With Boston College coming off its worst season in 13 years, Harvard plagued by a cheating scandal that forced out two of its top players and Boston University barred from the America East tournament, the local college hoops scene looked a bit drab entering the 2012-13 season.
However, as March arrived there was plenty of intrigue surrounding the local scene, which could produce multiple NCAA Tournament bids. Here is a look at some of the storylines:
Harvard – Until an upset loss at Pennsylvania on Saturday, the Crimson were in first place in the Ivy League, which as you will recall has no conference tournament. Now a half-game behind Princeton, Harvard has the more favorable schedule, playing two home games while the Tigers go on the road for three. With just a little help the Crimson could be dancing for the second straight season.
Northeastern – Picked to finish fifth in the Colonial Athletic Association and without a tourney bid since 1991, the Huskies rode the hot hand of senior Joel Smith to a surprise first-place finish. They will get the only bye to the semifinals of the CAA Tournament, playing either George Mason or Drexel on Sunday. Northeastern was 10-1 against teams that will appear in the conference tourney – four teams are not participating due to various ineligibilities. It is a very favorable bracket.
Boston College – Barring an unlikely run through the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, there will be no bid for the Eagles. However, one of the youngest teams in the league grew up quite a bit this season and is poised to do better things in 2013-14. There was a recent win over bubble-worthy Maryland and several narrow defeats (six in league play by five points or less) that will serve as building blocks.
Boston University – Terriers fans are likely still steaming about their team’s exclusion from the America East tournament, but the Patriot League, where BU goes next season, has taken note. The Terriers won 11 of their last 13 games, sweeping defending champion Vermont in the process. Standout D.J. Irving will enter his senior season, and the Terriers’ first in the Patriot League, as one of the top players in the conference, and everyone else returns for coach Joe Jones.
Bryant – In their first season with tournament-eligibility at the Division I level after a reclassification period, the Bulldogs have had the greatest year-to-year turnaround in NCAA history. They were 2-28 last season, but have posted 19 wins and gained a home game in the first round of the league tourney Wednesday against Mount St. Mary’s. Bryant stunned Boston College earlier this season and with a few more victories would capture one of the more unlikely NCAA Tournament bids.
Providence – A lackluster non-conference run that included losses to Brown, Massachusetts and Penn State did not help the Friars’ cause, but they’ve won six of seven, including a pair of victories over ranked opponents, and will not be an easy out in the Big East tourney. Senior star Vincent Council, who missed several games early while Providence struggled, is just about back to normal.
If none of these teams make it, there are still some local heroes playing on big-time programs elsewhere:
Erik Murphy, F-C, Florida: The senior, who honed his skills at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, is averaging 12.4 points for the eighth-ranked Gators.
Nate Lubick, F, Georgetown: Also a St. Mark’s product, Lubick is a big part of the Hoyas’ physical game. He ranks second on the team in rebounds and third in blocks.
Kaleb Tarczewski, C, Arizona: A New Hampshire native who also played at St. Mark’s, the 7-footer has had a solid freshman campaign.
Michael Carter-Williams, G, Syracuse: Carter-Williams played one year at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School and three more at St. Andrews School in Rhode Island. He leads the Orange in assists and steals.
Pat Connaughton, G, and Zach Auguste, F, Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish always have a few guys named Patrick from the Boston area, it seems. Connaughton, of Arlington, is one of the team’s top outside shooters. Auguste, of Marlborough, is a 6-10 freshman who has come on of late.