College basketball notebook

Mass. college basketball teams have more questions than answers right now

West Virginia forward Logan Routt (31) defends against Boston University guard Javante McCoy (30) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)
kathleen batten
BU’s Javante McCoy (right) puts up a shot in a loss to West Virginia Nov. 22.

What have we learned in November? It looks like this season is going to be a struggle for college basketball teams in Massachusetts. Every team is having problems. Some of it is befuddling, and all the coaches will be challenged.

 Boston University — Within a week, BU went from what could have been a season highlight (winning at South Carolina) to losing three straight. The first loss, at West Virginia, is excusable, but then the Terriers had an awful, unlucky trip to Cancun, losing to Northern Colorado and Tennessee Martin.

The biggest problem in Cancun was food poisoning suffered by starters Walter Whyte, Javante McCoy, and Alex Vilarino, and substitute Andrew Petcash .


Against West Virginia, coach Joe Jones said he didn’t feel his team was ready to put forth the same energetic effort that helped the Terriers win at South Carolina, and they were physically overpowered.

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Things got worse in Cancun.

“We were a shell of ourselves the first day,’’ said Jones. “The next day, the guys felt better but — no excuses, we’ve still got to get it done — I don’t think we were at our best.’’

Jones sees an area that needs to be improved.

“I know we’ve got to get tougher,’’ he said.


 Northeastern — Coach Bill Coen said he would know what kind of team he had after the Huskies returned from the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla.

The results were mixed, with losses to South Alabama and Drake and a victory over Weber State. It might be how this season is going to be.

The Huskies were missing big man Tomas Murphy (sprained ankle), but that led to playing time for Illinois transfer Greg Eboigbodin . Coen said his play was one of the highlights of the tournament.

South Alabama shot very well and held Northeastern’s Jordan Roland to 9 points.

Drake is decent, but the game was statistically odd. Drake took 20 more shots than the Huskies. So, despite holding Drake to 32 percent shooting overall and 24 percent on 3-pointers, it wasn’t good enough. NU’s 19 turnovers contributed to the 59-56 loss.


Against Weber State, the Huskies finally found their shooting touch, with Roland scoring 24 in the 79-69 win.

“[The tournament] solidifies what you need to address in order to be successful in conference play,’’ said Coen. “I think we’re scoring efficiently, we’re shooting at a high level, but we’ve got to take better care of the basketball. And we’ve got to become a better rebounding team.

“I think if we address those two areas, that would make a huge impact in how far this team could go.’’

It’s also becoming obvious that the Huskies need Roland to score every game. Some teams are going to be able to defend him, and that’s when things get sticky.

 Boston College — Coach Jim Christian might have the most difficult problems to solve coming off consecutive losses to DePaul, Saint Louis, and Richmond.

Two big problems have cropped up: turnovers and rebounding. There also have been some inexplicable offensive droughts; the shooting has been abysmal.

Against Saint Louis, the Eagles were outscored, 33-9, over the first 14 minutes of the second half, plus they gave up 17 offensive rebounds. Against Richmond, they had stretches of 6:22, 4:03, 4:33, and 6:52 in which they scored only one basket.

Point guard Derryck Thornton has 33 turnovers against 34 assists. He must have more positive production.

Big man Nik Popovich hasn’t been assertive enough.

“What’s more concerning is the stretch in the second half where it’s a 1-point game, 2-point game, and it goes to 15 because we become disconnected,’’ said Christian.

“I don’t know why for one stretch per night we do that and why the beginning of the game doesn’t carry for 40 minutes.’’

 UMass — After five victories to open the season, there’s been a reality check in Amherst. It’s a talented group, but the best players are freshmen and it’s going to take a while. The Minutemen have lost consecutive games to Virginia, St. John’s, and Rutgers.

“We weren’t really able to overcome some unforced turnovers,” said coach Matt McCall after the loss to Rutgers. “We have to get that corrected because obviously our schedule doesn’t get any easier.

“Offensively, I thought we struggled with getting into a rhythm, and you have to give Rutgers credit for that. But this is what we’re trying to build towards, to be able to win Big Ten games on the road in a hostile environment. We’re not there yet, and we’ve got a long way to go. But I think a game like this today will prepare us.”

 Harvard — The Crimson went 1-2 in the Disney World tournament, beating Texas A&M, then losing to Maryland and Southern Cal. Realistically, the Crimson should beat Texas A&M (which finished last in the tournament) and lose to Maryland (which is ranked third in the country and won the tournament).

USC was the key game if the Crimson were going to leave Florida feeling good about themselves. It didn’t happen, as the Trojans dominated the second half.

The Crimson played their best in the losing effort against Maryland.

Coach Tommy Amaker has said defense is his team’s calling card, and that proved true in Orlando. They haven’t solved things offensively and are vulnerable unless Bryce Aiken scores a bunch of points. Aiken also needs to find the proper balance of scoring and playmaking.

“Bryce can score with the best of them,’’ said Amaker to reporters in Florida after the A&M victory. “He had a pretty efficient offensive game, but he can be better than that, certainly in other areas of quarterbacking our team and leading our team.’’

Harvard’s Bryce Aiken (left) guards Maryland’s Eric Ayala during Friday’s game.
phelan m. ebenhack/AP
Harvard’s Bryce Aiken (left) guards Maryland’s Eric Ayala during Friday’s game.

This is a team that’s still developing, but it always has to be said that the potential is there for great things.

 Measuring upsets: I think we need a rating of upsets; something along the lines of the Richter Scale. If you just used the traditional 1 through 10, Stephen F. Austin’s upset of Duke has to be a 10.

