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Touring the Northeast

February 26, 2003 Columns No Comments

Touring Around New England

by Phil Kasiecki

Has Providence Finally Figured It Out?

Providence won both games this past week, and looked impressive in each one. Head coach Tim Welsh may have finally found the right combination with his team, and a few players seem to have figured out their roles.

“This group is starting to really click together,” Welsh said after the Villanova game. “I think they feel good about themselves out there on the court, gain some confidence with every game, and obviously this is the time of the year you want to make a little push.”

In the last two games, sophomore forward Rob Sanders has started, joining Ryan Gomes, Marcus Douthit, Donnie McGrath and Sheiku Kabba in the starting lineup. Sanders, who was a spot starter last season but has had relatively sporadic minutes this season, has been a key to the Friars’ success. A good defender and hustle player, Sanders scored 27 points in the two games on 10-14 shooting and helped the Friars hold Miami and Villanova to just 42.3% shooting.

“He’s taken the opportunity and ran with it,” Welsh said of Sanders after the win over Miami. “The thing I told Rob way back is, I knew the talent has been always there – it’s not like I just discovered him – but it’s got to be a consistent effort every day. He was inconsistent in games earlier in the year because he was inconsistent in practice; now he’s been consistent in practice and he’s starting to be consistent in games.”

Douthit has stayed home on the low post, after trying to be a small forward at times last season and hurting the Friars more than helping them. He blocked four shots and had five steals against Villanova on Saturday night, while adding 9 points.

“You can see the confidence he’s gaining in every game,” Welsh said of Douthit’s recent play. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence, he’s not turning the ball over as much.”

While a few players that appear to be out of the primary rotation are past starters and good contributors – players like juniors Maris Laksa, Romuald Augustin and Chris Anrin – Welsh spoke highly of how they have taken to it, giving him the luxury of having them when needed.

“I still think we’re going to need everybody as we go through the end of the season,” Welsh acknowledged. “It’s hard just to play seven guys. We got into some foul trouble tonight, I think we got a little tired at times. You got to have everybody ready, but I think this group is clicking well and it’s obvious. You want to ride the horse as long as you can, but you have to be smart about it as well.

“I congratulated Rome and Chris and Maris in the locker room, and it’s not easy,” Welsh added. “They came out and practiced hard the last two days, and I was proud of that.”

The Friars, once in danger of not making the Big East Tournament, now look like they may do more than just go there. They play at Georgetown on Tuesday night, then have 8 days off before playing at Connecticut.

Is Northeastern Going Somewhere?

The Colonial Athletic Association has been talking with Northeastern recently, and the school’s athletic department is listening. The Boston Globe and the Northeastern News have recently reported this (the latter citing the former in its story), and while there is no clear sign that the school is planning to bolt, they also have not said no. This is of much greater importance than simply one school possibly moving on.

If Northeastern were to bolt, the America East Conference would be dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal, blow. The conference would lose its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, as it would not have the requirement of six teams that have been together for at least five consecutive seasons until the 2005-06 season. On Friday, a presidents meeting was held, which could have large implications on what happens.

The CAA would like to expand to 12 teams from the current 10 that they have. The current 10 teams include four former America East teams: Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra and Towson. If Northeastern were to move, they would be by far the northern-most school in the conference, whose membership stretches as far south as Wilmington, North Carolina.

We will have more on this story as it unfolds.

On the court, the Huskies dropped a key matchup in Binghamton on Sunday, as the Bearcats scored a 66-54 win. The Huskies shot just 34.9% from the field and forced only five turnovers, a marked difference from their home win over the Bearcats last month.

Crimson Have to Wait Another Year

Harvard dropped two games at home this past weekend to Ivy League leader Pennsylvania and third-place Princeton. With Brown winning over Columbia and Cornell, next weekend’s matchups in Providence and New Haven will go a long way in determining the Ivy League’s outcome. The sweep of Harvard by Pennsylvania and Princeton knocks Harvard out of the running for the Ivy League title.

On Friday night, Pennsylvania simply put on an offensive clinic, with great ball movement and great perimeter shooting as they made 16 of 31 three-point attempts. The Quakers also out-rebounded the Crimson 33-23, and were 18-19 from the free throw line.

