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Full Court Press: Nova Falls, Ponds is Dynamic, Hofstra Has Nation’s Leading Rebounder

(Photo by Double G Media)

(Photo by Double G Media)

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays….so after a couple of weeks away from the keyboard to relax and enjoy the festivities, I am back to take you all the way through the meat grinder of conference play and March Madness.

Last week I was courtside to catch the ACC opener between Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange and Jim Christian’s Boston College Eagles. Talk about two teams headed in opposite directions – the ‘Cuse is searching for answers and the Eagles are seeking to keep the midas shooting touch. Boston College torched the ‘Cuse with some amazing outside shooting and well-executed team defense that propelled them to a very satisfying 96-81 win.

BC has a couple of bonafide ACC-type front liners in sophomore Jerome Robinson (22 points) and freshman Ky Bowman (30). Robinson can take it to the rack with the best of them and also has a super touch from three-point land. He is currently scoring at a 20.6 ppg clip and is certainly in the conversation for ACC Player of the Year. Bowman has come on strong over the last three weeks (2-time ACC Rookie of the Week) with the talent to be a real star in the ACC.

For Boeheim, who is about to close the curtain on an historic career as a player and coach at Syracuse, it was another disappointing defensive effort by his squad. The ‘Cuse vaunted 2-3 zone has been a mere shadow of years past as they relinquished 90+ points for the second time in a two week span. St. John’s lit up the scoreboard for 93 points recently; and to rub salt in the wound they did it in the Carrier Dome.

It was a dejected Boeheim in the press room after the loss as he lamented his team’s defensive woes, particularly in defending shots from beyond the arc.

The Orange had a very encouraging 70-55 bounce back win over Miami on Jan. 4. Stay tuned – Boeheim’s teams have been strong at the finish line and with senior Tyler Roberson (Union, NJ) and sophomore Tyler Lydon (Elizaville, NY) leading the way…. This team has young talent (Taurean Thompson, New York, NY) that is starting to adjust to what it takes to play at an elite level.

This may make them the team that nobody wants to play come tournament time.

Changes at the top

Plenty of changes at the top of the national rankings as conference play heats up … not a surprise as there are a ton of excellent teams with the ability to knock off a conference foe on any given night.

BC’s Christian summed it up nicely the other day; “There are so many good teams across the country, that if they play well they can beat anybody and if they don’t come to play they can lose to anybody.”

So true …

Villanova fell from the unbeaten ranks, and most-likely will relinquish the No. 1 ranking to surprising Baylor, when they suffered a 66-58 road loss to Butler on Jan. 4. The Wildcats will get back at it when they host Marquette on Jan. 7 and Xavier on Jan. 10.

Kindly mark Jan. 14 on your hoop viewing calendar, as Chris Mullin and St. John’s plays host to ‘Nova (12 p.m.).

By the way, I love watching the Red Storm’s dynamic point guard Shamarie Ponds. The play of Ponds is proof that you can’t win at the elite level without a point guard.

Beyond the arc

Congratulations to the Northeastern University Huskies as they set a new Colonial Athletic Conference record last evening with 21-treys in defeating Delaware.

Who would have thought that Canisius (3-1), Fairfield (3-1), Rider (2-1) and Saint Peter’s (2-1) would be sitting at the top of the MAAC standings? It’s still early but this could be one of the more competitive races for the top seed in the MAAC tournament which will be held March 2-6, 2017 at the Times Union Center Albany, NY.

The current leaders, Canisius and Fairfield, are scheduled to face each other on Jan. 10.

Hofstra’s Rokas Gustys continues to lead the country in rebounds per game at 13.2 rpg. Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado is sixth at 11.6.

Curious that Duke’s Grayson Allen only served a Coach K-imposed one-game suspension for his deliberate tripping incident against Elon and overall on-court bad behavior. Perhaps Coach K was looking to deflect some attention from the suspension with his leave of absence for back surgery. I’ll cut Allen some slack as he attempts to prove all the doubters wrong. It could prove quite the challenge as Allen will face hostile ACC road environments.

Save the date

The ACC and Big East will compete for top-billing this year as both conferences will hold their season-ending tournaments in New York City (March 7-11, 2017).

The Big East will gather as usual in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, while the ACC will take up residence at the Barclay Center.

It’s a basketball feast for all the purists but a logistical nightmare. Take a number please – I don’t believe you will be disappointed!

A Final Salute

Miami’s Jim Larranaga is about to reach a major milestone with his next win. Larranaga, a Bronx, NY native and Providence College star, will become the fifth current ACC coach with 600 career wins or more. Larranaga has resurrected a once-proud Miami program that was decimated by poor leadership and under recruiting and donor controversy.

He will join Mike Krzyzewski (1,056), Roy Williams (795), Rick Pitino (757) and Jim Boeheim (893) in that exclusive club.

Who said you can’t start to coach at the elite level when you are over 60? A special salute to Jim and chalk one up for the AARP!

Keep shooting…. see you next week…. The best to Coach K for a successful surgery and recovery!!!

Follow Bob on Twitter for all the latest in college hoop happenings, game highlights, features and more: @WhitneyBob

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Bob Whitney

Bob is a college basketball columnist here at He also covers Yale football and the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA.
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