Kentucky Preview: Road Warriors

Boston University (1-1) continues their early-season road trip Friday night at the prestigious Rupp Arena, home of the top ranked University of Kentucky Wildcats (3-0). There is nothing I can write about this Kentucky team that has not already been written, so I will summarize by saying they have a really, really good basketball team. They are talented. They are tall. And if they are anything, they are deep. Coach Calipari is borderline changing the entire college hoops landscape (pending this team’s success) with his platoon system, subbing out five of the nation’s top players with five more every four minutes. Repeat until opponent begs for mercy.

A bit of a history lesson, since I like to write about that. The last Terrier trip to Rupp Arena came on November 30, 2010, a convincing 91-57 victory for the Wildcats, who were ranked 10th in the nation at the time. John Holland led BU with 20 points, while current Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Knight had 23 for Big Blue. Trailing by only 7 at the half, the Terriers got their doors blown off in the second period, which the host squad took by a score of 51-24. BU head coach Pat Chambers quipped: “That must have been one heck of a halftime speech. I’m going to have to ask him for a copy of that.”

The last time the Terriers faced a #1 team? That would be back to 2005, when they faced #1 Duke in the preseason NIT. That game was won by the Blue Devils 64-47. No Terriers reached double figures, while J.J. Redick led Duke with 19. It was also the first career game for future Duke standouts Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus.

This time around, BU will be facing arguably one of the greatest teams the sport has seen in quite some time. To say they handled #5 Kansas this past week would be an understatement, as they truly embarrassed the Jayhawks by a score of 72-40. Up and down this lineup (and bench) there is top notch talent: Karl-Anthony Towns, Dakari Johnson, and Willie Cauley-Stein in the frontcourt, the Harrison twins and Tyler Ulis in the backcourt, just to name a few. Through Wednesday’s games KenPom gives his top-ranked Wildcats a 98% chance at defeating the #162 Terriers. The only thing I know for sure is that I am going to have a blast watching it. Hopefully the team learns something from the experience and continues to gel. And, hey, crazier things have happened right? Wait, have they? Actually, if you know of any crazier things that have happened, please tweet them @blogginbabcock to make me feel better.

The game will be on FSN regional, so go to a sports bar and they can probably find it for you. It’s also available on ESPN3 or WatchESPN or whatever the hell it is these days. When all is said and done, this is really a can’t-lose game for BU. A win would be the best, most magical day of my life and a loss would be a team-building experience. So GO BU, see you on the other side.

 

Norfolk State Recap: In the Win Column

Boston University picked up their first win of the season Wednesday night at Norfolk State by a score of 71-63. John Papale led the attack with 17 points on five 3-pointers, and was one of four Terriers to reach double figures. Former Terrier Malik Thomas finished with a career high 19 points and added 12 rebounds, but was still overshadowed by teammate and fellow transfer Jeff Short, who also hit a career high in points with 28.

