by TIM SCOTT
With less than a month remaining before Selection Sunday, many NCAA teams are battling for spots in numerous postseason tournaments. Notably, in Division I, there are many battleground conferences that may go down to the wire during the postseason. Also, many teams will have to rely on their talent and ability down the stretch in order to successfully conquer a spot in a tournament.
With that in mind, several New England schools are battling it out in Divisions I, II, and III, and continuing to become beacons of hope and optimism for the fans and students at their colleges.
1. CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (17-7, 7-5 in Big East)
The curious case of the Connecticut Huskies continues to unravel as the season progresses. Even though first year coach Kevin Ollie has done a good job piloting the team after the departure of coaching icon Jim Calhoun, the Huskies won’t be able to participate in the NCAA tournament due to academic ineligibility. Despite this, the Huskies have been keeping steady in the Big East, winning several key games. Recently, the Huskies upset the previously sixth-ranked Syracuse Orange, 66 to 58. With Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright leading the way offensively, the Huskies will play Cincinnati and DePaul before battling #11 Georgetown on Wednesday, February 27.
2. MASSACHUSETTS MINUTEMEN (16-8, 6-5 in A-10)
Even though the Minutemen have had a strong showing in the early going of the season, they still continue to struggle when they need to succeed. This week was a notable example of how the Minutemen needed to perform, but did not. Despite major wins over Rhode Island and Saint Joseph’s, the Minutemen dropped two contests to Virginia Commonwealth and Temple, falling to 6-5 in the Atlantic 10. Along with the loss of guard Jesse Morgan to injury, Chaz Williams needs to step up in a leadership role in order to effectively guide the Minutemen to new heights. With matchups against Saint Bonaventure’s and Dayton, expect to see a competitive Minutemen team looking to fight for their lives.
3. AMHERST LORD JEFFS (23-2, 10-0 in NESCAC DIII)
A triple-overtime thriller over #4 Middlebury propelled the Amherst Lord Jeffs to the number-two ranking in the Division III polls. Willy Workman scored 30 points, while Peter Kaasila contributed 29 for the Lord Jeffs. With another victory over Colby in th NESCAC quarterfinals, Amherst is attempting to make a run towards a Division III championship. With David Hixon at the helm, expect the Lord Jeffs to be a force to be reckoned with in the Division III playoffs.
4. MIDDLEBURY PANTHERS (23-2, 9-1 in NESCAC DIII)
The Middlebury Panthers, who were previously riding a five-game winning streak, fell in triple overtime to the Amherst Lord Jeffs, 104-101, on February 12. Joey Kizel scored 30 points, while the combination of Jake Wolfin and Nolan Thompson each scored 17. Despite the loss, the Panthers will face the Williams Ephs (who beat the Panthers 64-63 in January) in the semifinals of the NESCAC tournament on February 23. Perhaps they will meet again with Amherst, and try to avenge their 104-101 loss.
5. PROVIDENCE COLLEGE FRIARS (14-11, 6-7 in Big East)
Providence College has embarked on a thrilling four-game winning streak, which has reinvigorated their season, and makes them an emerging force in the Big East. With big wins over Cincinnati, South Florida, Villanova, and recently Notre Dame, the Friars have picked up the pace, and look to achieve a high seeding in the Big East Tournament. Led by coach Ed Cooley, the Friars have played good games over the course of the season, including a major 71-54 upset over Notre Dame. The Big East’s leading scorer, junior guard Bryce Cotton, has been supported by Kadeem Batts, LaDontae Henton, and Vincent Council in a major offensive machine. The Friars will play next on Wednesday, when they challenge the Syracuse Orange (AP Rank: #9) at the Carrier Dome.
6. Saint Anselm Hawks (18-3, DII)
Sophomore guard Ron Mabrey (18.3 PPG) and freshman forward Mike McCahey (17.0) leading an offensive sparkplug for Saint Anselm, who are ranked 10th in Division II.
7. Harvard Crimson (14-7, 7-1 in Ivy League)
Sophomore Wesley Saunders (16.7 PPG) and freshman guard Siyani Chambers (13.0) lead a young Harvard squad towards a possible Ivy League title reprise.
8. WPI Engineers (22-1, DIII)
Clinching their ninth straight season with 20+ wins, WPI clinched the top seed in the NEWMAC, and snapped a two game losing streak with a 66-51 win over Clark.
9. Williams Ephs (20-3, DIII)
Along with a notable victory over the Middlebury Panthers, Taylor Epley (18.1 PPG) and Michael Mayer (17.2) have led the Ephs to key wins over Trinity and Bates.
10. Vermont Catamounts (16-9, 9-4 in America East)
Despite a little slide down the America East standings, the Catamounts look to veterans Clancy Rugg (11.0) and Luke Apfield (10.4) as leaders down the stretch.
11. Bryant University Bulldogs (16-8, 9-4 in Northeast)
Two straight losses to Mount Saint Mary’s and Wagners put the Bulldogs in rebound mode, as they play three showdown games before a rematch against Robert Morris.
12. Boston University Terriers (15-11, 9-4 in America East)
The Terriers have picked up steam during America East play, winning four straight games. DJ Irving (14.2 PPG) and Dom Morris (11.6) are the offensive catalysts.
13. Rhode Island College Anchormen (20-3, DIII)
Winning the 2013 Little East Regular Season title, leading scorers Nyheem Sanders (11.8) and Tahrike Carter (10.5) look to lead RIC to another NCAA title berth.
14. MIT Engineers (17-4, DIII)
Despite early season struggles, the Engineers won seven consecutive games, including a 66-60 win over WPI, to clinch a spot in the NEWMAC semifinals against Springfield.
15. Northeastern University Huskies (17-10, 10-3 in Colonial)
Despite consecutive losses to Delaware and UNC-Wilmington, the Huskies still have a strong hold over the CAA, and look to avenge those losses in the final three games.
16. Fairfield Stags (16-11, 8-7 in MAAC)
With four games remaining, Derek Needham (14.8) looks to be a key player as the Stags try to gain strong footing before the MAAC playoffs begin.
17. Brandeis Judges (17-7, DIII)
Leading scorers Gabiel Moton (14.6) and Ben Bartoldus (10.1) hope to lead Brandeis to a strong ranking in UAA play down the stretch, playing NYU on Saturday night.
18. Springfield College Pride (18-7, DIII)
Following a three-game winning streak, the Pride look to be the spoiler as they play a resilient MIT Engineers squad (whom they defeated, 56-53 back in January) on Saturday.
19. Curry College Colonels (18-7, DIII)
The Colonels, who rallied to two consecutive wins to end the season, look to be a challenge to Western New England in the quarterfinals of the CCC Tournament.
20. Westfield State Owls (21-4, DIII)
Entering as the number-one seed in the MASCAC tournament, the Owls finished the 2012-2013 regular season on a strong nine game winning streak.