Touring Around New England
by Phil Kasiecki
Boston College and Harvard: A Matchup of Streaking Teams
Sunday afternoon, Harvard took its five-game winning streak into Conte Forum for a matchup with the surging Boston College Eagles, who had a four-game winning streak of their own coming in after a 1-2 start. Something had to give, and on this day, the Eagles continued their winning ways, though the Crimson made it interesting in the final minutes despite foul trouble.
Troy Bell played well for the Eagles with a game-high 28 points (including 14-14 from the free throw line), but the story was freshman forward Craig Smith. Smith gave the Crimson front line fits throughout the game en route to 27 points and 6 rebounds. Smith was scoring in several ways and drawing fouls to get to the line.
The Eagles shot 50% from the field, while holding Harvard to 36.5% shooting. The Eagles did a good job of not letting top scorers Patrick Harvey and Brady Merchant get good looks; Merchant did not score in the first half, while Harvey scored 11 of his 20 points at the foul line. The two combined to shoot 8-31 from the field.
Earlier in the week, Harvard won two more games with good overall play. Tuesday night, they defeated Vermont without Harvey, though the Catamounts were even worse off as they were without T.J. Sorrentine and Taylor Coppenrath. The Catamounts’ offense was stagnant for most of the game, as many players looked like they weren’t sure when to take shots or create. Thursday night, Harvey returned with a bang, scoring a career-high 29 points on 11-18 shooting in their win over Mercer. He helped Elliott Prasse-Freeman hand out a school- record 16 assists, though senior center Brian Sigafoos (17 points, 15 rebounds) helped out as well. Prasse-Freeman is third in the nation in assists as he heads closer to becoming the Ivy League’s career assist leader.
The Eagles are still a bit of an unknown at this point as they win with just seven regulars and a small lineup, while Harvard still looks solid as both schools head out of town for their final tune-ups before conference play. The Eagles head to Cleveland for the Rock ‘N Roll Classic against Kent State, while Harvard heads to Richmond for the Spider Invitational. The Eagles will get a test against Kent State, a team with four new starters that has only lost once thus far and is ninth in the nation in scoring and third in field goal percentage (58.7%). Harvard could surprise a good Richmond team that was blown out south of town on Thursday night.
Providence Shows More Promise, Even in Defeat
Providence continues to play well in the early going, as they played another stellar game against Richmond on Thursday night and gave No. 2 Alabama a good test on Saturday before succumbing in Tuscaloosa.
The common element to the Friars’ success has been shooting three-pointers well and a high assist-to-field goal ratio, which head coach Tim Welsh emphasized after their victory over Ohio University earlier in the season. The win over Richmond the other night was almost a mirror image of that game, as freshman point guard Donnie McGrath continues to play very well and basically answer the question mark the Friars had at the point with the departure of John Linehan. Ryan Gomes is certainly not having a sophomore jinx, as he had consecutive double-doubles this week. When he gets the ball on the box, he is almost automatic.
The Friars will need to consistently have help for Gomes on the post, as they got from Marcus Douthit against Richmond. He had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks off the bench against Richmond, but had just 4 points, 4 rebounds and 4 blocks while being in foul trouble against Alabama. Douthit is capable of making life miserable for opposing post players, but since his freshman year the game against Richmond has been an aberration instead of the norm.
The 4-3 Friars are off until Saturday, when they begin an eight-day span over which they play four games, including nearby Boston College and Northeastern. They will get good mid-major tests from Pennsylvania and rising MAAC team Siena as well.
Northeastern Goes to Puerto Rico
Northeastern spent the weekend in Puerto Rico, where they took fifth place in the San Juan Shootout by going 2-1 to even their record at 5-5. They ended it with a nice win over James Madison, as they ended the game on a 23-7 run to win by a 69-66 count. In that game, they put the clamps on James Madison star David Fanning, who was just 1-8 from the field and committed 7 of the 27 turnovers the Huskies forced.
