The beauty of college basketball’s bubble season is that even teams on the outside looking out can convince themselves with the proper numbers that they’re actually one win away from an NCAA Tournament berth.  While that may be the case with a few schools, most need to win their conference tournament to enter the field of 68.  Twenty wins used to be one’s ticket if you were in a “Power Conference”… but with schools scheduling 32 regular season games, that onetime gold standard is now barely bronze.  But around the beltway?  Most of the Bubble Birds have flown south for the month.

Georgetown (24-5, 14-4) wrapped up its regular season with a ridiculous thumping of rival Syracuse, 61-39.  Outside of the understandable hiccup at Villanova, nobody is playing better basketball now in the nation (Duke’s resurgence isn’t fool’s gold, but the Hoyas haven’t needed Greg Whittington’s return to resurge).  Freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s emergence makes this team all the more difficult to defend;  and if the defense continues to dominate as it has been over the last month, prepare for a long weekend in the Big Apple.  A number one seed in the Big Dance is definitely in the equation.

Alma Mater Update– that thud you heard outside the Verizon Center was the Syracuse (23-8, 11-7) season crashing.  Dropping 4 of 5… and scoring 39 (?!) points in its final regular season game against its archrival is no way to enter the Big East Tournament.  Reminds me of 1992:  a top ten SU team loses four straight and then gets roasted by 20 points at home on the final day of the regular season by Villanova, only to win three games by nine points en route to the Big East Tournament Championship.  Current assistant Mike Hopkins was on that team.  Can this bunch turn things around for a memorable March?  Or is this the makings of a meltdown?

Maryland (20-11, 8-10) is exhibit A for the case of how 20 regular season wins isn’t what it used to be.  The Terps coughed up a 17 point first half lead en route to a 61-58 overtime loss at Virginia.  Spotty shooting (33% for the team…Alex Len going 2 for 9) undercut a decent effort defensively and on the glass.  The absence of a true point guard (10-14 assist to turnover ratio) doesn’t make life any easier.  As a 7th seed in the ACC Tournament… they’re going to have to reach the finals to have even a prayer at making the “Last Four In”.  They did win at Wake Forest just a few weeks ago… but a Duke with Ryan Kelly awaits in the quarterfinals.  Good luck storming the castle.

Cruising the Commonwealth– did the OT win over Maryland compensate for the heartbreaking loss at Florida State?  Yes, Virginia (21-10, 11-7)–there is a Santa Claus.  But he has no hold over the NCAA Committee.  Granted, we may have to use the Michael Snaer Corrallary when writing off some last-second losses… but the best thing about the loss at FSU was it kind of obscures the defeat at Boston College.  The Cavaliers take the #4 seed into Greensboro…but will face either preseason favorite NC State or a Virginia Tech fueled by conference leading scorer Erick Green.  I would almost think coach Tony Bennett’s team would need two victories to reach the Field of 68.  Virginia Tech (13-18, 4-12) needs to win the entire tournament to play next weekend.  And four wins in four days is a tall task for a team that’s won four games since December 22nd.  Erick Green does pick up the Sean Singeltary Award after a bittersweet senior season.  Who knows what year two of the James Johnson regime will bring.

George Mason (18-14) needed to win the CAA…and early against Northeastern it looked as though Mason Nation would be a hoop sensation once again.  But unfortunately 24 point leads are made to be broken… and the Patriots fall 69-67 in the CAA Semifinals despite shooting 63% from the field (19 turnovers have a way of dissolving leads).  GMU only loses one senior this offseason… but what will they return to?  The sad state of college athletics has turned one once awesome weekend in Richmond into shell of its former self:  host school VCU’s in the Atlantic-10, Old Dominion and Georgia State are ineligible because they’re leaving the league, and academic issues sidelined Towson and UNC-Wilmington.  If the A-10 were to come calling again in Fairfax, the Patriots might be wise to become CAA expatriates.

George Washington (13-16, 7-9) needed an 81-80 overtime win over Dayton to climb into the top 12 of the Atlantic 10 (there are currently 16 schools, but allegedly Butler and Xavier are leaving to join the Catholic 7… and St. Louis is another school bandied about– so the A-10 might just get to ten schools after all!) thanks to owning a tiebreaker over the Flyers and St. Bonaventure (biggest disappointment for the Bonnies since Bob Lanier’s injury in the 1970 East Regional Finals).  GW faces a UMass team they beat in Amherst during the regular season…a game where freshman Joe McDonald notched 16 points and 10 assists (A-10 highs until he scored 16 last Saturday).  Can a miracle run begin?

Maryland Womens’ Window– after falling to North Carolina in the ACC Semifinals, the Terps (24-7) await their NCAA seeding after losing to North Carolina in the ACC Semifinals.  Ranked 12th in the latest Associated Press Poll (one spot ahead of the Tar Heels), conventional wisdom would place the Terps as a low 3 or a high 4.  They’ll host the first weekend of the tournament in College Park– but that’s no gimme:  just witness their loss two years ago at Comcast to Georgetown in the second round.  Add to the equation that this is a very thin team.  A trip to the Sweet 16 would be a nice finish for an injury riddled roster.

American (10-20) wrapped up a season ending five game losing streak with a 65-44 defeat at Army in the Patriot League Quarterfinals…a rough finish for seniors Stephen Lumpkins (part of the hammer and anvil tandem with Vlad Moldoveanu a few years ago) and Daniel Munoz…and one where AU just never seemed to put things together after winning at least 20 games the past two years.  John Schoof and Tony Wroblicky, this team is now yours.

Howard (7-23, 4-12) plays its MEAC First Round game this evening against the team it fell to 56-53 in its regular season finale– Delaware State.  The Bison did lead by five at the half… so there is some reason for optimism.  Now they haven’t beaten a MEAC school with double digit wins overall… so even the 13-17 Hornets might be a tall order.  But if lowly Liberty  (12-20 regular seaosn) can make a run to the NCAA Tournament…why not a Howard team that humbled the Flames in December?

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