Competitive College Basketball Season Hits Halfway Mark in Massachusetts

After starting the season just 6-6, Cady Lalanne and UMass have some work to do in order to earn a second straight NCAA Tournament berth (Photo via NBCSports.com).

by MATT HOSMAN

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, six Division 1 basketball teams are vying for berths in the postseason. Generally, teams from Massachusetts are competitive nationally, and this season is no different. The teams span a wide range of leagues, giving fans the chance to see them compete against schools from all over the country. Regularly, these teams compete for their respective league championships and berths in the NIT and NCAA tournaments. A seventh team, UMass Lowell, is not eligible for postseason contention due to its NCAA reclassification last season but has improved steadily over its first year-plus as a Division 1 program.

Boston College (ACC)
Record: 6-4
Key Wins: Providence, New Mexico
Key Losses: Massachusetts, Dayton, USC
Remaining Non-Conference games: UMass Lowell, Harvard
Key home ACC games: UNC, Notre Dame, Louisville, Virginia
ACC Tournament: March 10-14 in Greensboro, N.C.

With two key players from last year’s 8-22 team transferring out (Ryan Anderson to Arizona and Joe Rahon to St. Mary’s), the Eagles look will look to younger players and their veteran captain Dennis Clifford to provide leadership. So far, BC has been paced by returner Oliver Hanlan (16.0 ppg) and Southern Miss transfer Aaron Brown (15.5 ppg). First-year coach Jim Christian has seen BC be competitive in every game, with their biggest loss only being 12 points. The Eagles have one more important non-conference game coming up as they host UMass Lowell on Dec. 29 before opening their ACC schedule at Duke on Jan. 3.

Massachusetts (Atlantic 10)
Record: 6-6
Key Wins: Boston College, Florida State, Northeastern
Key Losses: Harvard, Providence, LSU
Non-Conference games remaining: Iona
Key Home A-10 matchups: Davidson, Rhode Island, Dayton
A-10 Tournament: March 11-15 at Barclays Center, Brooklyn

The Minutemen have had one of the better offenses in the country this season averaging 73.7 points per game, but they have struggled on the defensive end, as they are 308th in points allowed per game (73.5). Veteran forwards Maxie Esho (14.2 ppg) and Cady Lalanne (13.3 ppg) lead the scoring for UMass, but they have not found their guard play. In the absence of starter Seth Berger, Jabarie Hinds, a transfer from West Virgina, has stepped in and filled his role. The Minutemen host Iona on Dec. 30 before beginning Atlantic 10 play on Jan. 3 against St. Bonaventure. They look to make it back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.

Boston University (Patriot)
Record: 3-7
Key Wins: Norfolk State, Quinnipiac
Key Losses: Northeastern, UNH, Harvard, UMass-Lowell
Non-Conference games remaining: Wentworth
Key home Patriot League games: Holy Cross, American, Bucknell, Army
Patriot League Tournament: March 3-11; games played at the home of the higher seed

3-7 Boston University has taken their lumps a little bit this season, taking some teams deep into games, but struggling to get over the top and finish games. Cedric Hankerson has been the high scorer for the Terriers thus far, averaging a solid 19.0 points per game. He also averages 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, showing his versatility on the court. John Papale is another key name for Terrier fans, contributing 9.5 ppg and 4.0 assists. BU took a tough road trip to #1 Kentucky in November and trailed only 40-35 at the half before ultimately falling 89-65 in Lexington. The Terriers have a busy week this week, hosting Division 3 Wentworth on Dec. 29 and traveling to Holy Cross on Dec. 31 before opening Patriot League play the next week. Former BC assistant Joe Jones looks to take the Terriers back to the NCAA tournament, where they were ousted last year by Illinois.

Northeastern (CAA)
Record: 7-4
Key Wins: Boston University, Florida State, Santa Clara
Key Losses: Harvard, Massachusetts, St. Mary’s, Cal Poly
Remaining Non-Conference games: Richmond, Detroit
Key Home CAA Games: UNCW, College of Charleston, Towson, Drexel
CAA Tournament: March 6-9 in Baltimore, Md.

The Huskies of Northeastern started their off strong, winning each of their first four games before a loss to UMass took them off their path. The Huskies play very unselfish basketball, averaging 14.9 assists per game. Senior Scott Eatherton leads NU in scoring at 16.4 ppg. Junior guard David Walker, who dropped 23 points in an opening night victory over BU, shoots 89.3 percent from the free throw line. Northeastern travels to Richmond for a New Year’s Eve matchup with the Spiders before tipping off CAA play on Jan. 3 at Delaware.

Harvard (Ivy)
Record: 7-2
Key Wins: Houston, Massachusetts, Northeastern, Boston University
Key Losses: Holy Cross, Virginia
Remaining Non-Conference games: Arizona State, Grand Canyon, St. Rose, Boston College, Bryant
Key Home Ivy games: Columbia, Princeton, Yale, Brown
Ivy League Tournament: None; regular season winner becomes league champion

The 7-2 Crimson are 33rd in the country in points allowed per game at only 58.3. They are led by their senior forwards Wesley Saunders (18.3 ppg) and Steve Moundou-Missi (8.9 ppg) on both the offensive and defensive ends. Along with their scoring, the Crimson rank 20th in the country in blocks per game at 5.8. Harvard was ranked 25th in the preseason AP poll, but fell out of the rankings after an early-season loss to Holy Cross at the TD Garden. The Crimson play at Arizona State on Dec. 28 and continue their West Coast trip at Grand Canyon on Dec. 30 before returning home for the New Year. Harvard looks to take another trip back to the NCAA tournament this season.

Holy Cross (Patriot)
Record: 5-5
Key Wins: Harvard, NJIT, Albany, Brown
Key Losses: Sacred Heart, Canisius, Hartford
Remaining Non-Conference games: None
Key Home Patriot League games: BU, Bucknell, American
Patriot League Tournament: March 3-11; games played at the home of the higher seed

Holy Cross has a very balanced offensive game, with no standout scorers. However, seniors Malcolm Miller (11.9 ppg) and Justin Burrell (11.4 ppg) lead the team in that category. The Crusaders tough inside play is indicative of their 5.4 blocks per game, which is good enough to be in the Top 30 in the nation. Holy Cross is on a two-game skid, but look to break that against a struggling BU team on Dec. 31 before opening up Patriot League play.

UMass Lowell (America East)
Record: 6-5
Key Wins: Sacred Heart, NJIT, Fordham, Boston University
Key Losses: Ohio State, URI, Cornell, Dartmouth
Remaining Non-Conference games: Boston College, Brown
Key Home America East games: New Hampshire, Vermont (at Tsongas Center), Stony Brook (at Costello Athletic Center)

The River Hawks look to build on a 10-18 season last year in their first season at the Division 1 level. Coach Pat Duquette looks to build his team by recruiting nationally as UMass Lowell only carries two players from Massachusetts on their roster. Sophomore Jahad Thomas is the leading scorer, averaging 14.6 ppg and 5.5 rebounds. The River Hawks went on a six-game winning streak at the end of November, but have since lost their last three games. They have one remaining non-conference game (at Boston College on Dec. 29) before America East play starts. They won six conference games last year and aspire for more.

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