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So much for a duel in the Dominion.  Tuesday’s ACC battle royale between #4 Virginia and #9 Virginia Tech turned into a rout almost from the outset:  the Cavaliers scored the game’s first five points and held the Hokies without a field goal for the first three and a half minutes.  There would be no repeat of last winter when coach Buzz Williams’ scrappy bunch shocked then-second ranked UVa in overtime.  Instead, the Cavaliers hit 59% of their shots and 54% from three-point range while winning the battle of the boards 27-19.  The 22-point point lead at intermission would turn the entire second half into mop-up time as coach Tony Bennett’s team emerged as the ACC’s last remaining team unbeaten in conference play.  And just like Florida State two weeks ago, another top ten team tumbles before leaving John Paul Jones Arena.  Virginia’s four league wins have come by an average of 20.5 points per game and while a date with #1 Duke awaits, the Cavaliers have undercut their instate foes (don’t you dare tell the Charlottesville faithful that the Hokies are their rivals) once again.  Set your calendar for Monday, February ninth when these two teams battle in Blacksburg.

 

Alma Mater Update- nothing like washing off the smell of a double-digit home loss to Georgia Tech by beating #1 Duke at Cameron Indoor in overtime.   A 4/5 court heave by Elijah Hughes that went down.  A monster game that saw Tony Battle and his 32 points remind everyone why they all rejoiced when he announced he was coming back for his junior season.  Despite the injuries and illnesses, the Blue Devils are the team to beat and the Orange did just that.  Now they play a pesky Pitt that’s pesky and guided by a former Duke assistant in Jeff Capel.  SU has proven they can win on the big stage–can they sustain their solid play?

 

Friday’s Game:

Maryland (15-3, 6-1 Big Ten) at Ohio State (12-4, 2-3), 6:30 p.m, BTN.

This is the second of four Friday games for the Terrapins this winter.  Friday night hoops should involve me wearing a blue foam finger in Manchester, NH and scrounging up enough money to get Ugli sticks at Luisa’s Pizza on the west side.  The Terps have won consecutive games against Indiana and Wisconsin despite not putting together complete 40-minute efforts.  What’s encouraging is that even when things have gone sideways this month coach Mark Turgeon’s young team has found a way to win.  The Buckeyes have dropped three straight, including a three-point loss at Rutgers.  Perhaps they need to get the ball more to Kyle Young, who leads the conference in shooting (72.1%) but has taken just 12 shots during the slide.

 

Saturday’s Games:

Richmond (7-10, 1-3 Atlantic 10) at Davidson (12-5, 3-1), 12:30 p.m., NBCSN.  Both teams are looking to bounce from discouraging defeats:  the Spiders lost at home to Duquesne for the first time in 25 years, while the Wildcats fell at St. Joe’s by one.  Both teams bring plenty of firepower to Belk Arena:  Davidson leads the A-10 in three-pointers made per game while the Spiders rank second in the conference in field goal percentage.

 

American (8-8, 2-3 Patriot League) vs Lafayette (4-12, 1-4), 2 p.m.  How friendly has home court been for the Eagles thus far in conference play?  They’re 2-0 at Bender Arena and 0-3 outside DC.  Perhaps this is the game where Sa’eed Nelson finds his stroke from three-point range:  the Leopards rank last in the Patriot League at defending the three and are 9th in scoring defense.  But they do have a pair of offensive threats in Justin Jaworski (18 points per game in league play) and Alex Petrie (50% from outside the arc in conference action).

 

Navy (6-10, 3-2 Patriot League) at Army (8-10, 3-2), 2:30 p.m., CBSSN.  It’s not the football game, but this mid-January matchup has two schools recovering from nightmarish pre-conference schedules.  While the Midshipmen are still trying to find their way after losing last year’s leading scorer Shawn Anderson to graduation, the Black Knights are led by juniors Matt Wilson inside (2nd in the conference in rebounding) and Tommy Funk outside (2nd in assists).

 

#9 Virginia Tech (14-2, 3-1 ACC) vs Wake Forest (8-8, 1-3), 4 p.m., ACC Network.  Can the Hokies pick themselves back up from Tuesday night’s wreckage?  They face a Demon Deacons team that is fresh from upsetting #17 NC State by holding the Wolfpack to 37% shooting and 21% from three-point range.  Wake also has a second-generation star in Brandon Childress (son of assistant coach and 1995 ACC Tournament MVP), who’s averaging 16 points with 4 assists per game.  Despite the debacle in Charlottesville, Tech does lead the ACC in shooting and ranks second in scoring defense.  They should be able to find get their mojo back at Cassell Coliseum.

