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Touring Around New England

March 4, 2003 Columns No Comments

Touring Around New England

by Phil Kasiecki

Eagles Will Test the ‘Last 10 Games’ Part of the NCAA’s Selection

Make no mistake about it, Boston College will see just how much the “last 10 games” count in the NCAA selection committee’s thinking. The Eagles enter the final week of regular season play having won five straight and eight of nine, standing 16-9 overall and 9-5 in Big East play. Their conference record is now good for a tie at the top of the East Division with the Connecticut Huskies, whom the Eagles will face in the regular season finale on Saturday.

Troy Bell remains on a roll, as the senior guard looks more and more like the Big East Player of the Year. He had 65 points in the two wins this past week, and in the last 11 games is averaging over 30 points and shooting 50% on three-pointers. He needs 71 points in the final two games to break Lawrence Moten’s all-time Big East career scoring record; he will finish playing 10 fewer games than Moten.

The Eagles now control their own destiny. If they win their final two games, they will win the East Division outright. If they lose against Villanova and beat Connecticut, they can still win by way of a tie-breaker as they will have swept the season series with Connecticut. This will be a tall order for the Eagles, who have won just two of the last 28 meetings with the Huskies and have not swept a season series against them since the 1983-84 season. (Villanova’s season finale is at Pittsburgh, where the Panthers have not lost all season.)

The picture for Big East teams making the NCAA Tournament is perhaps more muddled than ever. Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame have looked like they’re in for a while now, but who else goes? The Eagles and red-hot Seton Hall look like the next two teams with a chance, as Villanova has struggled after a good start. But will the Big East get six teams? This isn’t a banner year for mid-major teams capable of earning at-large bids, so it’s certainly possible. If the Eagles win the East Division, then at least one game in the Big East Tournament, they will have made a good case for a team that was once 8-8, as they would be 19-10 entering Selection Sunday.

Huskies Close Out Regular Season Amidst Off-Court Talk

Amidst talk that they might leave America East for the Colonial Athletic Association, Northeastern ended the regular season by splitting its final two games at home. They knocked off Albany (minus top scorer Jamar Wilson), then lost to regular season champion Boston University on Sunday after leading for some of the second half. BU used an 18-3 run to take over the game and win by a 76-65 count.

The Huskies finish in sixth place, but with Binghamton finishing ahead of them and being ineligible for the America East Tournament, they will be the fifth seed this weekend and draw Maine, which finished fourth. This could be trouble for the Huskies, as they lost both times to the Black Bears during the regular season. They were the top two scoring teams in the conference, but the Black Bears were by far the best shooting team in making just under 49% of their field goal attempts on the season. They were also second in field goal percentage defense and rebounding margin, so the Huskies will have a tall order.

But the Huskies have just the kind of team that could make a run in the conference tournament. They could get hot, and one thing in their favor is that they force more turnovers than any other team in the conference by far and the Black Bears led the conference in turnovers.

Hoopville will have full coverage of the America East Tournament, which starts on Sunday. Stay tuned for a series of features later in the week on some of the conference’s individual talents.

Rams Close Out First Season at the Ryan Center On a Good Note

After losing to a very good Dayton team on Wednesday night, Rhode Island closed out its home slate on Sunday with a win over Massachusetts. The Rams were led by a career-high 29 points from sophomore Dawan Robinson, who started in place of the injured Howard Smith. He scored 23 points in the second half and key a decisive run early in the second half after the Rams trailed by 9 at the half.

The Rams are now 16-10 overall, and clinched home court for the first round of the conference tournament, which is held at campus sites before moving to Dayton. They finish the regular season at Duquesne on Saturday, and could certainly wind up with 18 wins. A win in the conference tournament should at least send the Rams to the NIT; the NCAA looks doubtful unless they take the conference’s automatic bid.

No Change Atop the Ivy League, But Some Might Come Later

After this weekend’s games, Pennsylvania is once again in the driver’s seat for the Ivy League title, as they swept Brown and Yale despite good battles by the home teams. While this looks like it won’t be the year both of the usual powers at the top are knocked off, that could be on the way in the seasons ahead.

After a tough home loss to Pennsylvania with a packed house on Friday night, Brown came back the next night to beat Princeton on Senior Night with another lively crowd. The win marks the first time the Bears have ever swept Princeton.

Earl Hunt, Brown’s all-time leading scorer and fourth all-time in the Ivy League in that category, closed out his career at the Pizzitola Center with 26 points against Pennsylvania and 21 against Princeton. Even with his effort, the star of Saturday night’s win was sophomore Jason Forte, who had a career-high 30 points on 6-7 shooting from the field, including a perfect 4-4 on three-pointers and making all 14 of his free throws.

Brown head coach Glen Miller talked about how Forte has come along after a freshman year that had some difficult times.

“He’s come a long, long way,” Miller said of his point guard. “As a coaching staff, we made the mistake, I guess, of assuming that he knew more than he really knew. He has a lot to learn, and he’s become a student of the game much more over the second half of the year and has really taken off as a player.

Miller also talked about the state of the program now, as the Bears look to become a consistent contender as they graduate a class that has tied for the most wins in a four-year span in the program’s history.

“We’re still building the program here, we still have three games left to play, we’re still in the championship hunt, and we’re certainly still in postseason contention,” Miller said after Friday night’s game. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to come back tomorrow, with just as much energy, and we have to bring the execution for 40 minutes.”

The Bears did just that, and should they win their final two games at Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend, they will finish in second place in the Ivy League and might make the NIT should they take an Ivy League team.

Other Notes From Around the Nation

• We have certainly not heard the last on the developing story at Georgia, but here’s one thing to think about: if it gets as messy as it looks like it could, Jim Harrick’s days are likely numbered not only there, but also as a head coach. Harrick was fired from UCLA for falsifying an expense report, had off-court problems at Rhode Island (the school just settled a sexual discrimination lawsuit against him), and if shown to be part of improprieties in this situation, not many schools will be on the lookout for a coach with such a checkered past.

• A thumbs down goes to the NCAA for the current investigation of Louisville senior Marvin Stone. Rick Pitino said it best when he noted that the NCAA had plenty of time to do this, much like earlier in the season when they were investigating the high school transcript of Mississippi State junior Mario Austin.

• North Carolina A&T has averted a winless season, as the Aggies knocked off Norfolk State, 61-54 on Monday night. They were the last team in the nation to get their first win of the season, though four teams have not won a game in their respective conference. (The four teams are Army in the Patriot League, Chicago State in the Mid-Continent Conference, Columbia in the Ivy League, and Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley Conference.)

• On Saturday, coaches around the country paid tribute to retiring Mt. St. Mary’s head coach Jim Phelan by wearing bow ties, as Phelan has done throughout his career. Phelan’s players sent him out in the proper way, as they scored a 60-56 win over Central Connecticut State for his 830th career victory. He will finish third all-time in career coaching victories, behind Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp. Congratulations, Coach.


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