It’s pretty clear regular-season conference championships are out of reach for every Massachusetts school except Merrimack (that one doesn’t really count; I’ll explain later).
But there is still something to play for: better seeding in the conference tournament, especially for a team that has a chance to win it.
Take Northeastern in the CAA.
“We’re in a fierce fight to finish in the first six,’’ said coach Bill Coen. “No one’s ever won it finishing in the bottom four. You’d have to win four games in four days.’’
The bottom four teams in the CAA will play opening-round games in Washington March 7, with the two winners advancing to play the top two seeds. Finishing in the top six avoids the first day of competition and a tough second-round matchup.
“As long as we get into the three-day competition, we’re going to give ourselves the best chance,” said Coen. “We’ve got to focus on that.
“There’s a lot of parity, and some of them are just matchups whether your style of play matches up with the other team’s style of play. You’re going to play better against certain teams. Everybody has warts, everybody has holes. There’s no dominant team.
“I think just getting in the top six and getting good luck in the draw, you get a favorable matchup, you can advance.’’
The Huskies are in sixth place, one game ahead of Drexel, a team they face Saturday after another tough road game against Delaware Thursday.
The Huskies have seven losses in the CAA by a total of 18 points. A little luck and things might have been different, but instead, they had a four-game losing streak before winning home games against UNC Wilmington and Charleston.
“I’m sure we’ve gone on four-game losing streaks at some point, but never to the extent where it’s been one-possession game after one-possession game,’’ said Coen. “In many of those games, we had an opportunity to win.
“I think the silver lining for us is we’ve been in a competitive game with everybody [in the CAA]. Down the stretch, it’s about us. How can we get better? What’s our mind-set? Are we remaining confident?
“Everything goes better with winning. Losing drains everybody. That’s when they’ve got to get closer to each other. Be a better teammate, have a little bit more compassion for someone who missed a free throw or got caught in a bad defensive situation or fouled at the end of the game.
“It’s not a time to point fingers, it’s a time to be compassionate and be a good teammate. Luckily, we have guys in our locker room who subscribe to that.’’
One player who won’t be around is big man Tomas Murphy, who has never fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered in the fourth game. He’ll almost certainly take this as a redshirt year and have two more years of eligibility left.
In the Patriot League, the higher-seeded team plays its tournament games at home. Right now, Boston University will have to go to Colgate and win to make the NCAA Tournament, but a second-place finish would give the Terriers two home games before that. That can make a big difference. The Terriers are a game ahead of American and two ahead of Lafayette, their next two opponents.
Holy Cross is in last place in the Patriot League and will have to play on the road entirely. It looks like one and done.
In the Atlantic 10, UMass will avoid the first day of the tournament, when the bottom four teams play, if it can sustain its one-game lead on George Mason. Achieving that is a decent accomplishment for a young team.
Boston College also has a chance to avoid the first day of the ACC tournament, when the bottom six play, after a gritty 71-68 victory over North Carolina State Sunday night. The schedule won’t necessarily help, with games coming up at Virginia and Florida State plus home games vs. surging Clemson, Notre Dame, and Syracuse.
The Ivy League has five teams bunched with records between 6-2 and 5-3 and only four will make the conference tournament, which Harvard will host. The Crimson are 5-3 but 8-0 at home (a really small number) and play four of their final six at home, although they were pushed to the brink by Columbia Saturday before winning in two overtimes.
Back to Merrimack. If the Warriors win the NEC, it’s only partially rewarding since they’re not eligible for the conference tournament because it’s their first season in Division 1.
■ Real news: Northeastern’s Max Boursiquot is listed at 6-5 but it’s pretty obvious to the naked eye that’s an exaggeration.
“On a good day, I’m 6-5,’’ he said with a chuckle. Then he acknowledged, “I’m 6-4.’’ OK, maybe.
Despite his height, Boursiquot battles taller players with great passion. He wins some of those battles too.
“Try to beat them by quickness,’’ he said. “I watch a lot of film on my own, try to see what their go-tos are. I use my lower base, I work on my legs a lot. I try to push guys off [their spot]. Size doesn’t really matter to me. I can guard 1 through 5. I don’t care who’s in front of me.’’
■ The unselfish one: Coen said that senior Bolden Brace is hard-wired to be a role player. Brace probably would be better off playing out on the perimeter more, but injuries have demanded he be a factor near the rim. He’s OK with it.
“I love the spot that I’m in,’’ he said. “I think I was in the same spot last year. I really don’t care. I want to be in the best spot to help the team.
“I think it’s been tough this year with some injuries. The roles have switched a little bit, but we’re just trying to be the best we can be.’’
■ Another Merrimack milestone: With 18 wins, Merrimack has broken the record for most victories by a school in its first season in Division 1. Cal Baptist set the record last season with 16. Two other notable stats: The Warriors are 7-1 in games decided by 3 points or fewer. They’re also second in the nation with nine road victories.
■ National observatory: Three teams heading toward desolation row are Texas (four-game losing streak, 4-8 in the Big 12, coach Shaka Smart’s future is in doubt), Butler (once contending for a top seed, the Bulldogs have lost two of three), and VCU (sinking in the A10 after losing three of its last four) . . . I wouldn’t put Louisville and Michigan State in that category, but life has not been good for either. The Cardinals didn’t look great losing consecutive games at Georgia Tech and Clemson. Michigan State has lost four of its last five, including a horrible loss to Maryland Saturday when it blew a 7-point lead in the final four minutes at home . . . Huggy wisdom (it’s always great when he criticizes his own team): ‘’We have this incredible fascination for dribbling the ball,’’ said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. ‘’I haven’t seen a game yet where you get points for that. You’re not going to win turning it over 22 times.’’Joe Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]