Harvard’s basketball season has been canceled, but there are other problems in the sport that fall short of that. UMass has had to halt all basketball activities because of a positive COVID-19 test, and the Minutemen are now scheduled for only Atlantic 10 games. They had to withdraw from the so-called “Bubbleville” at Mohegan Sun. UMass Lowell also had to curtail practicing for two weeks.
Most likely, there will be more problems. Key players could miss games; coaches, too.
Despite that, I will plunge ahead with predictions for the men’s college basketball season in Massachusetts based on the schedule at this time.
The nonconference schedule is challenging, with almost-certain losses in the contained environment of Mohegan Sun to start the season (Villanova first, and either Baylor or Arizona State next). There’s little relief to follow (no Central Connecticut or Eastern Washington), only difficult challenges such as travelling to Minnesota. Then comes the 20-game ACC schedule.
Coach Jim Christian has to commit to small ball. Fans can hope that Wynston Tabbs (returning from a knee injury), Jay Heath (a good freshman last season), and Makai Ashton-Langford (Providence transfer) form an outstanding perimeter. You have to have doubts.
Tabbs was an outstanding freshman for half a season, but he missed all of last year. Heath needs to advance from solid to dangerous. Ashton-Langford has to fulfill the potential he showed in high school. It might be a lot to ask for all at the same time.
Prediction: 9-18. The schedule is just too tough and the roster not settled enough. Christian should be commended for taking on difficult and interesting opponents.
Ceiling: 17-10. The guards mesh and become an offensive force and a defensive menace. Forward Steffon Mitchell is named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. The grad transfers, Rich Kelly from Quinnipiac and Freddie Scott from Rider, become crucial contributors. It’s a record that would make them an NCAA bubble team.
Basement: 5-22. The guards take a long time to develop chemistry. Opponents beat up the Eagles on the inside, crushing them on the boards.
UMass was slotted eighth in the preseason Atlantic 10 poll, but the Minutemen have different ideas and talked about having a special season. “Special would be winning the A10,” said senior guard Carl Pierre. Star sophomore center Tre Mitchell went further: “I think we can do more than that. We can make the [NCAA] tournament and win a couple of games.”
Coach Matt McCall has his players thinking big, and Mitchell could be the best player in the league. However, UMass lost six players to graduation and transfers, so there’s going to be an adjustment period. At this point, only 18 Atlantic 10 games are on the schedule.
Prediction: 10-8. The A10 is going to be better than last season. Victories will not be easy. And McCall has a few new players to work into the rotation.
Ceiling: 14-4. Mitchell has a monster year and guard T.J. Weeks bounces back from an injury to be a reliable scorer. The new players, like transfer Noah Fernandes and freshman Javohn Garcia, become significant contributors.
Basement: 6-12. Opponents overwhelm Mitchell with double- and triple-teams, and the rest of the roster can’t adjust.
BU is the team to beat in the Patriot League, with four starters and five other contributors returning from a team that won the league tournament. Leading scorer Max Mahoney is gone, but guard Javante McCoy and forward Walter Whyte have all-league potential.
The schedule is 16 league games starting Jan. 2, and it’s not even the whole Patriot League. BU is in a pod with Holy Cross, Colgate, and Army, and will go out-of-pod to play at Lafayette. The weird schedule has them playing Holy Cross six times!
Prediction: 11-5. There might be an early adjustment to playing without Mahoney, but the Terriers will be among the best in the league.
Ceiling: 14-2. Everything clicks. McCoy is an all-league guard. Whyte becomes a force on the wing.
Basement: 9-7. This would mean a loss to Holy Cross, which would be shocking. It would also mean a veteran group failed to move along.
Brett Nelson’s first season in Worcester was a disaster, as the Cross finished 3-29. Two freshmen who showed potential have transferred. Two incoming transfers — 6-6 Gerrale Gates and 6-5 Malcolm Townsel — will have to produce quickly. Gates is not eligible yet as the Cross waits for the NCAA to rule on his request for a waiver. There are also six freshmen.
Prediction: 3-13. This is an inexperienced team that has 10 games against two tough teams, BU and Colgate.
Ceiling: 6-10. Gates gets his waiver; he and Townsel quickly become mainstays. The freshmen have some good moments.
Basement: 0-16. This is possible, especially if Gates and Townsel don’t produce and the freshmen have growing pains.
After acknowledging returning guards Tyson Walker and Shaquille Walters, coach Bill Coen said, “After that, we’re kind of a blank sheet of paper.”
Indeed. Walker and Walters are the only two solid contributors from last season, and a big weight will be on their shoulders. Walker, a quick little point guard, has to increase his offensive output (10.4 ppg last season) and continue to find open teammates. Walters has to emerge as more than a defensive stopper.
Coen has to hope that Notre Dame transfer Chris Doherty makes a difference. The 6-7 sophomore from Marlborough was rarely on the court at ND, but Coen says he’s “a rugged, athletic inside player. He has a tremendous nose for the basketball, he’s tough on the glass.”
Prediction: 9-13. It’s difficult to figure out where the offense is going to come from, although Coen’s players are often good shooters, for a good reason: They practice a lot.
Ceiling: 15-7. Walker becomes an all-league player and Doherty an inside force. Plus, the freshmen ― especially a trio of Canadians in 6-7 Jahmyl Telfort, 6-8 Alexander Nwagha, and 6-7 Coleman Stucke — become factors.
Basement: 5-17. Offense becomes a problem, and even great effort on defense can’t save the season. The freshmen fail to meet the challenge.
The Warriors may have lost one of the best players in program history in Juvaris Hayes, but coach Joe Gallo feels his team will contend in the NEC.
There will be a shift in focus toward the inside, with 6-8 sophomore forward Jordan Minor expected to make a big leap.
There’s some perimeter talent with guards Mikey Watkins, Devin Jensen, and Mykel Derring.
“We have a lot of guys back who played valuable minutes,” said Gallo.
Prediction: 16-7. The amorphous zone defense will still give teams problems, and a balanced offense will make the Warriors a difficult opponent in the NEC.
Ceiling: 20-3. Minor becomes the best player in the NEC and Watkins becomes a force at point guard at both ends.
Basement: 12-11. Hayes’s absence becomes a bigger problem than expected.
Coach Pat Duquette is optimistic about his seventh edition of River Hawks: “I think this is the most talented and deepest team we’ve had.”
Senior Obadiah Noel returns, and Duquette considers him an all-conference candidate.
He’s getting help from live transfers in 6-8 Charlie Russell (Tulane), 6-6 Gregory Hammond (Rhode Island), 6-7 Darion Jordan-Thomas (Wagner), and 6-8 Salif Boudie (Arkansas State). Sophomore point guard Bryce Daley returns after missing last season with an injury.
Prediction: 11-13. The Hawks will have to prove they can beat conference foes like Vermont and Stony Brook.
Ceiling: 16-8. Noel has an all-league season and all the transfers fit in nicely.
Basement: 7-17. Chemistry problems arise with 10 freshmen and sophomores.
Joe Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan.