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Touring Around the Northeast

February 4, 2003 Columns No Comments

Touring Around New England

by Phil Kasiecki

Scoring Balance Not a Concern, Things Look Up For Providence

Providence entered Saturday night’s home date with Virginia Tech having lost two consecutive games, and with head coach Tim Welsh concerned about the team’s offensive balance. In the loss against Notre Dame the previous week, Ryan Gomes and Donnie McGrath were the only double-digit scorers and the only consistent scoring threats, though the Friars were not helped by a 1-14 start from the field.

“We need some more offense”, Welsh said when asked about the play of Marcus Douthit, who has been solid defensively but has not been a big offensive presence for most of the season. ” We have to have more balance; we just can’t go to Donnie and Ryan and be a two-man team all of a sudden.”

Saturday night, offensive balance wasn’t a concern as the Friars won going away, 89-58 over a Virginia Tech team that struggled most of the night with foul trouble. Four players scored in double figures, and Gomes and McGrath were not among them. Sheiku Kabba led the way with 20 points, while Gomes had just 9 points and 6 rebounds in 17 minutes with foul trouble, and McGrath still handed out 5 assists.

Welsh was pleased with the result. “Certainly, coming in and getting bench efforts from Maris (Laksa) and Rob (Sanders) and Sheiku is huge”, Welsh said. “That’s what we’ve been missing, we haven’t had that extra punch.”

Welsh is also optimistic about the remainder of the season for the Friars, who stand 10-8 and 3-4 in Big East play. The end of Wednesday’s tough loss in Miami, when he saw the players being very together, was the first sign. “I said, well, that means, number one, we’ve got guys not pointing fingers, and number two, they want to win”, he said. “If we can just tighten up a couple of things in certain areas, we’ll be fine.”

The Friars have made it this far with a young group that is mature beyond their years, notably McGrath. “Donnie has just been tremendous”, Welsh said of his freshman point guard before making light of who he goes up against every night. “I’ve told a few people this, I think there’s five All-American guards in our league. You talk about (Ben) Gordon, (Marcus) Hatten, (Brandin) Knight, (Troy) Bell and (Chris) Thomas, all could be first to third-team All-American type players from what I’ve seen. There’s not a better core of guards in the country.”

But McGrath is not the only one Welsh has seen this with

“We had a little chat on Thursday in the locker room after we got back off the plane from Miami about the importance of this game (Virginia Tech)”, Welsh said. “And I saw it in their eyes that they understood.”

Welsh likes this particular group of kids largely because they know the game.

“This is a mature group”, he said after Saturday’s win. “I am enjoying coaching them, they are good kids, they want to win.”

Friar fans hope that translates into a strong finish to the season. After heading to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, they have four of the next five games at home, where they are 9-2.

Northeastern Continues to Surge Ahead

The Northeastern Huskies have now won four straight games, having used last Saturday’s big comeback win over Boston University as a springboard. The Huskies won three games in five days, including two crucial home wins earlier in the week, to go over .500 for the season as they stand 12-10 (5-4 in America East play) following Sunday’s overtime win in Albany.

In the two home wins, the Huskies did it with defense, a key considering that they can score plenty of points (they lead the conference in scoring at 77.5 points per game). In those games, they held Binghamton and Hartford to under 35% shooting combined, and against Binghamton, they forced 23 turnovers and wore down the Bearcats. Binghamton entered the game third in America East in scoring.

They needed overtime against Albany, as well as some extra support. On Friday night, the Huskies lost Sylbrin Robinson, the America East leader in rebounding, for at least two weeks with a severe left elbow injury in the game’s final minute. Additionally, freshman Jose Juan Barea had a season-low 9 points against Albany, though he handed out 8 assists to help players like Javorie Wilson (25 points) and Cornellius Wright (24) notch career-high point totals. Barea also forced overtime with a late three-pointer, showing his continued poise while he has also improved markedly at the defensive end. He was named America East Rookie of the Week for the fourth time this season.

With their streak, the Huskies are tied with Hartford for fourth place and two and a half games behind leader Boston University. On Wednesday night, they host a Stony Brook team that has won five straight games and looks to be hitting their stride, then they head north to New Hampshire on Saturday.

