February is College Basketball’s “Moving Month”.  A good or bad conference mark is no longer a limited sample size.  Some teams are clearly on the tournament track, while others are bound for the bubble.  Schools in the traditional one-bid leagues try to earn that home conference tournament game or be in the right shape for their one chance to make the dance.

 

#4 Maryland (19-3, 8-2 Big Ten) bounced back from their loss at Michigan State by posting a pair of gut-check wins…the first against #3 Iowa and the second at an Ohio State that still recalled a 35-point drubbing in College Park.  While Melo Trimble led the way with 20 points, Jake Layman notched a double-double (16 points & 10 rebounds) while also providing a highlight-worthy dunk.  The Terps hit 20 of 23 free throws…including 6 of 6 in the final 30 seconds of regulation.  How high is the ceiling for this team has been the question since they went toe to toe with North Carolina.  The Terps’ size inside and savvyness outside should set them up nicely not only for the remainder of conference play…but for March.  ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi has Maryland as a #3 seed in the South with a first round game against Hofstra in Brooklyn.  CBSSPORTS.com’s Jerry Palm has the Terrapins as a #3…but in the Midwest playing Akron in Providence during the Round of 64.

Georgetown (13-9, 6-3 Big East) came four points shy of upsetting another top-10 team…slipping at home to #10 Providence 73-69 Saturday night.  While losing by single digits for a third straight Saturday to a formidable foe has to be somewhat discouraging, it’s nice to see Bradley Hayes notch his first double-double since the weekend before Christmas.  LJ Peak is also becoming the second option the Hoyas have been searching for, scoring in double figures for the fourth straight game.  The early ESPN and CBS models both have Georgetown on the outside of the field of 68…but the Hoyas can help their cause as they have five more road games as well as tilts with three ranked foes on the upcoming slate.

Cruising the Commonwealth- much like the Seinfeld episode where everyone in Jerry’s life balances each other out, #9 Virginia (17-4, 6-3 ACC) and Virginia Tech (12-9, 4-5) have assumed their rightful positions in the league.  The Cavaliers routed #19 Louisville 63-47 thanks to a devastating defense that handcuffed the Cardinals into 4-18 shooting with 12 turnovers in the first half.  Just a few days removed from needing a miracle to win at Wake Forest, this was a victory a school puts on its resume.  A resume that has both ESPN and CBS models giving the Cavaliers a #2 seed in the South with first round games against North Florida in nearby Raleigh.  The closest the Hokies will get to Raleigh is their January 9th loss at Duke-as four straight losses have coach Buzz Williams’ team under .500 in league play for the first time all winter.  Seth Allen’s 28 points weren’t enough against Pitt in their 90-71 loss to the Panthers…and while this week’s foes are also unranked, Syracuse and Clemson have both played their way into NCAA contention over the first month of league play.

George Washington (16-5, 5-3 Atlantic 10) bounced back from their loss against Richmond by disposing of another local league foe…although their 76-70 win at George Mason was far from smooth.  The Colonials shot 33% from the field (shades of their rally past Rhode Island) but hit 30 of 36 free throws (they were 25-30 against the Rams) and Patricio Garino (19 points) supplied the clutch baskets when needed.  The Colonials are on the precipice of the At-Large field:  ESPN.com has them missing the tournament while CBSSPORTS.com has them in the Opening Round.  Before facing the double-whammy of VCU & St. Joes (1st & 2nd in the A-10) GW meets split-personality Davidson; the Wildcats remain winless in the league away from home.

George Mason (7-14, 1-7 Atlantic 10) came up short but showed plenty of fight against a more seasoned and talented opponent.  They outshot (37%-33%) and outrebounded (47-42) GW…but weren’t able to make the necessary plays down the stretch.  After taking a 61-59 lead with 4:48 remaining, the Patriots missed 5 shots over the next 4:15…as well as the front end of a one-and-one.  The good news:  freshman Otis Livingston II appears to be the real deal (his 18 points were the 7th time in 8 league games he’s reached double figures) and five of their next six games are against schools with losing conference records.