  • I did not really mention Papale much in my Northeastern recap, not because he did not play well, but because I expected him to, and he did. But I will give him some much deserved praise now — he is as reliable a scoring option as this team has right now, and he showed it tonight. Playing all 40 minutes is nothing to scoff at either, regardless of the opponent. So congrats John, keep sinking those long balls and being the leader of this team on and off the court.
  • I hate to snub him of the prestigious honor of Official B.O.B. Game Ball, but tonight that is going to Justin Alston. What an improvement over the first game! He stayed out of foul trouble (although the first two fouls he did commit were dumb ones) and was able to play 26 minutes, consistently making a positive impact on the defensive end. Four rebounds is what I would hope to be the lower bound for him this season, but it sure beats zero. Thirteen points is an excellent performance, and he looked as comfortable under the basket as I have ever seen him. Add two blocks and we are talking about a great game for the junior. Oh, and I almost forgot, he had a MONSTER slam early in the second half, absolutely posterizing some poor kid on Norfolk State. If anyone out there reading this finds a video clip of that, please share it for massive amounts of B.O.B. points (retail value to be determined at a later date).
  • Before we get too high basking in the first Terrier win since March 8th, not everything went according to plan in this game. Blaise Mbargorba got off to about as bad of a start as is possible, by dunking during warm-ups and earning his team a technical foul for the effort. The Spartans sank both shots and BU trailed by two before the game even tipped off. As a result, Blaise was benched by Coach Jones, who then decided to make this decision as obvious as possible by subbing in Dylan Haines for Alston at the 15-minute mark. Blaise made his first appearance with six minutes remaining in the half and played only six minutes in the game, accumulating two fouls. He was a complete non-factor in the game. If Jones wants to further punish him he may consider starting him across from Dakari Johnson this Friday, but we will get to that later this week.
  • Nate Dieudonne stepped up tonight and had a great game as well, recording a double-double with 11 points and ten boards. That makes 19 rebounds in two games for the junior, a trend that will hopefully continue if the Terriers are going to continue to struggle to get rebounds out of their true big men.
  • Thanks Norfolk State for offering the feed of the game, but just so you know, most schools that charge money for these types of things actually offer a quality product. Like I’m talking about HD. Good thing I would recognize Malik’s gazelle-like frame anywhere or I would not have even been able to tell who was who. And for god’s sake somebody tell the announcer that we can still hear him when he thinks he is going to a commercial break.
  • Eric Johnson started tonight’s game in the only lineup change from the opener. He did not score in 14 minutes. Classmate Cheddi Mosely put up six points in the same amount of playing time, but, in a most unfortunate turn of events, missed three field goals and will most likely give up his number one national ranking in effective field goal percentage. It was fun while it lasted Cheddi. Cedric Hankerson‘s night was salvaged by 11 made free throws, but he is shooting just 5-19 from the field on the young season. I am not panicking yet, but that needs to rise a good deal for this team to sustain success. Eric Fanning once again received only a half’s worth of playing time, and shot only 1-5 while picking up four fouls.
  • Overall, a solid effort from the Terriers. I do not care too much about margins of victory on the road, where no game is easy, so it is nice to add this one to the win column even if it was against a middle-of-the-pack MEAC squad. BU will need all the confidence they can get heading into their matchup with the No. 1 team in the country this Friday. Stay tuned for a Kentucky preview on Friday before the game. I will be driving down so wish me luck at Rupp Arena, and tell me where the good eats and drinks are at if you know.

Norfolk State Preview: Return of the Malik

Boston University men’s basketball (0-1) continues their season Wednesday night on the road at Norfolk State. Really the only thing you need to know about this game is that they will be up against former Terrier Malik “The Classroom” Thomas, who transferred to the Spartans this past summer as a post graduate and is eligible to play immediately. The lanky forward averaged just 19.2 minutes and 5.8 points per game in his final year on Commonwealth Ave, down from 23.1 and 7.3 the year before. The crowded roster at the 2-3 position along with the decrease in playing time led Thomas to seek it elsewhere, and he has found it thus far at Norfolk State. He led the team to victory with a 14-point effort in an exhibition over the Pfeiffer Falcons (the fact that their team name isn’t the Pfalcons is really bothering me). He followed that up with an 0-8 shooting performance against the #9 Virginia Cavaliers, although he did record seven boards and two blocks in that contest. All nostalgia aside, Malik was dubbed a “key contributor” (used on over 28% of possessions) by KenPom.com, ranking tenth in the nation in percentage of possessions used at 38.2% through Monday’s games. He may not be their best player (he probably is), but he is certainly going to leave his fingerprints all over this game regardless.

It is tough to analyze this team based on stats, since their only real game was an absolute drubbing at the hands of the Cavs. Seriously, they shot 5-34 (14.7%) from inside the arc. So let’s analyze them a bit based on words. They, much like BU, have a whole lot of newcomers on the team, including four freshmen and three transfers. Joining Thomas in the transfer ranks are juniors Jeff Short from Fordham and D’Shon Taylor from junior college. Devonte Banner, one of the freshmen, is the reigning MEAC Rookie of the Week for his performance against Pfeiffer, in which he tallied 12 points, six assists, three rebounds, and two steals. They also have a 7’1″ senior named Paulius Vinogradovas who looks like he will get double digit minutes, so it will be interesting to see how the Terrier frontcourt handles him after last weekend’s poor performance, even if his size is the best thing he has going for him. Oh and they have another Malik, freshman Malik Gray, so try not to get too confused.

The matchup is only the second ever between the two schools, with last year’s Spartan victory in Case Gym being the first. According to KenPom, that was BU’s second-worst loss last year, topped only by a dreadful home loss to Lehigh last February. This year, especially with the game being at Norfolk, the teams are not nearly as far apart, and the Terriers are given just a 57% chance to pull out the victory despite NSU’s 285 ranking. In terms of what to look for from BU, I will be looking for a few specific things: improved frontcourt play, Eric Fanning‘s playing time, and Nate Dieudonne‘s offense. Justin Alston and Blaise Mbargorba must improve on the boards on both sides of the ball. I would like to see Fanning play over half the game because I thought he played quite well against Northeastern. And I want to hear Nate’s name called on offense a few times. It may not be his forte or, well, the gameplan for him to be scoring 15+ points, but I sure would love to see more than five on a regular basis.

