February is the shortest month on the calendar…yet this month often seems like the longest stretch of the college basketball season.  Conference play is no longer a novelty.  Teams that are playing well can’t wait for the tournament to start…and teams in a funk feel their season slipping away.  You either have too many games back to back or the uncomfortable six days off in a row.  Matchups are tougher as schools are drawing league opponents for the second time…and its very easy to make a case for why things won’t go right for your team once the calendar turns the page to March.  One more weekend and then we’re talking Shamrock Shakes, Girl Scout Cookies and brackets…

Big shoutout to Stan Spirou for recording his 600th career victory–all with the Penmen.  Stan’s New Hampshire College teams were the first I covered coming out of school…and I got to see some great Division II basketball over a short time.  When I arrived I was wondering when a Northeastern or Rhode Island would snatch Stan up…and all these years later he remains in charge of one of the top programs in the northeast.  The conferences have changed from the New England Collegiate Conference to the Northeast-10 (and for the record there are 15 schools in the league), and even the name has changed from New Hampshire College to Southern New Hampshire University.  But Stan has stayed and when I ran into him last October before the Penmen’s exhibition game at Maryland, it was as though 20 minutes instead of 20 years had passed.  Looking forward to 700, Stan.

 

Saturday’s games:

Noon–

Georgetown (14-14, 7-8 Big East) vs Butler (18-9, 7-8), CBS.  The Hoyas’ season turned on a dime one month ago when they went into Hinkle Fieldhouse and lost to a struggling Bulldogs team 87-76 thanks to 35 points from Kelan Martin.  Since then coach John Thompson III’s team has dropped four of five while Butler has won four of six (the two losses coming against top ten teams Villanova and Xavier).  The Bulldogs are on the NCAA bubble while the Hoyas try to avoid slipping under the .500 mark.  Do you dare doubt DVauntes Smith-Rivera on Senior Day?

American (10-18, 8-9 Patriot League) vs Loyola-Maryland (9-19, 8-9).  The most exciting team inside the beltway  can actually escape the first round of the league tournament with a victory plus a Navy loss.  These two teams met in the conference opener…with the Greyhounds winning 75-67 thanks to 8-13 three-point shooting and a 30-20 rebounding advantage.  The Eagles have come together as of late with 3 straight wins and 8 victories in their last 11 games.  Delante Jones (19 points against Navy Wednesday) has given senior Jesse Reed the option he’s needed.

 

12:30pm–George Washington (21-7, 10-5 Atlantic 10) vs VCU (20-8, 12-3), NBC Sports Network.  The Colonials beat the Rams by 3 in Richmond on the first Saturday of the month…and picked up another big win in the Commonwealth’s capital city Wednesday when they disposed of Richmond.  VCU’s coming off a head-scratching loss at George Mason, but the Rams lead the Atlantic 10 in steals and turnover margin.  They also boast Melvin Johnson and his 18 points per game.  Should be a heck of a battle in Foggy Bottom as both schools are looking to secure a double-bye in the upcoming A-10 tourney…and each is angling for at-large consideration in the NCAA Tournament.

2pm–George Mason (10-18, 4-11 Atlantic 10) at La Salle (6-20, 2-13).  Coach Dave Paulsen’s Patriots pulled a major upset the other night by topping VCU…can they win consecutive conference games for the first time all season?  Senior Shevon Thompson appears to be heating up in his final (notching double-doubles in four of last five games).  The Explorers may be at the bottom of the A-10 standings but boast wins over #25 Dayton and St Bonaventure–go figure.

4pm–#10 Maryland  (23-5, 11-4 Big Ten) at Purdue (21-7, 9-6), ESPN.  The Terps control their path to a Big Ten regular season championship–if they win out they would tie with Indiana for first and own the tiebreaker with the Hoosiers.  They beat the Boilermakers by 11 February 6th…in a game that began a rough stretch for Melo Trimble:  starting with that game the sophomore’s shot 10 for 49 from the field.  The Boilers boast plenty of size…with 7-footer AJ Hammons the focal point of their offense (15 points per game).  Taking care of the ball has been an issue–as the Terps are near the bottom of the Big Ten in turnover margin.  Coach Mark Turgeon elaborated that many of those turnovers (45 in last three games) have led to easy layups for the opponent.

Navy (18-12, 9-8 Patriot League) vs Bucknell (16-12, 13-4).  The Midshipmen try to avoid entering the tournament on a four-game losing streak.  They led by as many as 14 in the second half at American…before a 17-0 run by the Eagles spelled doom.  The Bison are doing well in the first season after coach Dave Paulsen’s departure, one win away from securing the regular season title and top seed (the Patriot League tournament is played at campus sites).

6pm–Howard (12-17, 6-8 MEAC) at Hampton (16-9, 11-2).  The Bison can finish .500 in league play by winning on the road in the 1st and 3rd place team’s gym’s.  Stop laughing.  They did play both the Pirates and Norfolk State close at home earlier this month.  James Daniel III scored 20 points in the DC matchup…but went 0-10 from 3-point range.  The muddy waters of the MEAC’s underbelly has one game separating 7th from 12th place entering the final weekend before the tournament.

6:30pm–#3 Virginia (21-6, 10-5 ACC) vs #7 North Carolina (22-5, 11-3), ESPN.  Will the chain of anger return to its source?  UNC lost to Duke and then took it out on Miami a few days later…only to see the Hurricanes top Virginia Monday night.  The matchup of tempos will be front and center as the deliberate Cavaliers attempt to slow down the up-tempo Tar Heels.  UVa may be deliberate, but it’s paying off:  they lead the ACC in field-goal and three-point percentage.  UNC has talent as they always do, but they also have the trademark of a Roy Williams-coached team:  basketball ADD.  It doesn’t happen every game…but every so often (usually against Duke or in the tournament) they will forget how to play and what they need to do to win.

 

Sunday–

6:30pm– Virginia Tech (15-13, 7-8 ACC) at Wake Forest (11-17, 2-14), ESPNU.  The Hokies can actually play their way out of Tuesday’s opening first round…a win or a Florida State loss locking up at least the 10th seed.  Justin Bibbs scored a season-high 32 points in their January 13th win over the Demon Deacons.  Wake has already wrapped up a Tuesday in DC date…as coach Danny Manning’s team allows a league-high 79 points a game and is last in the conference in turnover margin.

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