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Saturday Notes – March 1, 2014

by - Published March 2, 2014 in Columns
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The last Saturday before conference tournaments begin is in the books. It was a full day, with important games right off the bat and all the way to the end. There was one game that was a showdown of top teams in a conference and another that many thought would be one before the season but lost a lot of its luster. Four of the top teams were in matchups in the American Athletic Conference, meaning the top of the conference was at stake.

The best month of basketball is upon us and it had quite a beginning on Saturday. With that, here are notes from some of the day’s games.

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At UMass-Lowell, there’s an end that’s part of a beginning

by - Published March 1, 2014 in Columns
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LOWELL, Mass. – They sailed off into the sunset, or something like that. And with it, the first chapter in a new beginning closed.

That’s enough with the cliches, though they provide an apt introduction into a look at the first year of Division I at UMass-Lowell and Senior Night. The seniors will move on, but the program is just beginning, and aided by the four seniors, the first season can only be looked at as a success and a reason to believe the future has a lot of promise for the program.

“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody that would have guessed we would win eight America East games,” said head coach Pat Duquette.

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The jury is still out on how good Pittsburgh is

by - Published February 28, 2014 in Columns
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – As crunch time is upon us, one of many questions out there is what to make of Pittsburgh. The Panthers are clearly a good team, though certainly beatable, but just how good they are is up for debate. As they entered a season-ending stretch that sees them playing three of four on the road with a three-game losing streak, winning on Wednesday night at Boston College would seem a good way to move forward. They did it with a 66-59 win, but it’s also one that leaves the jury out on how good the Panthers are.

At the same time, the opportunity to change that is there.

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Bucknell improves and still has a higher ceiling

by - Published February 24, 2014 in Columns
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BOSTON – As the long season moves along, every team hopes to play their best basketball around the end of the season. In Bucknell’s case, that has meant going through a challenging transition to start. That transition seems more towards completion now, as the Bison have a season-best four-game winning streak going and appear to have plenty of upside.

This isn’t the Bison of a year ago, when they had three seniors key an experienced, very cohesive unit that carried the team to a Patriot League title. This team has needed many players to step into new roles, from Cameron Ayers needing to become the go-to guy after being a complementary player to three new starters needing to do more. The Bison knew this day would come and the transition would be a challenge, but until they went through it the extent was an unknown.

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Saturday Notes – February 22, 2014

by - Published February 23, 2014 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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We’re getting down to crunch time as February draws to a close. Many games on Saturday had implications for NCAA Tournament bubble teams and more could also be big when it comes to seeding for conference tournaments. A few big showdowns were on tap, including ones in the American Athletic Conference and Mountain West, and also out west we saw a team we usually figure to be in the tournament lose another on the road, further throwing their status into question.

Here are notes from some of the day’s games.

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American hopes to regroup and get back on track

by - Published February 20, 2014 in Columns
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BOSTON – For American, it looked like a storybook run through the Patriot League. They had ten straight wins, including a blowout of the team picked to win it all, with a well-oiled machine offensively. They found a way to keep winning with a bunch of new guys and a new coaching staff. Pardon the expression, because it’s too easy, but the Eagles were flying high.

And now they are coming back to earth – quickly.

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Providence misses a big opportunity

by - Published February 19, 2014 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. – When Ryan Arcidiacono made the driving layup with a second left in the second overtime, you could almost hear a pin drop in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. It was the same Dunkin’ Donuts Center that had been rocking for a lot of the previous two and a half hours.

And when a last-second three-pointer by LaDontae Henton missed harmlessly, a heart-breaking loss was complete and a muted exit from the building had begun. The question now is if it’s also the beginning of an exit from something larger.

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Villanova continues to be tough and resilient

by - Published February 19, 2014 in Columns
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Villanova is nothing if not resilient. That is in some ways the story of the season on a macro level, certainly, but on a micro level that has been true as well. When they won a heart-stopping 82-79 double overtime thriller at Providence, they gave a great exhibition of that and why they are a team that can make a run in March.

With this win, Villanova has avoided a losing streak once again. But they have had to show an extra measure of toughness after each loss, because all three wins following a loss involved overtime. While the Wildcats have pulled out a lot of close games and are now 4-0 in overtime, doing so to avoid a losing streak is big, and on Tuesday night they had this toughness in spades.

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Atkins, Notre Dame continue to dig deep

by - Published February 17, 2014 in Columns
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Eric Atkins and Notre Dame have had to dig deep this season. They have had some real adversity come their way, and haven’t handled it very well on the bottom line. With a stretch of three straight road games having just started, though, the Fighting Irish just might be getting to a point where wins won’t be so hard to come by.

“We’ve got a tough stretch here,” Atkins said after Notre Dame’s 73-69 win at Boston College on Sunday night. “It’s going to be tough, but I think things are coming together a little bit for us. I think everyone has really fallen into their roles, and everyone is stepping up.”

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Saturday Notes – February 15, 2014

by - Published February 16, 2014 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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In recent days, the winter weather has been in the news a lot, and that includes the context of college basketball as a number of games have been postponed due to the weather. Two more Atlantic Sun games fell victim to the weather on Saturday, as Lipscomb at Kennesaw State and Northern Kentucky at Mercer were both postponed.

Saturday started out with a few dandies, including an AAC and an ACC battle that each came down to the wire. An Atlantic 10 showdown was also on the slate, and late in the day a big SEC showdown was on tap. We also saw what is almost certainly the last in what’s become a great rivalry, and the Patriot League race got a little more interesting.

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