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Boston vs. Goliath – The Current State of College Basketball in Boston

Harvard Head Coach Tommy Amaker - (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

More so than any other sport, college basketball is a sport of perennial powerhouses. Establishing an institution to be synonymous with a sport itself takes years, and only a select few have been able to earn the right within the basketball community including Duke, Indiana, UConn, North Carolina and Kansas. In arguably the greatest sports city on the planet, why do Boston-area college basketball teams seem to fall by the wayside? Is there something standing in their way or could it be something the team is lacking?

The 2012-13 season in underway, and Boston schools are experiencing mixed results. Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern are a combined 8-14 so far, and they each have their fair share of hurdles to jump before season’s end.

Where do they stand now?

Boston College

The Boston College Eagles have stumbled out to a 2-4 start. The beginning of their season is really their time to shine, because once they get into the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, the odds are stacked against them. Teams like Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State prowl atop this premier conference, and the Eagles will need to steal games against the likes of Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech to be a player in the conference tournament.

Boston University

The Terriers of Boston University are sharing the same misfortune as the Eagles, starting 0-5. The America East conference is not on anyone’s radar, but games against Vermont, Stony Brook and out-of-conference Harvard will be necessary to give their run a boost come tournament time.

Harvard University

And speaking of Harvard, amidst the cheating scandal implicating co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, the back-to-back Ivy League winners appear to still have what it takes for a third consecutive title. Their biggest tests will come against Princeton and Cornell, but their schedule is tailored for a deep Ivy League run.

Northeastern University

Finally, the black sheep of the Boston college basketball family, the Northeastern Huskies may have the most reasons to cheer this season. With a 4-2 start in a weak Colonial Athletic Association now that Virginia Commonwealth University split for the Atlantic-10, bringing their ‘A’ games for Hofstra and conference-favorite Drexel will be paramount if they want to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991.

Draws to Boston?

These four teams have had very little success over the past decade. Despite BU winning their conference in 2011 and Harvard making the NCAA Tournament the past two years, these teams cannot seem to make the leap to perennial players.

When you look at historically great college teams, you are looking at a few things, the most obvious of which being past success. But what makes these teams great is their basketball tradition – the names that have gone through the program, the courts they play on and whether or not basketball has been and will continue to be the institution’s number one sport.

For example, Duke plays under one of the greatest coaches to ever hold a clipboard in Mike Krzyzewski and inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. In Kansas’ 114 years of men’s basketball, they have had just seven head coaches.  These schools define tradition. The Kentucky Wildcats sent six players to the NBA last season, including the top two picks in the draft. And when you think of the UNC, you picture the Tar Heel baby blue uniforms atop a basketball court.

There is no draw for a big-name high school player to come to Boston. Many of the players currently on the four rosters are from the northeast area already, because without tradition, the draw to come in from another part of the country is minimal. Media coverage is scarce, because there is just no market unless one of these teams is in either a preseason or postseason tournament. There are no big coaches, no real success with players at the professional level (save Jeremy Lin, a ’10 graduate of Harvard) and when most people think of these schools, they aren’t thinking basketball. BC has been known as a football school and BU is a hockey juggernaut. Playing on the basketball teams at these schools is like being an extra in the other sports’ movie.

It Takes Years

Harvard has the greatest chance for future success in college basketball, having already declared themselves a force in the Ivy League for the past five seasons. Their head coach, Tommy Amaker, is a former Duke Blue Devil star who has coached at his alma mater, Seton Hall and Michigan before coming to Harvard in 2007. His name is known and respected in the basketball world, a major key to a school’s success.

One miracle will not save a team.  It takes years of success and the right pieces of the puzzle to make up a college basketball powerhouse. The teams that first come to mind have a deep-seeded tradition of success and a rich history to carry them from season to season, even though a given player is only around for just four or five years.

Boston schools have an immense amount of work ahead if they want to sit among the sport’s elite, but essentially starting from scratch in a field of already-established titans will bound them to a life of the mid-level opponent to the other 343 Division-I schools.

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