Kent Benson has to be nervous.  Bobby Wilkerson must be shaking. Quinn Buckner’s glances at the latest Kentucky scores have to be a little more intriguing lately.  The 1976 Indiana team that went 32-0 en route to the last unbeaten National Championship in the mens game will be mentioned early and often if #1 Kentucky enters March perfect–as this year’s Wildcat edition presents the best collection of talent since…well, last year’s Kentucky team.  Or the 2012 edition that won it all with Anthony Davis.  Or perhaps the 1996 team that lost to fellow Final Four teams UMass and Mississippi State en route to Rick Pitino’s first title that featured Antoine Walker and Ron Artest.  Wow, it is really easy not to like the bluebloods of Lexington.  So every time a middling SEC school takes UK into OT…the meter moves.  Even though injuries have scrapped coach John Calipari’s two-platoon system, most Wildcat games represent an NBA pre-draft workout.  Sit tight, Bob Knight…unlike other unbeatens from mid-major leagues recently, this team can get it done.

 

Alma Mater Update–  there aren’t any awards for “most precarious 4-0 start in ACC history”, but if there were this winter’s edition of the Orange would have that honor sealed up.  From barely beating Virginia Tech to losing DeJuan Coleman and Chris McCullough to season ending injuries, this team has NIT written all over it.  But they’re currently tied for first in the conference with non-factors Clemson and Boston College on deck.  The ACC gauntlet of Duke, Louisville, Pitt, Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia is a month away.  Enjoy your “Warrick Wings” and “Boeheim Burgers” at Front Page Arlington while you can.  Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney, now is the time to pad your stats.

 

#14 Maryland (16-2, 4-1 Big 10) proved it could bounce back from slow starts– they trailed Rutgers 8-0 and allowed an 11-0 run to start the second half in Wednesday’s 73-65 win over the Scarlet Knights.  Those following this school over the last five to ten years wonder when the other shoe will drop…as it almost always does.  There’s no way this team can be this good, right?  Weren’t they exposed by Virginia?  Didn’t their offense prove offensive against Michigan State (14 first half points)?  Wouldn’t things turn bad when they started facing the rough and tumble physical Big 10 schools?  This is actually a great year to join the conference-only two other schools are in the top 40 of ESPN.COM’s RPI, and they’ve beaten Michigan State while Wisconsin’s proven they can be beaten (by Rutgers?!).  The great equalizer-team defense- is keeping the Terps near the top of the league:  Mark Turgeon’s team leads the Big Ten in defensive field goal percentage.  Causes for concern involve turnovers:  Maryland’s 11th in assist to turnover ratio and 13th in turnover margin.  Can they complete a regular season sweep of Michigan State?  

 

Georgetown (11-5, 3-2 Big East) snatched its first road conference win Tuesday at DePaul–as coach John Thompson III shortens his rotation (playing just 9–with only 6 players seeing more than 15 minutes) for what will be quite a grind.  Two games in three days will give further clarification of the Hoyas are pretenders or contenders in a Big East that boasts 7 teams in the top 40 of the RPI.  Saturday Butler visits Verizon-the Bulldogs have endured an odd journey already this year.  Coach Brandon Miller went on medical leave October 1st of last fall and interim coach Chris Holtmann turned what was a 14-17 squad from the year before into a top 20 team…leading to the school lifting the interim tag off Holtmann while Miller quietly goes away.  Fourteen turnovers factored into the Hoyas loss to Butler in the Bahamas Thanksgiving week–and bad turnovers remain Georgetown’s Achilles heel.  Monday night #5 Villanova drops by the district–the Wildcats have four double digit victories in conference play but fell on the road two weekends ago to Seton Hall in overtime.

 

Cruising the Commonwealth–

#2 Virginia (16-0, 4-0 ACC) has the Cavalier faithful thinking Final Four.  And why shouldn’t they? Coach Tony Bennett’s team sucks the life out of opponents defensively and is effective enough offensively (44th in the nation in field goal percentage and 40th in offensive rebounding).  Is it safe to say that Justin Anderson’s made the leap?  The junior’s hitting 53 percent of his shots (56% from 3 point range) while leading the Cavaliers in scoring.  Last year a lot was made about UVa’s “soft schedule” when they played Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina just once during the regular season.  This winter there are four other schools ranked in the top 25–and coach Tony Bennett’s team plays Duke, UNC and Louisville back-to-back-to-back over the span of eight days.  At least they get a break with two of those three being played in Charlottesville.  Saturday the Cavaliers visit winless in the ACC Boston College.

