With only two weekends of play remaining in the North Atlantic Conference basketball ranks, the regular-season titles remain very much up for grabs.
In the men’s ranks, the University of Maine-Farmington is locked in a first-place tie with Castleton State as both teams boast identical records of 13-8 overall and 12-2 in league play.
They’re being challenged by third-place Colby-Sawyer (14-7, 11-3 NAC), a conference newcomer this season. Defending champion Husson University of Bangor (10-10, 9-4 NAC) is 2½ games off the pace.
Castleton State and UMF split its regular-season meetings, but the Spartans might have a slight edge going down the stretch. They play three of their last four at home against teams with a combined NAC record of 22-33.
The Beavers have two of their last four at home against teams with a 25-28 record, while Colby-Sawyer, which is only one game back of the leaders, finishes with three of four games at home and opponents with a 25-29 combined mark.
The implications are enormous, as the regular-season winner not only earns a quarterfinal game on its home court, but would host the semifinal and final rounds if it can advance.
The expanded, eight-team playoffs begin Feb. 21 on the home courts of the top four seeds and continue Feb. 24-25 at the site of the highest remaining seeds.
Castleton has been an offensive juggernaut, averaging 93.9 points per game in conference play behind Mark Comstock (15.9 ppg) and Greg Hughes (13.6). UMF has built its success on defense, giving up only 67.1 ppg and limiting NAC opponents to a league-low 38 percent shooting.
Jarrad DeVaughn of Thomas College in Waterville is the league’s leading scorer, connecting for 18.6 ppg in NAC games.
Friday’s key games include UM-Farmington at Lyndon State and Husson at Colby-Sawyer.
On the women’s side, Castleton State is looking to make its fourth straight trip to the league championship game. The Spartans (16-4 overall, 13-1 NAC) own a one-game edge over Colby-Sawyer (16-5, 12-2 NAC) and beat the Chargers 61-32 in the first meeting.
Castleton has three home games left and one at Colby-Sawyer.
The Chargers play three of their final four contests at home, but have tougher games against Castleton, Husson and Maine Maritime Academy of Castine.
Two-time defending champion Husson (10-10, 10-3 NAC) lurks 2½ games back in third place. The Eagles have five games to play, the next three on the road, and two against top-four squads.
Castleton has built its success around a defense that is giving up only 45.1 ppg on 30 percent shooting while forcing opponents into 24.7 turnovers per outing in NAC games. The Spartans are third in scoring (70.8 ppg) behind the efforts of Alyssa Leonard (13.5 ppg) and Vanessa Powers (13.2 ppg) in conference action.
Cailin Bullett (15.5 ppg) paces Colby-Sawyer, while Bre Hanscom of Mattawamkeag (14.9) is Husson’s offensive leader. Karin Bird of Thomas leads all scorers in the NAC and in Division III nationally at 25.1 points per game.
On Friday, third-place Husson visits No. 2 Colby-Saywer.
Halberg honored by Ithaca
Camden Hills High School graduate Jacob Halberg has been honored by Ithaca College with the Marty Higgins Award.
The freshman linebacker received the award that goes to the top player on Ithaca’s junior varsity team.