Here's the fourth 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. Yes Holy Cross fans, that means even the Crusaders can make some major moves in our rankings.
1. Harvard Crimson (8-0): First let's stop to congratulate Tommy Amaker and the Crimson for earning their first ever national ranking and the first for the Ivy League in over a decade. Harvard followed up their impressive performance in the Bahamas with a win against one of the toughest programs in New England last Thursday, when they beat Vermont. Playing in Burlington, Harvard struggled to put away the Catamounts and needed their trademark lockdown defense and some key free throws to put away the America East contender. Freshmen Jonah Travis proved the difference in Sunday's win over Seattle, with his first career double-double (19 points and 10 rebounds) in 19 minutes of play. The fact that Harvard has received huge contributions from several freshmen already this season, means the Crimson will be set to compete for years to come, a scary thought for Ivy League fans.
2. UConn Huskies (7-1): The rotation that Jim Calhoun was able to throw out the first few weeks was impressive, add in Ryan Boatright, and they're just downright scary. The freshmen guard has been dominant in two games thus far, helping UConn to wins over Florida State and then a win over Arkansas in the BIG East-SEC Challenge. With Boatright in the lineup, the team has seven rotation players that could start for almost any team in the country, and it takes some of the pressure off of Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier to create. The team's biggest problem at this point is getting consistent production out of their ultra-talented, but wildly unpredictable big men. Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond were both named to preseason watch lists, but haven't been able to put together a string of strong performances in a row.
3. UMass Minutmen (7-3): The muddled middle of our power rankings begins with Derek Kellogg's squad. All three of these teams (UMass, BU, Northeastern) have shown sparks of brilliance, but have struggled to avoid long stretches of poor basketball. UMass earns the third spot not only because of their record but because of their unique style of play that has helped them defeat all the teams they were supposed to. Saturday's loss to Miami was expected, but the Minutemen showed great heart in fighting their way back into the game after trailing by 11 in the second half. Chaz Williams has been one of the best players in the region all year and Jesse Morgan has broken out over the past five games. If UMass can get some more consistent results out of their big men, they still could surprise some of the elite teams in the Atlantic Ten.
4. Boston University (4-5): Yes, the Terriers lost their head-to-head matchup with the Huskies at home, but I think Boston University has turned the first of several corners this season. Coach Joe Jones has designed a system that works for the Terriers: Darryl Partin is the go-to scorer, D.J. Irving, Travis Robinson and Dom Morris are the team's secondary scorers and everyone plays defense and keys on rebounding. In the team's four-game winning streak that ended last night against St. Joseph's, Partin averaged 24.9 ppg, moving him up to third in the country. The emergence of Robinson and Morris as scorers in the past two games and the team's propensity for late-game-comebacks, will make them a difficult out in America East.
5. Northeastern Huskies (3-4): This week's biggest losers dropped two games against fellow mid-majors in similar fashion. After holding leads early in the second half, Northeastern let Old Dominion and Bradley go on big runs to break open the game and failed to ever seriously get back into the game. Northeastern has now lost three in a row and a big part of it has been the team's 3-point shooting and a discrepancy from the free throw line. Over the past three games, the Huskies have shot just 23.6 percent from behind the line while opponents have connected on 38 percent of their shots. Add in the fact that Old Dominion and Bradley took a combined 33 more free throws than the Huskies and it becomes quite clear why the Huskies are struggling. The bright spot has been freshmen forward Quincy Ford, who recorded new career-highs in points against both teams, finishing with 18 points and seven rebounds on the road against Bradley.
6. Holy Cross (3-6): A 1-2 week is never something a team's going to be happy about but a week that involves two losses within the final 25 seconds is heartbreaking. Holy Cross dropped road contests to Providence (82-77) and Columbia (46-45) over the past week with the second loss being especially crushing. The Crusaders gave up a 20-point first half lead and had a chance to win the game with under five seconds to play. Instead their final shot was off the mark and a Columbia player was fouled on the rebound, leading to the game-winning free throw. Milan Brown's squad was expected to be the runt of the group, despite being among the upper echelon of the Patriot League, but they've shown a fantastic determination and have been in every game but one. As tough as the two losses were-and they were brutal, the emergence of Dave Dudzinski as a third scorer should give Crusaders some solace.
7. Boston College (2-6): We knew it was going to be bad in Newton, but a double digit loss against Boston University is a new low for the Eagles. The Eagles had won eight in a row against the Terriers dating back to 1974 and struggled mightily against their Commonwealth Avenue neighbors. Boston College is struggling in every aspect of games and it's hard to point out many bright spots outside of the consistency of forwards Dennis Clifford and Ryan Anderson. Freshmen guard Lonnie Jackson has given Eagles fans another reason to smile with 41 points in his last three games, after hardly playing in the team's first five games. It's still very early, but if the Eagles can't come up with at least two victories against Stony Brook, Bryant and Sacred Heart, the team could very easily fail to reach five wins this season.
Starting Five (Top 5 Players In The Region Thus Far)
Chaz Williams (G-UMass)
Darryl Partin (G-Boston University)
Shabazz Napier (G-UConn)
Keith Wright (F-Harvard)
Kyle Casey (F-Harvard)