 

Howard (7-11, 1-3 MEAC) at South Carolina State (4-15, 2-1), 4 p.m.  Remind me not to buy into the Bison until they have a winning record entering February: eight losses in nine games has one feeling that “next year” won’t be happening this year.  Tuesday’s defeat to Morgan State was made possible by 18 turnovers and R.J. Cole’s second-lowest scoring output of the season (12 points in 42 minutes).  But as long as Cole and Charles Wiliams (25 points against the Bears) are around, the Bison are a threat to break out on a scoring spree.  And bring me back into the camp thinking that it might just happen this winter.

 

#4 Virginia (16-0, 4-0 ACC) at #1 Duke (14-2, 3-1), ESPN, 6 p.m.  The Cavaliers will have little time to bask in their beatdown of the Hokies…traveling to Durham to face an angry Blue Devils team that lost at home as a top-ranked team for the first time ever (previously 60-0 in that situation).  Adding injury to insult, guard Tre Jones is out indefinitely with a right shoulder injury.  But they still have the ACC’s leading scorer in R.J. Barrett and walking double-double Zion Williamson to test the pack-line defense.  UVa’s ultra-efficient offense that leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio won’t easily have its way with a Duke defense that holds teams under 40% shooting and under 30% from three-point range.

 

VCU (12-5, 3-1 Atlantic 10) vs UMass (7-10, 0-4), 6:30 p.m., NBCSN.  The Rams defeated Dayton Wednesday thanks to Marcus Evans: the transfer from Rice scored 17 points-including the team’s last seven and the go-ahead three with 33 seconds remaining.  The Minutemen may be tied for last in the conference, but three of their four league losses have come by five points or fewer.  They lead the A-10 in three-point shooting and are #2 in field goal percentage, while junior guard Luwane Pipkins scored 38 points last year against the Rams.

 

George Mason (10-8, 4-1 Atlantic 10) vs. Fordham (9-8, 0-4) 7 p.m., ESPN+.  The Patriots outscored UMass 18-9 over the final 6:40 of the second half to beat the Minutemen 68-63 Wednesday as Justin Kier tallied 22 points and 9 rebounds–the junior is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds in league play.  That makes up for Otis Livingston II struggling over the last three games to the tune of 7-32 shooting (22%).  The Rams lead the conference in turnover margin, but are 1-4 on the road (those losses include a defeat to Houston Baptist).

 

Sunday’s Game:

George Washington (6-11, 2-2 Atlantic 10) vs. Duquesne (12-5, 3-1), 4 p.m., NBCSN.  The Colonials bounced back from a horrid first half at La Salle by shooting 68% after intermission in their 68-63 win Wednesday;  they’ll find the Dukes a little tougher to contend with even though the game is in Foggy Bottom.  Duquesne is 12-5 and 3-1 in the league for the second straight January;  last year’s edition stumbled the rest of the way into a 16-16 finish.  Sincere Carry averages 5.5 assists per game;  I can’t think of a more appropriately named point guard.

 

 

 

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In college basketball, especially with the three-point shot, leads are built to be lost.  But Georgetown letting a 17-point lead wither away in Wednesday’s 81-75 loss at Xavier has the Hoyas looking for answers.  The fact that this came immediately after a final minute meltdown where they saw a five-point lead disappear in a loss to St. John’s has those bullish after an 11-3 start wondering if this program is still a year or two away.  “We just have to find a way to close out the game,” coach Patrick Ewing said after the loss to the Red Storm, “We can’t keep making the mental mistakes that we do.”  The inability to close games haunted the Hoyas in a one-point loss to Syracuse on the road and almost cost them at home against Little Rock (they prevailed in OT after losing a late lead).  Just like it takes a group effort to resurrect a once-proud program, it takes a village to lock down W’s with smart play late.  “We gotta just play,” Ewing said, “You know-everybody wants to do it themselves, instead of moving the ball and making the right plays.”  Rest assured, I’ll have my TV on Fox Sports 1 this Saturday at around 1:50 p.m.

