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Touring New England

December 18, 2002 Columns No Comments

Touring Around the Northeast

by Phil Kasiecki

Eagles Play Small Ball With Lineup Change

After three games, Boston College was struggling mightily. The Eagles, who many thought would be rejuvenated and look more like the team two seasons ago than last season, started out 1-2 with an embarrassing home loss against St. Joseph’s and a loss in Worcester against Holy Cross. Lacking a proven shooter aside from senior star Troy Bell, the Eagles looked very vulnerable, especially when Uka Agbai sustained a season-ending neck injury that nearly left him paralyzed.

Enter the smaller team employed by head coach Al Skinner.

Against St. Bonaventure, Skinner moved Andrew Bryant to the bench after starting him in the first three games. Freshman guard Louis Hinnant was moved into the starting lineup in his place for a three-guard set. Both have responded well to the change, and so have the Eagles as a team with four straight wins that include a big road win at Iowa State last Tuesday night.

Hinnant has shown that he knows how to play the game, as he has scored on good moves without the ball and has taken care of the ball as well (just 2 turnovers in 119 minutes in the last four games). Bryant, meanwhile, is in a role more suited to him since he can come in and hit a couple of three-pointers to rally a team or break open a close game. He is also not a good defender, another reason he is not well-suited to starting.

The Eagles are also getting good minutes off the bench from sophomore guard Jermaine Watson, including a clutch three-pointer against Iowa State on Tuesday night. If Watson can continue this, the Eagles will be able to rest Bell and Ryan Sidney a little more, which can be valuable later in the season since both normally play many minutes.

Craig Smith, who moved into the starting lineup with Agbai’s injury, continues to play very well for the Eagles. He scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds on Sunday against Stony Brook. He is averaging 17.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and has scored in double figures in every game.

Atlantic Ten On the Rise, Will Massachusetts and Rhode Island Join Them?

The Atlantic Ten looks to be back on the rise, after seasons of descending in the ranks. The Atlantic Ten was once thought to be competitive with conferences such as the Big East, but as LaSalle continued to struggle in Speedy Morris’ final years and the glory days of Massachusetts and Rhode Island faded into the past, the conference as a whole also dropped. Last season, Xavier was the only Atlantic Ten team in the NCAA Tournament, as St. Joseph’s was a monumental disappointment and no other team played well enough to get in. But that might be an aberration in the future, thanks in part to two second-year head coaches that are bringing their programs’ talent level back up.

Last weekend, LaSalle showed promise in the tough loss to Villanova at the Big 5 Classic. On Saturday, the pesky Explorers gave Cincinnati all they could handle behind the best game of Jermaine Thomas’ young career. The freshman point guard had 25 points in the loss and shot the ball well. Billy Hahn is raising the talent level there with freshmen like Thomas, shooting guard Gary Neal, and versatile local products Steven Smith and David Bell at the forward positions. It’s almost easy to forget sophomore guard Mike Cleaves, who had a good freshman season and is a strong slashing scorer. The Explorers will win some of the close games in another year or two when the roster is then comprised of seasoned juniors and seniors.

Karl Hobbs is moving George Washington forward as well. He has a group of freshmen that include three athletic forwards 6’8″ or taller, and sophomore point guard T.J. Thompson is very quick and doing a nice job of running the show. Together with do-everything senior Chris Monroe, the Colonials have a solid starting lineup with a good future. Of the freshmen, forward Mike Hall might be the best prospect. He’s an athletic forward who is around the ball and is capable of playing both forward spots, and will only get better as he gets stronger.

Overall, the Atlantic Ten looks to be moving forward when one looks at the two teams on the rise, as well as the strong start by St. Joseph’s and Dayton and Richmond becoming consistent postseason teams in recent seasons. Temple is struggling mightily this season and it may be a long one in north Philadelphia, but they will get better as their young players gain experience and as Chaney gains point guards later. Will the Atlantic Ten’s move forward include Massachusetts and Rhode Island, two schools that aided with its rise several years ago?

Massachusetts ended the week with a 2-5 record after a home win against Florida International on Saturday. The Minutemen’s struggles appear likely to continue into conference play, as they lack a shooter and their post play has not been enough to help the guards get good looks. The early struggle of sophomore point guard Anthony Anderson does not help matters.

