When the season begins and all the preseason polls come out, we all feel that we’ve got things figured out. Even with the success of the Missouri Valley Conference and George Mason, many expected the same traditional powers to return to dominance. Well, some results in the first three weeks of the 2006-07 season prove that last season’s “surprises” may become the norm in the future. Butler wins the NIT Season Tip-Off with a win in the final over Gonzaga, who knocked off North Carolina two nights earlier? Georgetown, who hadn’t lost a game in McDonough Arena since 1982, falls by thirteen to Old Dominion? Kansas, another of the three trendy picks to win it all, loses to Oral Roberts at home? And how about Wichita State’s win at LSU on Saturday? These are just a few of the games that show that November is no longer a month consisting solely of a few marquee matchups and a glut of BCS schools pounding on outmatched foes.
Why does this happen? Experience, guard play, an off night, or maybe that team from a league you know very little about until Championship Week is just better. The unexpected unpredictability of this first month can also be seen in the school in the New York metropolitan area. Fairleigh Dickinson got their first win in almost forty years over Seton Hall. Stony Brook, winners of four games last season, won at Penn State. And did anyone expect Manhattan to knock off Hofstra, who would start the year off 0-3? And don’t forget Columbia beating Long Island by 27 points. There are a lot of questions to be answered, but luckily for all the teams involved there’s still a long way to go. Below are five questions for the NYC area teams after the first three weeks.
No. Mike Davis-Sabb leads the team with 7.6 rebounds per game, but the fifth starter options to this point in the year (Zygis Sestokas and Arminas Urbitus) combine to average 4.6 rebounds per game. We all know that the three-pronged backcourt attack of Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Carlos Rivera can fill it up, but they’re going to need more production from a defensive and rebounding standpoint from that fifth “spot” if they want to meet preseason expectations in the rugged Colonial Athletic Association.
I’m not sure if St. John’s can accurately answer that one right now. The Red Storm did the job defensively in their first two games of the year, taking care of North Florida and Navy. No disrespect to those two schools, but they’re North Florida and Navy. The 92-60 beating the Red Storm suffered at the hands of Maryland was shocking, not just because of the defensive play, but also the offensive execution. It seemed like they reverted to what got them in trouble last season: four players watch the man with the ball and hope that he can make something happen. It didn’t work last season, and they received the message from the Terps that it won’t work this year either. St. John’s came back and played well in a one-point loss to Texas the following night, but how do you explain the home loss to Illinois State? With Daryll Hill back from injury and the likes of Lamont Hamilton, Anthony Mason Jr. and Avery Patterson on the floor, St. John’s was to be much improved. But if they don’t improve their offensive execution, many of the same problems with once again rear their ugly heads in Jamaica Queens.
After last season’s four win campaign, the Seawolves could only improve this season. Yet they’ve started the season 3-2, including wins at Penn State and Columbia. In Mitchell Beauford, averaging a team-leading 19.2 points per game, many knew what to expect. But 18.8 per game from George Washington transfer Ricky Lucas? Stony Brook has surprised some early in the season, and this is despite averaging sixteen turnovers per game. They averaged thirteen per game in that category last season, and look what that got them. If they want to take this improvement over into America East play then the turnover numbers need to come down, especially with the likes of Villanova and Hofstra coming up on the schedule.
The Pirates essentially have three players in the frontcourt: Grant Billmeier, Stan Gaines and Mani Messy. As a result, in the first two games Head Coach Bobby Gonzalez went four perimeter players with Gaines in his starting lineup. The Pirates got away with it in their opener against Caldwell College, but not against Fairleigh Dickinson. Billmeier scored one point in the loss to the Knights, yet came back on Saturday with fourteen points in the Hall’s twenty point win at Morgan State. Gaines has been the most consistent of the three, and Messy may be headed back to his more familiar role of not playing very much by the time Big East play rolls around. With the amount of size in the Big East this season, lack of dependable options inside (to defend and rebound, the guards can score for this team) could mean missing the conference tournament.
Winthrop’s an excellent team that most likely will end up in the NCAA Tournament, but thirty-eight points? This isn’t a deep team, playing eight or nine yet relying primarily on the starters, and the team’s leading scorer (Milan Prodanovic) averages eleven points per game. If you have trouble scoring yet play sound basketball and limit your turnovers then you’ve still got a shot. But when you score fifty-one points per game while averaging twenty-one turnovers per game, you will not win basketball games. If there is to be any improvement, newcomers Prodanovic, DeShaune Griffin and Kyle Camper will have to improve their play. Anthony Bruin is not a scorer, although he is second on the team in scoring, and John Kelly isn’t thought to be a mainstay on the offensive end.
Here are the updated rankings, along with a couple of additions.
1. Marist (last poll: 2) Played well in the Old Spice Invitational, where the Red Foxes finished third, and the nation may now know who Jared Jordan is.
2. Hofstra (1): The Pride dropping only one spot has more to do with the play of some of the other teams on the list, who haven’t played well either.
3. Army: Newcomers to the poll, the Black Knights have started out the year 3-1 on the road, with the only loss being by nine at Missouri.
4. Fordham (4): The Rams took care of business in beating St. Francis (NY) by 27 this afternoon, but trips to Maryland, Penn and Texas A&M loom large on the schedule.
5. St. John’s (3): Illinois State forced twenty-two turnovers and outrebounded the Red Storm by seven (32-25), but it was their 33 free throw attempts that did in St. John’s.
6. Stony Brook (13): One more win and the Seawolves will match their win total for 2005-06.
7. Columbia (10): LIU was picked to finish 3rd in the NEC, yet the Lions made them look a lot worse than that in their 90-63 victory.
8. Fairleigh Dickinson (14): Even with all the personnel losses, the Knights found a way to knock off Seton Hall for the first time since 1968.
9. Seton Hall (7): Brian Laing leading the Hall with nineteen points and eight rebounds per game.
10. Manhattan (9): You lose to the New Jersey Institute of Technology yet beat Hofstra?
11. Sacred Heart: The Pioneers are 2-3, but they did hang around for awhile with North Carolina. Connecticut is next up on the schedule.
12. Wagner (5): In four losses this season, Wagner has allowed their opponents to shoot 46.5% from the field while shooting 40.0% themselves.
13. Long Island (8): Beating SUNY-Old Westbury by fifty-five doesn’t erase the fact that Columbia shot 56.4% in their 90-63 whipping of the Blackbirds.
14. St. Peter’s (11): The Peacocks’ three losses have come by an average of five points per game. Raul Orta, Kevin Spann and Todd Sowell have carried the load for John Dunne so far this season.
15. Fairfield: The Stags are ranked ahead of Iona and St. Francis for two reasons: they’ve won a game, and their schedule to this point has been much tougher.
16. Iona (6): The Gaels have had trouble putting the ball in the basket thus far, and it may take some time for things to get better with five games remaining in their current seven-game road swing.
17. St. Francis (NY) (12): Currently 0-6, the Terriers could be 0-9 heading into the showdown with their namesakes from Pennsylvania December 7th.