The MAAC is headed for one of its most exciting finishes in recent years. Iona and Loyola (MD) are currently tied for first place, and Manhattan and Fairfield are close behind.
Of course there have been some big surprises and disappointments to this point in the season. So here is a graded breakdown of each team's performance, factoring in both overall performance and performance in relation to preseason expectations.
Record: 4-19, 1-12
It's hard to call Canisius a disappointment when it was obvious that it would be one of the bottom teams in the MAAC, but the Golden Griffins have enough talent to at least be somewhat competitive.
The Griffs had just three non-conference wins. Two were over Longwood and South Dakota (which they also lost to beforehand), a pair of independents whose combined record this year is 14-28. The third was a 75-66 win over Binghamton, which remains winless at 0-23.
Their only conference win came at home over the struggling Marist Red Foxes.
Tom Parrotta's squad also lost non-conference games to teams that a MAAC program should beat. In addition to losing to South Dakota, the Griffs dropped games to UMKC and Loyola-Illinois.
Canisius could definitely be doing better with a pair of explosive scorers in Harold Washington and Alshwan Hymes; a solid point guard in South Florida transfer Gaby Belardo; and a strong big man in Chris Manhertz, who is averaging 7.2 ppg and 8.1 rpg in his sophomore campaign.
However, despite having some talent on its roster, Parrotta's club simply cannot win ballgames.
Next game: vs. Rider
Record: 13-10, 8-4
Fairfield entered the 2011-12 season with high expectations. The Stags were picked to finish No. 2 in the MAAC, and there was even talk of the MAAC receiving two NCAA tournament bids between Fairfield and Iona.
But once again, Fairfield underachieved.
Its only respectable non-conference wins are over Arizona State and Old Dominion, neither of which are too impressive. Granted that the Stags did have a tough non-conference schedule, they still needed more wins over teams like Providence, Dayton and Indiana State to live up to preseason expectations.
In MAAC play, Fairfield has not been terrible. The Stags are No. 4 in the conference, and three of their four losses have come from the top three teams in the MAAC. The fourth loss came at Siena, which is notorious for having a significant homecourt advantage.
Fairfield clearly has the talent to be a premier mid-major. The Stags best players consist of Boston College transfer Rakim Sanders; former MAAC Freshman of the Year, Derek Needham; and 7-foot Ryan Olander. This trio has the potential to dominate in the MAAC.
Second place is still possible for Fairfield, but regardless, the Stags have not been the dominant mid-major they were supposed to be.
Next game: vs. Manhattan
Record: 19-5, 11-2
Iona is the most talented team in the MAAC, but amazingly, the Gaels have not been as dominant as analysts thought it would be back in October. Twice, against Manhattan and Siena, they have blown double-digit second-half leads and lost.
But since the Siena loss, Iona has reeled off four straight wins and currently holds a share of first place. The Gaels have won three of those games by double digits, with the fourth coming by nine points at Fairfield.
Although Iona will easily win 20 games this year and possibly still win the conference, the Gaels have struggled against top-of-the-line competition. They have solid wins over Maryland, St. Joe's and Denver, but they also lost to Purdue and Marshall.
But even though Iona has underachieved in the eyes of many, it still deserves an A- for being in first place and getting these wins down the stretch. With all of the team's talent, the Gaels will be a tough out in March.
Next game: at Loyola
Record: 18-5, 11-2
Loyola was already expected to be at the top of the MAAC as the preseason No. 3, but Jimmy Patsos has done a great job of not only living up to expectations, but also surpassing them. The Greyhounds are currently tied with Iona atop the conference, but they lost to the Gaels in January. (They have a chance to get revenge at home on Friday night.)
The Greyhounds had one solid non-conference win at Patriot league leader Bucknell. And in conference, its only poor loss was to Niagara early in the season.
Most impressively, Loyola has achieved all of this without relying on "superstars." The Greyhounds are led by a balanced attack from Dylon Cormier, Shane Walker, Erik Etherly, Robert Olson and Justin Drummond, but none of these players are a MAAC Player of the Year type. They do not need to be in the spotlight every night—they win games by playing together.
Loyola is currently riding a six-game winning streak, but it has a very tough finish to its season—the Greyhounds still have to play Rider and Manhattan on the road, and Iona and Fairfield at home.
