But how does one figure out the teams in between the Pirates and Highlanders? Your guess is as good as mine at this point in time as teams predicted to play well this season have sputtered early there are few positive surprises if any right now. The best example of the former would be Fordham, a preseason pick to challenge in the top half of the Atlantic 10. While some of their league rivals have distinguished themselves early, the same can’t be said for the Rams. Losses at Missouri and Syracuse are understandable, but home defeats at the hands of Charleston and Robert Morris are still hard to understand.
As for the team who has exceeded preseason expectations to this point, how about Long Island? With the graduation of prolific scorer James Williams, not much was expected of the Blackbirds this season. And all they’ve done is go 7-3 thus far and will take a three-game win streak into Thursday’s game with St. Peter’s. But while there have been some surprise results (Iona blowing out Loyola (MD); St. Peter’s beating Rutgers) few of the teams in the middle of the pack have done something to separate themselves from the others. But with action picking up on the way into conference play, everyone will have an opportunity to get some much-needed momentum heading into 2008. Now here are the updated rankings, followed by some games to watch this coming week.
Seton Hall (7-2): The Pirates will look to rebound from a tough overtime loss at Penn State when James Madison shows up at “The Rock” on Saturday. The 7-1 Dukes have won five in a row and have the firepower to leave Newark with a win.
St. John’s (4-3): The Red Storm dropped a tough one against Niagara on Saturday, and then lost a nail-biter to Ohio in the opening round of the Rainbow Classic.
Marist (6-4): After a 1-3 start to the season, the Red Foxes won five straight before falling to Massachusetts this past weekend. A trip to Niagara on Saturday will be one of the early-season games that sets the tone in the MAAC, and with Louie McCroskey now completely in the fold, look out for Marist.
Fordham (5-4): The Rams have taken care of business in their last two, knocking off Hofstra and NJIT. Next are two winnable games (UNC Greensboro and Binghamton) before the trip to D.C. to take on Georgetown. They must head into that game 7-4, especially with their first two conference games being roadies (Duquesne, Xavier).
Manhattan (6-4): The Jaspers recovered from a beating at the hands of Loyola (MD) in winning at Princeton on Sunday. Antoine Pearson went for 22, and Patrick Bouli chipped in with 16. But the troubling stat: Devon Austin’s two points in seventeen minutes of action. They’ll need him to bring more to the table when they host Pepperdine on Friday.
Wagner (7-3): The Seahawks have played well for most of the season, and you can’t help but think that the return of Durell Vinson has something to do with that. But when you have five players averaging at least 9.5 points per game, good things are bound to happen.
Long Island (7-3): The Blackbirds have four players averaging double figures in scoring this year, something that would definitely contribute to their surprising start. And with their final two games of 2007 being St. Peter’s and Texas- Pan American, LIU could head into 2008 9-3.
Army (5-5): Well, Jarell Brown (20.6 ppg) and Josh Miller (10.2 ppg) can put points on the board. But after them, no other Black Knight is averaging more than 5.8. The number that Army needs to improve upon if they are to compete in the Patriot League: 18.8. That’s the number of turnovers they average per game.
Columbia (4-6): The Lions have alternated wins and losses in their last six and with a trip to Villanova next up that trend may continue. It’s also important to point out that of their top ten players in minutes per game only six have seen action in all ten games.
Yale (3-6): Eric Flato has shown himself to be one of the best guards in the Ivy League, but he and the rest of the Bulldogs are in for a serious test in their next game when they travel to Kansas on the 29th.
Fairleigh Dickinson (3-5): The Knights have won their last two games, and Sean Baptiste (23 vs. Norfolk State, 26 vs. Stony Brook) was a major reason why. Next up is a home game with St. Peter’s, a game they could very well win.
Stony Brook (3-8): The Seawolves had a two-game win streak snapped at FDU on Saturday, but they still have one of the better backcourt in America East in seniors Ricky Lucas and Mitchell Beauford.
Hofstra (2-5): Yes, Antoine Agudio is the nation’s leading scorer (27.4 ppg), but he needs more consistent help from someone not named Charles Jenkins (12.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg). Also, you’re going to have a hard time winning when you average 9.3 assists and 18.6 turnovers per game.
Iona (3-7): Yes, the record doesn’t look too impressive, but the Gaels have won three of their last four games. Saturday’s 87-81 win at New Hampshire featured five players reaching double figures. Iona can score, but the other end of the court will determine just how much better they are this season.
St. Francis-NY (3-8): The Terriers haven’t won since November 28th against Fairfield, and their reliance upon the three-point shot may be the reason why (if you read the Northeast Blog last week, then you know the numbers). Also, the seventeen turnovers per game must improve.
Fairfield (2-7): The Stags, losers of their last five, have played a tough schedule thus far. But it’s tough to win games when as a team you average sixty-one points per game and shoot 38.9% from the field.
Sacred Heart (3-6): The loss of Joey Henley hit the Pioneers hard, but they must take better care of the basketball (seventeen turnovers per game) if they want to have any chance at winning the NEC. And don’t think that idea is so far-fetched, as guards Drew Shubik and Chauncey Hardy have the talent to lead this team a long way.
St. Peter’s (3-5): This is one ranking that people could definitely argue. Yes, SPC has lost their last three games, but the opponents (Tennessee-Martin, Seton Hall and Manhattan) are all respectable teams. Senior Todd Sowell is doing what he’s done for practically his entire career on the block, averaging a double-double for the Peacocks.
NJIT (0-13): Their independent status makes it a must that the Highlanders get in a lot of games early in the season, and this turned a simple tumble downhill into a freefall. Luckily for them, their next game isn’t until the 30th, allowing the players some time to recover.
Games to keep an eye on
- St. John’s in the Rainbow Classic (begins Wednesday)
The Red Storm will be one of eight teams in Honolulu taking part in one of the season’s final in-season events. In addition to opening round opponent Ohio, host Hawaii, Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulane, St. Mary’s, East Tennessee State and Georgia will take part. St. Mary’s looks to be the early favorite in this event.
- St. Peter’s @ Long Island, Thursday
While the Blackbirds have fared better to this point in the season, don’t sleep on SPC. The Peacocks have a fair amount of experience on the roster, and Todd Sowell will be a handful for LIU inside. Don’t be surprised if the Peacocks find a way to get the win.
- St. Joseph’s @ Fairfield, Friday
The appearance of senior Amhad Nivins at The Arena at Harbor Yard is the perfect measuring stick for the Stags’ sophomore forwards Greg Nero and Anthony Johnson. But the key will be Fairfield’s offensive execution, and if you haven’t seen him play before try to check out St. Joe’s Pat Calathes. A very good all-around player, who can do a number of things despite standing 6-10.
- Marist @ Niagara, Saturday
The Red Foxes become the next team given the unenviable task of slowing down Charron Fisher, but they will bring their own artillery to the table in Niagara Falls. Guards Louie McCroskey and Jay Gavin lead the team in scoring, and Niagara allows seventy-four points per game, meaning that they have ample opportunities to improve their average of 66.7 points per game.