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Northeast Roundup

December 10, 2002 Columns No Comments

Touring Around the Northeast

by Phil Kasiecki

Commonwealth Classic Matches Two Struggling Teams

Boston College beat Massachusetts Saturday in a game between two struggling teams. The Eagles improved to 3-2 with the win, but their struggles are well-documented and especially with Uka Agbai lost for the season with a neck injury.

With Agbai out, the Eagles will now start freshman Craig Smith, who has played well early. Wednesday night, the Eagles went with a three-guard lineup of Troy Bell, Ryan Sidney and freshman Louis Hinnant on the perimeter, and had Smith and Nate Doornekamp up front. The move seems to have worked well thus far, and Al Skinner may continue to use it as the season moves along. Bryant’s game is more suited to coming off the bench since he is a streaky three-point shooter, so it is a sensible move in that respect. The Eagles will need Doornekamp to stay out of foul trouble and play like he did on Saturday, when he hauled down six rebounds and block two shots. They won’t need much offense from him, but he must give them something on the glass and on defense.

Massachusetts has a similar problem in that they do not have a shooter who can stretch defenses. Anthony Anderson is a capable shooter, but he has struggled in the early going; he made just 1 of 8 field goal attempts on Saturday after making just 1 of 10 in a loss to Central Connecticut earlier in the week. The frontcourt is not opening up opportunities with its play. Jackie Rogers and Micah Brand were a combined 7 of 17 from the field against an Eagle front line that was without its best defender.

It doesn’t get easier for the Minutemen this week, as they head south to take on Connecticut on Tuesday. The same goes for the Eagles, as they hit the road to take on undefeated Iowa State the same night.

Northeastern Almost Pulls Off A Big One

Northeastern spent the past week on the road, and began by nearly pulling off a big upset as they lost to New Mexico on Monday night, 90-88. They did not quite match that showing against Northern Arizona two nights later.

Jose Juan Barea continues to be another freshman making a big impact. With 24 points, 4 assists and no turnovers against New Mexico, Barea is averaging 19 points per game and has an assist/turnover ratio of better than 2 to 1. Before long, he should be one of the top players in America East. With Javorie Wilson shooting the ball very well (14 of 25 of three-pointers) and freshman Adrian Martinez playing well, the Huskies are in good shape on the perimeter and don’t have many scoring worries. The Huskies are eighth in the nation in scoring as they average 85.8 points per game. The frontcourt needs to shape up aside from Sylbrin Robinson, who has played well but can play better. The Huskies have been out-rebounded by more than 4 per contest.

Harvard Has Senior Leadership

While much of the Ivy League talk in the preseason was about how good Pennsylvania is (and they certainly lived up to it in their blowout of Temple on Saturday night), Harvard is one team not to be overlooked. The Crimson have the third-best record in the Ivy League over the past seven seasons, and Frank Sullivan has a team with five senior starters that play like veterans and good reserves on the bench that will keep this team in the hunt this season and beyond.

Sullivan’s teams are always well-coached, so it should surprise no one that the 3-2 Crimson were right there in the two games they have lost. Elliott Prasse-Freeman should become the Ivy League’s all-time assist leader by the end of the season, as he continues to do a great job of running the show. Patrick Harvey is one of the Ivy League’s best players, though Boston University held him in check on Tuesday night en route to defeating the Crimson. Brady Merchant and Sam Winter have played very well thus far, with Winter stepping up his game after the departure of Tim Coleman from last season’s team.

The reserves feature three sophomores and three freshmen, all of whom bring a good deal of energy off the bench. Sophomore guard Jason Norman played very well against Boston University, making hustle plays at both ends, while freshman Michael Beal made several big plays late including a clutch three-pointer. Fellow freshman Brian Cusworth, a seven-footer from St. Charles, MO, looks to have a lot of potential aside from a couple of times where he tried to do a little too much. Local product Matt Stehle gives them some size at 6’8″ despite being very thin, and is a player capable of facing the basket and shooting the ball.

