Tag Archives: Bob Whitney

New England Basketball Notebook: Harvard Shines In Season-Opener

Men's Basketball between the Harvard Crimson and the Columbia Lions

Bryce Aiken and the Harvard University men’s basketball team are motivated to return to the NCAA Tournament this upcoming season. (PHOTO COURTESY: David Dermer/Harvard Athletics)

By Matt Noonan | @MattyNoonz11

For Harvard University, Tuesday’s 84-27 victory over MIT was an ideal way to begin a new season, but also an opportunity to gain some much-needed momentum heading into an important non-conference clash on Friday with Northeastern University.

Multiple Crimson players contributed on both ends of the floor against the Engineers, including first-year forward Chris Ledlum, who recorded his first collegiate double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Christian Juzang netted 12 points, while classmate Chris Lewis stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, seven rebounds, one assist, and one block.

Harvard’s 57-point victory margin matched the 1945-46 team, which established the mark with their win over Northeastern.

While it certainly was an impressive start to their 2019-20 campaign, Harvard, as well as their coach Tommy Amaker, know they have more work to do in order to accomplish their preseason goals. And one of those goals, according to senior guard Bryce Aiken, is to return to the NCAA Tournament, something the Crimson have not done since 2015.

Harvard has come close to returning to the ‘big dance,’ but has fallen short the past three seasons in the Ivy League tournament. Additionally, they saw their run toward a National Invitational Tournament (NIT) title conclude twice within the past two years, including this past March when they lost a heartbreaker in the second round to North Carolina State University.

But despite falling short of accomplishing past preseason goals or winning tournaments and championships, Aiken remains optimistic. He believes this year’s crew can “make history,” and from what fans witnessed the other evening against MIT, perhaps the senior guard believes this year’s squad is truly capable of not just winning an Ivy League conference tournament but challenging other teams from across the country for the ultimate prize, a national championship. 

“The biggest motivation for us as seniors (this year) is leaving with a bang, man,” said senior Bryce Aiken, who elected to return to campus for one more season after initially entering his name for the 2019 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft last April.

“We haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament, so that is the biggest motivating factor for us.”

Added Juzang, “It’s been three years of all of us (for) things you can look at and you can call motivation (from) the Ivy League championship games, the NC State game, and we could point to a bunch of different things, but I think the biggest thing is (we’re) internally driven, not getting pushed around by the expectations and whatnot.”

The expectations, as both the coaches and student-athletes know, is rather high for a team that is scheduled to face some stiff competition this month against Northeastern, University at Buffalo, and Texas A&M. Harvard could also face the University of Maryland this month, too – they would need to beat the Aggies of Texas A&M in the opening round of the Orlando Invitational, which is scheduled to commence on Thanksgiving Day.

Weeks after competing in the Orlando Tournament, Harvard will commence conference play in mid-to-late January against Dartmouth College before ending the month with a visit to the University of Pennsylvania, which opened its 2019-20 season with an 81-80 win over the University of AlabamaPenn lost to Harvard last March in the Ivy League semifinals but was picked second in the conference preseason poll.

Yet, before Harvard worries about Dartmouth, Penn, and other future foes, they will keep their focus on Northeastern, a team that beat the Crimson last November, thanks to a game-high 35 points by Jordan Rolland. Rolland will certainly be a player the Crimson will need to slow down in order to pick-up their second win of the season, but from a quick glance at this year’s roster, Harvard is loaded with talent to slow down their opponents’ top players, and will certainly receive a boost from an impressive and hard-working first-year class.

Amaker praised his freshman class, which was ranked 38th nationally, according to 247Sports.com. All five newcomers logged time on Tuesday against MIT and have seemed to adapt to the college game quite well it seems.

“I have been impressed with our first-years,” said Amaker during the team’s media day last Friday. “This is a tough-minded group. They are physical – you look at who they are (with their) bodies and (what) they are capable of taking in … they have been durable, but they have been very (impressive) with their durability, dependability, and then fitting in.

“Our future is good hands with this first-year class.”

No matter who is on the floor Friday and later this season – Aiken, Ludlum, Juzang, sophomore Noah Kirkwood or seniors Seth Towns and Henry Welsh – Harvard is expected to compete and play some impressive basketball that should translate into more wins and an exciting 2019-20 season.

