Talking about the beltway basketball landscape is always a tricky thing…one recognizes the history of Maryland and Georgetown as well as the resources and following each school has at their disposal.  So when a George Mason makes the Final Four, or George Washington goes 26-2, or American leads Wisconsin in the first half–it’s a big thing.  The question is how do you walk the tightrope of appreciating the “other guys” achievements without making them feel like the Scottys and Sulus of the area college hoop scene?  Sadly–Howard has been the guy wearing the red shirt lately.

 

George Washington comes off a 24-9 season where coach Mike Lonergan guided the Colonials to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.  They’ll miss the thunder of Isaiah Armwood and lightning of Maurice Creek…but have a pair of players they can lean on in guard Kethan Savage and swingman Patricio Garino.  Both missed time last season with injuries…and are expected to bear the brunt of the perimeter scoring.  Danish center Kevin Larsen (the 6-foot-10 junior was second on the team with 7 rebounds a game last winter) provides presence in the post.  An early test at #9 Virginia highlights the non-conference schedule…and the Atlantic 10 expects to be its usual cauldron again this winter.  The season starts November 14th against Grambling State.

 

George Mason hopes its second winter in the Atlantic 10 was kinder than the first– the Patriots dropped their first 8 conference games in painful fashion:  three were two-possession games, and three more were one-possession affairs or went into overtime.  The 11-20 finish was the first losing record in Fairfax since Jim Larranaga’s first season of 1997-98.  Topping that off, coach Paul Hewitt loses his only double-digit scorers from last year.  There’s a vacuum to be filled…and it’s easy to see Patrick Holloway developing into a perimeter threat ala Byron Allen while Patrick Holloway or Eric Copes grow into larger roles down low.  Will Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal prove he deserved more minutes in the ACC or that he should’ve gone to the CAA?  The Patriots’ toughest non-conference test remains a December 31st trip to #19 Oklahoma.  What sort of team will we see March 7th in the season finale at VCU?  The road to redemption begins November 14th against Cornell.

 

VCU is here to stay–there’s no question about that.  Shaka Smart has the team in the preseason top 20 again…after the Rams made the NCAA Tournament again last March.  He has quality contributors coming back with four of his top six scorers returning.  Treveon Graham proves to be a matchup nightmare as he’s quicker than most bigs and stronger than most perimeter players in the A-10.  The pressure defense will give the Rams plenty of easy buckets as well.  The recent success on the national stage gives this program swagger that is worth at least 2 or 3 conference games alone.  The main question is– does VCU qualify as a “regional team”?  We give Virginia and Virginia Tech plenty of play on WTOP…and they’re more than a short drive away.  The season tips off in Annapolis at the Quicken Loans Veterans Classic November 14th against Tennessee.

 

American after making the NCAA Tournament in coach Mike Brennan’s first season at the helm now brings back just about everybody to a team that was wildly efficient en route to the big dance:  7th in field goal percentage and 37th in assists per game while ranking 7th in fewest points allowed.  Brennan returns eight of his top nine scorers to Bender Arena…but how much will they miss 6-foot-10 center Tony Wroblicky and his 7 rebounds per game?  Junior Zach Elcano and freshman Gabe Brown both loom large…but the best big man might be 6-foot-8 senior Kyle Kager.  The non-conference slate includes the traditional nearly a month a way from Bender from mid-November to mid-December…followed by the rough and tumble Patriot League.  While they were able to sneak upon everybody else last year, this fall AU is the preseason favorite.  The season begins against Temple November 14th.

 

Navy also resides in the Patriot League– and the Midshipmen begin with a bang:  November meetings with Michigan State, Notre Dame and Providence will definitely help their RPI.  Leading scorer Tilman Dunbar’s back– as are Worth Smith and Brandon Venturini.  Even with the experience, the Midshipmen are picked to finish last in the Patriot League.  The season tips off in Annapolis at the Quicken Loans Veterans Classic November 14th against #18 Michigan State.

 

Howard plays the role of Don Quixote again– as coach Kevin Nickleberry enters his fifth season he’s facing not just a 31-94 record in DC but the history of a Bison program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2001-02 and has lost at least 20 games every year since.  James Daniel returns after leading the MEAC in scoring (21ppg) as a freshman…and with senior Prince Okoroh back as well, this could be the year that Howard contends to finish over .500 at long last.  The first windmill to be chased is November 14th at Miami.

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