American (6-15, 4-6 Patriot League) is the hottest team inside the beltway?  They haven’t lost since before the blizzard?  Somehow Mike Brennan’s team has gotten off the mat and surged up the standings with four solid victories–the first three coming on the road.  Monday’s 58-45 win over Holy Cross was like recent history at Bender Arena:  efficient, deliberate offense complimented by an Eagle D that choked foes on the perimeter (the Crusaders hit just 2 of 14 threes).  Now that they’re out of the conference cellar…just how high can this team go?  League leading Bucknell drops by the district Wednesday for what could be the continuation of a dream run or a rude awakening.

Howard (10-12, 4-3 MEAC) began the weekend with high hopes:  two victories at conference bottom-feeders would put this team right in the thick of the league race.  Unfortunately, the road is rarely kind in the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference…and two double digit losses later the Bison find themselves in 4th place with a pair of missed opportunities on their minds.  Turnovers were an issue at Morgan State (25 miscues), while Maryland-Eastern Shore feasted on the offensive glass (17 offensive rebounds).  While they return to Burr Gymnasium, Howard will also be facing two of the three schools ahead of them in the standings (Hampton edging Norfolk State for first place last Saturday).  The Bison certainly hope the home court advantage holds in the MEAC…at least for one more weekend.

Conference play’s first few games gives fans a chance to over-react…just look at Virginia Tech playing Duke for first place in the ACC January 9th.  Late January provides more of a sample size for teams to figure out who they actually are…while convincing some teams that maybe they aren’t what their non-conference play led them to believe…

 

#7 Maryland (16-2, 5-1 Big Ten) meets Northwestern for the second time this month…after beating the Wildcats and their matchup zone by 13 January 2nd.  The best thing about the Terps’ blowout win over Ohio State?  The ability to limit the minutes of regulars Rasheed Sulaimon, Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and Robert Carter Jr. (each playing under 30 minutes in the rout) will have them rested for the Northwestern matchup zone.  After that, back to back duels with Michigan State and Spartan-killer Iowa loom.

Georgetown (11-7, 4-2 Big East) is in the middle of a Big East meatgrinder- the Hoyas hitting under 33% of their shots in Saturday’s loss to #4 Villanova.  The schedule doesn’t let up:  Tuesday’s trip to #5 Xavier continues a stretch where they will face UConn, Creighton and #16 Providence.  Coach John Thompson knows “this group cannot live past the here and now-and I mean this possession”.  He also knows that his team ranks 8th in the Big East in shooting and rebounding rebounding…while the Musketeers lead the conference on the glass.  Here and now…gang.

Cruising the Commonwealth- #13 Virginia (13-4, 2-3 ACC) officially moves from confident to concerned after Sunday’s 69-62 loss at Florida State.  0-3 on the road to start conference play?  Keep in mind this is with a nucleus (Gill, Brogdon & Perrantes) that lost just 2 games overall in ACC play the last two seasons.  Do they miss Justin Anderson that much?  Their issues on the road include shooting (42% from the field as opposed to 53% at John Paul Jones Arena) while also defending the 3- (allowing 51% away from Charlottesville while holding teams to 30% at home).  Surprising Clemson (5-1 in the league) visits Tuesday night…and Syracuse brings a 3-game winning streak into town Saturday.  Speaking of surprises- Virginia Tech (12-6, 4-1 ACC) has officially become a curiosity as the Hokies have matched their conference win total from the previous two seasons combined.  Transfer Zach LeDay has given coach Buzz Williams’ team a boost, averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds in league play.  Sadly the schedule rears its ugly head:  trips to Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse sandwich home dates with #2 North Carolina and #17 Louisville.  What happened to the home-and-home series with Boston College?

George Washington (14-4, 3-2 Atlantic 10) has plenty of time to think about their 77-70 loss at Dayton…one where the Colonials were minus an injured Joe McDonald.  If the senior’s can’t return from the eye injury suffered against Duquesne then coach Mike Lonergan needs to generate more production out of a backcourt that was held to 3 of 14 shooting by the Flyers.   Friday’s game with Rhode Island is the first of four at the Smith Center over a six game stretch- a stretch where the road games are at nearby George Mason and VCU.  Home cooking, anyone?

