Around The Rim With Bob Whitney: Welcome Back College Hoops


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.


  • 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.


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!

Mass. College Hoops: Springfield’s Graves Earns 400th Win, Pride Rallies Past Mount Holyoke


Courtesy of the Springfield College sports information department, here’s today’s release about women’s basketball head coach Naomi Graves, who picked up her 400th win on the sidelines this evening as the Pride rallied to beat Mount Holyoke:

Springfield, Mass. – January 15, 2014 – Springfield College head women’s basketball coach Naomi Graves won her 400th career game as the Pride rallied past Mount Holyoke, 54-47, on Wednesday night in a New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) showdown.

The Pride snapped its two-game slide to improve to 9-5, 5-4 in league play, while the Lyons slip to 4-10, 1-8.

For Graves, the milestone win came in her 29th season as a head women’s basketball coach. To date, Graves has a record of 400-349, including a mark of 331-266 in her 24 seasons on the sidelines at Springfield College.

Lexi Winder (Milton, Mass.) was sensational on the night for the Pride as she netted a career-high 22 points, canning eight of her 15 shots, including 4-of-7 from downtown. Jaimie Bickelhaupt (Brookfield, Conn.) registered her eighth double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 boards, and Ava Adamopoulos (Ludlow, Mass.) chipped in eight points off the bench.

The Lyons were paced by the play of Amber Legare (Chicopee, Mass.), who scored 17 points and pulled down 10 boards to go along with four steals. Kate Karraker (Morgantown, W.V.) finished with a team-best 18 points for the visitors, who were daunted by 19 turnovers in the game.

For the game, both teams shot just 35% from the floor, but the Pride were able to offset a shaky offensive first half by hitting 14-of-24 in the second half for a 58.3% shooting percentage.

The Pride owned an early 9-6 lead following a pair from the charity stripe by Tamara Tribble (White Plains, N.Y.) at the 13:25 mark of the opening half. Over the next nine-plus minutes, Mount Holyoke shut down Springfield as it poured on a 16-4 spurt that was capped off by a Legare inside bucket. The hosts scored the final four points of the half, with Emily Taylor’s (West Springfield, Mass.) jumper in the final minute cutting Mount Holyoke’s lead to 22-17 heading into the break.

The Lyons lead grew to 26-20 just 1:35 into the second half after Jennine Vizcaino (New York, N.Y.) leaked out for a fast-break bucket. Springfield was able to respond however, and over the next 5:24, the hosts scored 14 of the game’s next 16 points to snag a six-point cushion of their own after a Tribble layup at the 12:51 mark. Winder was huge in the stretch, burying a pair of trifectas to kick start the run.

Mount Holyoke got within a point on four different occasions, but would never reclaim the lead as the Pride proved to be too tough down the stretch. After Legare converted a conventional three-point play get within two at 46-44 with 4:10 to go, the Pride benefited from a Bickelhaupt putback and Winder’s fourth three of the night to regain a seven-point lead.

Despite Karraker answering with a three of her own with 1:21 on the clock, Springfield hit three of four from the charity stripe in the final 20 seconds to seal the win.

Springfield will continue conference play on Saturday morning when it hosts Coast Guard at 10:00 am in Blake Arena.