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BU men’s basketball hopes it has found the right mix

Coach Joe Jones calls this year’s BU squad “one of my most favorite teams.”
Coach Joe Jones calls this year’s BU squad “one of my most favorite teams.”kathleen batten/FR171735 AP via AP

Now’s the time for the Boston University men’s basketball team. The Terriers are regarded as a talented but underachieving team, and their record, 6-7, indicates that.

Coach Joe Jones and BU fans have been hoping for good things to happen, and with the Patriot League season beginning Thursday, the time has run out for waiting. It’s now or never for this group.

The Terriers have shown some life recently, winning three in a row, including road games against two local opponents, UMass Lowell and Merrimack, that few other coaches would do.

“I don’t think like that, honestly,’’ said Jones. “I want to play good teams. I want to play teams that are going to be competitive.

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“I thought it would be a good game for us [vs. Merrimack] going into the league.’’

It was touch-and-go Sunday night. The Warriors almost sent the game to overtime as Juvaris Hayes’s driving layup attempt right before the buzzer rolled off after hanging tantalizingly on the rim for a second.

In the end it was a victory for BU, the third consecutive one, and the second one with a revised starting lineup. Jones has inserted 6-foot-10-inch junior Sukhmail Mathon as a starter and is bringing guards Alex Vilarino and Javante McCoy off the bench. Jones said he’s trying to diversify his offense, making his team bigger and harder to guard.

It’s worked so far, as the Terriers try to shake off their underachieving reputation.

“We had a rough little stretch on the road,’’ said leading scorer Max Mahoney. “These last three games, we’ve just focused on fixing things. We’ve watched a lot film, individually and with coaches as well.

“I think we’re trending in the right direction. We’ve kind of put that all behind us. We really want to focus on league play coming up.’’

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That starts with Lafayette, one of the league favorites, Thursday night at Case Gym. A victory would go a long way to changing the Terriers’ image.

“I think we’ve had games where we’ve outplayed teams for a good portion of the game but couldn’t put teams away rather than losing games where you get outplayed,’’ said Jones. “That’s the difference in our season right now — feeling good about ourselves with eight wins instead of six wins.

“I like this team, I really do. This is one of my most favorite teams I’ve had. There’s been some challenges . . . but I do like who they are.’’

■  Postseason hopes are alive: Merrimack, in its first year in Division 1, isn’t eligible for the NCAA or NIT tournaments until 2024. However, if the Warriors have a good enough record — they’re 6-7 right now — they could play in one of the minor postseason tournaments, the College Basketball Insider or the Collegeinsider.com. In fact, Merrimack coach Joe Gallo got e-mails from both tournaments last week informing him they had an eye on his team. It’s something to play for.

■   Harvard’s winning streak: Harvard has won five straight after sweeping Cal and San Francisco on a quick West Coast swing, but the storm clouds of injury still hover over the Crimson. Leading scorer Bryce Aiken hasn’t played in the last three games because of a left ankle injury. He was wearing a protective boot on the sidelines. His return is not certain. Ivy League play doesn’t start until Jan. 18, so there’s time for recovery . . . Statistically oddity: Harvard’s win over San Francisco was its 10th straight in an overtime game and 20th in the last 21.

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■  Bad news, good news: UMass lost a tough road game at Akron Monday, 85-79, to fall to 6-7, but the good news was that Dibaji Walker played. Walker, described by coach Matt McCall as a game changer, is a transfer from Cleveland State and had been waiting for a waiver from the NCAA to play. He came off the bench against Akron to play 16 minutes, but was 1 for 7 from the field. Six of the shots were 3-pointers.

■   Still no Nic: Boston College center Nic Popovic, who has been sidelined with a back injury, was not available against Duke Tuesday night.

■   A few of my favorite teams: There are some teams that don’t have top 25-like records or résumés but I feel could have a big impact on this season. They have personnel that appeal to me. Maybe intangibles that will prove valuable over time. Maybe it’s the coach. These are teams that could achieve some great things before the season is over.

Notre Dame (9-4): The Irish are still meshing, but there’s some great inside-outside balance with big man John Mooney, who averages double figures in points and rebounds, and a bunch of guards including Dane Goodwin, T.J. Gibbs, Prentiss Hubb, and Rex Pflueger.

Iowa (10-3): I love the high-octane pace with which the Hawkeyes play. Big man Luka Garza, averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, has emerged as a National Player of the Year candidate. Guards Joe Wieskamp, C.J. Fredrick, Jordan Bohannon, and Connor McCaffery will launch from anywhere.

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LSU (8-4): What impresses me the most are the Tigers’ young big men — Emmitt Williams, who plays much taller than his listed 6-6, and freshman Trendon Watford. There are two veteran guards in Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays.

Rhode Island (8-3): The Rams have an underrated, veteran guard combination in Fatts Russell and Jeff Dowtin. Cyril Langevine is an imposing presence near the basket. Coach David Cox needs some of his complementary players to keep improving.

Rutgers (9-3): The school some people call University of New Jersey Sleeping Giant is at least somewhat woke. The Fightin’ Schianos aren’t ready to win the Big Ten but they could cause some pain for the opposition and are NCAA Tournament candidates. I love the unselfish play of point guard Geo Baker and the high intensity of swingman Ron Harper Jr., son of the former Chicago Bull.

Utah State (13-2): Guard Sam Merrill is an All-American who contributes scoring, passing, and rebounding. He might be the most underrated player in America. He’s surrounded by a bunch of excellent role players, most notably 6-7 Justin Bean. How good the Aggies can be hinges on the injured knee of Portuguese sophomore center Neemias Queta. To be truly great, the Aggies need Queta in the lineup. When healthy, he could help this team get to the Final Four.

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Yale (10-4): James Jones, brother of BU’s Joe Jones, is an underrated coach who has established Yale as one of the best Ivy League programs. His teams are unselfish, solid on defense, and rebound ferociously. Paul Atkinson, a 6-10 junior, has emerged as a potential Ivy League Player of the Year. Guard Azar Swain, from Brockton and the Rivers School, is an aggressive, physical player.