Last night after a thrilling 80-77 overtime victory over Iona at Draddy Gymnasium Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello addressed reporters and let everyone know that he thought the MAAC wasn’t a 1-bid league.
“For people to say ‘Well, it’s a one-bid league,’ why is it a one-bid league?” Masiello questioned after defeating the Gaels, who had won 11 straight.
It was everything reporters love about the Jaspers head coach. He’s fiercely loyal to the league and not afraid to voice his opinions. It’s an awesome quote that gave everyone something to talk about. It was also wrong in this case.
Why is the MAAC a one-bid league? Because for better or for worse the fate of a league like the MAAC is decided well before conference play officially kicks off in January. At-large profiles for the top MAAC teams are built in November and December and no individual team did enough to merit consideration this time around.
The top four teams in the MAAC only played two games against RPI Top 50 teams this season. Not surprisingly they lost both (Iona at Kansas, Manhattan vs. George Washington). The league also went 5-8 in non-conference against teams currently in the Top 100 of the RPI. Not one of those wins (Buffalo twice, Georgia St., Vermont, La Salle) were over an opponent from a major conference. That just isn’t cutting it.
What is interesting though is that Iona, Manhattan, Quinnipiac and Canisius are all currently in the Top 100 for RPI. Those four teams are beating up each other in conference play and it’s actually helped rise all four boats. (In fact, a big blow to the MAAC’s hopes of righting that now that some of its top teams are playing well? The fact that BracketBusters were discontinued. That’s a story for another day.) Still, these are good teams with excellent schemes and talented players. No one could watch the game at Draddy or on ESPN2 and deny it. The numbers also support the claim. Manhattan and Iona are currently ranked 73rd and 74th in Pomeroy’s rankings at the moment.
So when Masiello said, “This isn’t a one-bid league this year. Look at these teams. Canisius has Notre Dame beat, (and) goes down to the wire at their place. I mean, who are you going to put in, a seventh-place team in a BCS conference is better than these three. I don’t buy it. I just don’t buy it,” was he right?
Well, not really. The seventh place team in the Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, ACC and the Pac-12 (if you exclude Washington) are all better than either Manhattan or Iona according to Pomeroy. The exceptions? The SEC – where Georgia and Mississippi, which are third and seventh respectively are 81st and 80th in KenPom, and the top heavy American Athletic Conference, which is a mess after the top five teams. But here’s the rub – none of those teams are even close to the NCAA tournament. Memphis, the fifth place team in the AAC, is on the bubble right now even at 45th in Pomeroy. Georgia might be third in the SEC, but no one thinks they’re close to NCAA tourney.
This is why the MAAC – depending on what ratings system you believe – is somewhere between the 14th and 20th best conference in the country this season. There are four great teams at the top, but there’s also a group at the bottom that just can’t play offense.
There is however one point that Masiello made last night that I completely agree with. When talking about the strength of the league he said, “You mean to tell me Iona, Manhattan, Quinnipiac and Canisius aren’t going to give a 5 seed or a 4 seed a heck of a night? These four teams, if you put them in a 13-4 game, that 4 team’s in trouble. You put them in a 5-12, I’m not saying we’ll win, but you’ll hear, ‘Oh my God, we drew Iona? We drew Quinnipiac?’ That’s not who you want to play.”
That four or five seed most certainly won’t want to see the MAAC’s representative across from them in the bracket. No major conference team wants to play Iona, Manhattan, Canisius or Quinnipiac in a 4-13 or 5-12 game because there are going to be easier teams to beat. Jerry Palm currently has Iona as a 13 seed playing against Texas, which is probably Rick Barnes’ worst nightmare. The Longhorns would only have about a 66% chance of winning that game according to Pomeroy’s rankings. Belmont (119th in Pomeroy) for instance would be a much easier draw. Even if the Gaels or Jaspers drew Iowa St. (as in Joe Lunardi’s bracket), they’d still have about a 30% chance of winning.
Those are good odds. Whichever team wins the MAAC after what should be two awesome days of basketball in Springfield will be battle tested and deserve the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. There just will only be one. The MAAC’s top teams are dangerous, but the non-conference performance means that this is definitely a 1-bid league.