Early conference action...and Villanova steals one (or has one handed to them)
In the era of the "superconference", more leagues are tipping off conference games in the month of December. Tonight, the MAAC, NEC, Ohio Valley and Horizon all had at least one conference game on tap. And with this being a blog on the northeast, I'll focus on the MAAC and NEC openers.
Niagara 89, Rider 77
Even with the losses of key players such as Clif Brown, Lorenzo Miles and J.R. Duffey, Coach Mihalich's Purple Eagles can still put some points on the board. To be frank, I'm not sure if anyone could have stopped Charron Fisher tonight. The senior forward, who to be honest may be closer to 6-2 than his listed 6-4, dropped 36 on the Broncs up in Niagara Falls. Two other telling stats from this one: Niagara shot 22-24 from the foul line, and of Rider's 30 rebounds the Thompson brothers had 22. Both put up double-doubles (Jason: 25 and 10; Ryan: 12 and 12), and Ryan should be right up there when you talk about some of the more versatile players in the northeast. But if they don't get more help on the glass (no other Bronc had more than two boards), they're going to have a tough time separating themselves in the middle of a practically wide-open MAAC.
Mount St. Mary's 73, Long Island 55
Two questions concerning the Blackbirds in this one: how on Earth does Jaytornah Wisseh only take four shots; and do really expect to win a game when you shoot 13-29 from the charity stripe? Kellen Allen went a putrid 3-11, and Ronald Manigault wasn't much better with his 3-8. On all fronts, this was just a horrible shooting night at the Mount for LIU. 35% from the field and 4-18 from distance. With James Williams graduating, struggles on offense aren't a big surprise, but they've got to shoot better than this once NEC play hits full-tilt in January.
Sacred Heart 68, CCSU 52
Just when I was ready to mail it in on the Crusaders, they soundly defeat the defending NEC champs up in New Britain. Of course, similar to the outfit at Florida it's unfair to compare CCSU this season to last year, but this is a good win for a team that lost one of its best players for the season in Joey Henley. Drew Shubik and Brice Brooks combined for 39 points in the win, an effort that the two may have to repeat quite often to offset the loss of Henley. Central will have to lean heavily on Tristan Blackwood for offense, but he was 2-10 from the field in this one. The Blue Devils will be able to defend, but where will the offense come from this year?
Quinnipiac 90, St. Francis (NY) 79
Lots of scoring, lots of turnovers as well. The two teams combined for forty-three turnovers, but it was SFNY's poor shooting (37% from the field) combined with allowing Quinnipiac to shoot 55% that decided this one. No Terrier who took more than five shots shot the ball well. Jamaal Womack: 6-19, Robert Hines: 4-17 and Ricky Cadell: 4-12. But to focus on their shortcomings in this one would mean ignoring the solid all-around perfomance from Marcus Williams (10 pts, 7 rebounds, 7 assists). The Bobcats got 25 from DeMario Anderson, and three others reached double figures. I don't think it's a stretch to say at this point in the season that Anderson is the NEC's best perimeter scorer.
So, what can we learn from these early conference games? To be honest, not sure if you learn too much more than you would with a non-conference game at this stage. Of course, there are some things that you can pinpoint, but with almost a month between the next conference game (some leagues will in fact have each member play two league games this month) the teams you see now may not look the same in a month.
Lastly, still trying to make sense of the two Big East/SEC Invitational games in Philly tonight. Which Providence team will show up on a nightly basis is anyone's guess. Yeah, they had a shot to get the game to overtime, but they didn't play well at all against South Carolina. The Friars made a run in the second half thanks to ten minutes without a turnover combined with USC going 6 minutes without a field goal, but why can't they play with that kind of intensity for all forty minutes? It was an issue against BC as well as URI this past week, and if they want to think NCAA in March this has to be rectified. And I don't think it's as simple an answer as getting Sharaud Curry back when he returns.
As for Villanova's comeback, they showed a good deal of mental toughness in coming back from 21 down. But let's be honest here: if LSU's guards show any kind of poise late, the SEC leaves Philly with a sweep. Anthony Randolph fouling out certainly didn't help the Tigers, but he and Chris Johnson can't be counted on to break the pressure as well as block shots. And I'm hoping that Antonio Pena sees a little more playing time as the season wears on.
That's all I've got for now, good night.