Team of the Week: Rutgers
Results: W 80-68 vs. #18 Villanova, W 77-64 @ #17 Pittsburgh
After looking as if they would go through the first month of conference play without a Big East win, the Scarlet Knights beat ranked teams in back-to-back games for the first time since the 2001-02 season when RU beat Connecticut and Syracuse. The more impressive effort has to be Saturday’s win in front of the “Oakland Zoo”, one in which five Scarlet Knights reached double figures, led by Corey Chandler’s eighteen. Against a program that is traditionally one of the Big East’s best on the defensive end of the floor, RU shot 53.7% from the field, helping to offset their nineteen turnovers. The Panthers, on the other hand, shot a mere 38.6% for the game in what turned out to be the worst margin of defeat at home in the Jamie Dixon era.
The Pitt win followed a home victory over a Villanova team that to be fair has been scuffling of late. Guards Mike Coburn and Anthony Farmer both scored twenty-three, clearly outperforming Nova’s talented backcourt unit in the process. The wins move Rutgers to 2-6 in league play, still leaving them on the outside looking in when it comes to the Big East Tournament. But you can’t ignore what two wins over ranked teams can do for the growth of Fred Hill’s young program.
Honorable Mention: Marist (wins over Niagara, Iona and Canisius to move into a tie for first in the MAAC with Rider); Rider (3-0 week to move to 8-2 in the MAAC); Seton Hall (2-0 week to move to 4-3 in the Big East).
Player of the Week: Brian Laing (Seton Hall)
Numbers for the Week: 23 points, 8 rebounds in win at Providence; 22 points, 13 rebounds in win over Cincinnati.
Yes, I picked a Pirate last week as well, going with Jeremy Hazell last week. But Laing, who has been one of the mainstays for Bobby Gonzalez all year, had an outstanding week. On a team that lacks consistent frontcourt help from its actual big men, Laing took on all comers this past week, playing all eighty minutes in the Pirates’ two wins. Thanks in large part to Laing, a team that when conference play began had the look of a team destined to miss the Big East Tournament is right in the middle of a logjam in the conference standings. And at 14-6 overall, who knows what another six or seven wins could get them at season’s end. But for now, it’s time to acknowledge the effort put forth by the senior from the Bronx, one of the Big East’s most versatile players.
Honorable Mention: Sean Baptiste (FDU): 23 and 10 @ Monmouth, 23 and 5 vs. Wagner; Jarell Brown (Army): 24 points vs. American, 35 and 7 @ Navy; Jamar Nutter (Seton Hall): 19 and 4 @ Providence, 20 and 4 vs. Cincinnati.
The “Where Did That Come from” Performance of the Week: Lamar Johnson (Rider) vs. Manhattan (23 points in 21 minutes)
With the addition of teams to the poll, I decided to add this category after checking out the stats in Rider’s last three victories. To say the least, the stat line for Johnson caught my eye. Sandwiched in between scoreless efforts against Iona and St. Peter’s was a scoring outburst against Manhattan on Thursday night. Johnson, a junior guard from Scranton, PA who ranks fifth on the Broncs in points per game (6.3 ppg), went 8-for-9 (7-for-8 on threes) from the field in the win over the Jaspers. You know what you’re going to get from the likes of Jason and Ryan Thompson, as well as long-range threat Harris Mansell. But if Tommy Dempsey can get this kind of help from his bench, they’ll be a tough out in Albany during the MAAC Tournament.
Other Observations from las
Jason Thompson has been named one of the “Midseason Top 30” candidates for the John R. Wooden Player of the Year award.
Thompson, who is arguably the best big man in the nation not talked about every waking moment on ESPN, is on the recently released list of the thirty midseason candidates for the prestigious award given out at the end of the season. The primary reason why the Broncs have won seven in a row and currently lead the MAAC with an 8-2 record (15-6 overall), Thompson currently averages 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, putting him on pace to duplicate (if not exceed) his 20-and-10 numbers from a year ago.
The natives are beginning to get restless at St. John’s.
Late in the Red Storm’s 81-57 loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, there were chants of “Fire Norm” overheard in the near-empty Madison Square Garden. Fans seem to have heard enough about rebuilding and want some tangible results, which is fair. However, with eight newcomers on the roster, maybe giving Roberts an “honor” recently bestowed upon Isiah Thomas is a little harsh.
Justin Burrell has played well inside for St. John’s, but he hasn’t had much help and that’s one of their key issues right now. Rob Thomas hasn’t provided the lift many expected of him when he became eligible, and Tomas Jasiulionis doesn’t have the talent required to get it done on a nightly basis in the Big East. This season could end up being more about building for the future (most importantly 2008-09), which isn’t fair to vets such as Eugene Lawrence and Anthony Mason Jr., and the fans won’t care for it much either. But it may be the only way to go about finishing out the year at this point, as it is starting to become painfully clear that the Red Storm don’t have enough to make a run at a Big East Tournament berth.