George Mason (7-11, 1-4 Atlantic 10) finally got its first conference win of the season by outscoring Saint Louis 92-79 Sunday.  Senior Shevon Thompson tallied his third double-double of A-10 play…despite averaging under 20 minutes a game in league action.  Three of the Patriots next four games come against schools with losing conference records…and a team that’s still learning how to play coach Dave Paulsen’s style could find some wins over the next two weeks.  Could the Mason jar be going from almost empty to nearly one quarter full?

American (2-15, 0-6 Patriot League) is looking for any semblance of optimism.  Honestly!  The team’s loss at Army West Point by 20 was its fifth straight by double digits.  The Eagles rank last in Division I in scoring…and while AU’s deliberate pace lends to that number they’re also having issues just generating shots (Jesse Reed and company rank last in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio).  Games against the two teams tied for eighth (Lafayette and Holy Cross) precede a trip to conference leading Navy.

Howard (8-10, 2-1 MEAC) slips under the radar as the Bison are in their conference bye-week.  Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse at midseason…leading scorer James Daniel missed Saturday’s loss to Harvard thanks to a shoulder injury.  Hopefully he’ll be able to play against Florida A&M this Saturday.

 

 

PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM

It’s a privilege just to be nominated.  Honestly.  Unless your favorite film is not nominated and then you shrug it off as “the Academy is so out of touch”…although let’s just say that “Pixels” may not exactly be award worthy.  Welcome to a weekend where season-long awards won’t be handed out…but area teams are definitely honored to be noticed.

Best Game of the Year Nominee– #1 Kansas (#2 in the coaches poll) beats #2 Oklahoma (#1 in the coaches poll) 109-106 in triple-overtime.  Some games match their hype…and some exceed it.  This one made you yearn for the sequel.

Most Surprising Sweep– Iowa beats Michigan State twice.  I guess the Hawkeyes are for real?  Beating the top-ranked Spartans by double digits at home is impressive…but leading the #4 team by 22 points at the half in East Lansing?  All eyes on Thursday January 28th when they visit Maryland.

Most Creative Acting by an Ensemble– Monmouth’s bench guys.  Some have referred to these kids as “auxiliary cheerleaders”…but it’s all about the kids.  Let them have their fun…at least until they lose two straight in the MAAC.

Best Transfer Impact.  Friday at 7pm- George Washington (14-3, 3-1 Atlantic 10) at Dayton (13-3, 3-1).  Tyler Cavanaugh (formerly of Wake Forest) leads the Colonials in scoring and is second in rebounding…Charles Cooke is doing the same for the Flyers after sitting out a year following his transfer from James Madison.  The sophomore sat out Dayton’s win over Davidson with an oblique injury-they can ill afford his absence against GW.

Saturday’s games…and nominations…:

Best Freshman Showcase.  Noon- #3 Maryland (15-2, 4-1 Big Ten) vs Ohio State (12-6, 4-1).  While Diamond Stone already has three double-doubles in conference play and is averaging 19 points and 8 rebounds against league foes, do not sleep on the Buckeyes’ JaQuan Lyle.  Fresh off a triple-double against Rutgers, Lyle dropped 29 points on first-place Indiana.  The winner keeps pace with the Hoosiers–the loser slips into Northwestern’s neighborhood.

Most Aggravating Hiatus.  Noon- Howard (8-9, 2-1 MEAC) vs Harvard (8-8, 1-0 Ivy League).  The Bison are on their bye week from league competition…and this will be the only complete game for James Daniel and company over a 14 day stretch (the game at Delaware State was postponed due to clock issues in the second half).  Not how you want to build midseason momentum.

Biggest Early Season Surprise.  Noon- Virginia Tech (11-6, 3-1 ACC) at Georgia Tech (10-6, 1-3).  The Hokies have already surpassed their conference win total from the previous two seasons…Saturday they can equal the combined total.  How high is the ceiling for this team?  While winning at Duke last weekend was beyond a stretch, the Yellowjackets are not the Blue Devils.  And a win for coach Buzz Williams here would transform his team from a surprise into a curiosity.

