It’s not March Madness.  Not even February Fever.  But the area offers more than a few intriguing college hoop stories as the first full month of conference play winds down.  First a celebration of sorts with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reaching 1,000 career wins.  Did you know Coach K was so close to that milenium milestone?  Thusly we’ll be sprinkling K moments throughout:

#16 Maryland (18-3, 6-2 Big Ten)– the midseason slump seemed right on track for the Terrapins…who trailed Northwestern by 14 at the half before nipping the Wildcats 68-67 on a last-second tip-in by Dez Wells.  Instead, the Terps find themselves a half game behind #5 Wisconsin for first place in the league…and more wins than they posted in two of coach Mark Turgeon’s first three seasons in College Park.  The power trio of Wells, Jake Layman and Melo Trimble provide more than a few nightmares for opponents.  With five of their next seven games at home, could this team crack the top ten in both polls?  Coach K Moment:  Will anyone forget the four game heavyweight bout the two schools waged in 2000-01?  From “Gone in 60 seconds” to “Senior Day Smackdown” to a two-point game in the ACC’s and the Blue Devils comeback in the Final Four–key guideposts on the way to Coach K’s third National Championship.

#21 Georgetown (14-5, 6-2 Big East)– so they rushed the court.  Okay, so the kids who were born after Allen Iverson left campus got a little excited when their school beat a top 5 team…is that so wrong?  It should be.  The name Georgetown exudes Big Brother in the Big East status, not to mention the bully on the block you don’t mess around with.  The Hoyas played so well defensively in the first half of their dismemberment of the Wildcats, I thought Michael Graham was going to come out of the stands and punch a player.  Credit coach John Thompson III with bringing along a talented but raw freshman class;  he says that you can’t force it when “the clouds open up” for a first year player–and that’s what has happened lately for Isaac Copeland (consecutive 17 point efforts after hitting a game-winning 3 against Butler).  Before the Hoyas get too full of themselves, Xavier drops by the district.  Yes, the same Musketeers that handed Georgetown a 17-point loss December 31st.  Coach K Moment:  1989 the Hoyas led by freshman Alonzo Mourning and Big East MVP Charles Smith were the #1 seed in the East…only to fall to the 2nd seeded Duke in the Regional Finals.  This was the second of three straight years where the Blue Devils defeated the top seed (Temple in ’88 and UConn in ’90 being the others) to reach the Final Four…three years that cemented Krzyzewski’s place as an elite coach.

Alma Mater Update– so much for a 4-0 ACC start.  The Orange drop to 14-7 and 5-3 in the league…coming up short at North Carolina.  Just not enough weapons to deal with a top-heavy league this year…although SU had a chance until Tyler Roberson picked up his 5th personal foul.  Bad free throw shooting (8-19) cost the club Saturday in a four point loss to Miami.  Necessary wins are on deck against Pitt, BC and Virginia Tech (the 3 schools are a combined 4-15 in league play) before the February Firing Squad lines up:  Duke twice, Louisville, Notre Dame and Virginia over a six game span.  Bring me extra bleu cheese for my Warrick Wings at Front Page Ballston…

Cruising the Commonwealth– why does TNT stop showing “Law & Order” re-runs at 1pm ET on Sundays?  At least then they would’ve saved viewers from the 50-47 molasses match between the Cavaliers and Hokies.  I would have even been tempted by “Rules of Engagement”.  Or maybe not.

#2 Virginia (19-0, 7-0 ACC) rallied from 10 points down in the second half to stay unbeaten…Justin Anderson scoring 10 of the Cavs final 14 points over the last 7:05 of regulation.  Now opponents know that UVa can win even when they shoot 35%.  The nation’s top scoring defense (49.2ppg allowed) also turned Georgia Tech into a Kindergartener last week, holding the Yellowjackets to 28 (!!!) points.  Bring on #4 Duke, right?  The Blue Devils drop by John Paul Jones Arena Saturday.  Coach K Moment:  in the 1983 ACC Quarterfinals Ralph Sampson and Virginia routed Duke 109-66…after which one of his friends lifted a glass of water, toasting “here’s to a night let’s soon forget”.  Krzyzewski lifted his own glass and responded, “here’s to a night we will NEVER forget”.  The Blue Devils reached the ACC Finals the following year and didn’t lose to the Cavaliers again until the 1989-90 season (16 straight wins).

