New England can't claim a national champion this year, nor can it claim having the best player in the nation or even claiming as many postseason bids as the 2010-11 season could, but that doesn't mean this year was a dud by any means. In fact, 2011-12 will be remembered for its history, for the resurgence of a dormant program and for the roller coaster ride that was the UConn season.
And while no team dominated the area or the spotlight, the region did come together to destroy a very good Florida State team with wins from upstart Harvard, powerhouse Florida State and rebuilding Boston College. Without further ado, here's our 10 awards for the best and worst of the 2011-12 season.
TEAM OF THE YEAR: HARVARD: Sixty six years ago, the Crimson made their first trip to the NCAA Tournament, more than a half-century later they made their return journey back to the Big Dance. Led by the same group of players that suffered last season's heartbreaking loss to Princeton in the Ivy League Play-in Game, the Crimson were the class of the league this season finishing 26-5 and 12-2 in league play. While Harvard failed to make it out of the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament just like UConn and Vermont, the Crimson not only led the region in wins, but also broke into the national standings for the first time since the 1997-98 season and stayed there for much of the year. Add in the fact that the team returns three starters and 17 of 20 players on the roster and all but two major contributors and the Crimson aren't going anywhere next year.
Honorable Mention: UMass, Vermont.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR: UConn's Lack Of Success: Expecting a repeat of last season's success would be unfair, especially with Kemba Walker leaving Storrs for the glory of the NBA, but even with lowered expectations, the Huskies vastly underachieved for a defending champion and a team picked fourth in both national preseason polls. Jim Calhoun's squad managed to win 20 games and lost to a talented Iowa State team in the Big Dance, but the fact that the Huskies woes can entirely be attributed to the team's lack of effort and cohesion, rather than a dearth of talent is what makes this UConn team so disappointing.
After a 14-1 start, UConn finished the season 6-10 and in the middle of the Big East during a down season for the conference. The Huskies were unpredictable in the most frustrating of ways, with top talent like Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Andre Drummond going from red-hot to completely silent in the span of a game, a half or even a media timeout. With the exception of Ryan Boatright, the Huskies had their full roster available and healthy all season long and yet never seemed to gel, letting teams with less talent and more injuries out-hustle them on a game-to-game basis.
Honorable Mention: UMass' Resurgence.
GAME OF THE YEAR, Part 1: UPenn 55, Harvard 54 (2/25): In the lead up to UPenn-Harvard, the game was billed as the biggest home game in recent memory at Harvard and it lived up to the hype. The game not only featured the top two teams in the Ivy League, but with a win Harvard would all but clinch the league' auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1946. Add in the fact that it was Senior Day for Harvard and the Crimson had won 28 consecutive games at the Lavieties Pavilion and that seemingly every Boston media member crammed into the 2,200 season arena, alongside hundreds of passionate Harvard students and it had all the makings of a classic.
After a sluggish beginning to the first half, Harvard seemed to gain control of the game with a 30-22 lead with six seconds left in the half. The Quakers showed their resilience and the beginning of things to come though with an uncontested layup to end the half. Harvard dominated the first 12 minutes of the second half to build a 49-40 lead, but the Quakers had an answer. Led by senior guard Zach Rosen, the Quakers closed the game on a 15-5 run behind 11 points from Rosen. Each possession became a battle between Rosen and the vaunted Harvard defense, with Rosen eventually winning the war after a questionable charge call on Harvard with five seconds to go.
GAME OF THE YEAR, Part 2: Northeastern 82, Boston University 74 Overtime (11/11): It might not have included a buzzer-beater winner but the season-opener between these two Boston-areas teams had everything else. Played in front of an above capacity crowd at Case Gymnasium, the game featured 12 ties and 14 lead changes and a huge Terrier comeback that forced overtime. With the Celtics still months from playing, the Terriers and Huskies put on a show for basketball fans desperate for a show.
Trailing by 11 points with just over four minutes to play, Boston University finished the game on a 13-2 run to tie the game at 64 with 34 seconds remaining. In the final 34 seconds, both teams had chances to win the game but their leading scorers missed a free throw and D.J. Irving's three with two seconds remaining was blocked by Northeastern's Jonathan Lee. The Terriers held a slim one-possesion lead for the first half of the overtime session, before the Huskies finished the game with an 12-3 run.
Honorable Mention: UConn 78, Florida State 76 Overtime (11/26), Holy Cross 54, Bucknell 52 (2/18)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chaz Williams (UMass): The red-shirt sophomore point guard was not only the fastest and most exciting player in the region, but also the most valuable. In his first year with the Minutemen, Williams led the team in scoring (16.9 ppg), assists (6.2 apg), steals (2.2 spg), 3-pt field goal percentage (41.9 percent), free throw percentage (78.8 percent) and minutes per game (34.9 mpg). Add in the fact that Williams pulled down 4.4 rebounds per game and you can't find a more complete player, especially considering his 5'9", 175 frame. But Williams significance can't be portrayed by sheer numbers alone. His teammates and coaches describe him as the leader on and off the floor and his play almost always dictated how the rest of the Minutemen would play. Considering UMass finished 25-12, Williams had a lot more good games, than bad.
Honorable Mention: Darryl Partin (B.U.), Jeremy Lamb (UConn)
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Quincy Ford (Northeastern): Andre Drummond might be a popular pick and his numbers are certainly just as good, but Ford meant more for his team than the much more heralded UConn big man. Ford finished third on the Huskies in scoring (11.5 ppg) and second in rebounding (5 rbg) while starting 20 games for Bill Coen. He also was a central part of the Huskies transformation from an abysmal rebounding team to an average team in the glass, which was no small feat considering the team's leading rebounder graduated. What really put Ford ahead of Drummond in my book though was his performance in the CAA Tournament. Rather than shying away from the spotlight, Ford averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in two games, including a near upset of host VCU.
Honorable Mention: Andre Drummond (UConn), Ryan Anderson (Boston College)
COACH OF THE YEAR: Derek Kellogg (UMass): After three subpar seasons to begin his career at his alma mater, Kellogg not only saved his job, but brought UMass back to the national stage with a trip to Madison Square Garden and the NIT Semifinals. The key to his success, switching the Minutemen's style from a slow-it down dribble-drive system, to a frenzied pace built around the team's full-court press. While most coaches might have been hesitant to make such a drastic change from what they were familiar with, Kellogg confidently made the move, knowing it would be what best suited his roster. The switch turned out pretty well, considering UMass won 25 games for just the sixth time in program history and reached the Atlantic 10 Semifinals for the first time in over a decade.
Honorable Mention: Tommy Amaker (Harvard), John Becker (Vermont)
Chaz Williams (UMass)
Jeremy Lamb (UConn)
Darryl Partin (Boston University)
Jonathan Lee (Northeastern)
Keith Wright (Harvard)
Honorable Mention: Devin Brown (Holy Cross), Kyle Casey (Harvard), D.J. Irving (Boston University)
All-REGION ROOKIE TEAM
Quincy Ford (Northeastern)
Andre Drummond (UConn)
Ryan Anderson (Boston College)
Dennis Clifford (Boston College)
Justin Burrell (Holy Cross)
Four McGlynn (Vermont)
All Region: "Guys I'd Want On My Team" Team (Non-Stars Who Would Help Any Team)
Ryan Boatright (UConn)
Sean Carter (UMass)
R.J. Evans (Holy Cross)
Reggie Spencer (Northeastern)
Laurent Rivard (Harvard)
Malik Thomas (Boston University)
Patrick Heckmann (Boston College)