Best Duel.  1pm- Georgetown (11-6, 4-1 Big East) vs #6 Villanova (15-2, 5-0).  It’s not high noon…but Josh Hart and the top-ten Wildcats are in town.  And they’re looking to meet DVauntes Smith-Rivera at midcourt for an old-school Big East showdown.  Can the Hoya senior protect his homecourt despite a supporting cast that would make Will Kane’s crew look consistent by comparison?   Do not forsake me, oh my 3-pointer.

Most Underrated Rivalry.  2pm- VCU (12-5, 4-0 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (10-6, 2-2).  Two sides of the Commonwealth’s capital coin.  Suburb school against the commuters in the city.  The Spiders owned Cinderella status long before the Rams made their run to the Final Four…and they are still getting used to the two schools being in the same conference (let alone on the same level).  Senior Melvin Johnson (19 points per game) and the Rams have recovered from some early-season hiccups under new coach Will Wade.  Terry Allen has made a leap similar to Johnson from supporting player to lead (20 points and 8 rebounds per game) this winter.

 

Sunday’s matchups–

Freakiest Freefall.  Noon- American (2-14, 0-5 Patriot League) at Army West Point (11-6, 2-3).  Were the Eagles going to miss Pee Wee Gardner and the rest of the graduating nucleus from last year’s team?  Of course.  But nobody thought this team would fall this far…this swiftly.  AU ranks 351st in Division I in scoring…350th in rebounding and 336th in assists per game.  The Black Knights are the first of three straight games against schools with losing conference records…so there may be hope.  Until you realize the Eagles have lost four straight by double digits.

Craziest Cocoon.  3pm- George Mason (6-11, 0-4 Atlantic 10) at Saint Louis (6-10, 1-3).  The Patriots were a perennial March contender a few years ago…and under first year head coach Dave Paulsen are attempting to put a foundation in place that will allow them to contend for conference crowns again.  Unfortunately, they have to play games this winter while making that transition.  Ever look inside a cocoon?  Metamorphosis is not pretty.  They visit a Billikens team that is also having a rough season…so there may be hope in getting that first conference win in the gateway city.

Roughest Road. 6:30pm- #13 Virginia (13-3, 2-2 ACC) at Florida State (11-5, 1-3).  The Cavaliers have plenty of talent and coach Tony Bennett has built a winning program in Charlottesville;  the major issue this winter has been when they’ve left campus.  The Cavaliers are 0-2 on the road to start league play…while the Seminoles boast two of the league’s top freshmen in Malik Beasley and Dwyane Bacon (each averages 17 points per game).  Leonard Hamilton’s team has the feel of many of the Seminole NIT teams of recent vintage:  threatening but at the end missing that key ingredient to be a true threat.  Can the Cavaliers build off their midweek win over #8 Miami?

 

As the teams in and around the beltway play their midweek games (3 on Tuesday, 4 on Wednesday), the world at large is still recovering from the loss of musical icon David Bowie.  I had the privilege of portraying Bowie during a summer camp sketch where he exposed Vanilla Ice as a fraud…the sketch also featured Don King and, naturally, the Fonz.  Bowie stretched and broke barriers as an artist…like a pressing, freewheeling team that never let up from tip to buzzer.  His fastbreaking songs left you out of breath while Bowie’s ballads crossed you over in the most embarrassing way on their way to the rim.  Coach Bowie’s starting five:

CENTER- “Suffragette City”, 1972.  Blocks shots right and left…manning its presence in the paint until its time to run.  In the pre-internet era I thought this song was called “Stop the Jet”.

POWER FORWARD- “Heroes”,  1977.  Stands its ground against screens and takes charges.   Stays out of everyone else’s way but makes the necessary play when needed.

SMALL FORWARD- “China Girl”, 1983.  Soars over the rim in the silkiest of ways from the start.  Always has one more move than you think it has…

SHOOTING GUARD- “Young Americans”, 1975.  Freewheeling on the wing… you never know if it’s going to pull up for a jumper in transition or go straight to the hole.

POINT GUARD- “Space Oddity”, 1979. Deliberate at the start of each possession.  Conscious of the shot clock at all times and able to make a play when necessary…

 

#3 Maryland (15-2, 4-1 Big Ten) continues to live dangerously, escaping Wisconsin with a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Melo Trimble but coming up short at Michigan 70-67 when Rasheed Sulaimon’s three was off the mark.  Captain Obvious reminded me after the loss to the Wolverines that the Terps will have issues if teams can handcuff Trimble and Sulaimon into 4-17 shooting with 5 assists and 7 turnovers.  Despite their ballyhooed backcourt duo, the Terrapins rank 12th in the Big Ten in turnover margin.  Saturday Ohio State drops by College Park.

