PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Super Bowl weekend means we can officially go from enjoying the NFL to being force-fed pro football.  I love the draft…and free agency is intriguing, but one does not avidly anticipate every OTA and minicamp.  The first weekend in February also means the men’s college basketball teams of the area are well into their conference schedule.  For most of the teams in multi-bid conferences there’s still hope, and for the single-bid league schools there’s hope that the top three teams in the standings catch the measles in March.  But there is good basketball to be had this month as teams get in position to be in position.

 

Game of the Week that Was- VCU beat Richmond 81-74 Wednesday night in a duel that we’ve grown accustomed to between these two schools.  The contrast in styles led to another contentious affair, with ten ties and ten lead changes between the co-residents of the Commonwealth’s capital city.  The Rams were just a little bit better that night and get the reward of a share of first place in the A-10.  We look forward to round two…while knowing a round three could be in the mix.

Alma Mater Update- what to make of the Orange?  Just when I was mapping out possible stops on the NIT road to MSG, SU decides to win three straight and rally on the road against NC State.  Saturday Jim Boeheim will coach in a game that could lead to the 1,000th defeat of a Syracuse opponent since the 1976-77 season.  In other news, there are more than a few ways to get a University of North Carolina degree.

Saturday’s games-

Noon-

#17 Maryland (20-2, 8-1 Big Ten) vs #23 Purdue (18-5, 7-3), ESPN.  The Terps are off to their best start in program history thanks to the ability to close on the road:  Tuesday’s 77-71 victory at Ohio State improves coach Mark Turgeon’s team to 5-0 away from Xfinity Center in conference play.  Freshman forward Justin Jackson has been on fire lately, averaging 25 points with 11 rebounds while shooting 9-for-12 from three point range in the Terps’ wins at OSU and Minnesota.  The Boilermakers bring 6-foot-9 forward Caleb Swanigan to College Park:  the sophomore leads the Big Ten in rebounding and is second in scoring.  Purdue’s also annoyingly efficient, ranking second in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, shooting and scoring while owning the belt as the league’s best three-point shooting team.  These are the games Maryland joined the Big Ten to play in.

Georgetown (13-10, 4-6 Big East) vs Seton Hall (13-8, 3-6), FOX Sports 1.  Someone forgot to tell the Hoyas their season was in shambles.  While beating Creighton had the caveat of the Bluejays being minus the nation’s leading assist man in Maurice Watson Jr., topping the Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse last weekend was a season-salvaging victory.  And it all could have come undone at DePaul…but five points in the final minute from L.J. Peak gave coach John Thompson III’s team a 76-73 escape and the longest winning streak in the league.  The Pirates are headed in the other direction with four losses in five games…but boast a big man from the Dominican Republic named Angel Delgado who just happens to lead Division I in rebounding.  Will the 6-foot-10 tower of power be too much for Bradley Hayes and Jessie Govan to handle?

#9 Virginia (17-4, 7-2 ACC) at Syracuse (14-9, 6-4), ESPN2.  The Cavaliers answered their heartbreaking loss at Villanova with an old-fashioned thumping of Virginia Tech, holding the Hokies to 36% shooting while turning them over 14 times in a 71-48 rout.  They face an Orange team that somehow rallied from 16 points down in the second half to beat NC State in overtime.  It’s tough to figure out Jim Boeheim’s bunch that found ways to get throttled by St. John’s and Boston College yet was able to outlast Florida State last weekend.  John Gillon (43 points against the Wolfpack while shooting 9-10 from three point range) is still cooling off from Wednesday’s win.  Oh, and there’s the “Cavaliers collapse in the Regional Finals last year” thing.  Should be a fun watch…

 

1 p.m.-

American (5-17, 2-9 Patriot League) vs Lehigh (12-10, 6-5).  The midweek loss at conference-leading Bucknell was expected, but the fact that the Eagles somehow lost to Colgate last Sunday despite shooting 59% from the field has to still sting.  Especially with three straight games against the league’s elite.  The Mountain Hawks have dropped two straight but have the best player in the league;  Tim Kempton averages 21 points and 10 rebounds…and notched 36 & 11 in a January 8th win over AU.  I joked in the preseason with coach Mike Brennan about sending the Eagles-killer overseas on a Rhodes scholarship this winter;  he grimaced.  Coach Brennan will need to get solid efforts from freshmen Sy’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini…and hope the two aren’t shell-shocked from the rude awakening they’ve received in conference play.