News and Notes from New England: 

  • Andrew Fleming became the 31st player in the University of Maine men’s basketball program to net 1,000 points as the senior helped the Black Bears defeat Merrimack College, 84-64, on Wednesday evening. Fleming, who was named a preseason America East All-Conference honoree, recorded 37 points and 10 rebounds against the Warriors to go along with five assists and two blocks.
  • Keep your eyes on the Saint Anselm College women’s basketball team this weekend – the Hawks, who were picked to finish atop the Northeast-10 Conference will tip-off Saturday, November 9th against Bloomfield College at 6:30 p.m. After facing the Bears, the Hawks will cap their weekend with a late Sunday afternoon contest against the University of Bridgeport.

    Senior Shannon Ryan will be one of many student-athletes to watch on the Hawks this winter. Ryan recorded a double-double of 29 points and 18 rebounds last weekend against Bishop’s University.

  • WPI, which secured the fourth spot in our New England D-III Men’s Basketball Top 10 Preseason Poll, tips-off its season against ninth-ranked Brandeis University on Friday. Both teams are two squads to watch this winter – the Engineers were picked to capture the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC), while Brandeis is expected to continue its success from last year under second-year coach Jean Bain.
  • Finally, make sure to read Bob Whitney‘s first column, Around The Rim – I am very excited to have Bob join our team this winter to produce some additional basketball content. Bob has covered the college and high school game for years and will be a great addition to our Noontime Sports staff.

Around The Rim With Bob Whitney: Welcome Back College Hoops

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Former Braintree High and Kimball Union star Nic Timberlake in action last year for Towson University. Timberlake is now a redshirt freshman for Towson this winter after last season’s injury-riddled campaign. (PHOTO COURTESY: Bob Whitney)

By Bob Whitney | @WhitneyBob

In case you haven’t noticed the 2019-20 college basketball season is off and running, highlighted by a nationally-televised doubleheader last evening featuring the top four teams in the men’s basketball preseason rankings: Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas.

For all of us veteran purists, it was hoop heaven, the talent was amazing but the quality of play was spotty at best given such a huge stage on opening night.

That aside, it is my pleasure to pen a weekly hoop column for the hard-working Matt Noonan and his many followers here at Noontime Sports.

I have covered one of the Power Five conferences – the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), to be exact – for the last eight seasons, but this year I will focus on a little bit of everything but the primary focus will remain on all that is happening in New England – and that is a lot!

First of all, check out the Noontime Sports Men and Women’s New England D-III Basketball Preseason Top 10 Polls: (Men’s Basketball | Women’s Basketball)

A few thoughts from the basketball polls.

  • No surprise that Amherst College is perched at the top of both rankings. They have been the gold-standard regionally and a regular participant in the NCAA D-III Tournaments for years.
  • Speaking of Amherst, the men’s program suffered a sudden jolt in September when legendary coach David Hixon (after 42 seasons at the helm) opted to take a non-health sabbatical to deal with some family issues. The big question is can the program move on without Hixon’s leadership?

    Those close to the program feel that with the elevation of trusted assistant Aaron Toomey, who played under Hixon and helped win NCAA titles in 2012 and 2013, the transition should be seamless.

  • A game to watch (and to gauge how Toomey and his squad are managing the transition) is on January 10 when New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) rival Middlebury College travels to Amherst.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • There have been a number of rule changes introduced with the most important one being the extension of the 3-point arc from 17 inches to the international standard of 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches. Although testing of this change in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) last year found little change in shooting percentage, it was felt by the officiating honchos that it would alleviate congestion in the paint by forcing defenders to guard shooters further away from the basket. Stay tuned on this change.
  • All eyes will be pointing to Cambridge, Mass this season to see if the Harvard University celebrated senior class, led by awesome point guard Bryce Aiken, can finally win an Ivy League title, as well as earn an automatic tournament bid to the NCAA Tournament.

    Better yet, the Crimson will have some home-cooking help in March as this year’s conference tournament moves from the storied The Palestra to Lavietes Pavilion, March 14-15.

    The Ivy poo-bahs move to a conference tournament for men and women was a no-brainer – the atmosphere is pulsating and the quality of play is as good as it gets.

