November is coming. I repeat: November is coming.
Why do we care? Because sports. No, we're not excited about the World Series, and no, we couldn't care less about approaching the heart of the NFL season. College football is okay, but let's be honest -- the most wonderful thing about November is the return of college basketball!
In a region of the country where professional sports are all the rage, a CBB enthusiast such as myself has to work extra hard to get the masses excited about anything aside from March Madness. How do I do that, you ask? Just. Like. This:
I remind you that the northeast has more than one incredible story line this year. An obvious one is how the University of Connecticut will perform as reigning NCAA Men's National Champions without Shabazz Napier. Another is whether Providence College will finally have all of its pieces together. And a third is more of a question: what in the world are we supposed to do with Boston College now that there's a new head coach and a couple surprising personnel changes?
How 'bout we look at a couple men's teams throughout the northeast (in no particular order) and see where it takes us? Yes? Delightful.
University of Connecticut Huskies
Coach: Kevin Ollie
2013-2014 Record: 32-8 (12-6, AAC)
Season Summary: I guess it was The Year of UConn, as both the men's and women's basketball teams won the NCAA National Championship. Focusing on the men specifically, last year saw the Huskies end up 3rd in the AAC. They were a 4-seed in the conference tournament, where they were bounced by Louisville, making it the third loss to the Cardinals that season. Ultimately, they received a mediocre 7-seed in the NCAA tourney, and laughed at you all the way to cutting down the nets at the end.
Roster Losses: Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels
Key Returnees: Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun, Rodney Purvis
2014-2015 Outlook: With half of the Bazz-and-Boat dynamic duo bound for the NBA, look for Ryan Boatright to lead this year's squad. Not to say that he wasn't a leader last year, but he's "the guy" now. Watch Rodney Purvis. The NC State transfer sat out last year per NCAA rules, but he should make an immediate impact. He was also a huge get for coach Ollie, who called the 6-4 guard a "Ferrari, sitting in the garage, that I can't wait to drive."
Vroom, vroom, guys.
The Huskies lost a good amount of experience from its roster, but don't expect that to impede this team. Kevin Ollie's energetic coaching style has caused all of the kids to buy into his system completely, and it's paying off. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm looking forward to seeing how far he can take them again. Hint: repeating top 3 in the AAC should be a piece of cake.
Boston College Eagles
Coach: Jim Christian
2013-2014 Record: 8-24 (4-14, ACC)
Season Summary: In conference play, BC's victories were over Virginia Tech (twice), Wake Forest, and stunner over Syracuse in Syracuse. Unfortunately, the Eagles lost their first game in the ACC Tournament, and that was that. Well, until head coach Steve Donahue was dismissed, that is.
Roster Losses: Joe Rahon, Ryan Anderson
Key Returnees: Olivier Hanlan, Lonnie Jackson, Dennis Clifford
2014-2015 Outlook: There's optimism surrounding the new blood coming in. Graduate transfer Dimitri Batten will play right away, and fits rather nicely into the slot that Joe Rahon left. However, Rahon and Anderson were two of BC's top three scorers, and their departures will be felt. Coach Christian's teams are more post-oriented, as opposed to Donahue's that were more guard-focused, so at least the Eagles are moving away from a system that clearly didn't work for them. This shift will be interesting, though, as BC's big man, 7-footer Dennis Clifford, has battled injuries thus far in his career. If there's any chance for the Eagles to redeem themselves from last year, he will play an important role.
Providence College Friars
Coach: Ed Cooley
2013-2014 Record: 23-12 (10-8, Big East)
Season Summary: The season had a couple ebbs and flows, but it ended with the Friars locked in a three-way tie for third place in the league. Then, there was the conference tournament. Providence built momentum and became the Big East Tournament champions for only the second time in school history after a fantastic 65-58 win over Doug McDermott's Creighton team. In the NCAAs, the Friars gave North Carolina a run for its money, but ultimately couldn't pull out the win.
Roster Losses: Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton, Josh Fortune
Key Returnees: LaDonte Henton, Tyler Harris, Kris Dunn
2014-2015 Outlook: Providence looks to capitalize on the momentum it built at the end of last season, as well as the return of Kris Dunn to the court after another shoulder injury. It may be a rough road at times, especially with Kentucky, Notre Dame, and UMass on the schedule. There are questions surrounding the guard spots after the numerous departures. Some anticipate Henton expanding his role, but his lack of ball-handling experience may be an issue. While it remains to be seen how Cooley will configure this team, one thing's for certain: excitement abounds in Friartown.
Coach: Jim Boeheim (Note: it's pronounced BAY-hyme, for the love of god. Look, I know we're pretty pro-sports oriented around these parts, but the man's in the Hall of Fame. Quit saying BO-him.)
2013-2014 Record: 28-6 (14-4, ACC)
Season Summary: Syracuse started a record 25-0. This included an overtime victory over Duke in front of 35,000+ and a 35-foot buzzer-beating dream crusher at Pittsburgh. Their first loss was a shocking one. The aforementioned Eagles embarrassed the Orange on its home court, and the season was rather up and down after that. Syracuse was bounced out of their first ACC Tournament by NC State, but made a solid showing in the first (second?) round of the NCAAs. That didn't last, though, and the Orange didn't make it out of the first weekend thanks to the Dayton Flyers.
Roster Losses: C.J. Fair, Baye Keita, Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant
Key Returnees: Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije
2014-2015 Outlook: While the senior leadership of big man Rakeem Christmas, and the three-point threats of Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije will keep teams on their toes, expect freshman to be key to the Orange's success again. Kaleb Joseph will most likely be Syracuse's starting point guard. While he may not be as suave and controlled as Ennis, Joseph is a ridiculous athlete who has already received praise from coach Boeheim. That's pretty rare. Freshman Chris McCullough's ability to adapt to the pace and intensity of the college game will make a huge difference in how far this youthful Syracuse team can go, as well.
Check in next week for Part 2 of Lisa Nelson's College Hoops Preview!
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