Finally. College Football’s national championship game means the bloated bowl season is in our rear-view mirror at last. But it’s two football schools that are stealing the spotlight in college basketball’s most storied conference. The ACC, despite having teams in ten states ranging from the Florida Keys to the shores of Lake Michigan, is all about the two T’s: tradition and tobacco road. Certain bluebloods in Durham and Chapel Hill may taunt their second-tier partners in Winston-Salem and Raleigh…but they lord over the rest of their prescribed domain and are rightfully miffed when usurpers from outlying regions enjoy basketball success. During the 2012-15 peasant overthrow, programs like Miami, Virginia, Florida State and Notre Dame had the nerve to actually win the ACC Tournament. This year, the Seminoles and Fighting Irish are the early class of the league with a jumbled middle class that has seven teams currently 2-2. It hasn’t been an easy road to 4-0 for either school: three of FSU’s four league foes have been ranked while all four Irish wins have been by two-possession affairs at most. Enjoy your success while you can…pretenders to the crown. North Carolina plays three of its next four at home while Duke plays their next two in Cameron. The blue bloods have your scent…and are on your tail.
Alma Mater Update- the Orange giveth, the Orange taketh away. A ten point loss at Virginia Tech drops SU to 2-2 in the ACC…and unlike last winter when they could write off the 4-5 lurch during Boeheim’s suspension they don’t have a ton of wiggle room for at-large consideration. I’m thinking a 12-6 conference mark is necessary. And I’m having trouble getting to 12 wins looking at the upcoming slate. Saturday is a must-win game against Boston College…as SU has already lost this winter in Chestnut Hill. After that four of their next six games are against ranked teams.
Georgetown (9-8, 1-4 Big East) vs Connecticut (8-9, 2-3 AAC), FOX. Allen Iverson and Ray Allen it aint. Both schools began their respective league play with rough stretches and are only now just beginning to dig their way out. The Hoyas avoided their worst start in Big East play thanks in part to a St. John’s team that shot 5 of 25 in the second half Monday night. Was that the beginning of a turnaround or an isolated incident? Big men Bradley Hayes and Jesse Govan will be tested inside by 6-foot-10 Jamaican center Kentan Facey, who’s coming off a season-high 23 points against Temple.
#19 Virginia (12-3, 2-2 ACC) at Clemson (11-5, 1-3), ACC Network. After a non-conference season of “scoring by committee”, the Cavaliers have been deferring to London Perrantes in league play. While they’ve also been getting contributions form Marial Shayock and Devon Hall, the senior point guard is the constant on both ends of the floor that coach Tony Bennett leans on. Ball security will be a priority at Littlejohn Coliseum as the Tigers lead the ACC in turnover margin. Coach Brad Brownwell’s team has dropped three straight-including the always-agonizing overtime loss at home to North Carolina (don’t even ask when they last won in Chapel Hill). They also have the added distraction of Monday night’s football game still percolating through campus.
Richmond (10-6, 4-0 Atlantic 10) at Saint Joseph’s (8-7, 2-2). The Spiders have bounced back from a lackluster non-conference slate to tie for the league lead with their neighbor VCU. While they’re not as splashy as the Rams’ “HAVOC”, Chris Mooney’s team is just deadly efficient: tops in the A-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio with a defense that can ice foes for extended stretches (witness GW’s first half drought this past Sunday). T.J. Cline may lead the team in scoring, rebounding and assists and according to George Washington coach Maurice Joseph is “one of the best point-forwards running the Princeton offense” he’s ever seen. Bad news for the Hawks.
VCU (14-3, 4-0 Atlantic 10) at Davidson (8-7, 1-3). Despite the Spiders early season start, the A-10 remains the Rams’ roost until further notice. Four wins with a 16-point average margin of victory. The best shooting team in the league. Multiple weapons to support lightning rod JeQuan Lewis, who’s 4th in the conference in assists and 3rd in steals. While the Wildcats are off to a slow start, they still boast Jack Gibbs (21 points per game while shooting 39% from 3-point range) on the perimeter and Peyton Aldridge (20 points and 7 rebounds per game) inside.
