Here's the sixth 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.
1.#9 UConn Huskies (11-1): George Blaney has coached a lot of basketball games, but he’ll never forget his first game at the helm in 2011. With Jim Calhoun serving a three game suspension, Blaney forgot to turn in the UConn starters prior to 10 minutes before the game and the Huskies found themselves in the rare spot, of trailing 1-0 before the opening tip. Things wouldn’t get much better for the first twenty minutes, as a middling South Florida squad led the Huskies for all but the final two minutes of the session. While the game was still tight in the second half, UConn fans could breathe a little easier, as Jeremy Lamb played some of his most aggressive basketball of the year. The projected top-5 pick in next year’s NBA draft, had 16 of his 23 points in the second half, including five points over the final 1:46, to ice the Huskies first true-road win of the year. Blaney won’t be able to chuckle about small mistakes in the next two games, if the team doesn’t focus on getting the ball inside. Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi only attempted 11 combined shots-a repeat of that could be enough to key an upset for St. John’s Saturday, or red hot Seton Hall on Tuesday.
2.#23 Harvard Crimson (11-1): O how the basketball scene in Boston has changed. Harvard earned their fourth consecutive victory over Boston College and their 1,000 victory in program history Thursday night, as they dominated the Eagles in the second half of a 67-46 win. The Crimson haven’t lost against a team from the state of Massachusetts since 2008; that streak includes 14 consecutive victories, including a perfect 4-0 record this year, with wins over every team but Northeastern and UMass, the only teams they haven’t played during the streak. They outscored Boston College 27-13 in the second stanza last night, as the Crimson held the Eagles to just 4-of-22 (18 percent) shooting for the half. Laurent Rivard once again was the sparkplug for the Crimson after another slow start. The sophomore guard ignited the Crimson with his 3-point shooting, just as he did against Boston University, finishing with a team-high 18 points on four 3-pointers. Harvard can now turn their focus to the stiffest competition between now and potentially March Madness, when St. Joseph’s comes to town New Year’s Eve (more on this game later).
3.Umass Minutemen (10-3): The best story of the first half of the 2011-12 season in the area has been the success of UMass under Derek Kellogg’s new system. Just check out Jeff Goodman’s take, yes he’s a Massachusetts native and big supporter of the program, but the team is finally getting some national attention. UMass earned their 10th win on the year last Thursday with a signature non-conference for the Minutemen, who had been beating some middling opposition, but hey you can only beat the team’s on your schedule. After losing to the three teams that could be described as quality opponents earlier this season, UMass earned a big win over a Davidson squad that was coming off a win at Kansas. Atlantic 10 play begins next week and the Minutemen need a hot start, if they’re going to compete in the conference and possibly grab an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
4.Holy Cross Crusaders (5-7): Just like UMass, Holy Cross earned their marquee victory of the 2011-12 season last Thursday night, when they downed San Francisco University 88-83 and haven’t played since. What’s new with the Crusaders? Well sophomore Dave Dudzinski was named the AT&T Crusader of the Week for his 20 point, six rebound effort against the Dons, as he continues to surprise Holy Cross fans. After a freshmen year where he was named to the Patriot League All-Rookie Team, Dudzinski has more than doubled his points and rebounds totals and has hit over 51 percent of his shots. I’d love to say the team has a great shot to win the Patriot League regular season crown, but the conference is extremely deep. Quinnipiac and Bucknell are both extremely strong inside and talented (ask UMass and Boston University), Lehigh is a scoring juggernaut and American is led by the top scorer in the conference in Charles Hinkle. Should be a fun ride in the Patriot League, which for those of you who don’t know, will only have one team make the NCAA tournament, it all begins January 7.
5.Boston College (5-8): Boston College came back to earth Thursday night against Harvard, but showed some signs of progress in the first half. The Eagles turned the tables on the Crimson, when they jumped out to 14-3 lead, by hitting seven of their first eight shots. Meanwhile, they kept Harvard from hitting their first field goal until the first 6:02 of the game. It only lasted so long though, as Harvard went on a 19-2 run to earn their first lead, by hitting seven of 10 shots in a five and a half minute span. Dennis Clifford had a big game for the Eagles with 14 points on an economical 5-of-6 shooting and Patrick Heckmann added 13 points. What does the loss tell us? That Boston College is still a long way’s away from competing with Top 25 competition and they don’t have enough scorers, or options, to contend against a suffocating defense like Harvard’s. It also means that Saturday afternoon’s home game against Rhode Island is a must-win, yes a game between a 5-8 team and a 2-11 team can be a must-win. ACC play begins after the contest against the Rams, and Boston College needs to prove that they can at least beat the cellar dwellers of Division 1, in their first year with this new look roster.
6.Northeastern Huskies (3-7): No one wants to forget December 2011 more than Northeastern. If you can remember all the way back to the beginning of the month, the Huskies were 3-1 and ranked third in our power rankings, since then they’ve lost six straight and will have a tough time breaking that streak tonight at Vermont. In their first three games, the Huskies averaged 71 points per game and were giving up 71 points per game; during their losing streak they’ve only managed to score 58 points per game, while still giving up 71 points per game. The offense has been rocky, the defense has struggled to make enough stops for Northeastern’s offense to get back in games and the team has struggled especially on the road (2-5). How do you fix the problem—well a big aspect would be controlling the ball better. Northeastern is 305th in the country in turnover margin at -3 per game and have turned the ball over more than 18 times a game. If they have any chance to beat the Catamounts tonight, they’ll need to improve that area against a talented Vermont squad.
7.Boston University (4-9): There’s not a lot to say about the Terriers; they’ve played a very difficult non-conference schedule and showed a bit of a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde persona. In the Terriers four-game winning streak before their current losing streak, Boston University was aggressive, determined and didn’t give up against superior teams. In their current five-game losing streak, they’ve struggled to keep games close, haven’t shown the same grit in getting back into games and have looked lost at points. Losing D.J. Irving hurts, but the team can’t feel bad for themselves, considering the point guard could be out for an extended period with concussion symptoms. Past Terriers squads have had to deal with similar end-of-year struggles and injuries to major players, and have overcome their issues, to be a major threat in the America East, I’m not as confident about this bunch. It seems like the team struggles in a different aspect of their game each time out. The defense, which was supposed to be a Joe Jones trademark, seems to come and go based on the game and half. Boston University will lose to Quinnipiac Saturday and could extend their losing streak all the way to seven games, before a must-win against Binghamton University in their home opener (January 8).
Game of the Week:
New Year’s Eve: St. Joseph’s Hawks Vs. Harvard University-4 p.m.
Harvard has won 20 consecutive games at the Lavietes Pavilion and are one of the top three mid-majors in the country, while St. Joseph’s (St. Joes) is 10-3 and has an impressive resume with wins over Creighton, Drexel Georgia Tech and Villanova. Both teams have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, though the Hawks will have a much harder time, and could use the win to improve potential seeding in the NCAA Tournament and springboard themselves into the conference season. While Harvard is the better team, St. Joes is one of the few opponents that is as balanced and almost as deep as the Crimson, and they desperately need another win, to improve their chances of getting an at-large bid.