 

Friday’s Game:

Maryland 13-3 (4-1 Big Ten) vs. #22 Indiana (12-3, 3-1), 7 p.m., FS1.  The Terps are fresh off consecutive road conference wins, which equals their total from last winter.  While the rally past Minnesota was impressive, avoiding a 40-minute letdown at Rutgers was just as huge: those were the kinds of games better Terp teams had lost in recent seasons.  The Hoosiers are coming off a double-digit loss to second ranked Michigan but boast high-scoring freshman Romeo Langford (18.2 points per game) and leads the conference in field goal percentage.  IU does the vast majority of its damage inside the arc, as the team ranks 13th in the Big Ten in three-pointers made per game.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are 2-0 in the ACC after wins over Notre Dame and Clemson with a Saturday evening game against Georgia Tech on the horizon.  While junior Tyus Battle appears to have taken a step back or at least plateaued after last season, transfer Elijah Hughes (18 points per game in league play) has been a pleasant surprise this winter.  After the Yellowjackets, buckle up as SU visits #1 Duke Monday night. And for the record–that was a block, not a charge.

Saturday’s Games:

#4 Virginia (14-0, 2-0 ACC) at Clemson (10-5, 0-2), 12 p.m., ACC Network.  One benefit of the Tigers taking College Football’s National Championship?  Back to back losses to start the conference season sneak under the radar, even though there’s no shame losing to top-ranked Duke or at the Carrier Dome to Syracuse.  It doesn’t let up as three of their next four games are against ranked teams.  The primary concern for UVa’s defense that leads the nation in scoring defense and is tops in the ACC at stopping the three-pointer?    Tiger senior Marcquise Reed averages 19.6 points per game but the Cavs held the Landover, Maryland native to 12 points on 5-of-24 shooting over two games last season.

Georgetown (11-5, 1-2 Big East) vs. Providence (10-5, 0-2), 12 p.m., FS1.  Will we ever see highly-touted freshman Mac McClung take the floor against another Big East school?  The guard with tons of sizzle hasn’t played a minute due to a sprained ankle since dropping 38 points on Little Rock the Saturday before Christmas.  After losing three of their top four scorers from last season, the Friars are in full-rebuild mode.  Ed Cooley’s team ranks last in the Big East in shooting but brings the conference’s top rebounder to DC in Alpha Diallo.  Too bad the Hoyas possess a one-two punch in the post with senior Jessie Govan and freshman Josh LeBlanc.

American (8-6, 2-1 Patriot League) at Bucknell (8-7, 2-1), 12 p.m.  Sa’eed Nelson is on fire this early conference season:  the junior guard is averaging 24 points on 58% shooting.  The Bison are three-time defending regular season champs, but minus the inside-outside combination of Zach Thomas and Stephen Brown have taken their lumps this season.  They are coming off of an 84-81 win against a Colgate team that beat American by four last weekend.

VCU (11-4, 2-0) at Davidson (11-4, 2-0), 2 p.m., CBSSN.  Two of the A-10’s new-money programs tangle as the Rams are less than a decade removed from dominating the CAA and the Wildcats still have fans who miss the Southern Conference.  While VCU has served as a launching pad for coaches to Power Five conference programs this century, Bob McKillop is in midway through his 30th season with the school. He also has Jon Axel Gundmundsson at his disposal:  the junior from Iceland hopes to heat up from outside Saturday (he’s 0-8 from three-point range in conference play) against a pesky Rams defense.

Navy (5-9, 2-1 Patriot League) vs. Boston University (8-8, 1-2), 2 p.m.  Home teams are 10-5 so far this conference season.  The Mids are coming off of a loss at American where they shot 12% from three-point range.  Just another night of misfiring during a season where they’ve been offensively challenged:  the team ranks last in the Patriot League in scoring, shooting, three point shooting and turnover margin.  The Terriers are led by big man Max Mahoney who leads the conference in shooting and ranks fourth in scoring.

George Washington (5-10, 1-1 Atlantic 10) vs. Richmond (6-9, 0-2), 4 p.m., ESPN+.  Both teams are looking to shake off less than ideal starts in conference play.  Somehow the Colonials let a 22-point first half lead against Dayton dissolve thanks to major droughts:  scoring just five points in the last eight minutes of the first half and going scoreless in the final 4:04 of regulation.  The Spiders are a precarious 0-2 to begin league play despite Jacob Gilyard’s 23 points per game while shooting 12-25 from three-point range.  Richmond needs the Grant Golden from the Rhode Island loss (17 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists) more than the Golden from the Dayton defeat (4 points and 4 turnovers).