Next game: vs. Iona
Record: 17-8, 10-3
The Jaspers are easily the biggest surprise in the MAAC after winning just three MAAC games and six games total in the 2010-11 season. Manhattan was picked to finish No. 8 in the preseason poll, and nearly no one expected a finish higher than No. 5.
But the Jaspers overcame a 3-5 start to win 14 of their last 18 games, now holding third place in the conference.
Manhattan did pick up any impressive non-conference wins, but it has beaten both Iona and Fairfield in conference play. Despite their supposed lack of talent, the Jaspers are flourishing under first-year head coach Steve Masiello, who has made his mark in the MAAC Coach of the Year race.
Manhattan remains in the running of a regular season conference championship, but the chances of beating out both Iona and Loyola are slim.
Next game: at Fairfield
Record: 8-15, 3-9
Marist was not expected to amount to much. Although the coaches polled Marist as the worst team in the MAAC, there was still some hope that the Red Foxes would finally be able to climb out of the cellar. They had three talented players in Chavaughn Lewis, Devin Price and Dorvell Carter, but Carter went down with an injury early in the season.
Marist struggled as expected in non-conference play but started MAAC competition with a 2-1 record. But since then, the Red Foxes have lost eight of their last nine games.
With a hot streak, Marist could still end up in sixth place, but most likely it will finish No. 7-No. 10 and have to play on Friday night at the MAAC Tournament.
In all likelihood, this season will put an end to Chuck Martin's term as head coach at Marist.
Next game: at St. Peter's
Record: 9-16, 4-9
Niagara was picked to finish No. 7 in the MAAC, and that is exactly where the Purple Eagles currently stand.
Niagara was off to a solid start in conference play. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Purple Eagles were 4-4 in the MAAC. But then Manhattan sent them into a tailspin, where Niagara has lost its last five games.
Joe Mihalich's squad has plenty of talent. Juan'ya Green and Antoine Mason are the two best freshman scorers in the conference, and Marvin Jordan, Malcolm Lemmon and Ameen Tanksley do a good job supporting them. However, the lack of a good post player has kept Niagara from flourishing.
Fortunately, this is a very young team that will most likely continue to improve over the next couple of years. However, right now Niagara is too young to be a competitor for a MAAC title.
The Purple Eagles will have the opportunity to make up for some lost ground with a fairly easy finish to the season. After playing tough games against Siena and Rider, they will host Canisius and then play at St. Peter's and Marist.
Next game: vs. Siena
Record: 10-15, 7-6
For its non-conference performance, Rider simply gets a F. The Broncs went 3-11 in out of league play with no notable wins. Their only wins were over UMBC, Monmouth and Howard.
But in league play, Tommy Dempsey pulled his club together, and despite an ugly overall record, Rider stands at No. 5 in the MAAC. After losing to Manhattan and Marist to start conference competition, it has won seven of its last 11 games.
Rider's play over the last few weeks has shown that it could compete in the MAAC tournament and possibly make a run during the first weekend of March.
Next game: at Canisius
Record: 10-13, 5-8
Despite having multiple setbacks, Siena has managed to live up to preseason expectations,
The Saints, who were picked to finish No. 6 in the MAAC, lost their starting point guard, Rakeem Brookins, to a back injury before the season began. Sophomore Trenity Burdine has not played this year due to a foot injury. Additionally, hyped-up freshmen Imoh Silas and Lionel Gomis were ruled ineligible for the entire season.
Mitch Buonaguro had a good replacement for Brookins in freshman Davonte Beard, but Beard left the team after 10 games.
So, with essentially a six-man rotation, Buonaguro has kept Siena in the middle of the pack at 5-8.
Siena fans have called for Buonaguro's head on multiple occasions this year, but he has done a remarkable job of keeping this team from falling apart.
Next game: at Niagara
Record: 5-19, 4-9
St. Peter's graduated most of the players from last year's NCAA tournament team, but Peacock Nation hoped John Dunne would be able to keep his team competitive in 2011-12. The Peacocks were picked to finish No. 5 in the conference, but so far they have been a disappointment.
They are currently tied with Niagara for seventh place with four MAAC wins, coming in sweeps over Canisius and Siena, and their lone non-conference win came over winless Binghamton.
St. Peter's will most likely not fall to last place, but there is a strong chance it could finish as low as No. 9.
Next game: vs. Marist