This was never supposed to be Boston University's year. The Terriers lost what were widely considered to be their two best players, swingman Darryl Partin (to graduation) and center Jake O'Brien (to transfer) from last year's squad. The Terriers also graduated two other starters, leaving juniors Dom Morris and D.J. Irving as the only experienced players on the roster.
The coaches and media in the America East certainly did not think that BU would contend for a league title. Both Stony Brook and Vermont were picked ahead of them in the pre-season. Perhaps peeved by BU's impending move to the Patriot League, or scared by their lack of experience (325th by Ken Pomeroy's Experience metric), not a single coach picked them higher than third place.
What the prognosticators did not count on, however, was coach Joe Jones' ability to find impact freshmen. The duo of Maurice Watson and John Papale has elevated the Terriers and given them a chance to win the America East in their last go around.
Watson, a lightning-quick, fearless point guard, has been a star. He has won the America East Rookie of the Week award no fewer than four times, and boasts the 18th highest assist rate in the nation. His 5.4 assists per game rank him second among freshmen in the NCAA, trailing only fellow Boston-area point guard Siyani Chambers at Harvard.
In fact, it was a matchup against Chambers and Harvard that helped propel BU into conference play. The Terriers started the season off with five straight lopsided losses, a young team trying to figure out how to play with one another. They came into Harvard on a three game winning streak against weaker teams. On that Tuesday night at Lavietes, Watson looked like one of the best players on the court. He blew past Chambers on drives, creating open looks for Irving, who scored 24 points. While the Terriers lost on a last second shot by Chambers, their play on the road against a quality opponent set the tone for the rest of the season.
The emergence of Papale, the other freshman who receives significant playing time, has been timed perfectly with BU's run through the America East. Papale is shooting 44% from three on 141 attempts, and is hitting over 50% in league play. Papale has been a major reason why the Terriers are leading the America East in Effective Field Goal Percentage and are second in offensive efficiency.
Since losing their first two league games, Boston University is 10-2 in league play, scoring 1.10 points per possession in that stretch. At 10-4, they trail Stony Brook by two games but get the league leaders at home next Thursday. With a little help, the Terriers could win their first league title since 2004. If they are able to, it will be on the backs of their freshman stars.
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