Virginia Tech (13-3, 2-2 ACC) vs #20 Notre Dame (15-2, 4-0). One week after falling to conference co-leader Florida State, the Hokies host the only other team still unblemished in league play. They’ll need to build off what was a solid offensive night against Syracuse (20 assists on 28 made baskets with only 6 turnovers in the win over the Orange), and come up with a gameplan to neutralize Fighting Irish forward Bonzie Colson (16 points and a league-leading 10.8 rebounds per game). Expect both teams to air things out early and often…as the two schools rank 1st and 2nd in the conference from 3-point range.
American (4-12, 1-4 Patriot League) vs Army (7-10, 1-4), CSN+. The Eagles have lost three straight to slide into a last-place tie with…the Black Knights. If AU falls behind, watch out. The Eagles are last in the conference at shooting the 3-pointer…while Army is the Patriot League’s best at defending the three. How important is Sy’eed Nelson this winter? The freshman has played 204 out of a possible 205 minutes since AU began league play. They’ll need another big effort from Nelson and fellow freshman Mark Gasperini (19 points in Wednesday’s loss to Boston University) at Bender Arena.
Navy (7-10, 2-3 Patriot League) at Lafayette (6-10, 2-3). Not all 2-3 conference marks are created equally: the Midshipmen have won two straight while the Leopards have dropped two in a row by double digits. Defense and rebounding always travel well- and the Mids lead the Patriot league in rebounding margin while allowing the second fewest points per game. Lafayette forward Matt Klinewski’s 18 points per game may rank second in the conference in scoring… but the player to watch remains senior guard Nick Lindner (13 points and 5 assists per game while shooting 39% from 3-point range).
George Mason (12-5, 2-2 Atlantic 10) vs St. Louis (4-12, 0-4), NBC Sports Network. The Patriots picked up a huge road win at St. Joe’s earlier in the week…and face a Billikens team that resides in the conference basement. Three of St. Louis’ losses in league play have been by double-digits and they rank last in the conference in shooting and scoring. Even with the Billikens deficiencies, one better believe that with an eight-day break on the horizon coach Dave Paulsen has his team’s attention for this matchup. Contenders win these games while pretenders let them slip away…
Howard (3-13, 0-1 MEAC) at Maryland-Eastern Shore (4-13, 1-1). After playing two games over the first 13 days of 2017, the Bison will have six games between now and the rest of the month. While the return of James Daniel III and James Miller has to be encouraging, the lack of success recently (five straight losses with an average margin defeat of 21 points) has to gnaw at the psyche of coach Kevin Nickelberry’s team. The Hawks provide balance in the form of ranking 306th in Division I in scoring while ranking 308th in points allowed.
Maryland (15-2, 3-1 Big Ten) at Illinois (12-5, 2-2), ESPN2. How have the Terps’ freshman trio of Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter not hit the midseason wall yet? Coach Mark Turgeon cautions us and says that it is still early in league play and the spring semester has yet to begin. He’s also taken precautions by not overworking this team in practice…and keeping this team (especially his freshmen) sharp mentally. These two teams tangled December 27th in College Park with the Terrapins producing perhaps their best 40-minute effort of the season. The Illini are 2-0 at home in conference play…perhaps coming off their most impressive win of the year in an 85-69 triumph over Michigan. While guard Malcolm Hill remains their biggest offensive threat, recent contributions from Maverick Morgan and Kipper Nichols (they score, rebound AND have cool names) will have the coach Turgeon wary.
George Washington (9-8, 1-3 Atlantic 10) at LaSalle (9-5, 3-1) suffered consecutive losses to the Commonwealth Capital Duo, going scoreless for a seven minute stretch in a loss to Richmond while turning the ball over 17 times in a 30-point loss at VCU. The Explorers (last in the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense and second-to-last in opponents field goal percentage) might be just what the doctor ordered for the GW offense. Can they contain sharpshooting junior B.J. Johnson (19 points per game and 42% from 3-point range)?