The Lumberjacks were the first non-ACC school to win at Cameron Stadium since Feb. 26, 2000, when St. John’s did it. Butler is now in possession of the longest nonconference home winning streak at 55. (An aside: Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse is a sensational place to watch a game.)

There was no letdown for Austin, either, as the Lumberjacks won at Arkansas State, 76-57 Saturday.

 Bruce Pearl can really coach: Auburn’s coach is probably more known for his sometimes-outrageous behavior and the sweat stains on his suit, but he is really good at his job. He took Auburn to the Final Four last season, and a dip was expected this season, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Tigers back in the Final Four.

They are 7-0, averaging 85.6 points per game, holding opponents to 66.4, and showing great passion and intensity. Much like their coach.

Guard Samir Doughty is the leading scorer, but I really love another guard, J’Von McCormick, who makes things go. I want to see a footrace between him and Kansas’s Devon Dotson.

 Everybody’s wrong: Michigan coach Juwan Howard is better than anyone could have imagined. Just about everybody except former members of the Fab Five thought Howard was not a good choice. Obviously it’s still early, but his team was sensational in beating Iowa State, North Carolina, and Gonzaga to win the Battle for Atlantis.

His early recruiting returns are rated highly, too.

The Wolverines have another big game Tuesday night at Louisville, the day after the Cardinals ascended to the No. 1 ranking.

 Perspective in Louisville: The Cardinals are 7-0, as Chris Mack has done a great job. The program could have fallen drastically after the Rick Pitino scandals and the FBI investigation, but it didn’t.

Mack is keeping a lid on the enthusiasm.

“My job is for me to get them to understand that we haven’t arrived,’’ Mack told reporters. “There’s no team that’s arrived. A lot of people are saying that we haven’t played anybody. A lot of people are saying we’re not there. Maybe we aren’t deserving. I don’t care. The only thing I care about is improving.”

 Revivals: Indiana is 7-0 for the first time since 2012-13 but has played all of its games at home . . . Arkansas is 7-0 under new coach Eric Musselman, the best start since the 1997-98 season, and the Razorbacks have even played one road game . . . Santa Clara is 8-1 for the first time since 1968-69. The Broncos finished 27-2 that season . . . San Diego State is 8-0 for the first time since 2010-11, when it had a player you didn’t know then but you know now: Kawhi Leonard. The Aztecs are led by a wild point guard, Malachi Flynn, who can be spectacular and awful all in the same game. He’s entertaining and baffling . . . George Mason won the tournament in the Cayman Islands and is 8-1 for the first time since 1983-84.

 Odd ending: I wrote last season about the unusual inbounds play that Oakland coach Greg Kampe invented and has been adopted by Penn coach Steve Donahue. When inbounding after the other team has scored late in the game and a timeout is called, Kampe has his players line up out of bounds. They then run a play similar to what the Patriots would do with three receivers on one side of the field. Kampe says it’s never not worked.

Penn has had success too — until this week at the Disneyland tournament. Penn couldn’t make a clean pass and the ball deflected off the receiver, giving Central Florida the ball with a chance to tie with a 3-pointer and three seconds left. UCF’s Darrin Green hit a shot from the corner that appeared to tie the game. However, the court at Anaheim Arena has four 3-point arcs outlined. Green’s foot was inside the college line, and the shot was ruled a 2. Penn won, 68-67.

 Bad losses: Syracuse is an uncharacteristic 4-3 and had a lost weekend in Brooklyn, getting mauled by Penn State, 85-64, and Oklahoma State, 86-72. Coach Jim Boeheim seemed philosophical. “I thought this team would take a while,’’ he told reporters in New York. “I thought it would take 10 or 12 games. I don’t know if it’ll be done in 15 or 20 games.’’ Sounds promising, right? . . . Georgetown lost at home to UNC Greensboro, 65-61, but there’s an asterisk here because Greensboro is one of the top non-power-conference teams in the nation. The Spartans, who should have been given an at-large bid to last season’s NCAA Tournament, returned a bunch of good players, notably guard Isaiah Miller. He battled foul trouble against the Hoyas and played only 20 minutes, but the Spartans were still able to win.

 My preoccupation with uniforms: I really don’t like how Long Beach State has discarded yellow as a school color in its black uniforms. I’d like to believe Tark would be outraged . . . Why was Minnesota wearing black at home against DePaul? Makes no sense. I imagine Kevin McHale being unhappy about it . . . The Oregon greens are sensational. I’m not talking about the neon crossing-guard green, I’m talking about the Ducks’ traditional bright green.

Oregon’s Payton Pritchard is looking good in green.
craig mitchelldyer
Oregon’s Payton Pritchard is looking good in green.

Games I’d like to see this week


Michigan at Louisville: The Wolverines’ good feelings from winning in the Bahamas could be gone quickly. Tough to win at the Pitino Palace.

Arizona State at San Francisco: Praise for Bobby Hurley for playing this road game. A big opportunity for the Dons, a Sully’s Court favorite.


Georgetown at Oklahoma State: I know the Hoyas just lost to UNC Greensboro, but I see this as an opportunity to see undefeated Okie State against a good opponent.

Ohio State at North Carolina: The Buckeyes have been a surprise, and they can get this win in Chapel Hill.


Furman at Auburn: The Paladins are 7-1, and as good as Auburn is, there is an upset possibility.


Arizona at Baylor: A rare road trip for Arizona; both teams are undefeated. Will Chip and Joanna Gaines be at the game?

Cincinnati at Xavier: One of the most intense rivalries, and the teams are evenly matched this season.