PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

There was quite a bit of excitement when the Big Ten announced that their men’s basketball tournament would be held at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.  But instead of a conference that had four top ten teams entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament or even the 2016 batch that yielded four schools in the top 20, there’s Wisconsin at #11 (after losing to Northwestern) while Purdue is 16th.  And before you get involved in the whole “strength of schedule” thing, look at the “projected top 16 seeds” released by the Tournament Selection Committee:  NO BIG TEN TEAMS.  While I’ve compared this made-for-TV exercise to tasting cookie batter, there is still some validity to the process.  And that process points to the Big Ten and say they’re pretenders instead of contenders in a world where the teams to beat range from bluebloods (Kentucky and Duke) to upstarts (Gonzaga and Butler).

Blame the name schools having off-seasons:  Michigan State has yet to really recover from a rough non-conference slate and Indiana’s December loss to Nebraska was more of a trend than a hiccup.  Ohio State and Michigan are bubble afterthoughts.  It’s also tough for the national media to get their heads around Northwestern and Minnesota as contenders.  Add in a Maryland team that lost four starters while playing a less than ambitious non-conference record, and you have a below-the-radar season for a school used to being above-the-fold on the front page.  Who’s ready for a first round that features 14th place Rutgers?

Bracket Racket- now that we are less than one month away from Selection Sunday, we’ll be including the ESPN and CBS NCAA Tournament projections.  Remember that the field of 68 is fluid…and has the attention-span off a hummingbird.

Alma Mater Update- two straight close losses have the Orange slipping down the bubble at 8-6 in the conference.  Remaining games on the road to the NCAA’s have Duke at home and Louisville on the road…with a home-and-away series against fellow Bubble resident Georgia Tech.  SU hasn’t had a comfortable win in exactly one month…and one hopes they respond to the latest bump in the road.

#23 Maryland (21-4, 9-3 Big Ten)- Anthony Cowan stepped up Saturday in the Terps’ 86-77 win over Ohio State with 19 points after scoring 19 in the team’s previous three games (and shooting 2-15 during the two-game losing streak).  The bench also outscored the Buckeyes’ reserves 33-0.  But up next are two tough tests on the road against conference contenders Northwestern (yes, I know…try not to chuckle) and Wisconsin.  Both models have the Terrapins a #6 seed:   CBS tickets them to the South Region and a first round game against the Georgia Tech/Wake Forest winner while ESPN has them in the East bracket against Clemson or Marquette.

Georgetown (14-12, 5-8 Big East)- Now that was the Jessie Govan we thought we might see.  The six-foot-ten sophomore tallied 23 points and 8 rebounds in the 80-62 win over Marquette.  After their team defense was described as “lazy” by the Golden Eagles JuJuan Johnson in December, the Hoyas responded by holding Marquette to under 40% shooting for most of the game and 3-for-14 from three-point range.  Now the question is:  can this team get back to .500 in conference play and merit at-large consideration in March?  They still have Creighton and Villanova on their schedule…plus road games at St. John’s and Seton Hall.  ESPN has the Hoyas as the eighth team to miss the tournament.

#14 Virginia (18-6, 8-4 ACC)- It’s cloudy in Charlottesville after an 80-78 double-overtime loss to Virginia Tech.  Cassell Coliseum is a very difficult place to get a win…no matter how good you might be.  But blow a 14-point halftime lead?  When you’re one of the best defensive teams in the nation, let alone the ACC?  Their starting forwards shot 2-for-10 from the field against the Hokies…and UVa missed 10 of 24 free throws.  London Perrantes can continue to dazzle from the perimeter, but if he doesn’t have help inside the rough and tumble world of the best conference in the game can be a little unforgiving.  The latest models both have the Cavaliers as a #4 seed playing Akron in the round of 64;  ESPN has UVa in the East while CBS places them in the Midwest.

Virginia Tech (17-7, 6-7 ACC)- now THAT was a big program win.  How do you rally from 14 down against your in-state rival?  How do you come back from 17 turnovers?  Somehow they forced the Cavaliers into a 2-for-9 shooting funk over a six-minute stretch in the second half…and got a gift when London Perrantes’ last-minute layup died on the backboard rim, resulting in a jump ball that went the home team’s way.  Seth Allen’s 20 points off the bench were punctuated by his game-winning jumper in the lane with 3.2 seconds left.  Sophomores Justin Robinson (4 rebounds, 6 assists and a blocked shot) and Chris Clarke (7 boards and 3 assists) continue to do the little things that an NCAA Tournament team needs.  Up next?  Back to back road games against the likes of Pitt and #8 Louisville.  CBS has the Hokies a #9 seed in the Midwest, facing VCU…while ESPN has them seeded 9th in the West and a first-round game with USC.

George Mason (17-8, 7-5 Atlantic 10).  Saturday’s 73-67 victory over Fordham was one of those games the Patriots would have lost earlier this winter or last year:  somehow they survived going scoreless for over seven minutes in the second half.  Sophomore guard Otis Livingston II has turned it on as of late, scoring 18 points while playing 37 minutes per game during the three-game winning streak.  The current surge has coach Dave Paulsen’s team pushing for a double-bye…but in order to be the best, you have to beat the best.  And over the next month the Patriots play conference co-leaders Dayton and VCU plus third place Richmond and fourth place Rhode Island.  Buckle up…

George Washington (13-12, 5-7 Atlantic 10).  How do you bounce back from the heartbreak of a last-second loss to VCU?  Feed Tyler Cavanaugh the ball early and often, which is what GW did in their 76-70 triumph over St. Bonaventure.  They also locked up on the perimeter, holding the Bonnies to 22% shooting from three-point range.  Remember the double-bye I mentioned earlier?  There’s also the dreaded first round of the A-10 Tournament that matches up the bottom four schools…and the Colonials are one game ahead of Fordham and Saint Louis for tenth place.  They own the tiebreaker with the Billikens and visit the Rams March 1st…ending a stretch where they play four of five games against teams that are sub-500 in league play.

American (6-19, 3-11 Patriot League).  The Eagles can also avoid playing in the first round of their conference tournament, but they’ll need to win the rest of their regular season games while getting help.  And even then they’d be in a tiebreaker at 7-11.  Let’s just give AU a chance to enjoy their 61-58 win over Army where they turned over the Black Knights 21 times.  They go for a season sweep of Lafayette Wednesday.  If you can’t avoid the dreaded first round, you may as well try to host it.

Howard (6-20, 3-8 MEAC).  The offensively challenged (338th in shooting and 331st in assists) Bison didn’t go down quietly at Hampton…but still have a way to go before righting the ship.  Of course the ship would be sailing a lot better if the injured James Daniel III had played more than two games this winter.  Instead, fellow senior James Miller and a nucleus of unseasoned young talent tries to fly on one engine.  Thank goodness they got a Monday night win at Morgan State…Miller leading the way with 24 points and a crucial block in the final minute of a 70-67 win over the Bears.  They next face winless in the league North Carolina A&T.

 

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