Howard (7-9, 1-1 MEAC) vs. Bethune-Cookman (5-10, 0-1), 4 p.m.  The Bison snapped a six game losing streak and bounced back from their loss to Florida A&M by blasting Maryland-Eastern Shore by 40.  More impressive than R.J. Cole’s 26 points was the fact that they held the Hawks to 21% shooting.  We all know Howard can score, but if their defense can improve on the current unit that ranks 327th in Division I there may just be a decent conference campaign ahead.

 

Sunday’s Game:

George Mason (8-8, 2-1 Atlantic 10) at Rhode Island (8-6, 1-1), 5:30 p.m., NBCSN.  While the Patriots are kicking themselves after shooting 10% from three-point range in a loss at home to Davidson, coach Dave Paulsen’s team is off to its best start since joining the league earlier this decade.  Paulsen hopes Otis Livingston II returns to form after the senior shot 2-for-11 against the Wildcats.  Rams first-year head coach David Cox has big shoes to fill:  before Danny Hurley left for UConn he had guided the Rams to consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

 

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Maryland made as major a statement as one can in early January with Wednesday’s 74-72 win over #24 Nebraska.  The Terps under coach Mark Turgeon have long been accused of not running efficient offense in the final minutes of games…and for one night they delivered.  Freshman phenom Jalen Smith (15 points including the last seven of the night for the Terps) will do that.  Also in the mix is sophomore Bruno Fernando;  the forward ranks fourth in the Big Ten in shooting percentage while averaging a double-double over the first 14 games of the season.  “I don’t know if there’s a player in the country that has improved as much as he has,” said coach Mark Turgeon, “and instead of just having on that block the whole game we’ve moved him away from the basket so he’s inside-out and I think it’s really helped him.”  While Fernando is off to a strong start so are the Terps:  but they’ve gotten off to strong Big Ten starts before only to fade in February.  The coach is confident in the strides his team has made this winter. “I think we’ve made strides in our execution,” Turgeon said, “We’ve made strides in practice with getting a good shot and not turning the ball over as much.”  The Terps currently rank 13th in the Big Ten regarding turnover margin…so improvement will be needed.  But with Fernando and Smith the Terps have a nice base for their conference clashes.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange enter ACC play 9-4 after a non-conference slate that saw SU beat Georgetown on a last-second shot, lose to Old Dominion and Buffalo in the Dome (first lost to Buffalo since 1963), and misspell the name of Buddy Boeheim on the back of his road jersey.  They face Notre Dame at noon Saturday…and regardless of how things fare on the floor this will be an interesting winter attempting to get a decent drumstick to flat ratio wingwise.

 

Saturday’s Games:

#10 Virginia Tech (12-1, 1-0 ACC) at Boston College (9-3), noon, ACC Network.  There are those old-school folks who still cringe when they hear this is an Atlantic Coast Conference game, but the Hokies currently stand all alone in the conference standings thanks to the fact that they beat Notre Dame 81-66 January 1st…and nobody else in the league has played a game.  BC boasts high-scoring guard Ky Bowman who just scored 44 points in a home loss to Hartford.  Unfortunately, you’ve read that correctly:  the Eagles lost to Hartford at home.

Georgetown (11-3, 1-0 Big East) vs St. John’s (13-1, 1-1)m 1 p.m., CBS.  Now this smacks of Big East basketball as nature intended:  Ewing against Mullin in a matinee on CBS.  Ewing’s proxy, senior center Jessie Govan, has four double-doubles so far this winter while Mullin’s star guard Shamorie Ponds averaged 25 points while shooting 50% in three games against Georgetown last year.  Hoyas freshman Mac McClung is a question mark with a sprained ankle, missing two straight games after scoring a career high 38 points against Little Rock December 22nd.

