Last weekend marked the beginning of conference play in the Metro Atlantic and Northeast conferences, two leagues that get an early start due to their sizes. Marist, preseason favorite to win the MAAC, took care of business in defeating Canisius and St. Peter’s, placing the Red Foxes on top of the standing along with Siena at 2-0. Manhattan, St. Peter’s and Fairfield were all able to split their first two league games while Iona is still searching for that elusive first win of the season.
In the Northeast Conference, Sacred Heart got things rolling with two home wins, 90-74 over preseason favorite Robert Morris and 103-91 over St. Francis (PA). The Pioneers are the league’s lone 2-0 team, with Fairleigh Dickinson, Central Connecticut State, Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s right on their tails at 1-0. And the Red Flash of St. Francis (NY) are now 0-11, 0-2 in the NEC.
As for the other schools in the metropolitan area, it was a rather slow week due to the fact that the majority of teams were navigating finals week as well. Seton Hall, led by freshman point guard Eugene Harvey’s 27 points in forty minutes and some timely threes by Paul Gause, came back to knock off Penn State at home 69-59 to up their record to 6-1. Fordham sandwiched an impressive 77-60 win at Penn with double-digit losses at Maryland and Texas A&M, two beatings what went according to most predictions. With the semester ending on Friday for most schools, look for the activity to pick up as 2006 comes to an end. Here are a few games to check out in the area over the next few days.
Fairleigh Dickinson @ Stony Brook (Saturday, 1 PM EST)
Stony Brook returns home looking to recover from their 71-50 loss at Dartmouth on Thursday night. The Seawolves have managed to match their win total from last season in their first ten games this year, but that’s not enough for Steve Pikiell’s club. Led by the high scoring tandem of Ricky Lucas and Mitchell Beauford, Stony Brook has improved immensely on the offensive end this year.
Fairleigh Dickinson, of whom not much was expected of when the season began, has managed to average 74.4 points per game despite the heavy losses due to graduation. Four Knights score at least ten points per game, led by senior forward Andre Harris’ 18.9 points per game. With both teams averaging at least fifteen turnovers per game, taking care of the ball will tell the tale of who wins this one.
Sacred Heart @ Boston College (Sunday, 1 PM EST)
Given Boston College’s tendency to play a little lax at times (see: home game vs. Vermont), a Sacred Heart team that has been tested in non-conference play this year could give the Eagles some fits. Having already seen North Carolina and Connecticut, I doubt that the Pioneers will walk into Conte Forum intimidated. However, the question will be whether or not they have an answer for Jared Dudley, one of the best forwards in America. Boston College point guard Tyrese Rice is a streaky shooter with the ability to keep both teams in the game with his shot selection at times.
On the other side, five Pioneers average at least ten points per game, and that balance will be a necessity if they want to head back home with a win. Sacred Heart, averaging only 30.6 rebounds per game, will have their hands full keeping the Eagles off the glass, but anything is possible.
Marist @ Wright State (Tuesday, 7 PM EST)
Marist will look to win their sixth straight game in this road tilt with the Raiders, members of the Horizon League. Wright State is coached by Brad Brownell, who coached the previous four seasons at UNC Wilmington, leaving UNCW with a record of 83-40. On the floor, the Raiders are led by their talented backcourt of senior Dashaun Wood and freshman Vaughn Duggins, the only two players averaging double figures. If WSU wants to win this one, defense will carry the day.
As for Marist, the Red Foxes can put the ball in the basket. Marist shoots 47.9% from the field, and their average of 77.6 points per game is tops in the MAAC. Road games are difficult, but this is one that the Red Foxes should win.
Virginia Tech @ Seton Hall (Thursday, 6:30 PM EST)
The undersized yet active Pirates host a Virginia Tech team that has been hard to read to this point in the season. The Hokies certainly have talent, led by their backcourt of Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell and forwards Deron Washington and Coleman Collins. But they’re 2-3 in games against their toughest competition to this point in the season. The Hokies best win: probably their 72-55 home victory over Old Dominion on December 6th. Which Virginia Tech team will show up at the Meadowlands is anyone’s guess.
As for the Pirates, small ball has been good enough to get Bobby Gonzalez and his charges off to a 6-1 start, including the comeback win over Penn State. Stan Gaines will have his hands full with Washington, one of the ACC’s best athletes, on the defensive end. The backcourt matchup will be fun to watch, with Seton Hall’s depth taking on Dowdell, Gordon and A.D. Vassallo. With an average of eighty-one points per game, the Hall would like nothing more than to turn this one into a track meet.
Here are the updated rankings.
1. Marist (last week: 1): There aren’t many point guard in the nation that are better than Jared Jordan, who’s averaging 20.2 ppg, 8.5 apg and 6.3 rpg.
2. Hofstra (2): The Pride squeaked by St. Francis (NY) a couple of nights ago, and the trip to Syracuse is next up on the schedule.
3. Army (3): The Black Knights have been off since their 60-40 win over NJIT on the 6th. They host SUNY-Purchase Saturday afternoon.
4. Seton Hall (7): For all the talk about Paul Harris (Syracuse) and highly ranked freshman classes at Connecticut and Louisville, people in the Big East had better look out for Eugene Harvey.
5. St. John’s (5): The Red Storm, led in scoring by junior college transfer Avery Patterson, don’t play again until December 21st.
6. Columbia (6): The Lions have to put their three-game winning streak on ice until the 23rd when they visit St. John’s. Just like Fordham, the Lions need to do a better job of valuing the basketball (16.4 turnovers per game).
7. Fordham (4): The Rams get a much needed break for eleven days before they head to Charleston to take on the Cougars. During that time the Rams need to work on lowering their turnover numbers (16.4 per game).
8. Sacred Heart (10): The Pioneers get off to a 2-0 start in the NEC thanks to the ability to share the basketball (16.3 assists per game).
9. Fairleigh Dickinson (9): The Knights followed up their conference win at Quinnipiac with a whipping of the Mercy Flyers. I’m drawing a blank when it comes to any information on the Flyers.
10. Stony Brook (8): The Seawolves head into their game with Fairleigh Dickinson having lost four of their last five. A consistent third scoring option would help their cause some.
11. Wagner (13): Unlike Manhattan and Long Island, the Seahawks didn’t negate a good win (72-60 over Robert Morris) with a bad loss.
12. Manhattan (12): Many knew that this would be an up and down season for the Jaspers, but to follow up a road win at Fairfield with a blowout loss to Loyola (MD)?
13. Long Island (11): They got the road win in their NEC opener, 74-71 over Monmouth. However, losing the next two to Harvard and Penn State isn’t the ideal way to keep the positive momentum.
14. St. Peter’s (14): Getting the win at Loyola (MD) was huge, even though the Peacocks were blown out at home by Marist two days later.
15. Fairfield (15): The Stags are also 1-1 in the MAAC thanks to their win (75-64) over Canisius. Michael Van Schaick helped the Stags come back from seventeen down with a career-high 20 points.
16. Iona (16): The only thing keeping the Gaels ahead of St. Francis (NY) at this point is that they have fewer losses. Their closest loss: by seven at Sacred Heart. Next up: at Rutgers, and you never know what can happen at the RAC.
17. St. Francis (NY) (17): The Terriers have been competitive in their last two, losses to St. Francis (PA) and Hofstra. Next up is Hartford, so keep competing guys.