First Weekend of Conference Play Full of Surprises
The first college basketball weekend of 2007 has delivered some interesting results. First off, how many people expected Hartford and Maryland-Baltimore County to be on top of America East after the first weekend of play? The Hawks, led by first-year head coach Dan Leibovitz, won a 62-60 thriller at Maine on opening night, then followed that win with an 80-75 double-OT home win over Boston University. The Hawks only have two seniors on the roster, so it would be understandable if people looked to their future instead of the present. Of course the two seniors, forwards Bo Taylor and Alex Zimnickas, are important contributors, but the Hawks also have some solid youngsters playing a part in their success. Freshman guard Joe Zeglinski is the team's second leading scorer, and sophomores Jaret Von Rosenberg, Michael Turner and Fabrice Tafo combined for 26 points off the bench in their win at Maine. A young team has its bumps in the road, but the future could be now for the Hawks.
As for the Retrievers of UMBC, at first glance winning their first two league games on the road would be a surprise. But when you factor in that they have played 11 of their first 15 games on the road this year, it's not such a shock. In their 72-53 win at struggling Stony Brook, the Retrievers outscored SBU 47-24 in the second half. Five players average at least 8.5 points per game, led by junior guard Brian Hodges' 15.4 per game. Just like Hartford, who can really predict whether or not the 6-9 Retrievers can keep this momentum rolling remains to be seen, especially for a team that essentially goes six deep (Chris Seaborn and Uwem Eshietedoho play less than 14 minutes per game each). I wish I would have suggested Uwem's name for our all-name team.
St. Joseph's and Rhode Island lead the A-10 right now, but how about some love for the Duquesne Dukes, 73-63 winners at St. Louis on Saturday. We all know the story of the campus party shooting this past offseason and the depleted roster as a result. But give first-year head coach Ron Everhart and his staff credit, and the players as well, for competing and not feeling sorry for themselves. Will they compete for a league title? Doubtful, but things are looking up for this program and they will show up every night to play.
Raise your hand if you thought that before the season started West Virginia and Providence would be two of the Big East's four undefeated teams (in league play) after the first full weekend of conference play? If your hand is raised you're either a fan of either team, or you're lying. Frank Young has played lights out in the Mountaineers' three Big East wins, games against UConn, Villanova and St. John's that haven't been close at all. Joe Alexander and Da'Sean Butler make for an imposing head of John Beilein's 1-3-1 zone due to their size and length, and Darris Nichols has been solid at the point. Do not sleep on this team come March.
As for Providence, they hit a bump in the road against Florida State in their first game without suspended guard Sharaud Curry (92-62 is a significant bump), but they have recovered to take care of both Marquette and Seton Hall at home. Geoff McDermott is one of the more underrated forwards in the nation, for he can do it all. And big man Herbert Hill has improved substantially, an essential development for a team without the services of its best post player from last season (Randall Hanke). Next up for the Friars is a trip to inconsistent Louisville, and Curry reportedly (according to the Providence Journal-Bulletin) will be back for that one. Providence has a chance in their next four games (at UL, at Seton Hall, Rutgers, Villanova) to play themselves into good position for an NCAA Tournament bid, so long as Tim Welsh and his staff find a way to combine Curry's return with the improved play of his replacement, freshman Dwain Williams.
In the CAA, did anyone expect to see George Mason tied for last at 0-3? The Patriots lost a lot from last season's Final Four team, so the early results should underscore just how important seniors are for programs in non-BCS leagues (Not that seniors aren't improtant to BCS leagues, but the nouveau riche programs seem to have an easier time recruiting). Of the four teams at the top of the CAA, whose schedule would I not want this week? Hofstra. The Pride get Old Dominion at home Monday night, then visit Drexel on Thursday. We'll see if Tom Pecora's bunch can do enough on the glass in those two showdowns, a signifcant change from their first three conference games against schools (Georgia State, UNC Wilmington and Delaware) with a combined league record of 1-8 to this point.
Sacred Heart and FDU lead the NEC, but with only one winless team in league play (St. Francis NY), this should be a wild winter in that league. The top eight qualify for the conference tournament, and seeding determines home court for each round, so every game will be of the utmost importance. An interesting note on the NEC is that only Robert Morris (10-3) and Fairleigh Dickinson (7-6) have overall records above .500. Sacred Heart is currently 7-7, so the league winner could find themselves in the opening round game in Dayton (Ken Pomeroy ranks the NEC 30th out of 32 leagues in his conference RPI).
Siena leads the MAAC at 4-0 in conference play, but unfortunately for Iona the watch continues. The Gaels, the nation's lone winless team at 0-13, visit preseason favorite Marist Tuesday night. I don't see them winning that one, but a home game with rival Manhattan may be enough to get this team going on Friday night. Not to mention the inconsistent play of the Jaspers this season, you never know what could happen. Just keep playing hard guys. Also, how many other teams in the nation are as thankful for their four-year transfers as Loyola (MD)? Gerald Brown (Providence)and Omari Isreal (Notre Dame) have been key contributors for Jimmy Patsos this season, and the Greyhounds could make some noise come MAAC Tournament time.
I almost forgot to mention the fact that Providence honored Dave Gavitt on Saturday night, naming the Dunkin Donuts Center court "Dave Gavitt Court". For a man that played such an instrumental role in the success of the Providence program, as well as the members of the Big East, it is an honor well deserved. Thank you for your contributions to the game Mr. Gavitt.
Lastly, a note on a team outside of the northeast. I'm glad that I once again drank the Oregon "Kool-Aid". They've burned me in the past, but I think things will be different this year. It remains to be seen how the return of Malik Hairston affects this squad when that time comes. Good night.