Marist also plays host to Iona in one of their final games, they also have opportunities to pick up road victories over St. Peter’s and Fairfield down the stretch before hosting Quinnipiac in the season finale. However, Bower too downplayed the significance of the first-round bye:
“I think the format of the tournament is such that playing in the opening round doesn’t bother me,” Bower said. “We’re going to take whatever positioning we get. Having said that, I’d be lying if I didn’t say finishing in fifth is so much more attractive to us than sixth, just like sixth is better than seventh. We want to get as far along the road as we can.”
It will be quite the finish in the MAAC over the next two weeks. With the jump to 11 conference members and the new format of the conference tournament, it is difficult to gauge the impact of the first round bye. However, it is hard to imagine any team wanting an extra obstacle in their way come March, so expect a battle down the stretch for that fifth and final pass to Saturday in Springfield.
Vincent Simone will be helping cover the MAAC this season for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.