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.