Maryland (11-3, 2-1 Big Ten) at Rutgers (7-5, 0-2), 2 p.m., BTN.  Beating a conference foe at home is one thing;  last winter the Terps went 2-7 on the road in league play.  The Scarlet Knights may be winless in the Big Ten, but in their two games they led a ranked Wisconsin at the half before losing by five and were within two points of conference favorite Michigan State  at intermission.  Junior forward Eugene Omoruyi is enjoying a breakout season while leading Rutgers with 16 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, but even with seven-foot center/caddy Shaquille Doorson alongside he’ll be hard-pressed to match the Terps 1-2 inside punch of Fernando and Smith.

VCU (9-4) at Fordham (9-4), 2 p.m., ESPN+.  You know, it’s nice to have a league that waits until January to start conference play.  Almost makes me forgive the Atlantic 10 for having 14 schools…three of which call themselves the Rams.  But not all Rams are alike:  while VCU has been an NCAA Tournament fixture this century, Fordham has posted just a pair of winning seasons since 2000.  Don’t be surprised to see a rock-fight:  these two schools rank first and second in defensive field goal percentage as well as stopping the three.

#4 Virginia (12-0) vs. #9 Florida State (12-1), 3 p.m., ESPN2.  A top ten showdown in Charlottesville is the ACC’s first marquee matchup of the regular season.  The Cavaliers rank #1 in the ACC in scoring defense as well as defending the three-pointer while the Seminoles are second to last in assist-to-turnover ratio.  Can Leonard Hamilton’s team set a pace to make the number one team in the nation uncomfortable?  Welcome to the meatgrinder that will be the Atlantic Coast Conference for the next two months.

Howard (6-8) vs Florida A&M (3-12), 4 p.m.  The Bison are more than happy to be back at Burr Gymnasium–this isn’t just their first home game since December 8th but coach Kevin Nickelberry’s team is 4-0 on campus.  Neither team enters 2019 on a roll:  Howard has five straight, while the Rattlers have dropped 12 of 13–nine by double-digits.  With recent injuries they’ve had to revamp a rotation that relies heavily on the scoring of RJ Cole and Charles Williams.  A shootout favors the home team:  A&M is the eighth-lowest scoring team in Division I.

Sundays Games:

George Washington (4-9) at St. Joseph’s (7-6, 0-1 Atlantic 10), 2 p.m., NBCSN.  The Hawks lost their conference opener Thursday evening by 25 at home to George Mason, but leading scorer Charlie Brown Jr. remains a matchup nightmare as the 6-foot-7 sophomore shoots 48% from three-point range.  While the Colonials are the lowest-scoring team in the A-10 and rank last in rebounding margin, they have won three of five.

American (7-5, 1-0 Patriot League) at Colgate (8-6, 0-1), 2 p.m.  The Eagles have already surpassed last year’s win total due to their victory Wednesday over Boston University.  AU shot 61% against the Terriers-and while that won’t be the case every game they are the third best shooting team in the conference.  They’ll need to shoot well against a Raiders team that leads the Patriot League in rebounding, with Northwestern transfer Rapolas Ivanauskas and his 6-foot-10 frame looming rather large.

George Mason (7-7, 1-0 Atlantic 10) vs. St. Bonaventure, 4 p.m., NBCSN.  The Patriots were picked to finish fourth in the preseason conference poll and showed contender mettle with an 85-60 rout of St. Joseph’s Thursday evening–shooting 15 of 28 from three-point range.  The Bonnies bring a four game losing streak into conference play but have gotten a nice shot in the arm from UNLV transfer Jalen Poyser (14 points per game).  Doc Nix and the Green Machine will be ready at Eagle Bank Arena.

This year we lost a lot of “friends in the field”, from John McNamara at the Annapolis Capital Gazette to Rich Tandler at NBC Sports Washington.  From former WTOP anchor Sean Hall to Indiana basketball beat reporter Terry Hutchens.  I’ll miss each one.  Also passing this past year was Chris Chase, the writer of USA Today’s “For the Win”.  Chris and I connected on our affection for sports movies, good and bad.  Our last conversation concerned his list of top ten sports movies.  Here’s the list I contributed…and one raises the question, are these the best films ever made?  No.  But each is interesting in their own way.  Just like the friends I lost this past year.
Rocky III- from Thunder Lips to the amazingly quotable Clubber Lang, this has it all.  And Apollo shows he was the true soul of the series.  Sadly, I’ll never run on the beach the same way again.
 