This coming week is a big one for Hofstra if they want to turn their season around.
The Pride went 1-1 last week, losing by seventeen at home to VCU, then winning at Northeastern on Saturday 70-65. This coming week brings three games, all of which are winnable games for this team despite their struggles. First up is Longwood on Monday night, a young Division I program that has lost seven in a row. A trip to Towson follows, and the Tigers are a team that is currently only one game better than the Pride in CAA play at 4-5. The final contest of the week may be the toughest, but luckily for the Pride they get Delaware at home.
The question, as it has been all season long, is who will step up on the offensive end when opponents try to eliminate Antoine Agudio. Charles Jenkins scored eighteen against VCU, but there was little help elsewhere. And to be frank, the Rams are a far superior club at this point. Against Northeastern, Agudio was unstoppable, putting up thirty-two points in the Pride’s second road win of the year. If Tom Pecora can get something of consequence from Darren Townes or Nathaniel Lester, Hofstra can win all three. But it’ll be tough sledding if the burden rests solely upon the shoulders of Agudio and Jenkins.
Monmouth has the same issue as Hofstra on the offensive end of the floor and it could very well leave them watching the NEC Tournament in March.
In what has to be an amazing stat, the Hawks are 1-13 in games in which they’ve allowed at least sixty points. Not seventy, sixty. The Hawks currently rank dead last in the NEC in points per game, scoring a meager 56.9 points per contest. So, even though they lead the league in scoring defense (66.3 ppg allowed), it doesn’t mean a whole lot because other than Jhamar Youngblood (13.7 ppg) and Whitney Coleman (11.6 ppg) there isn’t a player who can consistently reach double figures.
In what could be a positive sign for the Hawks, R.J. Rutledge scored fifteen in their loss to FDU Friday night. With two of the best offensive teams in the NEC next up on the schedule (Robert Morris and Long Island rank second and third in scoring offense), they’d better hope they can achieve some offensive consistency.
Games to keep and eye on this week
- Loyola-MD @ NJIT (Tuesday 7 PM)
I’m surely not going to tell you that the Highlanders will get their first win of the season in this one. But you will get a chance to check out Loyola’s Gerald Brown, one of the best guards in the MAAC. Plus, no one else in the area is playing.
- Rider @ Marist (Wednesday 7:30 PM)
This has to be the game of the week in the area, as the combatants enter this game in Poughkeepsie tied atop the MAAC standings. While both were expected to compete in the top half of the league, most expected the top spot to belong to Siena, Niagara or Loyola (MD). Two good individual matchups in this one as well: Jason Thompson vs. Ryan Stilphen, and Ryan Thompson vs. Louie McCroskey. And pay close attention to Jay Gavin of Marist coming off the bench, a shooter who has shown an ability to put up points in quick bursts.
- Seton Hall @ Rutgers (Wednesday 9 PM, ESPN Full Court)
A rivalry game that will have an impact on more than just the Big East standings, as the recruiting advantage in the Garden State may also be up for grabs. Fred Hill already as commitments from St. Anthony guard Mike Rosario, and Bobby Gonzalez has a verbal from Paterson Catholic’s Jordan Theodore. But after last week’s results, both teams have designs on making a move up the conference standings this season, and this game will have a serious say in regards to that. The key players: Hamadi N’Diaye (Rutgers) and John Garcia (Seton Hall). Whichever starting big man gives his team more of a lift will be the winner.
- Temple @ Fordham (Thursday 8 PM)
Both teams head into this one lodged in the middle of the Atlantic 10 standings. And strangely, Fordham is one loss away form becoming part of a dogfight to simply get to Atlantic City for the conference tournament, something that would have been unthinkable back when the season began. The Rams will need to slow down Temple’s high-scoring tandem of Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale if they are to move to .500 in conference play.
- Columbia @ Yale (Friday 7 PM)
Two of the more experienced teams in the Ivy League come into this one with hopes of competing for the conference title. With traditional powers Penn and Princeton struggling this season, there is a chance. But Columbia has already lost twice to preseason favorite Cornell, and Yale split in their first two conference games (both against Brown). Two of the league’s better players (Columbia’s John Baumann and Yale’s Eric Flato) will also be on display in this one. Oh yeah, the head coaches also happen to be siblings.
- Seton Hall @ #9 Georgetown (Saturday Noon, ESPN Full Court)
The Pirates follow up the rivalry tilt with a visit to the Big East’s best team in Georgetown. Roy Hibbert will pose quite a challenge inside, and guards Jonathan Wallace and Jesse Sapp have enough experience to handle any pressure the Pirates send their way. Should be a good indicator of just how good Seton Hall can be this season.
Updated Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)
Seton Hall (1)
Sacred Heart (5)
St. John’s (7)
Long Island (9)
Fairleigh Dickinson (13)
St. Francis-NY (16)
Stony Brook (17)
St. Peter’s (18)