 

Georgetown (10-6,  3-1 Big East)– okay, so the 74-63 win over DePaul was far from picturesque.  And the league record may need an asterisk as two of those three wins came against a Blue Demons team that is 9-32 in conference action over the last three seasons.   They rank 9th in the Big East in shooting as well as rebounding and turnover margin. And unlike the Big Ten or Atlantic 10…the Big East is actually a league with ten teams.  DVauntes Smith-Rivera needs a consistent second option to emerge out of a cast that’s shown a little of everything…good and bad.  In October coach John Thompson III said that it would take a while for this team to figure out the best way for this team to win…and in January it feels as though this team still has some self-discovery necessary.  Wednesday the Hoyas visit St. John’s…and the Red Storm has been downgraded to a Red Weather System:  0-4 in the conference and seven straight losses overall.

 

Cruising the Commonwealth- after being shocked by Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech on the road, #13 Virginia (13-3, 2-2 ACC) bounced back with a 66-58 win over #8 Miami Tuesday evening.  Coach Tony Bennett remains less than satisfied with his team’s mindset…and the Cavalier faithful have to be less than impressed with UVa’s supporting cast.  While Anthony Gill (16 points and 6 rebounds a game), Malcolm Brogdon (20 points per game) and London Perrantes (10-18 from 3-point range) have shined in ACC play, the rest of this bunch has been consistently uneven.  The good news is they won’t play a ranked team again until January 30th.  Virginia Tech (10-6, 2-1 ACC) saw their unbeaten in the conference status end mercifully at #9 Duke…but keep in mind the Hokies have already equaled last year’s conference victory total.  They won 2 games the year before as well… so Buzz Williams’ glass is half full as long as Seth Allen and Zach LeDay can produce.

 

George Washington (14-3, 3-1 Atlantic 10) won its first road league game Tuesday evening…a 12-2 second half run giving the Colonials the lead for good in their 81-70 wiun at UMass.  They also won on the road without guard Joe McDonald (eye injury)…the perfect time for Patricio Garino to shake a 9 for 26 shooting slump (17 points on 4-7 FG with 3 of those baskets coming from 3-point range).  If McDonald can’t play at Dayton Friday, do they start sophomore Paul Jorgensen (5-21 shooting in A-10 play) or senior transfer Alex Mitolla (the former Dartmouth guard is averaging 13 points and 6 assists over the last two games).

 

George Mason (6-10, 0-3 Atlantic 10) came up short at Davidson despite outrebounding the Wildcats by 17…and if there is one thing that the Patriots do well this winter, it’s rebound.  Coach Dave Paulsen’s team ranks 29th in Division I in rebound margin.  Unfortunately they don’t shoot the ball well, ranking last in the Atlantic 10 from the field, 3-point range and the free throw line.  Shevon Thompson may rank second in the conference in shooting (59%), but the senior center’s getting just over six shots per game. Will the Patriots be the last remaining winless team in the A-10?  They host Saint Joseph’s Wednesday while traveling to Saint Louis Saturday;  Duquesne is 0-3 in the league thanks to a tough early slate that includes contenders George Washington, Dayton and Davidson.

 

American (2-13, 0-4 Patriot League) is also looking for its first league victory as well as offensive efficiency.  The team’s loss to Lehigh saw AU shoot 37% while committing  15 turnovers.  Jesse Reed is the only player scoring 10 points per game…and the lack of a second option haunts coach Mike Brennan’s bunch.  Can they get back on track against Boston University and Army West Point?

 

Howard (8-9, 2-1 MEAC)- a clock issue kept the Bison from reaching .500 Monday night.  Not possession mismanagement by coach Kevin Nickelberry, but a malfunction of the clock at Delaware State with 15:41 left in the second half forced the suspension  of their game with the Hornets.  James Daniel may finally have help in the form of Marcel Boyd (23 points and 14 rebounds against Coppin State).  The Bison host Harvard Wednesday before returning to league play over the weekend against Florida A & M and Bethune-Cookman (2 schools that are a combined 10-24).