The Huskies have had little trouble forcing turnovers and scoring, but they have to rebound on a consistent basis and take care of the ball on their end. The Huskies are forcing over 22 turnovers per game and lead America East in scoring with 82.1 points per game, but hold only a slight edge on the backboards and have been beaten on the glass badly in games they have lost. Their three-point shooting leaves something to be desired as well, though junior Javorie Wilson (45.7%) and budding freshman star Jose Juan Barea (38%) have not been part of that problem. Aaron Davis (28.3%) and Jesse Dunn (16.3%) have been struggling the most from behind the arc, as they are a combined 24-103 on the season.
The Huskies next play two Big East opponents and have a home date with Loyola (Md.) in between. First up is a Providence team that could bury them if they don’t come to play on Saturday, as the Friars have started out playing very good basketball.
Can Things Get Any Worse in Amherst?
As if their struggles thus far weren’t enough, Massachusetts went out and dropped a home game to Lafayette on Saturday. The Minutemen are now 2-6, and things do not get easier. The frontcourt seems to be coming around, but the Minutemen have continued to struggle mightily shooting the ball on the perimeter. Connecticut transfer Marcus Cox has not given them the lift expected, as he has struggled shooting the ball and has a poor assist/turnover ratio. The Minutemen are shooting just over 40% on the season as a team.
The Minutemen take on Rider at home on Monday night, then welcome in a Marshall team that is fifth in the nation in scoring on Saturday. With North Carolina State up ahead before conference play, the Minutemen could enter the Atlantic Ten season in some real trouble.
Ryan Center Sells Out, Rams To Gain Another Talent
Rhode Island had the first sellout at the new Ryan Center on Saturday night as No. 5 Pittsburgh came to town. The Panthers looked every bit their high national ranking in the win, as they exposed the Rams’ primary weakness: the backboards. While the Panthers played their usual good defense, they manhandled the Rams on the glass by a 45-27 margin, aided by the play of reserves Chevon Troutman (10 points, 9 rebounds) and Ontario Lett (14 points, 7 rebounds). The Rams’ guards struggled for most of the night, though sophomore Dawan Robinson had 14 points and 7 steals in 20 minutes.
The Rams should get a boost next season from a McDonald’s All-American, as Scott Hazleton recently left Connecticut and was in attendance behind the Rhode Island bench on Saturday night. Hazleton is likely to end up in Kingston and should be eligible in mid-season. The 6’7″ forward would give the Rams a versatile offensive player, but he has been riddled with injuries since early in his senior year of high school. If he stays healthy, he will be a nice gain for the Rams as Jim Baron continues to rebuild the program.
Other Notes From Around the Nation
Another first-year head coach who must get his due for his team’s early start is John Beilein at West Virginia. The school hired Beilein after a nightmare search for a head coach that included Dan Dakich taking the job, then returning to Bowling Green one week later. Beilein inherited a patchwork unit that had very little Division I experience, but the Mountaineers are 7-1 with wins over Florida and Tennessee as the highlights. They are ninth in the nation in field goal percentage, shooting 57.4%.
After starting the season 1-2 and making some wonder why they were a trendy mid-major pick in the preseason, Wisconsin-Milwaukee has now won eight straight games to take some momentum into its final non-conference test on Saturday at Georgia. In the two losses, the Panthers were beaten up on the glass and shot the ball poorly. Since then, they have been winning the battle on the boards and shooting better behind their strong perimeter unit.
Nine teams remain undefeated as the start of conference play nears. Of note is that four of them are in the top five in the nation in scoring defense, led by 8-0 Butler and 7-0 St. Joseph’s. Only one undefeated team (Connecticut) is in the top ten in scoring.
Slam Dunk to the Beach is this week
Later this week, the biggest high school basketball tournament in the country tips off, as the Slam Dunk to the Beach Tournament begins at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes, DE on Thursday. Tournament director Bob Jacobs has once again loaded the field, promising fans five days of great non-stop high school basketball.
Hoopville will have coverage of the event, with daily notes from the tournament and evaluations of some of the top talents present after the tournament ends.