I begin this blog with a quote from my last post:
"Although you normally want to wait until a team plays more than two games to state that they are the clear favorite to win their conference, can anybody truly challenge Penn at the top of the Ivy League? Preseason prognosticators tabbed Princeton to finish second, but they're sitting in last place right now. Maybe Cornell or Yale? Who knows, but I'll take the Quakers over the field." (January 29th)
Whoops. After this weekend's games (a sweep of Princeton and Penn), James Jones' Yale Bulldogs are atop the Ivy League with a 5-1 conference record. Yale is led by the tandem of guard Eric Flato and guard/forward Casey Hughes. This is an experienced ballclub that should hang around for the duration of the season and challenge for the league's automatic bid. They've played two more games than Penn, which explains the two-game lead in the win column (they're tied in the loss category), and they've got the Columbia/Cornell road swing this coming weekend. If they can get through that with at least a split, if not a sweep, the Bulldogs have their next four games at home. The season ends with games at Penn and Princeton, and those games could indeed decide who represents the Ivy in the NCAA Tournament.
In the MAAC, preseason favorite Marist has gotten themselves into quite a jam in the standings. They're only one game behind Loyola (MD) thanks to their win over the Greyhounds on Saturday, but they're 2-3 record in the last five games has put them into a tougher spot when it comes to seeding for the MAAC Tournament. 2 1/2 games separate second place from eighth in the standings, and seeds 7-10 get to play on the first day of the tournament. With the improvement of teams like Niagara and Fairfield since the beginning of the year, the last weeks of the regular season will be a sight to behold. The only given at this point is that St. Peter's and Iona will occupy the bottom two spots in the standings. Also, congrats to the Iona Gaels, who got their first win of the season on Saturday in a 79-67 win over Rider. Given the mentality of head coach Jeff Ruland, the celebration on the court was probably short-lived, and look out for this team in Bridgeport. One and done scenario, a team that many won't expect much from...a recipe of an upset or two. Or maybe even a run to the tournament crown.
The Duquesne story just gets better by the week. Given the offseason turmoil experienced by the Dukes in the first year of the Ron Everhart era, another year of futility was expected. But after wins over Xavier and St. Bonaventure, the Dukes are sitting in the middle of the Atlantic 10 standings at 5-4 in the league. Although they're only two games out of first place, a championship would be too much to ask. But as this program grows and they get players healthy, look out.
Speaking of the A-10, Rhode Island head coach Jim Baron may be well on his way to claiming the league's Coach of the Year award. It's one thing to improve your conference win total from one year to the next. But to do it with a completely different style of play? URI under Baron had always preferred a half-court style of play, but this year they're getting it done with an up-tempo style. Jimmy Baron (yes, he's the coach's son), Will Daniels and Kaheim Seawright are the main offensive threats. But I have no way of explaining the 45-44 win at Fordham on Saturday. Let's just give them credit for finding a way to win in spite of shooting 28% from the field.
Two games in the next week will go a long way in deciding the Patriot and America East: Holy Cross at Bucknell (2/9) and Vermont at Albany (2/11). In both matchups, so long as all teams involved take care of business, the first place team will visit the team right behind them in the standings.
In the NEC, two games separate second place from eighth, but the actual story may be that eighth place (Wagner) has 2.5 games between themselves and ninth place. Keep in mind that only the top eight teams in the standings qualify for the conference tournament. In order for LIU to pass Wagner, they would need to finish a full game ahead of the Seahawks given Wagner's season sweep of the Blackbirds.