Previously appearing on WTOP.COM…

Now that we are finally through with the bloated postseason of college football where the ridiculous name is often better than the actual game…hold on.  There’s one more to be played?  Regardless, college hoops comes to the forefront this weekend…albeit without titling every game for added emphasis.  Why does football get to have “separation week”, “rivalry week” and “expected blowout against FCS schools week”?

Welcome to a fun weekend in Washington DC…Wisconsin…and other hoop destinations.

Saturday–

Bounceback Bowl–

Noon-Georgetown vs DePaul.  The 9-6 Hoyas lost by double digits the other night at Creighton…and if they want to make an NCAA Tournament run need to pile up victories against the underbelly of the Big East.  The Blue Demons don’t just occupy the conference’s underbelly, they’re in the middle of a long-term lease (6-12 last winter, 0-3 to start this year).

Fight for First Place (wink, wink) Bowl–

Noon-Virginia Tech at #15 Duke.  Yes, the Hokies and Blue Devils both boast 2-0 ACC records…with Buzz Williams’ team coming off an upset of Virginia.  The first place Hokies will find Cameron Indoor a little more challenging than their last true “road” game December 9th at Radford.  The Blue Devils may just be too much for the ACC-leading Hokies… although I’ll miss typing “first place” and “Virginia Tech mens basketball” in the same sentence.

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold Bowl–

1pm- #3 Maryland at Wisconsin.  Mark Turgeon’s program took a big leap forward last winter when they upset the Badgers in College Park…this year interim Badgers coach Greg Gard is looking for his first signature victory.  Since Bo Ryan retired, Wisconsin is 4-4 and off to a 1-2 Big Ten start.  The Badger faithful are also seething at Milwaukee’s Diamond Stone coming to College Park over nearby Madison.

Gutcheck Bowl–

2pm- #4 Virginia at Georgia Tech.  Tough losses to gritty teams in hostile gyms may lead some to think that the Cavaliers are somewhat soft…I won’t even suggest that the Kippy and Buffy tailgate bleeds over into basketball.  The Yellowjackets are one of six teams winless in the ACC…and while their losses are to #6 North Carolina and Pitt (no slouches), these aren’t Bobby Cremins’ Yellowjackets.  They’re not even Paul Hewitt’s bunch.

Panic Button Bowl–

2pm- American vs Lehigh.  The Eagles made the NCAA Tournament two years ago…but find themselves 0-3 in the Patriot League as they welcome the Mountain Hawks to Bender Arena.  Senior Jesse Reed’s supporting cast has been less than supporting…and the team hasn’t just lost seven straight, but six of those losses have come by double-digits.

Walking Wounded Bowl–

4pm-Howard vs Coppin State.  James Daniel may lead the nation in scoring– but he’s just one guy.  Coach Kevin Nickelberry has lost 4 starters to injury in the last month…and has also dropped 6 of 7 games to slip under .500.  Can the Bison bounce back against an Eagles team that hasn’t won since Thanksgiving?  If they have any MEAC dreams, they better.

Right Time, Wrong Place Bowl (brought to you by Belk)–

7pm-George Mason at Davidson.  The Patriots under first-year coach Dave Paulsen are off to an 0-2 conference start.  The Wildcats?  Coach Bob McKillop is in his 27th season at the helm…and leading scorer Jack Gibbs is torching opponents to the tune of 24 points a game.  But injuries have kept Davidson seniors Brian Sullivan and Jordan Barham on the shelf the last week…and Mason could be catching the Wildcats at the right time.  Only the game’s not in Fairfax-but at always tough to play in Belk Arena.  Hold on…as in the Belk Bowl?  I thought this was a football free Saturday…

Redemption Bowl–

8pm-George Washington vs Duquesne.  The Colonials blew a double digit lead en route to a 65-62 loss at St Louis…while the Dukes lost at Davidson to drop to 0-2 in conference play.  If GW wants to be an Atlantic Ten contender…they can ill afford to lose at home to a team that’s winless in league action.  That means 40 solid minutes of execution at the Smith Center.

