The Boston University men’s basketball team is the early favorite to take the America East Conference. These are its players and the reasons why:
The questions have nothing to do with talent. Two former America East Rookies of the Year (junior Tyler Morris and sophomore John Holland) and a candidate for Conference Player of the Year (Corey Lowe) take care of that. Rather, doubters have always been able to point to this group’s lack of health.
That was the story last year: The guards couldn’t stay on the court long enough together to get any sort of rhythm going. Couple that with a dribble-drive offense ill-suited to the talent, and it was no surprise that once Morris and Lowe were healthy and coach Dennis Wolff changed the offensive focus, the Terriers started winning.
It should be noted that Lowe was sidelined with a stress fracture in his knee during the weeks leading up to preseason, but he hasn’t missed an actual practice ‘-‘- so the proverbial team chemistry hasn’t had its growth stunted this time around ‘-‘- and it’s a credit to him that Wolff isn’t worried one bit.
‘ ‘Corey’s probably one of the most amazing basketball players I’ve ever been around in my life because he doesn’t really fall out of shape and he can get his game back quickly,’ Wolff said.
Little has changed since last spring. Except for Morris who, after dealing with shin splints last season, never quite looked like his award-winning self.
‘It’s not about health now . . . I don’t have any of that going on,’ Morris said. ‘Hopefully me and Corey can get this thing going together because there’s no reason that we can’t play well together and be one of the best tandems in the league.’
The reason they could be just that is balance. Though neither player is a true point guard, both can initiate the offense. Within the sets, Morris is at his best catching and shooting off screens and is particularly deadly in the mid-range, while Lowe can create his own shot off the dribble, sometimes from so deep the defense hadn’t even bothered stepping out that far (Lowe set the team single-season record for 3s last year with 92, despite missing five games).
What that means is that no matter what defense is thrown their way, the Terrier guards can get a jumper from anywhere on the court, with a high likelihood of making it.
Then there’s Holland, the starting small forward. Coming into his second year, and thus still maturing as a player, there is little Holland can’t do on the court. His 38-point outburst against the University of Hartford last February was no accident, and he’s a central reason why the Terriers picked up the tempo on offense toward the end of last season. A back injury hampered him during the loss to Hartford in the conference tournament, but Holland was tied for second on the team with 30 games played. Defensively, with his wingspan and explosiveness, Holland has the potential to be the team’s best one-on-one defender.
In all, despite the ‘if healthy’ tag following them, the backcourt trio has the potential to be the highest scoring ‘-‘- and most crowd-pleasing ‘-‘- group in the conference. But potential is just a word, and they know that. With youth a long-forgotten rationale, it’s time to make good.
‘I feel like Corey is the best player in the league, and we have other good players around him and we have the pieces,’ Morris said. ‘So if it doesn’t happen, it’s on no one but us. It’s up to us to make it happen.’
Though Wolff’s Terriers have often been a grind-it-out defensive team. They have not, in recent years, been a banging, kick-you-down-and-then-keep-kicking-you sort of group. They hardly slink away from contact, but much of BU’s success in the paint has been the result of execution and finesse, not sheer muscle.
Part of this is due to the fact that they haven’t been starting a true center. At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, senior Matt Wolff is an undersized four during pre-conference play. He is also, being the only player to earn minutes in every game last season, the team’s rock and unquestioned leader.
He may not be a ticket seller, but Wolff is valuable as the player who does all the little things required to win. Call him a glue guy if you want, but if this team is to accomplish its goals, Wolff will undoubtedly deserve more credit than he will receive.
The assumed starter at the five spot is 6-foot-9 Scott Brittain, the junior with the most polished post moves on the team. Brittain led BU in rebounding with 6.3 per game last season, and more than doubled anyone else’s block total. Common thought would have him getting back on the same track, and he’ll need to, otherwise the Terriers will be at a disadvantage against teams with any size.
Waiting behind Brittain is 205-pound freshman Jake O’Brien, who has impressed with his play in practices and scrimmages.
‘He’s a step-out four man with 3-point range who’s going to make a lot of shots,’ Wolff said. ‘He’s 6’8,’ he knows how to play.’
O’Brien won’t be a physical force inside, but he will rebound and spread the floor, which, with the new 3-point line, will be more important than in years past. Expect O’Brien to get at least 20 minutes per night right off the bat.
The Terriers have frontcourt depth this year, thanks mostly to the addition of 6-foot-9, 240-pound freshman Jeff Pelage. If anyone is going to be an enforcer on this team, it’s Pelage, who will get 10-to-12 minutes in the early going and should see more minutes against bigger teams. Never a bad sign for a big man, Wolff said Pelage has made consistent improvement every day in practice.
The sixth man, though, is junior Carlos Strong. With athleticism and range on his jumper, Strong will be the microwave offense off the bench. Last year, he averaged 28 minutes and was the third leading scorer on the team, and you should expect nothing less this season.
Rounding out the bench squad is senior Marques Johnson, one of the team’s four captains, who will provide steady minutes at the point, and junior Valdas Sirutis, who will spell the forwards.