This is the first installment of The Arena Pulse’s New England Rankings, a power ranking that will be on-going throughout the season.
There are 21 Division I men’s basketball programs in New England. The six states have representation from the ACC to the Big East to smaller conferences who normally have only one shot at making the NCAA Tournament.
Believe it or not, only one of those 21 teams made the NCAA Tournament last season and no it was not from any of the major conferences. Vermont, who won the America East Conference tournament championship was the lone qualifier of the nation’s northeast region.
1. Connecticut- This Connecticut team is picked to finish 10th in the Big East. For now, however, they enter the season as the best in New England. Kemba Walker is back and Alex Oriakhi will look to step up inside. The freshman class gives Calhoun something to work with as the Huskies look to improve off a disappointing campaign a season ago.
2. Boston College-
The transfers of Rakim Sanders, Brady Heslip, and Evan Ravenel hurt the Eagles, but Reggie Jackson, Joe Trapani, and Corey Raji will help the Eagles usher in a new era of basketball under first-year head coach Steve Donahue.
3. URI- The Rams have been close to the NCAA Tournament the past couple of seasons, but haven’t been able to break in. Akeem Richmond and Delroy James return, as well as 7-footer Will Martell down low. Can the Rams threaten in the top-heavy Atlantic 10?
Cornell has won the Ivy League three years in a row, however Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker may be close to a “changing of the guard”. Jeremy Lin is a tough loss, but Harvard still has enough to win the league.
Derek Needham led the team in scoring last season as a freshman, and like Harvard, might be looking to knock off a three-time defending champion in their conference. BC transfer Rakim Sanders will be eligible next season, but Fairfield is looking to move atop the MAAC right now.
The Friars will match-up with a number of New England teams during non-conference play, although that may not ultimately help them in Big East play. They finished 12-19 a season ago and lost their two leading scorers from that group. Senior Marshon Brooks needs to have a monster season.
Stony Brook could end up being the team to beat in the America East and the loss of Marquis Blakely will certainly hurt the Catamounts. However, this team won 25 games a year ago and was the only team in the region to qualify for the NCAA Tournament last season, so it’s tough to doubt what they could do.
They were 12-20 last season and leading scorer Ricky Harris is gone. However, Anthony Gurley and Terrell Vinson were both former Top 100 recruits and alongside Freddie Riley and big man Sean Carter, the talent is there for head coach Derek Kellogg’s squad.
9. Boston Univ.-
John Holland returns as the team’s leading scorer from a season ago and he is the lone senior on a roster that can challenge in the America East.
The Huskies feature a roster with only two seniors, one of which is Chaisson Allen who will lead this NEU team this season. Northeastern and Boston Univ will match-up on Friday, Nov. 12 to tip-off the season.
Don’t count Maine out in the chase in the America East. This team won 11 games in conference and 19 overall last season and the Black Bears return five of their top six scorers from a year ago.
A tough loss in the Northeast Conference tournament championship put the Bobcats in the NIT this past spring, but head coach Tom Moore remains optimistic heading into 2010-2011. QU will match-up with six New England area teams in a row to begin the season.
13. Holy Cross-
They won only nine games a season ago, but the Crusaders return their top five leading scorers from a season ago. Holy Cross has the experience to move up in the Patriot League.
14. New Hampshire-
Alvin Abreu, Tyrone Conley, and Dane Diliegro all return and all enter their senior seasons looking to move the Wildcats up in the America East.
15. Central Connecticut State-
The season begins with eight road games in their first nine contests. Senior Shemik Thompson is back as the team’s leading scorer, looking to improve off a 9-9 season in the Northeast Conference last year.
Alex Zampier is gone and the Bulldogs are going to need players to step up if they hope to remain out of the bottom half of the Ivy League.
Joe Zeglinski will be the guy for Hartford, yet again. The Hawks are coming off an 8-22 season a year ago.
18. Sacred Heart- They lost a lot from a team that finished near the bottom of the Northeast Conference. It might be a tough season for the Pioneers.
They finished 11-20 last season, this year could be similar. Peter Sullivan looks to take over as the leader for the Brown Bears.
They won one game in Ivy League play last season, first step is to improve on that in 2010-2011.
The transition into Division I continues for Bryant. They finished 1-29 last season, so they will likely be around the bottom of the list, barring any monumental improvement.
*Photo: Kemba Walker *Credit: nypost.com
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