That’s all I’ve got. You can watch the game for $5 through Norfolk’s website, so invite the neighbors and have a party. See you soon for some postgame reactions and then the moment we have all been waiting for — the trip to Rupp Arena this weekend.

Northeastern Recap

Boston University dropped a closely contested matchup against the Northeastern Huskies this weekend, falling 71-65 in their season opener at the TD Garden. Junior guard David Walker, who played all 40 minutes for the Huskies, drained an easy layup five seconds into the game to kick off a 23-point performance that BU had no answer for.

  • I’m giving the game ball to Cheddi Mosely in the freshman’s first career game for scoring 12 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting including three from long range. Mosely looked calm and in control which is a great sign, especially for a team that is waiting for someone to step up and claim the wide open spot at the point guard position. He added two assists, three steals, one rebound and no turnovers in 25 minutes of play. And in a wonderful, beautiful example of small sample size, the young man currently (through Sunday’s games) ranks second in the nation in effective field goal percentage with a whopping 137.5 percent.
  • The frontcourt–yikes. The same problem that plagued Justin Alston a year ago wasted no time rearing its ugly head once again. That problem would be foul trouble. Alston picked up four in just 17 minutes of play, including picking up his fourth about 30 seconds after he was finally able to re-enter the game. He simply has to be smarter and more careful about the way he defends, which I was hoping he would have improved upon this offseason, but it was quite disappointing to learn otherwise. Zero rebounds from Alston is both unfathomable and unacceptable. As one of three upperclassmen that are going to get time this year, he just needs to be better than that. He wasn’t.
  • Normally I would be quite alright with Alston getting just 17 minutes, but I found myself begging Coach Jones to sub anyone for Blaise Mbargorba. The 7-foot sophomore looked lost on both ends of the ball, especially offense. To be fair, he was up against Scott Eatherton, who is very talented and deserves a lot of credit for dominating down low, but Blaise was making it way too easy for Eatherton to box him out on nearly every play. He didn’t move on offense, just standing underneath the hoop waiting for something to happen. He shot 50 percent (3-6) with three rebounds and no blocks. Disappointing debut for No. 5 but it’s early in the season and in his career. He just has a lot farther to go than some BU fans may have realized or hoped.
  • Nate Dieudonne was the only one rebounding, and he finished with nine. He did not have a great game though, as he was nearly invisible on offense and contributed only five points. Eric Fanning‘s playing time was the biggest surprise for me. I was expecting a start and 30+ minutes as a primary scoring option, instead he came off the bench and added eight points in 19 minutes. I liked what I saw from him, I was just hoping to see more.
  • I’ve been pretty negative so far, and well, hey, it was a loss, but the sky isn’t falling yet. Northeastern is a very good team expected to compete for the CAA title, and BU played right there with them for the whole game, even outplaying them in the first half. Eatherton and Quincy Ford were relatively unsuccessful from a scoring perspective which is encouraging, even if locking them down led to Walker making his six three-pointers. Interestingly enough, this postgame quote from Jones made it sounds like the gameplan was executed pretty well: “I felt like if Walker scored 20, we still would have a chance to win the game.” He did not want Eatherton and Ford to beat him, and they didn’t, so there’s that I guess.
  • KenPom does not really care about the loss, as the Terriers slide to 177 and the Huskies rise to 98. The win probability chart is a bit painful to look at, as the Terriers were favored to seal the deal for the entire game until they gave it away for good with about four minutes to play.
  • The middle game was won by UMass in fairly convincing fashion, while the late game saw Holy Cross upset the formerly No. 25 Harvard. Good news for the Patriot League, bad news for people who hate Holy Cross and also wanted Harvard to be ranked when BU played them.
  • It’s officially KENTUCKY WEEK, but first the Terriers have a date with Malik Thomas and the Norfolk State Spartans in Virginia on Wednesday. That game will not be televised, but you can buy the feed for the low low price of $5 from NSU. Stay tuned for a preview.

Northeastern Preview: Ready or Not . . .

Boston University men’s basketball kicks off the 2014-2015 campaign this Sunday, November 16th in the first game of the annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader. The event, held at TD Garden for the second consecutive year, also features a matchup between UMass and Boston College and a nightcap between Holy Cross and Harvard.

