2012 hasn't been kind thus far to area teams, who own a 1-5 record in the year's first four days. Even with a loss Tuesday, Harvard leaped into the top spot because of serious question marks about UConn going forward.
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 (12-2): How does a team lose a game and still move up to the top spot? Well the Crimson have shown that if they have a serious Achilles heel, it's an opponent that has strong big men, speedy guards and a lockdown defense. Looking at the Crimson schedule going forward, there's exactly zero teams that can brag about all three of those things, at least not at the same caliber as UConn or Fordham. The Fordham loss was surprising and will hurt the team if they do make the NCAA Tournament, but doesn't raise a lot of questions, especially after Saturday's big comeback against St. Joseph's. In the win, Kyle Casey broke out of a mini-slump with a huge game and Keith Wright continued his consistent play. The Harvard bigs are playing great basketball and that means they'll be extremely difficult to beat throughout the Ivy League schedule.
2. UConn Huskies (12-2, 2-1 Big East): Sorry Huskies fans but Tuesday's loss against Seton Hall wasn't much of a surprise. Andre Drummond might not have known who Herb Pope was going into the game, but he and the rest of the Huskies certainly know about Pope and the rest of the Pirates big men. In an extremely physical game, the UConn big men were pushed around and lost all the major statistical categories inside, as the Huskies showed their youth and lack of leadership. Even in Saturday's win the Huskies once again showed they were far from finding a consistent winning formula, as they let another opponent make a late-game comeback, after holding a big lead. The Huskies have the talent to beat any team in the nation, they have the talent to make a run to the Final Four, if not a national tournament, but they are far from reaching their potential because of recurring trends. If they can play more physically inside, learn how to finish games and get more aggressive play out of Jeremy Lamb, they'll earn the top spot back.
3. UMass Minutemen (11-3): UMass turned in their best performance of the year Friday when they dominated Central Connecticut State from the opening tip. However, the game didn't bring all good news, as talented freshmen Cady Lalanne was injured late in the game and will miss four to six weeks with a foot injury. Without Lalanne, UMass only has eight fresh bodies until second-stringer Matt Hill makes his return from an injury. The Minutemen have been so successful this season because of their ability to press opponents for 40 minutes and play with high-energy; so the question becomes how will the shorter rotation affect UMass? With Atlantic 10 conference play about to begin, the Minutemen will be playing games roughly every three days, against very talented and motivated opponents. Expect the Minutemen to struggle a little bit more in late game situations because of their lack of bodies, and really struggle whenever the team gets into serious foul trouble. The beneficiary of the injury is senior Sean Carter, who will get increased minutes at the center position.
4. Holy Cross Crusaders (6-8): Does anyone really want the fourth spot in our power rankings? After two big wins in a row, Holy Cross was thumped by Yale Tuesday, 82-67 in a game that wasn't close for most of the way. Yale is a pretty talented team and was playing at home, but Holy Cross just couldn't do anything to slow down the Bulldogs in the paint. Just like UConn, the Crusaders strength is in their backcourt, with players like Devin Brown, R.J. Evans and Justin Burrell but they need more from their forwards. Dave Dudzinski has been better than expected all season long, but he and center Phil Beans combined for just seven rebounds against Yale. To put matters in perspective, Yale forward Greg Mangano, one of the best big men in the Ivy League, pulled down 13 rebounds. Holy Cross could be in trouble if they don't get more from Dudzinski and Beans because there are several Mangano-esque players in the Patriot League, that can dominate the paint in the same way.
5. Northeastern Huskies (5-8, 1-2): The only three teams that technically play within Boston proper are once the bottom three teams in our power rankings. Northeastern earns the fifth spot, after showing some signs of life in their past three games. The Huskies broke a six-game slide with a mini two-game winning streak this weekend and were competitive last night against UNC-Wilmington in a 70-62 loss. While the loss to UNC-Wilmington is certainly frustrating, the Huskies played a solid game and were even in almost every statistical category, except for the charity stripe. The Seahawks won at Matthews Arena for the first time, by hitting 24-of-26 free throws (92.3 percent), while the Huskies only managed 11 attempts in the loss. Bill Coen certainly expected some better results in the wins column this season but has to be happy with the play of freshmen Quincy Ford and Reggie Spencer. The two big men have been the best young forwards in the area, slightly better than BC's duo of Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford, and both will likely earn All-Rookie honors in the CAA.
6. Boston College Eagles (5-9): Boston College blew their final best chance at a victory on Monday and Eagles fans might be left focusing on moral victories until next fall. Steve Donahue has made great strides in bringing his young roster together and making them competitive, but ACC play begins Saturday and team's like UNC are going to pick apart all of the issues that have been left unresolved. The team's core group of freshmen are slowly gelling and creating a solid group going forward, although more talent will have to be infused for them to compete for anything serious in the future but the real surprise has been the play of Matt Humphrey. The Oregon transfer was highly touted as a big-time scorer but he has struggled mightily. In 13 starts, Humphrey is averaging 9.6 points in 29.1 minutes per game but is shooting just 30 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc. UConn's Alex Oriakhi is the only other player that falls in the same realm of early-season disappointment and Oriakhi's status is influenced by his poor twitter choices, as well as his middling play.
7. Boston University Terriers (4-10): The Terriers can argue that they've played the 98th most difficult non-conference schedule in the country but that's about the silver lining Boston University fans can take heading into conference play. They are still clearly adjusting to new head coach Joe Jones' system and the team's defense comes and goes regularly. Outside of Darryl Partin, there are no consistent contributors on the offensive end with D.J. Irving out and the team has struggled to be competitive inside, despite bringing back everyone but John Holland from a season ago. Boston University is the enigma of the group, the Terriers still are the third most likely team to win their conference tournament and probably have the fourth best chance overall to make the NCAA tournament. Nonetheless, March is a long ways away and that's probably a good thing for a Terriers squad that has lost six in a row.
Starting Five (Top Five Players In the Region Thus Far)
Jeremy Lamb (UConn)
Chaz Williams (UMass)
Keith Wright (Harvard)
Devin Brown (Holy Cross)
Kyle Casey (Harvard)