Virginia Tech (8-11, 0-6 ACC) saw another outstanding effort result in another disappointing defeat:  just four points scored in the final 10:41 of the second half.  Lack of rebounding (they rank last in the ACC and were dominated 33-21 on the glass by the Cavaliers) once again haunts coach Buzz Williams’ bunch:  they also rank 14th in steals.  There is good news, though:  five of the Hokies next six opponents have losing conference records.  Coach K Moment:  the Hokies upset defending National Champ Duke in February of 2011–after which Dick Vitale said that Seth Greenberg’s team punched its ticket to the big dance.  Until Virginia Tech lost its last two regular season games and needed to beat the Blue Devils in the ACC Semifinals to boost its at-large profile.  No dice this time–as Coach K’s club sent the Hokies to the NIT for a fourth straight year, 77-63.

A-10 Showdown–

George Washington (16-4, 6-1 Atlantic 10) enters its matchup with #16 VCU (16-3, 6-0 Atlantic 10) on a roll with four straight wins (three by double figures);  Patricio Garino continues to be a defensive dynamo ranking 3rd in the A-10 in steals but Danish center Kevin Larsen’s cooled off (averaging 7 points and 5 rebounds over the last three games).  The Rams recent run hasn’t been easy:  four of their last five wins have been two-possession affairs (a bad ankle kept leading scorer Treveon Graham out of the win over Duquesne).  Deliberation meets frenzy–can the Colonials keep a cool head against a manic D that ranks 3rd nationally in steals?  Coach K Moments:  one year apart the Colonials and Rams faced the Blue Devils in the NCAA’s:  in 2006 GW despite being ranked #14 in the nation received the 8th seed and was sent to Greensboro, NC where they lost to top seed Duke in the Second Round 74-61.  VCU punched coach Anthony Grant’s ticket to Alabama with a First Round upset of the 6th seeded Blue Devils in 2007.

A-10 Simply Down–

George Mason (6-12, 1-5 Atlantic 10) doesn’t own last place in the league…although with five straight conference losses it must feel that way.  Saturday the snakebit Patriots allowed a pair of Davidson threes in the final 21 seconds en route to an 80-73 overtime loss to the Wildcats.  While freshman Jamaican big man Shevon Thompson leads the conference in rebounding, he’s getting little help:  GMU ranks 11th in the league in shooting and is 14th in assist-to-turnover ratio.  The Patriots get relief in the form of consecutive opponents boasting 1-5 A-10 marks before they face VCU.

Maryland Womens Update– the Terps move up again in the rankings after a 20 point throttling of Indiana…at 17-2 and 8-0 in the Big Ten coach Brenda Frese’s team is now in the conversation for a potential top seed.  For opponents, it’s a case of pick your poison:  do you pay extra attention to Brionna Jones in the post (the sophomore averages 14 points and 11 rebounds in conference play) or make life uncomfortable for perimeter players Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (55% FG) and Laurin Mincy?  Sophomore point guard Lexie Brown must feel like it’s Christmas every day on the court.  Super Bowl Sunday brings a fight for first place to Xfinity Center–as #20 Iowa comes to College Park.  The perfect appetizer for the big game…next to my friend Doug’s wife’s “Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip”.

American (11-9, 4-4 Patriot League) finds itself with a two game losing streak after slipping at home to Army 68-66 Monday…even John Schoof’s 17 points unable to deliver victory.  AU led by five with 1:45 left before turning the ball over, missing a layup and the missing a three-pointer.  The Eagles lose despite shooting 55% from the fieldand missing the same amount of free throws (13-21 to Army’s 7-15) as their opponent.  One game away from the midpoint of the conference slate, Boston University and Colgate are tied for first (AU beat the Raiders while losing to the Bison) with the Eagles one of four 4-4 teams.  Cause for concern:  AU is 1-3 on the road in the conference and their next two games are away from Bender Arena.

Howard (10-10, 4-2 MEAC)– FIVE HUNDRED, BABY!  The Bison haven’t been at the break-even mark or better 20 games into the season since 2002.  Not only was that the last year they had a winning record–it was also the last time they didn’t lose 20 games in a season.  Monday’s 45-42 win over Bethune-Cookman made the Virginia-Virginia Tech game feel like the Lakers Showtime–two of the Bison’s starters went scoreless and James Daniel missed 10 of his 11 shots.  Thank goodness JC Carlton scored 27 points to lead all scorers…the junior is averaging 22 points over his last five games.  The Bison next face a Morgan State team that’s 4-16 while ranking 351st in the nation in shooting (that would be dead last in Division I).  After that things tighten up with five of their nine remaining league games against schools with winning conference records–followed by giant-killer NJIT in the season finale.  A winning record might not happen, but it’s very likely they lose less than 20 games this winter.

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