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Touring the Northeast

February 18, 2003 Columns No Comments

Touring Around the Northeast

by Phil Kasiecki

There’s a running theme in this week’s look around New England and across the country: tight conference races. It seems like no conference has a runaway leader, or lacks some jockeying for position in its upcoming conference tournament. If anyone needs evidence of the balance in college basketball, they need not look any further.

Eagles Heat Up Along With The Big East Competition

With two more wins this past week, Boston College rebounded from last Saturday’s defeat at Rutgers to move within a game and a half of first place in the East Division of the Big East and remain one of the conference’s hottest teams. They have now won five of their last six games, and at 6-5 in conference play are just a game and a half behind East Division leaders Villanova. With an RPI of 49, the Eagles will be an interesting bubble team should they win out in the regular season and win at least one game in the Big East Tournament. The RPI would improve, and they would have 18 wins entering the Big East Tournament.

Leading the charge is Troy Bell, who became the school’s all-time leading scorer in his 33-point effort against Providence on Wednesday night, then followed it up with 34 against Miami on Saturday. We’ll have more on Bell later this week, but he has been shooting the lights out lately and is making his omission from the Wooden Award’s Midseason Top 30 look like a mistake.

The Eagles did well to shut down Darius Rice on Saturday in their 76-65 win over Miami. James Jones had 21 points and 10 rebounds, but Rice has been the Hurricane capable of having big nights, as Connecticut found out last month when he had 43 against them. Rice still had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but he shot just 4-13 from the field and was in some foul trouble.

Boston College has a home date with Virginia Tech on Wednesday night before getting a week off.

Providence, meanwhile, has struggled lately despite a 69-59 victory at St. John’s on Saturday. Prior to that game, the Friars had lost six of seven, including three games at home where they had lost just once all season prior to the tailspin. The Friars are in danger of not making the Big East Tournament with a 4-7 record in Big East play.

“We ran into a team that’s playing very well, and we’re not playing well right now,” head coach Tim Welsh said after the loss to Boston College. “We’re just not playing well. We have a team-wide slump right now.”

Welsh has spoken highly of this team before, and can see how this is affecting them now. “They feel hurt right now because they want to win,” he said. “It’s just not happening right now, but I believe in our guys, and they believe in each other.”

In Saturday’s win, sophomore forward Rob Sanders gave the Friars a big boost off the bench with 19 points. The scrappy Sanders is more of a defensive specialist and doesn’t usually top the scoring column, and this season has had highlight-film dunks in sporadic minutes, but his play of late has been solid and is not lost on Welsh. “He’s playing very strong right now, playing very tough,” Welsh said, adding that he will probably play more minutes in the games ahead.

The Friars have a home date with Miami on Tuesday night (postponed from Monday night due to blizzard conditions in much of New England), then welcome East Division leader Villanova on Saturday night.

Rams Trying to Keep Pace in Atlantic Ten

Rhode Island split its two games last week with a 77-65 home win against a LaSalle team that is on the rise and a 93-70 loss at Xavier. With Dayton knocking off St. Joseph’s on Saturday, the Rams remain just one game behind the Hawks in the Atlantic Ten East Division. Sophomore Dawan Robinson played well in the two games, scoring 23 against LaSalle and 19 in the loss to Xavier.

One key to the Rams’ success has been getting second chances, as they lead the Atlantic Ten in offensive rebounding. They had 16 offensive rebounds against LaSalle, with 42 rebound chances. They had the same number against Xavier, but with 52 rebound chances as the Musketeers out-rebounded them 50-36. Shooting 33% from the field did not help matters.

The loss to Xavier snapped a three-game winning streak, all at the Ryan Center where they are 9-3 on the season. With just two home games remaining, the Rams will need to win some road games if they are to move up in the standings. The first test is at Temple, a team that beat the Rams at the Ryan Center last month, then they head to Richmond.

America East Gets Tight Behind The Terriers

Boston University dropped a 73-67 decision at Stony Brook on Tuesday night, but remains two games in front in the America East Conference after an overtime win against Hartford on Saturday and Northeastern beating Vermont across town by a score of 76-59. With Binghamton scoring a 63-62 win over Maine on Saturday, a logjam has formed behind the Terriers. Vermont is in second place at 8-4, but Northeastern, Binghamton and Maine are in a three-way tie at 7-6 for third and Hartford and Stony Brook are right behind at 6-6.