Rhode Island stands 5-2 after a home win against Maine on Saturday night, and the signs are a little more encouraging. Jim Baron’s team has knocked off USC and Providence in the early going. Dustin Hellenga and Brian Woodward have combined for 30 points per game, while Howard Smith is the senior leader with a 5.5 assist/turnover ratio. However, the Rams still have a lot to prove and have questions in the frontcourt and shooting the basketball. Woodward leads the team in rebounding from the backcourt, and the Rams are shooting just over 40% on the season with no big threat to stretch defenses. While Baron has always done well with small teams, the Rams need someone in the frontcourt to be a consistent presence on the glass, be it athletic forward Lazare Adingono or even freshman Terrence Mack, the team’s top two frontcourt rebounders.

Terriers Re-Affirm Their Position As America East Favorite

Preseason America East favorite Boston University continues to look the part in non-conference play despite a 4-4 record. As expected, the Terriers are receiving key contributions from several players on this deep and balanced team, with newcomers emerging to help in recent games.

On Friday night, they got a complete effort in beating Ohio University. In winning by a 78-57 score, the Terriers shot just under 51% from the floor and held Ohio to 34% shooting and out-rebounded the Bobcats 39-27. Jason Grochowalski (18 points, 6 rebounds) and Paul Seymout (17 points) had the big games for the Terriers in this one, but they were not along. Matt Turner did not score much on this night, but he handed out 7 assists.

In recent games, the Terriers have received a nice boost from their freshmen. Shaun Wynn has played more in the last two games and given the team quality minutes at the point, while Kevin Gardner played well against George Washington. Redshirt freshman Matt Czaplinski gave them some good minutes against Ohio as well.

Wynn’s minutes have especially been helpful with Chaz Carr continuing to struggle, as he appears to be pressing. Carr made just 2 of 15 field goals on the week, including missing all three against Ohio and playing just 12 minutes. He started the game, but did not start the second half as coach Dennis Wolff went with Seymour instead, as Seymour had a solid first half in that game.

The Terriers are showing their depth and ability to beat a team with several players. The Terriers have been strong on the boards and have had more bench points than the opponent in every game this season. Although cross-town rival Northeastern hopes to make things interesting with their high-octane offense, and Vermont and Hartford are still contenders, the Terriers look very much like the team to beat in America East.

Yale and Harvard Continue To Show The Ivy League’s Power

The Ivy League should be one of the better mid-major conferences again this season, and Yale and Harvard figure to be no small part of that. Pennsylvania will continue to be the talk of the league as the prohibitive preseason favorite, but no discussion of it is complete without these two New England schools.

Yale heads into a break for nearly three weeks having won five in a row to improve to 5-2. The resume includes a road win at Penn State and losses at Oklahoma State and Wake Forest, both solid teams and ones that won’t hurt in the power ratings. They have also played just one home game thus far, a 70-66 win over a good Holy Cross team last Wednesday, and will not play at home again until after the new year when they host Rhode Island on January 8.

Harvard, meanwhile, is off to a 5-2 start with losses only to Holy Cross and Boston University, both good teams and favorites in their respective conferences. With their senior starting lineup and bench with energetic younger players, the well-coached Crimson are unquestionably the Ivy League’s dark horse contender. They always play good defense and fundamental basketball, and with their overall depth and senior leadership they should be good enough to finish third and even contend for the title if a few things go right.

While Yale is off until the end of the month, Harvard has a busy week ahead, as they host Vermont on Tuesday, Mercer on Thursday, and head across town to Chestnut Hill to play Boston College on Sunday.

Other Notes From Around the Nation

One of the real surprises in the early going has been East Carolina, as the Pirates are 7-0. While they have not knocked off world-beaters, the slate has included wins over Mississippi and improving Virginia Tech, and they have won two games against former Colonial Athletic Association opponents. They could be 10-0 when they open conference play on December 30 with Marquette coming to town.

Leonard Hamilton wasn’t kidding when he expressed lofty aims for Florida State at his introduction as their head coach. The Seminoles have started out 5-1, with the only loss being a 58-57 setback to in-state rival Florida, and wins over Iowa and Miami. They welcome North Carolina in their next big test on Sunday, and should be 6-1 by then as they face Stetson on Wednesday.

Another school with a new head coach that has been the subject of much conversation is DePaul. The Blue Demons are 4-1 and have no notable victories while losing to Notre Dame on Saturday, but many are talking about how new head coach Dave Leitao has already made them a much more disciplined team. That was one thing DePaul sorely needed after the many academic casualties that were part of last season’s poor showing. The Blue Demons won’t be a serious contender in Conference USA this season, but the early results are a promising indicator of what Leitao will ultimately do with the program.


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