The Canisius Golden Griffins have the inside track on a first-round bye for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament entering Friday night’s home game against arch-rival Niagara.
The Griffs stand tied for third in the MAAC with 17 days to go in the regular season. The top five teams in the 11-team MAAC avoid a first-round game in the tournament, which starts in Albany on March 2.
Both the University at Buffalo at St. Bonaventure have put themselves in contention for a good tournament seeding, too, which will make the stretch run of the Big 4 basketball season interesting.
Canisius (15-10 overall, 8-6 in the MAAC) can’t afford a slump, starting with its second meeting with Niagara, at 8 p.m. at the Koessler Athletic Center. (The Canisius and Niagara women meet at 5:30 p.m.).
The Griffs aim to avenge a 91-84 loss at Niagara three weeks ago that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Niagara shot 53 percent, its best field-goal percentage in its last 33 MAAC games.
“We obviously didn’t come ready to play, and we were destined to get blown out,” said Canisius forward Phil Valenti. “That’s what happened the first half. We were getting outplayed and outhustled. Their effort was better. That’s what we’ve been talking about since that game. We’ve got to bring it both halves.”
Here’s how the Big 4 teams stand with conference tournaments on the horizon.
Favorites: Monmouth is 12-2, three games ahead in first place and headed for the No. 1 seed for the second straight year. Iona, which upset Monmouth in last year’s tournament, stands second at 9-5.
Tournament: In Albany, March 2-6. The sixth- to 11th-place teams play a pre-quarterfinal game March 2.
Canisius: Four of the Griffs’ last six are at home. Canisius already holds the tie-breaker edge over fifth-place Siena, which it swept. But Canisius can’t afford a toe-stubbing, starting with the Niagara game. No. 4 meets No. 5 in the quarterfinals. Ideal scenario for the Griffs: Beat Saint Peter’s in the home finale and edge out the Peacocks for third place. That would allow the Griffs to avoid a quarterfinal game vs. Siena in a hostile environment.
Niagara: The Purple Eagles (8-17, 5-9) stand ninth. They have wins over Iona, St. Peter’s and Canisius, but they’re 1-8 against the bottom half of the MAAC. The schedule is tough. Niagara’s exact finish probably doesn’t matter much. Nos. 6 to 10 in the standing are fairly even. But Niagara doesn’t want to swoon down the stretch. That makes the Canisius game big. The Purple Eagles’ next five games are against the top five in the standing.
Favorite: Akron stands 10-1 and appears headed to the No. 1 seed. But the Zips aren’t as big a favorite as Monmouth is in the MAAC.
Tournament: First round, for teams fifth through 12, are on campus sites March 6. Top eight advance to Cleveland March 9-11.
UB: The Bulls (12-12, 6-5) would have the fourth seed if the tournament started today. That doesn’t mean much. There are nine teams bunched at 6-5 or 5-6 that stand second to 10th. UB has won three straight and lost at Akron, 91-90. Things are looking up for the Bulls. Their defense has been mostly good the last seven games. UB plays on the road Saturday at Bowling Green (5-6) and Tuesday at Central Michigan (6-5). A split would be OK. After that, four of UB’s last five are at home. It’s too early to make any kind of forecast for the MAC.
Favorites: Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth are tied for first at 9-2. In the Ratings Percentage Index, VCU is 27th, Dayton 31st and Rhode Island 35th.
Tournament: In Pittsburgh, March 8-12. The top four seeds get byes into the quarterfinals March 10.
St. Bona: The Bonnies are tied for fifth with LaSalle at 7-4. Rhode Island and Richmond are tied for third at 8-3.
Bona visits George Washington (4-7) Saturday, followed by a home game vs. LaSalle Wednesday. Two wins would put Bona on a clear path to 12-6. The only remaining top-four game is at Dayton Feb. 18. A fourth-place finish will take some help. Bona lost to Rhode Island and Richmond, so it’s at a tie-breaker disadvantage with both.