Appearing earlier this week on WTOP.COM…

Is everybody okay out there?

The holiday season that wraps up with New Year’s Eve often leaves one feeling a little out of sorts…and it takes more than a few of us a while to get back to normal and move on.  Hey, I’m still writing “2014” on most of my checks.  Sometimes one is able to transition to the new year smoothly despite a rough December…and sometimes one stumbles out of the gate.  Welcome to Basketball around the Beltway, 2016.

#3 Maryland (13-1, 2-0 Big Ten) almost got bounced in its league opener-by of all teams Penn State.  Down 58-45 with 6:19 left, the Terps suffocating D held the Nittany Lions to 1-7 shooting down the stretch.  Diamond Stone set a freshman record with 39 points (breaking Joe Smith’s mark set against Rider) and 12 rebounds to lead the rally…and after a 70-64 win the Terps made short order of Northwestern a few days later(leading by 20 at the half of a 72-59 win).  Stone followed up his Big Ten debut with 10 points and 3 rebounds en route to capturing conference Freshman and Player of the Week honors.  Diamond is truly a Terps’ best friend.  The Terps welcome Rutgers (6-9 and 0-2 in league play) before facing Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State.

 

Georgetown (9-5, 2-0 Big East) gave every indication through their pre-Christmas struggles with the likes of Monmouth and UNC-Asheville that they would struggle once Big East play began.  Thus, consecutive double digit wins to begin league play makes one take notice–until one realizes that Marquette and DePaul are a combined 0-4 in conference action.  D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera scored 12 points over the last 2:09 against the Golden Eagles;  the lack of a consistent secondary option may haunt this team as the schedule ratchets up.  The Hoyas play 5 ranked teams in a 6 game span from January 16th to February 2nd.

 

George Washington (12-2, 1-0 Atlantic Ten) tipped off league play with a 69-63 win over Fordham;  Tyler Cavanaugh notched his third double-double of the season as the 6-foot-9 transfer continues to provide matchup nightmares for opponents.  While he languished on the bench at Wake Forest in ACC play, Cavanaugh is quicker than most big men in the Atlantic Ten-while being bigger than most wing forwards.  When he and Kevin Larsen are both rolling, it gets nasty for opponents.  The Colonials begin a tough stretch with three of their next four games away from the Smith Center (including a trip to #25 Dayton).

 

Cruising the Commonwealth- remember what I said about New Year’s hangovers?  They are bleary-eyed in Charlottesville after #4 Virginia’s 70-68 loss to Virginia Tech.  The Cavaliers turned the ball over 16 times in defeat…and proved that the triumvirate of Anthony Gill, Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes need some help (the rest of the team shot 3-17).  The fact that the Hokies almost gave up an 11-point lead with 2:14 left has to be even more maddening for both sides…how could coach Buzz Williams team go 3-9 from the free throw line down the stretch and how could Tony Bennett’s club not capitalize?  Perrantes will be thinking about his missed layup with four seconds left for some time.  Never mind that Virginia Tech visits Duke Saturday–for the moment, the Commonwealth is flipped with the Cavaliers looking up the standings at the first-place Hokies.

 

George Mason (6-8, 0-1 Atlantic Ten)- back to reality after confidence-building wins over Wagner and Longwood.  The Patriots fell 71-47 to VCU in their conference opener…turning the ball over 22 times.  The early conference season is far from kind;  next up are games with St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s and Davidson.  Coach Dave Paulsen may go through his TUMS allotment sooner than one thinks.

 

American (2-11, 0-2 Patriot League)- welcome to the world of “guarantee game scheduling”.  AU is in a conference where four schools already have 10 losses–and one of them (Loyola-MD) is tied for the league lead.  The Eagles came within 8 points of the Greyhounds in their conference opener–before taking a step back against Colgate (35% shooting and 16 turnovers).  A midweek trip to co-leader Bucknell looms.

 

Howard (7-8, 1-1 MEAC) slips under .500 with five losses in six games.  While James Daniel continues to lead the nation in scoring with 29 points a game, it’s apparent the junior is missing the remainder of the James Gang.  The Bison were prepared for James Carlton’s graduation last spring, but they weren’t ready to lose James Miller to injury in November.  Home games against Ivies Cornell and Harvard bracket a weekend against Delaware State and Coppin State;  the Eagles and Hornets are a combined 3-26 to start the season.

