ANAHEIM, CA - FILE: Jamal Coombs-McDaniel #4 and Alex Oriakhi #34 of the Connecticut Huskies celebrate after defeating the San Diego State Aztecs during the west regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Honda Center on March 24, 2011 in Anaheim, California. Basketball player Jamal Coombs-McDaniel of the Connecticut Huskies was arrested the night of April 21, 2011 on a marijuana possession charge. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
It might not be the North Carolina triangle of Duke, UNC and NC State but Massachusetts college basketball is heating up with four undefeated squads and several early season rivalry games.
Here’s the first in our series of power rankings, breaking down the six Division 1 teams in Massachusetts (Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, Holy Cross, Northeastern, UMass) and the University of Connecticut. While UConn could likely beat every other team in the region 95 teams out of 100, we’ll try to keep the rankings interesting by taking into account how teams have been playing lately, a team’s chances at making the NCAA Tournament and any other mitigating factors. Yes Holy Cross fans, that means even the Crusaders can make some major moves in our rankings.
1. UConn Huskies (2-0)
The defending champions haven’t missed a beat thus far with sophomore guards Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier doing their best Kemba Walker impersonations. Lamb and Napier are averaging 46 points per game, hitting 53 percent of their shots and 45 percent of their attempts from behind the arc. Big men Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond have been just so-so thus far, but they won’t face their first real test until the Battle 4 Atlantis over Thanksgiving break.
2. Harvard Crimson (2-0)
How do you test a squad that returns all 12 players from a season and won a share of the Ivy League Crown for the first time ever? How about eight road games out of the first 10 on your schedule, including a trip to the Bahamas to play in the Battle 4 Atlantis where the Crimson could play three BCS teams in three days. Tommy Amaker’s biggest challenge this season could be in doling out minutes among his 18 bodies and keeping everyone happy. Keith Wright is the best player you may never have heard of, the senior power forward was an All-American Honorable Mention and was named Ivy League Player of the Year after leading the team in scoring and rebounding.
3. UMass Minutemen (2-0)
Heading into the season I had UMass at number four or even five in the power rankings but this team has looked fantastic in dispatching Northeastern and Elon. Chaz Williams has made all the difference in Amherst serving as the team’s leading scorer, playmaker and heart and soul in his first week as the team’s starting point guard. Derek Kellogg’s new look scheme has worked wonders because he finally has a point guard and the team is full of athletic big men who can run the floor. UMass should be favored against BC Monday at Conte Forum and could get a chance to play both Harvard and UConn when they join them in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
4. Boston College Eagles (1-0)
This could be a rough season for Steve Donahue for a lot of reasons: the team’s top five scorers from a season ago departed, only three players who played last season return and nine of the team’s 16 players are true freshmen. In Monday’s opener the Eagles struggled all night against a UNH team that was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the America East and needed some late game heroics from grad student John Cahill. Boston College is likely to be the most volatile team in our power rankings and has the slimmest of chances of making the NCAA tournament, but with so much talent on the roster they get the benefit of the doubt initially.
5. Northeastern Huskies (1-1)
I don’t think Northeastern is necessarily better than Boston University but they earn the fifth spot in our rankings by virtue of their opening night victory. Bill Coen had his worst season in six years since taking the job on Huntington Avenue last year and made it a point of focus to get better rebounders on the recruiting trail. He certainly found one in CAA Rookie of the Week Reggie Spencer. The Alabama native recorded a double-double against BU with 16 points and 11 rebounds. While the Huskies won’t be participating in a Turkey Day tournament, they’ll get a good test when they play at St. John’s next Saturday.
6. Boston University Terriers (0-2)
The Terriers are one of two teams that made the NCAA tournament last season in our rankings, but are also the only program with a new head coach. Boston University’s players assured everyone that it had been a smooth transition this summer going from Patrick Chambers to Joe Jones, but the team still has a ways to go on the court. Outside of leading scorers Darryl Partin and D.J. Irving, the roster has averaged just 27 points per game on 29 percent shooting. Things will come around for the Terriers once they begin to heat up from the field, after all this is a team that has traditionally lived and died by the 3-point shot and they’re currently hitting just 17 percent of their attempts from downtown.
7. Holy Cross Crusaders (0-2)
0-2 with a date against Boston College tonight, Milan Brown certainly didn’t do his team any favors with his early season scheduling. Holy Cross struggled throughout the regular season last year and yet still managed to earn the third seed in the Patriot League Tournament. This season looks even brighter for the Crusaders with 10 of 14 players returning including three starters. Expect the team to cause opponents fits with their defense and strong rebounding as the offense slowly catches up.
Starting Five (Top 5 Players In The Region):
Patrick Heckmann-G-Boston College