Northeastern’s victory over Vermont on Saturday was a big one for the Huskies, who were without leading scorer Jose Juan Barea but had leading rebounder Sylbrin Robinson back in the lineup after missing two weeks with a dislocated elbow. Robinson made his presence felt with 4 blocks, while Barea was serving the second game of a three-game suspension levied by the NCAA for playing in a summer league prior to enrolling at Northeastern. Jamaar Walker had 12 points and a career-high 13 assists to lead the way, while Aaron Davis had a game-high 18 points and continues to play better after battling injuries earlier in the season. The Huskies shot nearly 52% from the field and committed just 9 turnovers, while forcing 16 Vermont turnovers.

This came just days after the Huskies once again did not play defense against Maine. They allowed the Black Bears to shoot over 65% from the field for the game in losing 75-55 at Solomon Court. This came less than a month after they allowed Maine to shoot over 56% from the field, including making 14-20 three-pointers, in a 90-76 loss in Orono, Maine.

Big Weekend in the Ivy League Ends With a Tight Race

Near the City of Brotherly Love, it was a weekend of showdowns in the Ivy League, as the top four teams played in Philadelphia and Princeton. The only team to escape unscathed was Pennsylvania, tightening the race considerably as two games separate first from third. Pennsylvania now leads at 7-0, Brown is right behind at 7-1, and Princeton is 5-2.

The Ivy League has a tie further down in the standings, with Harvard and improving Cornell tied for fifth at 3-5 in Ivy League play as both teams split the weekend. The Crimson lost leading scorer Patrick Harvey earlier in the week, as the senior guard was declared academically ineligible for the remainder of the season. On Friday night, they showed no ill effects from his absence in their first home game in over a month, but he might have helped on Saturday night as the Crimson struggled to defend Cornell’s hot shooters and did not move the ball effectively on offense in losing to the Big Red by a score of 82-69. Ka’Ron Barnes led the attack with 25 points on 7-10 shooting in a game that featured a combined 73 free throws. The Big Red made 11 of 19 three-pointers and shot over 51% from the field.

Indicative of Harvard’s offensive struggles was the 15 field goals attempted by senior point guard Elliott Prasse-Freeman, a player not normally counted on to score. Besides the offensive struggles, head coach Frank Sullivan also emphasized a lack of offensive opportunities from defensive plays in Saturday night’s loss.

“Our inability to really generate anything out of our defense, in terms of offense or easy plays, really hurt us,” Sullivan said. “It put a lot of pressure on guys to make shots.

“We didn’t do a good job with inside-outside extra passing, which is certainly what we had worked on during the course of the week.”

The Crimson will need another scoring threat to step forward in place of Harvey so that they won’t be overly reliant on Brady Merchant and Prasse-Freeman for offense from the perimeter. Jason Norman, who has started the last two games, is the team’s best athlete and might be a better defender than Harvey, but he doesn’t have Harvey’s offensive skills and especially when teams force the left-hander to go to his right. Kevin Rogus gives the Crimson a good sniper on the wing, but he is best coming off the bench since he is a spot-up shooter.

The Crimson have a tough home weekend coming up, as Pennsylvania and Princeton visit Cambridge on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Other Notes From Around The Nation

• Stat of the week: As amazing as the 73 combined free throws in the Harvard/Cornell game might seem, it was not even the highest total on the day. In the foul-plagued matchup between Georgia and Vanderbilt, 61 fouls were called and the teams combined to shoot 82 free throws.

• The Mid-American Conference isn’t having the kind of year it has had in recent seasons, but it does boast five of the nation’s top 25 scorers, more than any other conference (the Big East is next with four).

• Reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated: Valparaiso is once again atop the Mid-Continent Conference in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season after the loss of several key veterans and with a coaching change. Ratis Grafs is holding down the fort in the middle and Stalin Ortiz has been another solid senior leader. The Crusaders have the best rebounding margin in the conference, allow fewer points than any other Mid-Continent team and hold opponents to under 43%.

• Saturday features the first annual Bracket Buster, but it also has a showdown in the Southland Conference as Sam Houston State (17-5, 13-2 Southland) welcomes Stephen F. Austin (16-5, 12-2 Southland). The Bearkats will place an eight-game winning streak on the line in this one – a streak that began after a road loss against Stephen F. Austin last month.


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