“I’ve been in the league 12 years now, and I don’t think I’ve seen a team that has a better inside-outside combination than this team,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said of the Quakers. “That said, the issues for us were our inability to guard the three in both the first half and the second half, and probably putting Penn on the line in situations in the first half where they just going to shoot lights out from the free throw line.”

Elliott Prasse-Freeman was again the primary shooter, as he took 13 field goals and that was more than any other player. He had 10 assists, but the Crimson continued to struggle to get a balanced offensive attack.

The 67-66 loss against Princeton on Saturday marked the third straight year that the matchup between the two at Lavietes Pavilion came down to the final shot, and Princeton came out on top in all three. The Crimson had rallied from a late deficit, but it wasn’t enough. Harvard again allowed opponents to shoot the lights out, as Princeton shot over 59% from the field and also killed the Crimson with 42 points in the paint.

Freshman center Brian Cusworth continues to come along for the Crimson. While he has been inconsistent, he has looked good overall, and Saturday night he had 13 points and 6 rebounds. The 7-footer will be a key building block past this season.

Crusaders Are Champions

With their weekend sweep of American and Navy, Holy Cross clinched the regular season title in the Patriot League. They won a 68-66 thriller on Friday night against American, then let great defense and balance show the way in a 63-42 thrashing of Navy.

Holy Cross used everything it had against the Midshipmen, who already struggle on offense and shot just over 30% against the Crusaders on Sunday. Brian Wilson (game-high 16 points), who was one of four senior players honored in Senior Day ceremonies before the game, made several shots early when the Crusaders struggled at the offensive end. They had great balance; three players had 10 points each, and in out-rebounding Navy by a 43-36 margin, no Crusader had more than 6 rebounds and six players recorded at least 4. Looking at the box score, just about everyone who played contributed significantly in one respect; freshman Kevin Hamilton had four steals, junior Jave Meade had 8 assists with just two turnovers. They also did not let Navy’s top scorer, Francis Ebong, get going, as he had limited touches and just four field goal attempts, while three-point sniper David Hooper had just six (only two were three-pointers) and made just one.

Head coach Ralph Willard noted the role Wilson played early, when the team looked flat and Navy had an early lead.

“I didn’t think we had any rhythm at the beginning of the game, and I thought we were playing without any emotion at all,” Willard said. “Thank God Brian (Wilson) came out and made some shots early, to get us offensively tuned in.”

Another bright spot was their great frontcourt depth. When Patrick Whearty and Nate Lufkin each picked up two fouls before the halfway point of the first half, Neil Fingleton came in and gave them a lift, recording a career-high four blocks and five rebounds in 9 minutes of play. The native of Durham, England has averaged under 8 minutes per game since he is a defensive liability despite his 7’6″ frame.

“He changes the game when he goes in there,” Willard said of Fingleton.

Willard, who has done a terrific job since taking the head coaching position three seasons ago, is happy to see the team wrap up the title with a week to play, as it has its advantages.

“I think it’s good for us because the whole year, we’ve had a target on our back,” Willard said before elaborating on the advantage it has. “This next weekend, we can go out and really concentrate on doing certain things to get us ready for the conference tournament.”

Other Notes From Around the Nation

• What did we get out of the Bracket Buster games on Saturday? The most notable thing is that Fresno State, like Tulsa, needs to win the WAC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, Gonzaga looks stronger for an at-large bid should it not win the West Coast Conference Tournament, and Southern Illinois not only looks good for an at-large, but it heads into its Missouri Valley showdown with Creighton on a strong note. Illinois-Chicago looks like a good NIT team, and Kent State might join them there if they don’t win the MAC Tournament.

• It hasn’t been a good year for a couple of the historically elite programs in college basketball. While the story at UCLA is well-documented, the seat has to be getting hot at North Carolina again as the Tar Heels continue to struggle after their great start. Their current slump has been bad enough, but an elite program should never lose by 40 points like they did on Saturday.

• The unfortunate saga of Jason Parker continues. As Adam Shandler reported on Monday’s Morning Dish, Jason Parker did not complete his course work for the fall semester and did not register for spring classes. It’s hard to believe he was once thought to be an amazing steal for Kentucky after an issue with his high school transcript, as it now looks like North Carolina got this one right. Don’t be surprised if Parker puts his name in for the NBA Draft.


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