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. Six of the seven teams in the area played last night, so we delayed the rankings a day to give you the best analysis we could, before the brief holiday break.
1. #8 UConn Huskies (10-1): Last week I claimed that it would take a lot to move UConn out of our top spot; I almost ended up eating those words last night. Jim Calhoun's squad "decided it was time to go home for Christmas" a little early against Fairfield Wednesday, and nearly were handed their second loss on the season. It's easy to forget how young the Huskies are because of their vast talent, but they once again fell into the trap of believing they don't have to play a full 40 minutes. The Stags join the ranks of Columbia, Wagner and of course Central Florida, of less talented teams able to mount comebacks against the defending champs. With Jim Calhoun serving out his three game suspension starting this week, it'll be interesting to see if the Huskies will be able to maintain their focus down the stretch. South Florida and St. John's are Big East bottom dwellers but Seton Hall is having a fantastic season and could be a real threat to hand UConn their second loss, if they can't speed up the maturation process.
2. #25 Harvard Crimson (10-1): Harvard had their own big scare Thursday night when Florida Atlantic took a trip to the Lavietes Pavilion. In just their third home game of the season, the Crimson found themselves trailing 41-40 with 13 minutes remaining against a member of the Sun Belt Conference. That's when junior point guard Brandyn Curry took over, he scored eight of the team's final 23 points, to push Harvard to a 63-51 victory. Curry and star forward Keith Wright both finished with a team-high 12 points and Wright earned just his second double-double of the year with 11 rebounds. While UConn has more overall talent, Harvard is so much deeper than the Huskies and can get a big game from any of 10 or 11 different players. No team in the country may be more heavily favored to win their conference this season then Harvard, because of their talent, balance and good health thus far.
3. UMass Minutemen (10-3): Who would've thought that we would have had three teams with double-digit wins before Christmas and one of them wasn't Boston College? Last season it took till January 5 to achieve that feat, when Harvard earned their tenth win of the year, but UMass continued their inspired play Thursday after finishing 15-15 a year ago. Last night against Davidson the Minutemen earned their most impressive win of the year, with a come-from-behind 73-65 victory, on a night that Chaz Williams struggled for much of the game. Just like Harvard, Derek Kellogg is quietly getting contributions from his entire roster, with a different player coming up with a big performance in every game. In their two wins this week (Quinnipiac and Davidson), UMass fell behind at the half and came up with big runs in the second half sparked by their defense, to come away with victories over talented squads. Ten Minutemen are playing regular minutes and everything's clicking for UMass including the schedule. The Minutemen have a winnable non-conference game next week before opening their Atlantic 10 schedule with five teams that were predicted to finish in the bottom half of the league standings.
4. Holy Cross (5-7): When we set out to do these rankings we said we'd take everything into account and that's why Holy Cross jumps up to the fourth spot in this week's rankings. Let's put aside Sunday's loss at UConn as a necessary beating and look at what the team accomplished last night and this season. Holy Cross earned their first victory over an above .500 team Thursday night, despite playing without the team's best player as of late in R.J. Evans, who had suffered from an illness earlier this week. The Crusaders overcame a season-high 28 turnovers as they were lights-out shooting the ball and received huge production from three bench regulars in Evans' absence. Devin Brown (21 points) and David Dudzinski (20 points) led the team but it was Justin Burrell, playing in Evans place, with 12 points and six assists. Junior guard Jordan Stevens added 16 points and a team-high seven assists off the bench and forward Eric Obeysekere earned his first double-double of the year. The Crusaders have proven to be competitive in every game, have great balance and depth--- the statement may be getting old, but BU and BC fans are very envious, and have a chance to compete for a tournament championship in the Patriot League, if not a regular season crown.
5. Boston College (5-7): Who owns the third longest winning streak in the area? The only team that won't win a game in the area; yes, the Eagles are indeed "streaking" as Steve Donahue's young Boston College group is beginning to mesh and mold during the easiest part of the team's non-conference schedule. Donahue has crafted a rotation that is working extremely well together against three mid-majors (Stony Brook, Bryant and Sacred Heart) that have had their own early-season struggles. Lonnie Jackson has joined Patrick Heckmann and Matt Humphrey as one of the team's primary scoring options and forwards Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford get slightly better each game and have been the most consistent Eagles this season. Point guard Jordan Daniels is not much of a scorer, but has done a great job leading the Eagles during the streak. Daniels can use his speed to dart towards the basket, before finding an open player on the perimeter or one of the team's bigs down low. Unfortunately the schedule's about to get immensely more difficult. Harvard looks to finish the Massachusetts sweep of Boston College, (everyone but Northeastern has played and beaten the Eagles), and then the Eagles get Rhode Island, before their ACC slate starts.
6. Northeastern Huskies (3-7): We've reached the bottom of the barrel in the area, at least for now. Northeastern holds the longest, losing streak of any team in this area this season at six and it could even last at least one more game. While the team has struggled with turnovers and poor defense during the span, those haven't been the only issues behind the team's past two losses. Tuesday, Northeastern nearly earned their best win of the year on the road at Louisiana Tech, before the Bulldogs mounted a rally in the final five minutes for a 56-53 win. The Huskies balanced out 21 turnovers with a fantastic showing defensively in the first half, holding Louisiana Tech to 17 first-half points; but Northeastern shot less than 50 percent from the free throw line and were abysmal from the 3-point line, killing any chances of an upset. Last night, the defense was porous at N.C. State giving up a season-high 88 points and allowing State to shoot 52 percent for the game. Northeastern had their worst year under Bill Coen last season, and it was hard to expect the team to finish much stronger this year with their best scorer and lock-down defender, Chaisson Allen, graduating.
7. Boston University (4-8): Boston University is in a world of trouble, at least for the meanwhile. Poor defense? Check. Inconsistent Play? Check. Lack of depth? Check. Injuries to key players? Check. Joe Jones didn't expect a honeymoon in his first year at the helm, but the team's extremely difficult non-conference schedule has led to lots of questions about the Terriers. The Terriers knew they would be out with star forward Jake O'Brien before the season started but the bigger blow came this past week, when it came out that D.J. Irving had suffered a concussion in the team's game last Tuesday against Villanova. Irving is the team's best player and provides opponent's with a lot of matchup problems-that they just don't have without his speed on the floor. At this point, the team has deemed him "day-to-day," but with a concussion, that could mean his return to the lineup next week or next season. If Irving doesn't return or isn't himself when he returns, the team will struggle to finish in the top of the America East standings. Turning to the rest of the roster, the Terriers bench is woefully unproductive, especially with Matt Griffin forced into the starting lineup. Last night against Bucknell, the Terriers guards played fairly well, but the team's big men proved completely unable to stick with the Bison big men on either side of the floor. It's not time to panic yet, but Boston University desperately needs their plucky point guard back, and sooner rather than later.
Starting Five (Top Five Players In The Region Thus Far)
D.J. Irving-Boston University