While the top two teams in our power rankings are bogging down, four teams in the middle of our rankings have gotten off to quick starts in conference play. Boston University and Northeastern have set poor December's aside are suddenly playing well, while UConn is in dire need of a solution.
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. Harvard Crimson (14-2, 1-0 Ivy League): Harvard is in cruise control right now and that's a seriously bad thing for a Crimson team playing with so much at stake. In their past four games, Harvard dropped a winnable game at Fordham, had huge scares against St. Joseph' s and Monmouth and didn't look overly impressive against Dartmouth in their Ivy League opener. The Crimson are good enough to continue cruising for the foreseeable future without any devastating results, but the Ivy League has at least one team (Princeton) that is good enough to potentially steal away the league's bid. Playing without starting guard Christian Webster Tuesday, Harvard struggled through a slow 34 minutes, before Keith Wright bailed them out. Wright finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds in 31 minutes, as he continued his strong play as of late. Hopefully with a renewed Wright and three straight road leagues game ahead, Harvard can snap out of it, before their play really costs them.
2. UConn Huskies (13-3, 3-2 Big East): If I'm down on Harvard right now, I have UConn in the gutter, after an extremely uninspiring first five Big East games. The UConn faithful can write off the first three games, including a big loss to Seton Hall, to not having Jim Calhoun on the bench-but Saturday's loss at Rutgers was more of the same. There is a major leadership hole on this team and until it is solved, the Huskies will be nothing more than a very talented but underachieving team. Alex Oriakhi, the guy who was expected to step up and lead as a junior, has fallen into Calhoun's doghouse and his numbers have seriously declined because of it. Even with Andre Drummond keeping the frontcourt afloat, and the freshmen has started to turn the corner, the Huskies sorely needed Oriakhi to be the guy who kept everyone calm and focused in tight games. Instead the Huskies wilted in New Jersey twice in a week and haven't looked that much better in wins over South Florida, St. John's and West Virginia; the Huskies need to turn it around if they have any chance to beat the elite big East teams this year.
3. UMass Minutemen (12-4, 2-1 Atlantic 10): If not for a dismal first half in Philadelphia Sunday, UMass would have occupied the second spot in the week's rankings. The Minutemen have definitely been affected by the loss of Cady Lalanne in their first three conference games but haven't let it hurt them too much, as several players have picked up the slack. Forwards Raphiael Putney and Terrell Vinson and senior center Sean Carter have all increased their production in the past three games in helping UMass post wins over Fordham and Charlotte. Putney might be the most important of the three because he's just a redshirt sophomore. While his rebounding numbers could be higher (4.9rbg), his agility, athleticism and scoring prowess (8.9ppg), gives head coach Derek Kellogg a pretty good core for the next three years between Putney and Chaz Williams. In their two games this week, the Minutemen showed they could handle some adversity, even when not playing their best. In Sunday's loss at LaSalle, UMass nearly overcame a 26-point halftime deficit and last night the Minutemen overcame Charlotte behind their free throw shooting, when the 49ers weren't affected by the UMass press.
4. Boston University Terriers (6-11, 2-1 America East): Boston University's rise to the middle of our rankings this week can be attributed to last night's huge road win at the hottest team in America East, the Maine Black Bears. After losing seven game in a row, the Terriers have won two consecutively and look like a completely different team with D.J. Irving back. The speedy point guard led Boston University to wins over Binghamton and Maine by averaging: 14.5 points, 8.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and only one turnover per game. Darryl Partin has been the biggest benefactor of Irving's return. In the past two games, Partin has hit 47.2 (17-36) percent of his shots and averaged 22 points per game, both above his season averages. Irving's absence affected another senior as well, as backup point guard Matt Griffin has played his best basketball of the season since Irving went out six games ago, helping him forget an extremely rough start to the year. With Irving back in the lineup, the Terriers seem much more confident offensively and have their swagger back on the defensive end as well. We'll see if they can assert themselves as the top team in the conference, when the Terriers host two more of the top teams in America East, with Stony Brook on Saturday and Albany on Monday.
5. Holy Cross Crusaders (8-8, 2-0 Patriot League): Just like the Terriers, the Crusaders are riding a two-game winning streak and knocked off one of the top teams in their conference this past week. Holy Cross earned their fifth and sixth consecutive home wins this week, when they downed Lehigh (84-73) and Navy (73-69). Saturday's win over Lehigh was huge for the Crusaders for many reasons. First, Lehigh was picked second in the preseason coaches' poll, with Holy Cross at number three; the Crusaders could ill afford a loss at the Hart Center to begin their conference season, especially with the team's 1-7 road record. The fashion in which the Crusaders knocked down Lehigh was just as important; Holy Cross jumped out to a 19-point first half lead and never let Lehigh back into the game. Sophomore forward Dave Dudzinski had a career day with 23 points, eight rebounds and five blocks to lead the Crusaders in the win and Devin Brown added 20 points. The senior was just as good against Navy, pouring in a team-high 22 points to give Holy Cross its second consecutive 2-0 start in the Patriot League. Holy Cross has two more winnable games this week, when they visit American and host Lafayette.
6. Northeastern Huskies (7-8, 3-2 Colonial Athletic Association): Northeastern has won two in a row and four of their past five games after an abysmal December. The defense has been the biggest difference during the current streak, with the Huskies holding their past five opponents to just 57 points per game. This week, Northeastern took the road for a pair against two of the bottom teams in the CAA and came away with a convincing win at James Madison, before narrowly escaping Hofstra last night with a 64-62 win. Jonathan Lee led the way over Hofstra with 21 points, including the game-winner, and co-captain Joel Smith added 19 points. The pair of captains has been fantastic in leading the Huskies to their three wins over CAA opponents, but Northeastern still has yet to beat a team that doesn't occupy the bottom of the conference standings. They'll get two great chances this week to beat teams in the middle of the pack in the CAA, when they host William & Mary (Saturday) and Georgia State (Wednesday).
7. Boston College (5-10, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference): It's time to look for moral victories if you're a Boston College fan, as the Eagles enter their ACC slate. While the conference is certainly not having its greatest season, every team is certainly more experienced, at least slightly more talented and definitely more battle tested than the young Eagles. Saturday's performance against North Carolina was a strong showing for Boston College in its ACC opener. Despite losing by 23 on the road, Boston College never gave up and even cut the deficit to nine with 9:19 remaining, before the Tar Heels put the game away. The good news was that sophomore Gabe Moton and junior Matt Humphrey played some of their basketball of the season against UNC, taking some of the load off the team's five freshmen starters. On the other hand, starting point guard Jordan Daniels provided Moton with that opportunity, as he really struggled against UNC. Daniels managed to stay out on the court for just six minutes and recorded one rebound and one foul, not what you're looking for from your starting point guard. This week the Eagles will have to face off against Clemson and Virginia Tech.
Starting Five (Top Five Players In The Region Thus Far)
Jeremy Lamb (UConn)
Chaz Williams (UMass)
Keith Wright (Harvard)
D.J. Irving (Boston University)
Devin Brown (Holy Cross)