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New England State of Mind

December 2, 2002 Columns No Comments

New England State of Mind

by Phil Kasiecki

Boston College: New Season, Same Results?

Boston College fans were surely hoping that the Eagles would be an important year older and have better results than last season’s inconsistent team that barely made the NCAA Tournament. It goes without saying that they are likely very disappointed after three games and a 1-2 start.

The Eagles played very poorly in the opener against St. Joseph’s, as the visiting Hawks dominated the Eagles from start to finish. Boston College would come back with a good win against Boston University, and while the Terriers are the clear favorites to win the America East Conference, they are not on the level of a Big East team. Senior forward Billy Collins had a double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds), but Boston College shut down arguably the two biggest weapons the Terriers have in lightning quick guards Matt Turner (4 points on 1-5 shooting) and Chaz Carr (5 points on 2-10 shooting).

On Sunday, they traveled west of town to the Worcester Centrum to take on Holy Cross. Last season, the Eagles won both meetings between the two, including a hard-fought 67-57 decision in the fifth-place game of the Rainbow Classic. In both games, Holy Cross shot below 40& from the field, while the Eagles shot well in a blowout win earlier and struggled in the Rainbow Classic meeting.

Against that backdrop, it would not surprise anyone that the Eagles trailed at halftime after they shot poorly in the first half and allowed the Crusaders to shoot 48& from the field. The Crusaders would execute better in the second half and hang on for a 71-70 win despite a good second half shooting the ball for the Eagles.

In the postgame press conference, Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard and seniors Brian Wilson (game-high 18 points, 5 assists) and Patrick Whearty (13 points) all agreed that the biggest problem facing Boston College is the lack of a proven outside shooter aside from Troy Bell. So far, the Eagles have gone as Bell has in shooting the ball; he shot very well against Boston University in their only win and struggled in their two defeats (7-30, 1-13 on three-pointers) In each of the previous two seasons, the Eagles had other players who could shoot the ball well when there was nothing inside or opposing teams cut off the penetration of Bell or Ryan Sidney. Now, the Eagles don’t have that; Andrew Bryant is not the answer and Sidney has never been a big three-point threat.

Holy Cross, meanwhile, looks like a clear pick to win the Patriot League. When 7-6 North Carolina transfer Neil Fingleton becomes eligible later this month, the Crusaders will have a huge frontline as he joins former Patriot League Player of the Year Tim Szatko (6-8), senior Patrick Whearty (6-10) and last season’s Rookie of the Year, Nate Lufkin (6-11). The Crusaders have great class balance and players who buy into Ralph Willard’s system and play very well within the team concept. They will once again be a team no one wants to play in March.

Providence Has Some Good Signs Early

The new season has started on a bright note for Providence, a team that entered the season with question marks in the frontcourt and at the point, then had more when Abdul Mills went down with a hip injury. Mills, who will have surgery on Monday in Boston, is the team’s most proven scorer among the holdovers and is the best Friar at creating his own shot.

The Friars are adjusting well to life without him, as they improved to 2-1 on Saturday night with a terrific 91-68 rout of Ohio University at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence. The Friars shot 56.7& from the field, including making 9 of 17 three-point attempts, and in general they moved well without the ball and moved the ball well. Head coach Tim Welsh also emphasized the fact that they had 29 assists on 34 made field goals for the game, headed up by freshman point guard Donnie McGrath. McGrath was the only starter who did not score in double digits, but he handed out 13 assists and turned the ball over just once in running the offense like a seasoned veteran.

The Friars got solid efforts from almost everyone who played, but the highlight was Maris Laksa’s shooting. The 6’9″ junior forward, who was crippled by injuries most of last season, looks to have regained his shooting touch, as he scored 26 points on 10-13 shooting, including making 4 of 5 three-pointers. For the season, Laksa has made 11 of 17 three-pointers and is shooting over 60& from the field. Welsh said that Laksa was a little out of shape when the Friars went to Italy over the summer, but he put in a lot of work to get in the shape he is in now.