Time to wash the dishes on the 2015 season.  Yes, there will be dessert (Army-Navy, the Mids’ bowl game and wherever Virginia Tech goes).  Despite how filled one gets on Thanksgiving weekend from football, one eventually has to clean up.  

 

Maryland (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten) snapped an 8 game losing streak by rallying past Rutgers 46-41.  Just like last year the road team came back from 18 points down at halftime.  Just like last year the vibe of the season was changed on the last day of the regular season.  It was almost as though the mojo Maryland lost in 2014’s collapse to the Scarlet Knights was regained this past weekend.  Nice to see the seniors go out with a win.  Nicer to see the program avoid what would have been a third 10-loss season in seven years.  Terrapin Triumphs- Brandon Ross goes out with a bang as his 80-yard go-ahead TD gives him 173 for the day…and 423 for his last two games.  The defense holds the Scarlet Knights to 3-11 on third down and the team commits just three penalties on the day.  Terrapin Troubles- the soft secondary was exposed multiple times in the first half.  The passing game had issues before finding its rhythm.  And a coaching search has many on the edge of their seats…wondering which direction the school will take.  Next- who coaches this team?  And what role does master recruiter Mike Locksley have, if any?

 

Virginia (4-8, 3-5 ACC) finishes another disappointing season with a 23-20 loss to Virginia Tech.  That’s 12 straight losses to the Hokies.  That means if you’re a 4th year student in Charlottesville (they eschew the term “senior” because you are always learning at UVa), you not only have never seen the Cavs beat the Hokies but nobody you attended UVa with did either.  In fact, if one presumes one gets through Virginia in four years–no current fourth year student went to school with anyone who went to school with anyone who saw Virginia beat Virginia Tech.  Cavalier Congrats- Albert Reid leads the ground game with 103 yards and a touchdown.  The defense holds the Hokies to under 100 yards rushing, 3-14 on third down and sacks Michael Brewer 3 times.  Cavalier Concerns- up 20-13 the defense allowed 131 yards and 10 points on 17 plays from scrimmage, coughing up the lead for good.  The passing game that was consistently uneven never found itself.  And another losing season is punctuated by another loss to that team from Blacksburg.  Next- Mike London’s departure has this program at the crossroads…and after going to the NFL (Al Groh) and FCS (London) for their previous two hires, one wonders which direction they’ll head in.

 

Virginia Tech (6-6, 4-4 ACC) salvaged coach Frank Beamer’s final season in Blacksburg by beating Virginia 23-20 on a last-minute field goal.  Even though there were leaks as to the direction of the program, Monday’s press conference reassures the faithful of a smooth transition into the Justin Fuente era.  Hokie Highlights- Isaiah Ford scorches the UVa secondary to the tune of 6 catches, 121 yards and a touchdown.  Chuck Clark notches 12 tackles and an interception.  Joey Slye outkicks the Cavaliers Ian Frye by drilling field goals from 41, 44 and 48 yards out. BEAMER BALL! Hokie Humblings- the offensive line allowed three sacks while the running game gained less than 3 yards per carry.  They reached the red zone just once?  Next- bowl bound…with Coach Beamer getting his justified victory lap and Coach Fuente having a chance to evaluate the current squad while making headway on the recruiting front.

 

Navy (9-2, 7-1 AAC) saw its New Year’s Day Bowl hopes dashed with a 52-31 loss at Houston.  No AAC title tilt in Annapolis…as their next game will still be local but much later in December.  Midshipmen Medals- Keenan Reynolds throws for 312 yards and a touchdown while adding 84 yards rushing and a score.  Brendon Clements leads the defense with 9 tackles and Will Anthony tallies a sack.  Midshipmen Miscues- the offense converts just 4 of 11 third down attempts, while the defense gets gashed for 555 total yards as the Cougars move the chains on 16 of 19 third downs.  Next- the annual Army-Navy game looms December 12th.  For the record, the Mids’ dominance in the series as of late is even more pronounced than Virginia Tech’s over Virginia.

 

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