Damn Yankees- this past year I swore Nats rookie Juan Soto was the second coming of Joe Hardy.  Gwen Virdon in petal-pushers easily boasts a WAR of 10+.  And the teacher from Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the devil. Makes perfect sense.
 
Victory- combining soccer, Stallone and a World War II prison camp escape.  Pele elevates the soccer sequences with the patented bicycle kick…and speaks the pivotal line of the film.  It’s in the net…
 
North Dallas Forty- from watching Nick Nolte drag himself out of bed to the “these aren’t the Cowboys” casting of coach and quarterback, a spot-on look at the NFL of the 70’s.  Favorite quote, from a team executive looking to show Nolte he’s obsolete: “Do you speak Canadian?”
 
Big Wednesday- coming of age surfing film in the 70’s trailing three friends through the Vietnam era. Great camera work, plus Gary Busey’s character was nicknamed “The Masochist”.  And he delivers.
 
The Naked Gun-  Enrico Polazzo ruined me for being serious during the National Anthem for 3-5 years.  And what team in their right mind bats Jay Johnstone leadoff?  Word is Reggie Jackson improvised his “robot” mannerisms for his big scene (“I must kill…the Queen”).
 
Teen Wolf-  We all knew Jimmy Chitwood would hit the shot, but could Scott when he wasn’t the wolf?  And how did NIKE not get in on sponsoring the Beavers or the Dragons?  “Win—in the End!” is a great song too.
 
Karate Kid- if Daniel is so bummed about leaving New York, why is he wearing a Wes Chandler jersey?  Front-runner.  And there are theorists on YouTube who say that Daniel was the real villain.  Worth a watch or 20.
 
Miracle- “THIS IS YOUR TIME!” works on me every time.  I invite you to check out the quickie TV movie made in the early 80’s with a 70-something Karl Malden playing a 40-something Herb Brooks, Steve Guttenberg as Jim Craig and Marsha Brady’s husband from the “Brady Brides” as an Olympic hopeful.
 
Eight Men Out- the good guys don’t always win.  And there they double-cross the game as well as themselves.  Fantastic performances by a who’s-who of “that’s the guy from…”
 

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There’s no place like home for the holidays- or hope for the area men’s college basketball teams.  Each of the locals have played from 10 to 13 games…and while there’s plenty of optimism on each campus that 2019 will be a banner year, there’s a long way from December to Selection Sunday.  While everybody has at least one win to hang their hat on, every team with the exception of unbeaten Virginia has a loss that will certainly keep them up late–until the next heartbreaker.  There’s also no place like conference play– which will make November and December feel like years ago once league action begins in earnest.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange have been ranked as high as #10 by some voters, but SU looks like less than the sum of its parts in an 8-4 start.  Losses to Old Dominion and Buffalo (first time since 1962-63 season) have not been ideal and the fact that Buddy Boeheim’s name was misspelled on the back of his jersey only adds to the fun.  Bring on ACC play.

Maryland (9-3, 1-1 Big Ten)- the Terps have been on the cusp of the top 25 since winning their first six games of the season.  But before you start punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, remember they started 9-3 with a 1-1 conference mark last year.  And with the exception of the 2014-15 season, they’ve always had a worse record the second half of league play under coach Mark Turgeon.  Best Win:  the day after Thanksgiving the Terps roasted Marshall 104-67 while shooting 57% from the field and 56% from three-point range.  Worst Loss:  the 62-60 loss at Purdue saw the Terps shoot 1-for-9 with four turnovers over the final 4:20.  Player to Watch:  Jalen Smith has captured Big Ten Freshman of the Week multiple times as the forward is averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday another NCAA Team from 2018 (Radford) comes to College Park.

 

Georgetown (9-3)- the Hoyas entered their Christmas break with a 102-94 overtime win over Arkansas-Little Rock in a game where Mac McClung earned Big East and National Freshman of the Week honors by scoring 38 points.  Best Win: November 13th they beat Illinois 88-80 in Champaign despite 22 turnovers, precisely the kind of road game this team has had trouble winning in recent years.  Worst Loss: the 72-71 loss December 8th at Syracuse saw the Hoyas let a double-digit lead evaporate…and 24,002 orange-clad fans get the last laugh in the four-game series between former Big East archrivals.  Player to Watch:  yes, McClung is providing the sizzle and senior center Jessie Govan is the steak–but freshman guard James Akinjo (15 points and 5 assists per game) is the steady playmaker that every tournament team needs directing its offense.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday they wrap up pre-conference play by hosting Howard at noon.

