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FANCY ARITHMETIC GIVES NIAGARA SECOND SEED

It couldn't get much more complicated than this.

Three teams tied for first place with 12-6 conference records. Three teams tied for fourth place with 11-7 conference records.

Welcome to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's final standings.

On the last day of the season, Manhattan drilled Iona, 98-79. But in the end, it didn't matter. Iona still won the league and Manhattan still finished sixth.

The tie-break formula leaves Niagara in second place and Siena in third while Marist and Rider take fourth and fifth, respectively.

Here's the how-it-happened explanation:

The first rule in a three-way tie-break is the head-to-head record. Iona, Niagara and Siena all had a 2-2 record against each other in the regular season.

The next tiebreaker is the team's record against the fourth-place team.

But which fourth-place team? Enter the three-way tie-break procedure again. Among Marist, Rider and Manhattan, Marist went 3-1, Rider 2-2 and Manhattan 1-3. So Marist got the fourth seed.

Iona swept Marist while Niagara and Siena split with the Red Foxes. First place goes to Iona, which, incidentally, won the tournament last year. By the way, no team has repeated in the MAAC tourney since La Salle won three in a row -- 1988, 1989 and 1990.

Now, return to head-to-head for second place. Niagara swept Siena, giving the Purple Eagles the second seed and the Saints the third.

When the brackets for the MAAC tourney are filled in, one potential matchup jumps out at local fans: a Canisius-Niagara quarterfinal at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

"As far as anybody's concerned, we finished first. I don't care if we were tied with 10 teams," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich Sunday night. "As far as the seedings go, I think every coach feels the same way -- it doesn't matter where you're seeded or who you're playing, every game is going to be a war. To get to the NCAA Tournament, you've got to beat them all anyway.

"Anytime Canisius and Niagara play, it's an emotional game and it's always a great game. Canisius is a very good team and they proved that (with a win over Niagara last week). They had their way with us. (Darren) Fenn is a great player and we think their guards are terrific."

The Griffs (17-10, 9-9) finished in seventh place, and will play No. 10 St. Peter's (4-23, 2-16) at 4:45 p.m. on Friday. The winner of that game will face No. 2 Niagara (15-12, 12-6) Saturday.

Canisius has won three of its last five games, including embarrassing Niagara, 85-70, at the Gallagher Center last week. St. Peter's, meanwhile, has one win in its last 10. The Griffs swept St. Peter's in the regular season.

No. 8 Fairfield (12-15, 8-10) will play No. 9 Loyola (5-22, 2-16) in the other first-round game on Friday with the winner advancing to play No. 1 Iona (19-10, 12-6) on Saturday.

The other two quarterfinals will pit No. 4 Marist (16-12, 11-7) against No. 5 Rider (16-11, 11-7) while No. 3 Siena (19-10, 12-6) will play No. 6 Manhattan (14-14, 11-7).

In the women's side of the tournament, Niagara will be very familiar with its quarterfinal opponent. As the sixth seed, the Purple Eagles (10-17, 7-11) will face No. 3 Loyola (18-9, 12-6) in the 2:30 game on Friday after the Greyhounds thumped them, 81-65, in the season finale Sunday.

Loyola, which has won seven of its last eight games, won the first regular-season meeting, too, 75-63, at Niagara.

The Purple Eagles, meanwhile, have skidded to the end of the season. In their last six games, their only win was an 85-82 squeaker over Canisius.

Should the Eagles win, they'll likely face No. 2 Fairfield (23-4, 16-2), which will play the winner of the first-round game between No. 7 Iona (9-18, 6-12) and No. 10 Rider (5-22, 3-15).

Meanwhile, the Griffs finished in a tie for eighth place with Marist, but since the Red Foxes swept Canisius in the regular season, they get the higher seed. Not that it matters much since No. 9 Canisius (8-18, 5-13) will play No. 8 Marist (6-21, 5-13) in a first-round game at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Canisius defeated Rider on Sunday to end a four-game losing streak while Marist ended the season with six straight losses.

The winner of that game draws top-seeded Siena (21-5, 17-1), coached by Buffalo native and 1984 Canisius graduate Gina Castelli, in the quarterfinals. The Saints haven't lost since Jan. 16, when they were beaten, 77-67, at Fairfield.

While the Stags are hoping for a MAAC championship and automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, Dianne Nolan thinks that her team's 23 wins should be enough to get a rare at-large bid for a MAAC team. CollegeRPI.com ranks Fairfield 48th in the country, putting them within the field of 64.

"We've been talking about an at-large bid and I think we're in good shape," Nolan said. "We made a conscious effort to upgrade our schedule and we have some quality wins, like Boston College. And our whole conference made an effort to schedule better teams, so overall I think we've improved our standing."

St. Peter's (16-10, 11-7), which has won the tournament the past two years, is seeded fourth and meets No. 5 Manhattan (14-13, 8-10) in Friday's quarters.

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