Conference play’s first few games gives fans a chance to over-react…just look at Virginia Tech playing Duke for first place in the ACC January 9th.  Late January provides more of a sample size for teams to figure out who they actually are…while convincing some teams that maybe they aren’t what their non-conference play led them to believe…


#7 Maryland (16-2, 5-1 Big Ten) meets Northwestern for the second time this month…after beating the Wildcats and their matchup zone by 13 January 2nd.  The best thing about the Terps’ blowout win over Ohio State?  The ability to limit the minutes of regulars Rasheed Sulaimon, Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and Robert Carter Jr. (each playing under 30 minutes in the rout) will have them rested for the Northwestern matchup zone.  After that, back to back duels with Michigan State and Spartan-killer Iowa loom.

Georgetown (11-7, 4-2 Big East) is in the middle of a Big East meatgrinder- the Hoyas hitting under 33% of their shots in Saturday’s loss to #4 Villanova.  The schedule doesn’t let up:  Tuesday’s trip to #5 Xavier continues a stretch where they will face UConn, Creighton and #16 Providence.  Coach John Thompson knows “this group cannot live past the here and now-and I mean this possession”.  He also knows that his team ranks 8th in the Big East in shooting and rebounding rebounding…while the Musketeers lead the conference on the glass.  Here and now…gang.

Cruising the Commonwealth- #13 Virginia (13-4, 2-3 ACC) officially moves from confident to concerned after Sunday’s 69-62 loss at Florida State.  0-3 on the road to start conference play?  Keep in mind this is with a nucleus (Gill, Brogdon & Perrantes) that lost just 2 games overall in ACC play the last two seasons.  Do they miss Justin Anderson that much?  Their issues on the road include shooting (42% from the field as opposed to 53% at John Paul Jones Arena) while also defending the 3- (allowing 51% away from Charlottesville while holding teams to 30% at home).  Surprising Clemson (5-1 in the league) visits Tuesday night…and Syracuse brings a 3-game winning streak into town Saturday.  Speaking of surprises- Virginia Tech (12-6, 4-1 ACC) has officially become a curiosity as the Hokies have matched their conference win total from the previous two seasons combined.  Transfer Zach LeDay has given coach Buzz Williams’ team a boost, averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds in league play.  Sadly the schedule rears its ugly head:  trips to Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse sandwich home dates with #2 North Carolina and #17 Louisville.  What happened to the home-and-home series with Boston College?

George Washington (14-4, 3-2 Atlantic 10) has plenty of time to think about their 77-70 loss at Dayton…one where the Colonials were minus an injured Joe McDonald.  If the senior’s can’t return from the eye injury suffered against Duquesne then coach Mike Lonergan needs to generate more production out of a backcourt that was held to 3 of 14 shooting by the Flyers.   Friday’s game with Rhode Island is the first of four at the Smith Center over a six game stretch- a stretch where the road games are at nearby George Mason and VCU.  Home cooking, anyone?

George Mason (7-11, 1-4 Atlantic 10) finally got its first conference win of the season by outscoring Saint Louis 92-79 Sunday.  Senior Shevon Thompson tallied his third double-double of A-10 play…despite averaging under 20 minutes a game in league action.  Three of the Patriots next four games come against schools with losing conference records…and a team that’s still learning how to play coach Dave Paulsen’s style could find some wins over the next two weeks.  Could the Mason jar be going from almost empty to nearly one quarter full?

American (2-15, 0-6 Patriot League) is looking for any semblance of optimism.  Honestly!  The team’s loss at Army West Point by 20 was its fifth straight by double digits.  The Eagles rank last in Division I in scoring…and while AU’s deliberate pace lends to that number they’re also having issues just generating shots (Jesse Reed and company rank last in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio).  Games against the two teams tied for eighth (Lafayette and Holy Cross) precede a trip to conference leading Navy.

Howard (8-10, 2-1 MEAC) slips under the radar as the Bison are in their conference bye-week.  Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse at midseason…leading scorer James Daniel missed Saturday’s loss to Harvard thanks to a shoulder injury.  Hopefully he’ll be able to play against Florida A&M this Saturday.