League play has given some better insight into each team and it's given us some surprising results. Boston University and Northeastern have recovered from rough December's to rise to the top of their leagues, while UMass and UConn are struggling with some major question marks.
Here's the eight 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 (15-2, 1-0 Ivy League): One game, one win and continued home domination for the Crimson. Harvard earned their 23rd consecutive win at the Lavietes Pavilion Saturday when they beat down on George Washington 69-48. Freshmen forward Steve Mondou-Missi had a career-day with 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting in just 19 minutes of action. Mondou-Missi became the fourth Crimson freshmen to record double-digit points this season and that's been a big part of why the Crimson are set up for a huge conference season. Most teams would be fortunate to bring back everyone from a 23-7 NIT team, but the Crimson freshmen continue to make an impact in pivotal moments while competing for minutes against the team's veterans. We'll see how the freshmen hold up in league play, as Harvard will play on the road for their next three games, including a tough road test next Friday at 11-4 Yale.
2. UConn Huskies (14-4, 4-3 Big East): For the first time all season I debated putting someone other than the Huskies or Crimson in one of the two spots, unfortunately we'll have to wait another week for that to happen. UConn continued their recent struggles, dropping their third game in five contests, but at least they kept it close Wednesday. Cincinnati handed the Huskies their first home loss of the season when Sean Kilpatrick knocked down a 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds to go. The scary part about the loss is that UConn is looking more and more like a middle of the pack team in the Big East, rather than a top contender. Already they've dropped contests to a middling Rutgers squad and to two surprising contenders in the Big East (Seton Hall and Cincinnati), while three of their four conference wins have come against teams in the bottom half of the conference. There's still time to turn it around, but it will be difficult without Ryan Boatright who's suspended for the second time this season because of ongoing NCAA investigations.
3. Boston University (8-11, 5-1 America East): Let the discourse begin, I said from the start that we would focus on more than just a team's record and the Terriers have a slight edge over UMass and Northeastern because of their recent play and conference resume. Boston University has won five in a row after a loss in their conference opener and they've done it by beating three of the best four teams in America East, and winning on the road. Already the Terriers have grabbed two road wins, including a win over the hottest team at the time, the University of Maine. D.J. Irving's return has stabilized a team that was in shambles and helped the team's charge all the way to a share of first place in the America East Conference. The reigning conference Player of the Week has averaged 14.6 points per game, 6.6 assists per game, a 2.75 assist-to-turnover ratio and has hit 47 percent of his shot over the past five games. Just as importantly he's stabilized the team's defense. The Terriers are allowing just 55.8 points per game and have held opponents to less than 60 points four times in the five-game win streak, they managed that just once during the team's first 11 games.
4. Northeastern University (9-8, 5-2 CAA): Northeastern has been just as hot as the Terriers and earned their signature win of the season Wednesday when they held off conference leader Georgia State 60-57 at Matthews Arena. While the Huskies have won four in a row, own a victory over the Terriers and have the better overall record, Northeastern stays behind Boston University because of their lack of wins over quality opponents on the road and more importantly the depth of the CAA. While the Terriers pop out as one of the top two teams in the America East, the Huskies 5-2 record in conference puts them in a four way tie for second, behind 6-1 George Mason and Old Dominion. The Huskies hold a 1-1 record against those top five teams, with Wednesday's home win over Georgia State and a December loss at Old Dominion. Maybe I'm being overly critical of the young Huskies, but I just don't see them as a contender in the conference this season-four of the team's wins have come against the pushovers of the league. That all could change in the next week though; Northeastern has road contests against Drexel Saturday and a chance at redemption against Old Dominion Monday. Win one of the two and I'll be impressed, win two and Northeastern becomes one of the teams to beat in the conference.
5. UMass Minutemen (14-5, 3-2 Atlantic 10): The sky's not falling in Amherst but the Minutemen have a serious problem: they can't beat a quality opponent on the road. 10 of UMass' wins have come at home, with an 11th coming on a "neutral court" 30 miles away from campus. Heck if you include the team's win over Boston College at the Conte Forum, UMass is 12-0 in the state of Massachusetts and just 2-5 everywhere else. Wednesday's loss at Duquesne occurred in typical fashion; UMass turned the ball over a season-high 29 times and hit just five 3-pointers on 25 percent shooting. In the team's five losses this season, they've averaged five more turnovers per game than in wins (19.8 -14.4) and hit just 20 percent of their 3-point shots, compared to 38 percent in wins. UMass' leading scorer and playmaker Chaz Williams has struggled mightily in four of the five team's losses and will have to get on track on the road if UMass is going to stay competitive in the Atlantic 10. He'll get another chance on the road Saturday when UMass visits Richmond.
6. Holy Cross (8-10, 2-2 Patriot League): The Crusaders suffered their worst loss of the season last night when they dropped a 54-43 league contest to Lafayette. It was just the second loss for the Crusaders against a team outside of the top 200 in RPI and Holy Cross' second loss at home all season (Harvard). To make matters worse, it was the Crusaders second-straight Patriot League loss and makes Saturday's task at Bucknell even more difficult. Holy Cross will look to avoid falling below .500 in conference play, while riding their first losing streak since November, all against one of the top two teams in the Patriot League. Not what you'd call an easy task, especially when you look at the team's personnel. Junior R.J. Evans and sophomore Dave Dudzinski have been the team's second and third best players all season long but the pair have been nonexistent in the past two games. In back-to-back double digit losses, the pair has combined for 12 points on 3-24 shooting, with Dudzinski failing to make a field goal in either game. The lone good news has been senior guard Mike Cavataio, he's averaged eight points and seven rebounds in the two losses in his fourth and fifth games of the season.
7. Boston College Eagles (7-11, 2-2 ACC): Steve Donahue's bunch had the most surprising week of anyone this week. Boston College knotched back-to-back squeakers over Clemson and Virginia Tech last week, before coming back to earth last night at N.C. State. While everyone (myself included) thought that the Eagles would be pushovers in the ACC, the team has shown that they've come a long way in their first year together. Freshmen center Dennis Clifford was the leader in both wins last week, with a team-high 15 points in both wins. Clifford was the go-to guy down the stretch against Clemson and earned the ACC Rookie of the Week honors for his play. He's grown a lot from the beginning of the season when it seemed like he was trying to do a little too much and was often out of control. It's great news for the Eagle, whose guards have struggled mightily against the backcourts of their ACC opponents.
Starting Five (Top Five Players In The Region Thus Far)
Jeremy Lamb (UConn)
Chaz Williams (UMass)
D.J. Irving (Boston University)
Keith Wright (Harvard)
Jonathan Lee (Northeastern)