For the Friars, it looks like he’s in very good shape.

Young Northeastern Shows Potential, Rhode Island Keeps Improving

Northeastern opened its season a week ago Friday with a 95-82 loss against improved Rhode Island. The Huskies looked like a young team for most of the game, making bad decisions along the way while also looking like upstarts with the play of freshman point guard Jose Juan Barea (18 points) and junior college transfer Javorie Wilson (team-high 25 points).

The Huskies could be a dangerous spoiler later in the season, but right now a lot has to come together. Sylbrin Robinson is expected to be a key cog on the post this season, but he hardly looked the part in the opener, as all too often he seemed listless at both ends. When he comes to play, Robinson is a very athletic post player capable of getting a double-double and several blocked shots, as he did in the team’s 99-75 blowout of Fordham on Saturday where he had 10 points and 12 rebounds). On opening night he had 8 points on just three field goal attempts and six rebounds in 22 minutes before fouling out against a frontcourt that is mediocre at best. Wilson, a high school teammate of Robinson’s under Frank Martin at Miami Senior High School, looks to be the team’s go-to guy right now, but don’t be surprised if clutch plays call for Barea to make it happen later in the season.

The Huskies also need to get better shooting from two players who have struggled out of the gates, sophomore guard Aaron Davis and junior forward Jesse Dunn. The two combined to shoot just 6-22 from the field, including 3-17 on three-pointers, against Rhode Island, and Davis shot poorly against Division III Suffolk University. Dunn’s shot selection can be very questionable and he needs to be more of a presence on the glass, like he was against Fordham where had hauled down 9 rebounds to go with his 14 points. Davis, who led the team in scoring last season, may have turned the corner against Fordham, where he led the Huskies with 21 points on 8-12 shooting and made four of his seven three-pointers.

Meanwhile, the Rams appear primed for continued improvement under second-year head coach Jim Baron, which should surprise no one after the job he did at St. Bonaventure. Brian Woodward scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half, making 10 of 11 shots and scoring mostly in transition. Howard Smith looks like he will be the senior leader of this team, as the heady floor leader handed out 12 assists while committing just three turnovers, which is what fans can expect of the pass-first guard. Freshman Terrence Mack had an excellent debut, and Lazare Adingono also played well, scoring 13 points and making some athletic plays while knocking down his two three-point attempts.

The Rams then proceeded to knock off USC last Tuesday in the opener at the new Ryan Center behind 26 points from sophomore Dustin Hellenga. But on Saturday, they lost in Buffalo by a 57-48 margin, thanks largely to shooting just 32.1& from the field.

Other Notes From Around the Nation

The Preseason NIT is once again a place for young upstarts to shine. Besides North Carolina taking home the title behind the play of stellar freshmen Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton, Florida and Stanford also had excellent showings against their more proven and veteran counterparts like Kansas. Florida got big contributions from versatile freshman wing Matt Walsh and point guard Anthony Roberson, while Stanford is trying to answer questions about who will lead the way for them with Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt having left early for the NBA.

The Preseason NIT is certainly not the only place where freshmen are shining. Carmelo Anthony is off to a great start with Syracuse, Duke has received key contributions from its freshmen, Bracey Wright is averaging 17 points in his first four games for Indiana, Villanova’s Jason Fraser is already among the nation’s leaders in rebounding, and the nation’s leading scorer is freshman Keydren Clark of St. Peter’s. And there are more where they came from.

Marquette has looked strong in the early going thanks in large part to the play of Mississippi State transfer Robert Jackson. Junior All-America candidate Dwyane Wade makes the team go, but Jackson has been a major factor on the low post, something they have lacked in recent seasons. With Jackson on the post, Scott Merritt becomes a good complement, sweet-shooting Travis Diener can get more open looks, and Wade will get more opportunities as well.


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