The Crimson will have to take better care of the ball than they have in the early going, as they are averaging nearly 17 turnovers per contest.

Terriers Deep Arsenal Shines Through

Most picked Boston University to win the America East Conference this season, and not without good reason. The Terriers return almost everyone from last season’s team, and are very deep, enabling them to beat a team many ways. The early games have shown that balance quite nicely.

Senior Billy Collins, the lone first team All-America East player from last season’s team, has had three double-doubles, including solid games against Stanford (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Boston College (17 points, 12 rebounds). However, he is tied for second on the team in scoring behind Matt Turner, who was the key to their win against Harvard the other night as he got hot late in the game. Turner has basically had a career of what could be, as some great games have been sandwiched between injuries and academic problems. He is a quick, explosive guard who is capable of scoring in bunches both on drives and from long distance. This might finally be his breakout season.

Sophomore Chaz Carr, one of the conference’s top freshmen last season, has struggled in the early going. He is not shooting the ball well, as teams like Boston College and Harvard made it a point to cut off his penetration and he is not shooting the ball well. The Terriers have managed to start the season 3-3, with all three losses coming against teams from major conferences. If Carr, a lightning-quick penetrator who is deadly on the move, starts shooting the ball better, the Terriers might be unstoppable in America East.

Providence’s Teams Moving In Opposite Directions

While Providence is off to a good start save for dropping Saturday’s game to Rhode Island, its crosstown rival isn’t following suit. After impressive non-conference play last season, Brown has basically sleepwalked through the opening weeks with a 1-6 start. The Bears’ lone victory came against Navy last Saturday.

The primary problems are the Bears turning the ball over consistently (averaging nearly 21 per game) and playing poor defense (allowing 80 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot over 45% from the field). Leading scorer Earl Hunt missed two games with a thigh injury, but the Navy game was one of those games, so that isn’t the reason for their slow start. One thing that has not helped is the shot distribution, as Jason Forte is struggling while taking more shots than anyone else, and Alai Nuualiitia is averaging less than 8 shots per game despite making over 60% prior to the loss to Holy Cross on Saturday (where he was 2-15).

In previous seasons, the Bears would play well in non-conference games (including a win at Providence last season), then seem to disappear at times when Ivy League play got going, hence their disappointing finishes. This season’s team is supposed to be the one to contend, with Hunt leading a veteran team. Instead, the Bears might fall apart before Ivy League play, meaning that they wouldn’t disappear when they have off nights later in the season.

Other Notes Around the Nation

The Butler is doing it again, as the Bulldogs are off to a 5-0 start after their win over Evansville on Saturday. They are doing it primarily at the defensive end as they lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing under 49 points per game. With their top two scorers gone from last season’s team, the Bulldogs are now getting a balanced offensive attack, as Brandon Miller leads four players currently averaging in double figures.

While the football team is headed for what is being called Rose Bowl East, the men’s basketball team at USC has been an unpleasant surprise thus far. The Trojans have started out 2-3, with losses at Rhode Island and Santa Barbara. The Trojans’ undoing has primarily been at the offensive end, where they are shooting just over 40% from the field and are turning the ball over nearly 18 times per game. They have two more chances to get ready for conference play, as Fullerton State visits on Wednesday and they welcome LaSalle on December 21 after being off for finals.

The Mid-Continent Conference looks to be Oral Roberts’ to lose with their 6-0 start. They could be 7-0 before a big game at Tulsa next Thursday, and they will be tested again on New Year’s Day when they head to Minnesota. They have a veteran lineup with a good backcourt, and they should be a team to watch in March.

There has been some attrition in the ranks already this season. LSU forward Shawnson Johnson quit the team at halftime of last week’s game against Delaware State. Additionally, the Boston Herald reported today that senior guard Damian Battles was kicked off the Central Connecticut team by head coach Howie Dickenman. Battles was the team’s top returning scorer and a preseason All-Northeast Conference pick by most preseason publications. He had missed seven consecutive practices, including after he was initially suspended prior to their victory over Massachusetts last week.


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