You should be excited for this game for TONS of reasons. It’s the start of a new season and that is always exciting. Everyone tied for first place, expectations at an all-time high, knowledge at an all-time low. UMass and BC each have games Friday night, so it won’t be quite their season openers, but excitement will be rampant nonetheless.

You should also be excited because Northeastern is the closest thing this team has to a rival, and it desperately needs one. Playing Northeastern in the first game of the season is a trend that I LOVE, and sincerely hope continues, so hat tip to the two schools for figuring that out a few years ago. I hope and believe that a rival or two will develop within the Patriot League for BU, but having a crosstown non-conference rival is always great for generating excitement.

Basketball reason for being excited: the Northeastern game was arguably the most exciting game of each of the last THREE seasons. Who could forget last year’s opener, when John Papale stole the lead from the Huskies in the closing minutes and then Malik Thomas stole the ball on Northeastern’s last chance possession to seal the 72-69 victory. Or the other end of the spectrum in 2012, when a Demetrius Pollard buzzer-beater sent the Terriers home from a raucous Matthews Arena with a 65-64 loss, after leading by nine at the break. Even considering those classics, 2011 may have been the best game of the three. It will live forever in BU basketball lore as the “fire code” game, when an all-time record 1,875 crammed into the seats and aisles of Case Gym to watch Joel Smith will the Huskies first to overtime, and eventually victory. Maybe it was the shirtless section or two of Northeastern students, maybe it was BU students caring about their basketball team, no one can be sure, but if you ask someone who was there, I think they would be hard-pressed to tell you they have ever attended a game with a better environment.

But enough with the history lesson–a new season dawns and the rivalry continues.

This may be the most talented team Northeastern has had in recent memory. The Huskies will live and die with their frontcourt this year, where their best players (and some of the CAA’s best, IMO) roam. Senior Scott Eatherton is back and primed for a huge season. The transfer forward from St. Francis (PA) gave BU fits last year, as he recorded his first of 17 double-doubles on the season. Joining him in the frontcourt is junior Quincy Ford, who is back after missing the vast majority of last season due to injury. After a standout rookie season and a sophomore season that saw him make the All-CAA second team, it was a crushing blow for the Huskies. But with him back at full health, those two make for a truly fearsome pair. The backcourt features Junior Zach Stahl who averaged 7.4ppg and in 22.6 minutes last year, as well as four underclassmen.

So how does BU match up? Well, I won’t call it a weakness before I watch a game, so let’s just say the “question mark” for the Terriers is at point guard. Filling Mo Watson’s shoes this season after he transferred to Creighton will be a combination of freshman Cheddi Mosely, freshman Eric Johnson, walk-on sophomore Cam Curry, with maybe even a little of sophomore Cedric Hankerson thrown in there as well. The personnel will be dictated by each specific game situation and matchup of course, but it will interesting to see how the playing time at that position is distributed and how it evolves over the course of the season. As far as Sunday is concerned, Eatherton averaged 1.8 blocks per game last year and had three against BU, so he will be an interior defensive presence. You likely will not see a BU point guard driving to the hoop to often, something that Watson and D.J. Irving (who graduated)were both great at doing. The strength in this Terriers squad is in the other guards–John Papale, Eric Fanning, and Hankerson most of the time. I’ll hold off on assessing Fanning’s game until I see him in action, but I have high hopes for the transfer from Wagner. Getting the ball to Papale and Hankerson on the wings is going to be how BU scores a lot of points this season. If Northeastern’s guards are quick enough to keep up, they are going to disrupt a lot of those outlet passes from the interior of BU’s offense.

The Terrier frontcourt is somewhere in between the point guards and shooting guards/small forwards in terms of strength. Nate Dieudonne is back and will be a key member of this team if it is going to do any damage this year. I expect Justin Alston to see a big increase in workload as well, so how he handles it will be something to watch also. Terrier fans will be happy to see Blaise Mbargorba make his debut in the scarlet and white after watching his 7-foot frame warm the bench all last season. He hopefully will be a big contributor on the boards and will be able to score inside at times as well, but do not be fooled by his height alone. He is not yet at (or probably near) the level of Eatherton or Ford, and while I hope that he is someday (soon please), he will have his work cut out for him this weekend keeping up with those two.