 

Virginia Tech (8-8, 0-3 ACC) wonders when its first league victory will arrive–as their January gauntlet of ACC elite continues with consecutive games against North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia.  The Hokies entered conference play as one of the better shooting teams in the nation (they currently rank 45th) but then were held to 39% by Syracuse, 41% by Florida State and 36% by Louisville.  A lot will be on the shoulders of  Adam Smith (15-31 against the Seminoles and Cardinals) as other options offensively haven’t panned out.  Sunday the Hokies visit #15 North Carolina.

 

A-10 Trio–

George Washington (13-4, 3-1 Atlantic 10) bounced back from their least inspirational effort of the season to edge Richmond in double overtime 73-70.  The big difference was the Big Dane– five days after going scoreless and missing both shots at LaSalle, 6 foot 10 center Kevin Larsen tallied 22 points and 11 rebounds.  If the Colonials can get that production consistently, watch out.  The problem is, once every 5 or 6 games the Copenhagen, Denmark product offers up a 1-for-7 entrée with side dishes of foul trouble and multiple turnovers.  For the moment there’s a bit of a breather before they face #17 VCU January 27th:  the next three GW opponents are a combined 2-10 in league play.  Saturday they face a fading George Mason.

 

George Mason (6-10, 1-3 Atlantic 10)-  the season isn’t ugly–yet.  But the Patriots after winning their conference opener have fallen on tough times, despite inspired play from freshman center Shevon Thompson (the Jamaican averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds in league play).  The loss that has to haunt coach Paul Hewitt is the team’s 66-62 defeat against UMass where they made just one shot in the final 6:27.  Saturday they deal with the Colonial Army at George Washington.

 

#17 VCU (14-3, 4-0 Atlantic 10) is viewed as a potential #4 seed in most NCAA Tournament brackets…and while there’s a lot of hoops to be played between now and Selection Sunday the Rams are definitely on a roll.  Their three losses have come to teams that have been ranked this winter:  Virginia and Villanova have been top ten fixtures while Old Dominion reached the top 25 for the first time ever earlier this month (props to Jeff Jones for getting the Monarchs on track).  Shaka Smart’s pesky defense (3rd in the nation in steals) is providing the usual havoc while senior Treveon Graham provides a matchup nightmare on offense:  the 6-foot-6 swingman can rebound better than most forwards (6.9 boards per game) while destroying opponents from the perimeter (46% from 3 point range).  With road games at Duquesne and St Louis (combined 15-17 and 2-6 in conference play), the Rams could very well still be unbeaten in conference play January 27th when they host George Washington.

 

American (10-7, 3-2 Patriot League) is deep into the rugby scrum that is the Patriot League.  Pee Wee Gardner’s three helped the Eagles edge Lehigh 62-59…and although he’s averaging an assist less per game and shooting five percentage points lower than last year, the diminutive one remains the sparkplug for AU’s offense.  While it’s nice to know the Eagles have handed conference-leading Colgate their only league loss, the team has yet to win on the road in Patriot League play and goes on the road for four of their next five games.  Saturday they visit one of the four other 3-2 teams in the Patriot League, Lafayette.

 

Howard (8-10, 2-2 MEAC)- gets a rare midseason siesta:  the Bison enjoy 12 days off between their loss to Delaware State and their trip to Florida A&M.  The Rattlers are the ideal team to come off a layoff against–as they’re currently 0-16 (0-3 in the league).  In fact, the Bison’s monthly transition couldn’t be sharper:  their three opponents to end January are a combined 1-9 in league play while their first three foes of February are a combined 10-1.  Gulp.

 

Maryland Womens Update– new league, similar results.  The 8th ranked Terps are off to a 5-0 start in the Big Ten with signature wins at then #12 Nebraska, #23 Minnesota and #24 Rutgers.  Laurin Mincy enjoyed her recent return to the Garden State, scoring 24 points in the win over the Scarlet Knights.  The team’s lone senior leads the team in scoring and assists.  Two emerging factors off the bench are junior forward Tierney Pfirman and freshman guard Kristen Confroy.  Can this team enter the conversation for a potential #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament?  Five of the Terrapins’ next eight games are in College Park.

 

 

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