Tough Return For Harvard, Brown Just Keeps Winning

The Ivy League Gods were not too kind to Harvard when the schedule was done for this season. The Crimson had to travel to Princeton and Philadelphia after nearly three-weeks without a game, and the Crimson did not have an easy time. The struggles were primarily at the offensive end, as they shot under 40% and committed 37 turnovers in the two games.

Defense wasn’t the problem against Princeton, as they held Spencer Gloger, the conference’s third-leading scorer, to just 4 points on 2-14 shooting. But Pennsylvania shot over 49% from the field and made 11 of 20 three-point attempts, led by Tim Begley’s perfect 5-5.

Meanwhile, Brown remains the Ivy League’s hottest team, as they went on the road and handled both Cornell and Columbia to extend their winning streak to six games and sit atop the Ivy League at 4-0. The Bears are now 8-2 since they hit rock bottom at 1-7, and look as strong as any Ivy League team.

Brown and Harvard will meet Friday night in Providence, with Harvard having another tough road date the next night as they play Yale in New Haven.

Holy Cross Is In Control

Holy Cross won the first Patriot League showdown on Friday night, blowing out Lehigh in Worcester to rebound from last Sunday’s 72-49 blowout against American in the nation’s capital. With Lehigh then dropping a 77-68 decision to Colgate on Sunday, the Crusaders stand alone atop the Patriot League with a 6-1 league record and are 16-4 overall.

That the Crusaders lead the Patriot League at the midway point is not a surprise; if anything, it’s a surprise that they have lost a game at this point and in the fashion they lost at American last weekend. It was the first victory for the Eagles over the Crusaders since joining the Patriot League last season, and it came largely from their senior backcourt of Glenn Stokes and Steven Miles. Each had 18 points and they shot a combined 11-21 from the field. The Eagles started the second half with a 27-8 run to seal the game, showing again that many games are won in the opening minutes of the second half.

Other Notes From Around the Nation

The Atlantic Ten continues to have a nice season, rebounding from the disappointments of previous seasons. Xavier, St. Joseph’s and Dayton continue to look like good NCAA Tournament contenders, as all three have RPIs in the top 30. Richmond is 12-7 and has a respectable RPI (55), making them a candidate as well. Dayton has snuck under almost everyone’s radar with Xavier being nationally ranked and St. Joseph’s getting some attention, but the Flyers are the conference’s only undefeated team at 7-0 and have won eight straight games. However, the tests are coming up, as Dayton still has its two games with Xavier remaining, as well as one with Richmond and its only meeting with St. Joseph’s.

Looking for a mid-major conference to keep an eye on? Try the Southern Conference, which is shaping up to have a good finish and an even better tournament. Appalachian State leads the North Division, with Davidson nipping at its heels and East Tennessee State can’t be counted out. The South Division is shaping up as a dandy battle between College of Charleston and Chattanooga, with Chattanooga taking the first matchup in Charleston. It’s unlikely a Southern team will grab an at-large bid – College of Charleston has the highest RPI and it won’t get much better than where it stands now (70) – but it will be worth watching next month.

Another mid-major to watch is the Atlantic Sun, especially the tight South Division where one game separates division leader Troy State from both Mercer and Central Florida. Troy State is having a fine season at 17-4 after losing two of the best players in the conference, while Mercer has benefited from the return of Scott Emerson after he redshirted last season. Belmont leads the north by a game and a half, but Georgia State can’t be counted out as they knocked off Belmont last week on the road.

Plenty of freshmen have been stars this season, but rookies are also doing well on the sidelines. Those doing a fine job in their first season running a team include Ray Lopes (Fresno State, 15-4), Jim Christian (Kent State, 15-2), Brad Bownell (UNC-Wilmington, 13-5), and Tom Herrion (College of Charleston, 16-5). Lehigh head coach Billy Taylor is trying his best to keep pace with prohibitive Patriot League favorite Holy Cross, sporting a 13-7 record overall and 5-2 in Patriot League play.

On the subject of coaches, my best wishes go out to Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun as he leaves the team for surgery and treatment of prostate cancer. Calhoun is one of the good guys in the coaching ranks, and he will undoubtedly have a full recovery and be on the sidelines for March Madness.


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