As we move further into conference play, we're starting to get a pretty good picture of the ability of many of our Metropolitan Poll teams, as well as who we think will be named on Selection Sunday. Here's how the House Enterprise evaluated our eight teams in the Third Edition of the Metro Poll, my reactions, and takeaways from this week.
Our Top 6 remains unchanged from last week, while Wagner stays at the bottom, with the only change being Fordham and St Francis swapping spots. I know the other guys are hot on St. John's, and they're probably the best team on paper, as well as the best overall program, but I can't give them a number one spot again until I see some major improvements in conference play. Their win last night against Georgetown was a start, as the Johnnies were finally able to play some cohesive defense, backed up by, finally, some consistent three point shooting, with four players registering double digits in the scoring department. The major key to the Red Storm's success was their ability to share the ball, recording a total of 19 assists, their second highest total since recording 20 against Stony Brook and Rider. Mike Anderson is a coach who prioritizes a fast tempo on offense, which suits a team of St. John's' size, but it can often lead to catch-and-shoot scenarios that require a lot more consistent of shooting than St. John's can handle right now. This is a tough big East, and I think St. John's play will benefit going forward by pumping the breaks a little bit.
Iona Begins to Hit Their Stride
Rick Pitino has made it clear that his Gaels are far from reaching their full potential. While some may think he's being a little hard on his team, a comment like that from one of the greatest coaches in the game bodes really well for Iona, who jumped to a solid 3-1 conference record after sweeping Rider University this weekend. Both wins were solid for the Gaels in an increasing competitive MAAC (they currently share first place with Marist and Monmouth), but they were achieved in almost the exact opposite way that Pitino wants; carried by the seniors. Not that good seniors aren't valued by Pitino, but he's a coach that often looks long term, and will want some of his underclassmen to step up. So far, Pitino has actually limited the minutes of some of his younger guys, citing their lackluster defense.
Until then, however, the seniors will do, especially senior guard Asante Gist. Finally becoming the point guard Pitino said they were missing, Gist put up 17 and 15 on Friday and Saturday respectively, dishing out 10 assists in the Gaels' second win of the back-to-back. Sweeping in these series is not an easy feat to achieve in a conference like the MAAC, especially against a Rider team that's gone toe-to-toe with some stronger schools like St. John's, so Coach Pitino should be very proud of his team's performance this weekend.
Speaking of those back-to-backs, I'm not a huge fan of them. I understand why the MAAC, NEC, and several other conferences are using this scheduling style, and how it works for a season played under a pandemic, but man am I glad that it won't stick around.
Backs-to-backs have two major problems. First, two games against the same opponent in a row give you little time to prepare in between, meaning that a loss in game one could leave your team with no information on how to improve for the rematch. In the MAAC and NEC specifically, we've seen a decent amount of split back-to-backs, but that can be attributed way more to aggressive play after a long hiatus than any sort of deep team strategy. Second, rivalry games being played one after the other pretty much eliminate any hype going into the second game. How are UNC fans supposed to get ready for their revenge game against Duke if they're rivalry is going to play out for the whole season in a span of 24 hours?
Like most of the precautions taken during this pandemic, conference back-to-backs are something I'll be glad to ditch come next year.
Fordham cancels last two non-con games, will open season in conference play.
In a not-so-surprising move last week, Fordham Athletics announced that it would be cancelling it's last two scheduled non-conference games against Connecticut State and Stony Brook, and that their season will now begin in A-10 play against George Washington on the 30th. One of several schools yet to begin their season in Division 1, Fordham is going to have a tough road ahead of them in conference play, considering the quality of some of these A-10 teams this season (which you can read more about in my weekly Atlantic 10 roundup ;)), and looking at their remaining games, I can really only see them going 7-10 at best.