  • A shoutout to former Marquette University assistant Brett Nelson who assumes the reins at Holy Cross after Bill Carmody‘s decision to retire from the coaching ranks.
  • Did you know that we have a number of the top coaches in the women’s college game led by the legendary Barbara Stevens, who ranks fourth in wins among college coaches at Bentley University, Harvard’s Kathy Delaney-Smith, Stonehill College‘s Trisha Brown, Springfield College‘s Naomi Graves, and Babson College‘s Judy Blinstrub. If any of you have a daughter that may be destined to play at the college level the price of admission to catch one of these coaches in action will help with a final decision.
  • In my eight years following ACC men’s basketball, I had the privilege to hear firsthand from some of the great coaches in the game, including Coach Mike KrzyseskiRoy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, and Mike Brey. Buzz Williams was a real stitch in the press room. But most impressive among this elite group of coaches was the University of Virginia‘s, Tony Bennett.

    Obviously, Bennett’s run to the national title was the big news last year but most noteworthy was his recent decision to forego a well-deserved a big raise. Bennett felt that his family was blessed and thankful for what they have and felt that the money would be better spent in funding a program to help athletes transition to careers after basketball. Bennett is destined to be the voice of the ACC once Coach K and Roy retire.

A FINAL THOUGHT

Best wishes to Kristen McDonnell who left the Braintree high school girls basketball program after a ten-year run which included four D-1 state titles and a bunch of sectional crowns. McDonnell is seeking a new challenge as the Norwood high school boys head coach.

Keep shooting. See you next week!

Catching Up With Babson College Guard Taylor Russell

Babson College senior Ashley Russell and the Bears kick-off their 2016-17 season on Saturday, November 19th when they tip-off against Farmingdale State. (PHOTO CREDIT: Babson College Athletics)

Babson College senior Ashley Russell and the Bears kick-off their 2016-17 season on Saturday, November 19th when they tip-off against Farmingdale State. (PHOTO CREDIT: Babson College Athletics)

By Bob Whitney (@WhitneyBob

Taylor Russell is a senior at Babson College and a captain on this year’s women’s basketball squad. Russell, along with fellow captain Giovanna Pickering and seven others return from a team that went 21-6 last year and captured its fifth New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) regular season title since 2010.

Russell started nine times and appeared in 26 of 27 for legendary Coach Judy Blinstrub’s Green and White, averaging career highs of 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, while shooting 45.1 percent from the floor. Russell was a three-sport (basketball, lacrosse and volleyball) All-Star at Braintree High School in Braintree, Massachusetts.

Russell’s younger sister, Ashley, is a sophomore on the Penn Quakers basketball team.

Noontime Sports correspondent Bob Whitney recently spoke with Russell just prior to the Beavers’ first game of the 2016-17 season on Saturday, November 19 against Farmingdale State (Amherst College Tip-Off Classic 8 p.m.).

How prepared were you to play at the college level?

My high school coach, Kristen McDonnell, was a real stickler for defensive fundamentals – it was all about defense first. That skill set really helped me in my first year at Babson. I felt like I was a step ahead of the other freshman because we had spent considerable time on defensive skills (individual and team) at Braintree HS.

What have you noticed are the biggest differences in transitioning from playing in high school to college?

There are a couple of things that quickly come to mind. First of all, the pace of the game is so much quicker. Then the competition is much more intense and finally managing the time commitment between basketball and maintaining your studies. At Babson one of our guiding principles is students first and athletes second!

What challenges have you faced on the offensive end?

I have had to become a much more versatile player in college. I have had to learn the No. 2, 3 or 4 spots on the floor. I spent a lot of time learning and refining my post moves over the last three seasons.

What are the challenges of being a student-athlete?

No question maintaining a balance between basketball and the classroom. Time management is critical to your success. It was a real challenge, but I am glad that I made the sacrifice to do both.

What are the intangibles of playing a sport in college?

I have learned a lot, but I truly believe that hard work will pay off for you in the long run – whatever it takes to get the job done on the court or in the classroom. You also get the opportunity to make some incredible friendships along the way, which will hopefully become life-long. In addition playing a sport teaches you a lot about teamwork, decision-making, leadership, adapting to change and how to handle pressure.

Finally, what kind of senior season do you expect to have?

Well, we lost a number of very experienced players from last year so experience will be a factor in the early games. But we have some very good freshman this year and a transfer so I expect us to be right in the mix for the NEWMAC title. Last year we just missed the NCAA tournament but this year I expect us to earn the automatic bid.

Follow Bob on Twitter @WhitneyBob; like him on Facebook and Instagram.