By: Liam O’Brien
Last season, the Boston University men’s basketball team began the season 0-3, kicking the tires on a 5-8 non-conference slate and 15-16 campaign.
In 2018-19, the Terriers would certainly like to get off to a faster start after finishing shy of their Patriot League Preseason Poll ranking for the first time in seven years under head coach Joe Jones.
Here’s how BU should fare against each non-conference opponent, which was announced last Wednesday.
NOV 6 (TUE), at Northeastern
2017-18: 23-10, Lost in CAA Tournament Final
The Huskies improved vastly last season, going 23-10, one season after finishing 15-16. Expect more of the same from this team in 2018-19. Northeastern returns each of its top six scorers from a season ago, highlighted by guard Vasa Pusica, who averaged 23 points per game in the Huskies’ final 10 games. This stretch included a 30-point outburst against College of Charleston in the CAA Championship. I don’t see the Terriers having anyone capable of keeping Pusica off the three-point line.
NOV 9 (FRI), vs. Vermont
The Catamounts were one of the most dominant teams in the NCAA last year, going 15-1 in the America East and earning a berth to the NIT. They also lost to eventual SEC Tournament Champion Kentucky by just four points in November. But, this is a new year and three of Vermont’s top four scorers have moved on. BU’s incoming recruiting class was ranked higher than Vermont’s by 247 Sports. Expect the Terriers to hold down the Catamounts’ top scorer from 2017-18, Anthony Lamb, in what should be a fun home opener at Case Gym.
NOV 11 (SUN), vs. Emerson
The Lions have some firepower, as NEWMAC Men’s Basketball First Team selectee Geoffrey Gray returns for his senior season after posting 47 points against Division 3 power Babson in February. But, Emerson lost that game by double-digits and also lost to Dartmouth by 35 points last year.
NOV 14 (WED), at Albany
The Terriers fell to the Great Danes by 14 points at home a season ago, part of their 0-3 start to the year. The fact that Joe Cremo (Villanova) and David Nichols (Florida State) both transferred to Final Four teams after the season shows how talented this squad was. This year should be a different story, however. Albany’s leading returning scorer, Anthony Campbell, averaged 6.7 points per game and neither of their incoming freshman were ranked as recruits.
NOV 17 (SAT), at Eastern Michigan
The Eagles rolled through the MAC in the second half of the season in 2017-18, winning seven in a row before succumbing to Toledo by one point in the conference semifinals. Their top three scorers from a season ago are all returning to school, including 6’10” beast James Thompson IV, who averaged 14.5 points and 11.2 rebounds last year.
NOV 21 (WED), at Drexel
The Dragons had it rough a season ago, faring 6-12 in the CAA and 13-20 overall. They shot just 32.5% from three while yielding 78.5 points per game, which ranked 313th in the country. Gone is leading scorer Tramaine Isabell, who averaged 21 points and 7.5 rebounds in his final season in Philadelphia before transferring to St. Louis.
NOV 23 (FRI), at Rutgers
This could be the toughest test of the season for the Terriers. After joining the Big Ten in 2014, Rutgers spent three seasons as the laughingstock of the league. Head coach Steve Pikell has turned it around with a strong emphasis on recruiting. The Scarlet Knights finished with the 49th-ranked 2018 recruiting class in the nation per 247 Sports, gaining a better crop of players than in-conference opponents Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. Sophomore guard Geo Baker is the man to watch for Rutgers this season after posting 10.8 points in 31.6 minutes per game as a freshman.
NOV 28 (WED), at New Hampshire
The Wildcats suffered plenty of adversity on the court last year, finishing 10-21. The road just gets tougher for the team from here. They had one double-digit scorer in 2017-18, Tanner Leissner, and he is gone. They had one double-digit rebounder, Iba Camara, and he has since left as well. According to head coach Bill Herrion, UNH will play a more up-tempo style this season which could lead to some entertaining basketball. However, it won’t be enough for them to overcome BU, a team they also lost to in 2017-18.
DEC 1 (SAT), at Elon
Last December, the Phoenix came to Case Gym and beat the Terriers by eight. Steven Santa Ana, Tyler Seibring and Dainan Swoope combined for 48 points on 12-21 shooting from deep. All three return this season for a team that ranked in the Top 50 in the country in assists with 15.8 per night last year. This could be a high-scoring affair, a situation the Terriers struggled with in 2017-18.
DEC 4 (TUE), vs. UMass Lowell
After what seemed like 20 years, leading scorer Jahad Thomas is gone from the Riverhawks roster. Thomas and Matt Harris accounted for 44% of the team’s scoring last season. UMass Lowell has a shockingly young roster this season, bringing seven freshmen to the fold. The Riverhawks beat the Terriers by five last season in Lowell, but this year’s scene will look much different.
DEC 13 (THU), @ Dartmouth
This meeting will be the first between these two squads since 2002-03. The Big Green went 3-11 in the Ivy League last year while compiling a 7-20 overall mark. They have not had a winning record in the last decade and graduated their top two scorers from last year. Boston native Giulien Smith, Dartmouth’s leading returning scorer, should provide some high-flying theatrics for those in attendance but it won’t be enough to derail BU.
DEC 15 (SAT), vs. Nicholls State
Last year was a memorable one for the Colonels. They had the best name in college basketball in Legend Robertin. They went 15-3 in the Southland Conference, capturing regular season league title honors before falling to March Madness mainstay Stephen F. Austin in the conference tournament. This year, the team will look much different as their head coach and top six scorers are gone. The 2018-19 version of Nicholls State will be a shell of the unit that bothered the Southland last year.
DEC 21 (FRI), vs. Bethune-Cookman
The Terriers conclude the non-conference schedule with a team they beat last year, 90-87. This was the best offensive performance of the year for BU, as they shot 65% from the field while going 10-18 from three-point range. What made this win so impressive was that Bethune-Cookman finished first in the MEAC. The Wildcats were a powerhouse last year, averaging 81.9 points per game which ranked within the nation’s top 25. Their 42.1 rebounds per game was the second-best mark in the country, a figure which dwarfed BU’s 33.7 boards per contest. This year’s version of the matchup should be another must-watch. Compton native Isaiah Bailey is back after scoring 21 points against the Terriers and posting 16.1 points per night. Also returning is Malik Maitland, who dropped 22 points in the game, way above his average of 10 points per game.
Result: Overtime Win
Overall, I expect the Terriers to head into conference play with a 9-4 record. If they can avoid the injury bug which plagued them last season, BU should enter the Patriot League portion of the schedule with some quality wins under their belt.