It is a neutral site but I will call it a semi-home game for both teams since there is minimal travel involved. After this semi-home game, the Terriers hit the road for three in a row before their home opener on November 30th. It is a challenging start to the season, and I think that is at least partially by design, or at the very least will work out to be beneficial. This is a young team with very few returning minutes, and there are going to be some growing pains. Like, probably a ton of growing pains. What better place to figure that type of stuff out then at the TD Garden against a rival, or at Rupp Arena against an NBA Playoff team? A win Sunday would give the Terriers some confidence heading into their roadtrip, but with an at-large bid out the window, the important thing for the long run is that they learn from the experience and GET BETTER. But as a fan, screw that, I want to beat those Husky SOB’s.

Mr. Pomeroy, in his infinite pre-season wisdom, projects a 71-68 Husky victory, giving BU a 37 percent chance at an upset. NU is pretty clearly the more experienced team not only in terms of years of service, but also in terms of their players time playing with one another. When you take into account that two of BU’s upperclassmen are transfers playing their first game as Terriers . . . this is almost an entirely new team than what was on the court last year. In the first game of the season, that’s a big advantage to Northeastern.

Enough of my rambling, if you’re not excited now then there’s no hope for you. But actually never mind before I leave let’s take a quick look at the other two games, since BU plays three games against them later this season:

Boston College vs. UMass:

Well, shit, this one doesn’t have either of the teams BU is playing this season. So I don’t really care but I think you could guess who I’m pulling for. Should be a great game though, with KenPom giving UMass the slight edge. What to watch for: new jerseys on both sides.

Harvard vs. Holy Cross:

Ah, this one is the big scouting opportunity for BU fans and coaches alike. What I’ll be looking for from Holy Cross is pretty simple: Malcolm Miller. A member of the preseason all-conference team and a legitimate POTY candidate, the Crusaders will go as far as Miller can take them this year. Which hopefully is about five miles up 290 and then their bus breaks down.

Harvard could be considered another semi-rival of BU’s what with the location proximity and the annual game. Only problem is they keep winning. Coach Wilson better be taking notes in preparation for the Terriers’ early December trip to Allston – thorough notes. I’ll root for Harvard in this one because I really strongly dislike Holy Cross, and I want Harvard to be ranked when we beat play them.

Ok ok I’m done now, one last thing, come to the damn games. It’s the Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader, who wouldn’t want to watch three awesome basketball games and support Coaches vs. Cancer? Shep, that’s who [Ed. Note: I HAVE WORK. I dislike cancer. I like basketball.] . But if you can’t make it, watch on NESN. See you early next week for a recap and a preview of game No. 2: MALIK’S REVENGE.

Basketball Season has Arrived!

Hey there everyone, basketball season has finally returned! I know what you’re thinking: wait, didn’t BU cut their basketball program when Mo Watson left and Jack Eichel arrived? Turns out that is a common misconception, and the Terrier hoops squad is set to open regular season play this Sunday, November 16th against the crosstown rival Northeastern University Huskies.

But we’ll talk more about that later this week as the matchup approaches. For now I’m just here to say hi, and let you know that I’ll be attempting to at least occasionally cover Boston University men’s basketball once again this season. Here’s a few nuggets to whet your appetite in the offseason’s final week:

  • In case you missed it, the team traveled to Italy earlier this summer and played four exhibition games. They won them all, with margins of victory ranging from nine to 53. Their travels are chronicled in this blog, and for the real diehards, you can even watch their victory over the Adriatic Sea Tritons here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you that the first quarter is UGLY, but they settle down and your loyalty is rewarded by a great Eric Fanning dunk in the 4th quarter if you make it that far.
  • Boston University was selected to finish sixth in the Patriot League in the all-important preseason poll that predicted American would finish 9th a season ago. Campus Insiders put together a great show surrounding the PL media day, including an interview with each head coach. The Terriers start the year in the 166th slot at kenpom.com, just one position behind Patriot League leader Bucknell at 165 (and one ahead of third place American at 167). The conference itself is ranked #19 out of 32.
  • The opener on Sunday will be the first of ten D-I non-conference games for the Terriers, with the highlights being a trip to Lexington, Kentucky to meet John Calipari and the Wildcats and a trip to Dayton, Ohio, the site of the prestigious First Four. BU will have at least one and likely two chances to get that elusive first win over a ranked team since 1959, as they also have a date with Harvard in December.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Keep an eye out for a Northeastern preview later this week, and of course comment, tweet us @blogginbabcock, or shoot us an e-mail at blogginonbabcock@gmail.com if you have anything to say.

Hockey East Arenas, Ranked

Deadspin-style

11. Lawler

10. Whittemore

9. Mullins

8. Tsongas

7. Conte

6. Schneider

5. Gutterson

4. Alfond

3. Agganis

2. Matthews

1. Compton

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