Less than two weeks before Selection Sunday also means the annual enjoyment of pure minty goodness that is the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake.  It’s a been a seasonal favorite since the field was an unseeded 32 teams and conferences were allowed just one at-large team in the tournament.  Now not every location carries the Shamrock Shake, at least one Northern Virginia location had its shake machine go down and every so often they run out of the “minty goodness” that is necessary for greatness.  They’ve even added the unnecessary frill of whip cream and maraschino cherry while having the shake in a clear plastic cup (just me, but I’d rather leave some things to the imagination).  But I will be enjoying multiple Shammy Shakes (no whip cream or cherry) between now and the end of the month.

Looking for wins in all the wrong places– Boston College, Rutgers and Chicago State remain winless in their respective conferences…it’s a shame BC and the State College of New Jersey both left the Big East, because not only would they be playing each other they’d also get a shot or two at St. John’s (one win since mid-December).  Going through their prospects:  the Eagles face an NC State team that’s better than their record as well as a Clemson club that’s worse than theirs.  The Scarlet Knights battle #2 Michigan State before hosting hapless Minnesota (2-14 in league action).  The Cougars have just one more chance in WAC play–but host a UMKC team that’s lost three in a row and 10 of 12.

#14 Maryland (23-6, 11-5 Big Ten) all of a sudden lost the minty mix that had propelled the Terps to a 10-2 start in league play.  There’s no shame at losing 83-79 to Purdue on the road, but getting out rebounded 41-22 is a major red flag.  Despite their size advantage (especially up front), this team hasn’t been a juggernaut on the glass this winter.  They can’t live on 5 boards from Diamond Stone over 35 minutes.  Coach Mark Turgeon’s team ranks 5th in the league in rebounding margin;  they’ve lost to three of the four teams that rebound better (Big Ten leading Michigan State, Wisconsin and Purdue) and the fourth is Indiana-the school they will visit Sunday.  But first it’s a game with Senior Night foe Illinois, even though four of the Illini’s five league wins have come against sad-sacks Rutgers and Minnesota.  ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi’s bracket model places the Terps in the East Regional as a #4 seed, facing Yale in Providence.  CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm has them a #3 in the South–facing IPFW in Providence.

Georgetown (14-16, 7-10 Big East) isn’t only not having the Shamrock Shake promotion, they’re ending breakfast at 8am in some locations.  But at least the Hoyas are making things interesting… coming up short at Marquette 88-87 thanks to a pair of Luke Fischer free throws with 1.2 seconds left…just a few days after falling 90-87 in overtime to Butler.  The Butler game saw Gtown use a 14-1 run over the final 1:57 of the second half to force OT.  They also had a 13-0 second half run in a game that had more than a few momentum turns.  Three point defense and taking care of the ball were sore spots again: the Bulldogs hit 8-15 three-pointers and in one 4-minute stretch the Hoyas turned the ball over 7 times (during a 16-0 Butler run).  Both of those aspects were much better against the Golden Eagles…but they allowed 62% shooting.  Now they’re destined to play in the First Round of the Big East Tournament even if they beat #3 Villanova Saturday.

#4 Virginia (23-6, 12-5 ACC) keeps its dream alive of a third straight ACC regular season title by topping Clemson 64-57.  The final week was set up by their 79-74 victory over then-#7 North Carolina in Charlottesville (once again the Cavaliers play UNC and Duke once apiece) last Saturday.  Malcolm Brogdon’s 26 points wrapped up a fantastic February:  the senior averaged 22 points a game on 57% shooting last month.  In order to take the ACC, UVa needs to beat self-banned Louisville while hoping UNC has another flameout against Duke.  ESPN gives the Cavaliers a #1 seed in the South and a first round matchup against North Florida, while CBS projects them as a #2 in the Midwest facing Weber State.  Both models have Tony Bennett’s team playing the first weekend in Raleigh.

Virginia Tech (16-13, 8-8 ACC) took care of business against the Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues of the league by winning at Boston College and Wake Forest…both victories coming away from Cassell Coliseum.  The eight league wins matches the Hokies’ total from the three previous seasons combined…and Sunday’s victory means they’ll avoid the Opening Round.  What’s worked during the three game winning streak?  Seth Allen coming off the bench has given coach Buzz Williams’ team a necessary shot in the arm (17 points a game off the pine).  Do the Blacksburg faithful dare dream of a winning league record?   They close the regular season with two games at home…but one is against bubble team Pitt and the other is against a Miami squad that may be playing for a share of the league title.

George Washington (22-8, 11-6 Atlantic 10) celebrated Senior Night at Smith Center with a 74-52 win over George Mason.  They actually trailed 15-14 with 11 minutes left in the first half, before blowing the game open with a 25-8 run going into intermission.  Three key cogs to coach Mike Brennan’s rebuilding job shined:  Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino each scored 17 points while Joe McDonald scored all 9 of his points in the second half.  Conventional wisdom says they need to beat Davidson and at least reach the A-10 semifinals in order to sew up an at-large bid. The Colonials are projected “First Four Out” by CBS and “Next Four Out” (one step further outside the promised land) by ESPN.

George Mason (10-20, 4-13 Atlantic 10) made a game of it against GW until guard Marquise Moore went down with an ankle injury.  The key again was ball-security:  Mason turned the ball over 16 times…resulting in 21 GW points.  Coach Dave Paulsen’s team has a home game with Richmond on tap before they head to Brooklyn for the A-10 Tournament.

American (11-18, 9-9 Patriot League) reclaimed its reputation as THE HOTTEST TEAM INSIDE THE BELTWAY by wrapping up its regular season with four straight wins-including a safsdfs victory over Loyola (MD).  Guard Delante Jones takes Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors after averaging 14 points a game against conference foes.  Coach Mike Brennan’s team faces 3rd seed Boston University Thursday in the Patriot League quarterfinals.  The Terriers took both of the regular season matchups by double digits,  holding AU to 35% shooting in one game and 3-20 from 3 point range in the other.  BU’s leading scorer Erik Fanning scored 25 points in the February matchup…and is coming off a double double against Holy Cross.

Howard (12-19, 6-10 MEAC) closed its regular season with an 84-66 loss at Norfolk State…as James Daniel III was held to 15 points (his lowest output of the season) on 3-13 shooting.  The Bison enter the conference tournament having lost 9 of 11…but hold the wildcard of having the nation’s leading scorer (J-Byrd’s 27.2 points per game outshining Oklahoma’s Buddy Heild’s 25.4 for the top spot).  Marcel Boyd’s also been playing well as of late…with a pair of double-doubles in his last four games of the regular season.  Unfortunately, the Bison can’t play 2-on-5.

 

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