2 p.m.-

George Washington (12-10, 4-5 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (13-9, 7-3), NBC Sports Network.  The Colonials lost by seven to the Spiders in DC last month, with T.J. Cline tallying 19 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists.  GW’s fresh off a late collapse at Rhode Island where the Rams went on a 13-1 finishing kick to win by 12 while the Spiders are dealing with a tough loss to the other Rams- crosstown rival VCU.  Tyler Cavanaugh and company need to exploit their advantages on the glass (they’re the second best rebounding team in the A-10 while Richmond is second to last in rebounding margin) and keep Cline from dominating the game on multiple fronts like he did in January.

Navy (13-10, 8-3) at Colgate (7-17, 5-6). There’s no team around the beltway on a longer winning streak than the Midshipmen, now winners of eight straight and in sole possession of second place in the Patriot League.  It all began on January 8th when a Tom Lacey double-double helped propel the Mids past the Raiders in a 67-55 win that left both teams 1-3 in conference play.  The 6-foot-7 junior has remained a presence in the pivot since, averaging 13 rebounds over the team’s last four games.  Colgate dominated the glass in their most recent game, but a 36-25 rebounding advantage against Holy Cross wasn’t enough to overcome 19 turnovers.  Navy sophomore Hasan Abdullah (2nd in the conference in steals) is on notice.

 

4 p.m.-

VCU (17-5, 7-2 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (14-7, 6-3), CBS Sports Network.  This is the Rams’ reward for their win over cross-town rival Richmond?  A trip to Olean?  The Bonnies are ready for a little home-cooking, as they’ve played three of their last four away from Reilly Center.  Prepare for a pairing of premiere point guards:  Jaylen Adams leads the A-10 in assists while ranking third in steals–VCU’s JeQuan Lewis is fifth and fourth in those categories.  One should also expect a track meet with plenty of pressure all over the court between two of the top three scoring teams in the conference. 

 

6 p.m.-

Howard (5-17, 2-5 MEAC) at Florida A&M (5-16, 3-5) .  Remember the James Gang?  The classic rock band that gave us Joe Walsh before he went to the Eagles?  The Bison had one brief shining moment two winters ago when their version of the James Gang went 16-16 (the first non-losing season in more than a decade for HU).  Unfortunately injuries robbed James Miller of last season and James Daniel III of this year.  James Carlton?  He may be healthy but has no eligibility remaining as he graduated in 2015.  Coach Kevin Nickelberry’s team begins February in the bottom reaches of the conference after being picked to win the league in the preseason. The Rattlers won the January matchup in DC by 12 thanks to dominant play from Derrick Dandridge:  the 6-foot-8 junior tallied 20 points and 10 rebounds for his only double-double of the season.  That game was also one of the two that oft-injured James Daniel III was able to play in this winter.  Trying to replace 27 points per game can be difficult…

 

7 p.m.-

George Mason (14-8, 4-5 Atlantic 10) vs LaSalle (12-8, 6-3).  For all of the progress the Patriots have made this season, somehow they’ve gotten swept by Saint Louis.  As in 3-7 in the league Saint Louis.  Some matchups are just bad for some teams…and this weekend’s duel will be intriguing.  The Explorers bring the highest-scoring offense in the conference to Fairfax, but they also allow the most points per game in the league.  Senior Jordan Price and junior transfer B.J. Johnson supply a lot of firepower from the perimeter…can the Patriots undersized duo of Marquise Moore and Otis Livingston II keep pace?  Expect plenty of rebounds for Moore (the 6-foot-2 dynamo leads the A-10 with over 10 rebounds per game) and more than a few assists from the Green Machine (best pep band around the beltway).

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