 

Virginia (11-0)- the Cavaliers are ranked 4th by the writers and 1st by the coaches, boasting the best scoring defense in the nation and…haven’t we been here before?  Seriously.  Shouldn’t we wait until March?  Best Win:  November 24th in the Bahamas UVa held #25 Wisconsin to 18 first-half points in a 53-46 win.  Player to Watch:  sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter has bounced back from the broken wrist that kept him out of last year’s NCAA Tournament loss to UMBC, averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 44% from three-point range.  Ringing in the New Year:  New Year’s Eve coach Tony Bennett’s team hosts Marshall, a school that ranks 324th in scoring defense.

 

Virginia Tech (11-1)- the 10th ranked Hokies are one of six ACC schools currently in the top 25.  And while they’re not the defensive equal of best in the nation Virginia, Tech ranks second in the ACC in scoring and is third in turnover margin.  Could this be the year the Hokies enter the upper echelon of the conference?  Best Win:  an 89-83 November 19th triumph over then-#23 Purdue where the Hokies hit 55% of their shots.  Worst Loss:  their only defeat thus far was a 63-62 stumble at Penn State where the Nittany Lions hit 10-of-19 from three-point range.  Player to Watch:  sophomore guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker averages 19 points with 4 rebounds and 4 assists while making 47% of his three point shots.  Ringing in the New Year:  the Hokies begin ACC play by hosting Notre Dame January 1st.

 

George Mason (6-6)- the Patriots began the year 0-3 but appear to be hitting their stride with Atlantic 10 play just around the corner.  Best Wins:  victories over former CAA foes James Madison, Navy and William & Mary.  Worst Loss:  an season-opening 78-75 loss to American where Mason turned the ball over 15 times.  Player to Watch:  Otis Livingston II may be the team’s primary weapon, but Justin Kier (14 points with 5 rebounds per game) has filled the second-option role well.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday the Patriots visit a Kansas State team that’s began the year in the top 25 but has had its share of hiccups this month.

 

George Washington (3-9)- this was a far from ideal season before the Colonials lost their best rebounder for the season when Arnaldo Toro went down to injury, and that issue isn’t going away:  GW was outrebounded by 18 in a loss to Harvard.  Best Win:  a 70-64 handling of Howard where they held high-octane guard RJ Cole to 4-of-19 shooting.  Worst Loss:  a 69-53 stumble against Vermont (in the Mike Lonergan Classic) where they were outscored 21-5 over the last 7:53 of the second half.  Player to Watch:  Illinois transfer DJ Williams leads the team in scoring and is tops among active players in rebounding.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday the Colonials host American.

 

VCU (8-4)- the Rams own the best RPI (28th) in the Atlantic 10, and have already exacted sweet revenge on former coach Shaka Smart’s Texas team.  Best Win: a 70-54 victory December 22nd over Wichita State in a battle between onetime NCAA Cinderellas.  Worst Loss:  an 83-79 December 15th defeat to Charleston where VCU missed 11 free throws.  Player to Watch:  Rice transfer Marcus Evans leads the team in scoring, picking up where he left off when he averaged 20 points per game over two seasons under coach Mike Rhoades when they were both with the Owls.  Ringing in the New Year:  Sunday they host Rider.

 

Richmond (5-7)- hey, they could be 2-10 like they were last year at this time.  Best Win:  anytime you knock off an ACC team there’s cause for celebration, and the 84-74 victory over Wake Forest is the early-season highlight.  Worst Loss:  a 63-58 defeat to…Longwood?  Didn’t the Lancers used to be the Washington Generals of Mid-Atlantic hoops?  Player to Watch:  forward Grant Golden is averaging 19 points with 7 rebounds…and badly needs a supporting cast.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday the Spiders host South Alabama.

 

American (6-4)- the Eagles have already equalled last year’s win total and look to contend in the always topsy-turvy Patriot League.  Best Win:  a 78-75 overtime win over George Mason November 9th where AU silenced Doc Nix and the Green Machine.  Worst Loss:  a 56-55 loss December 18th to 1-9 Mount St. Mary’s.  Players to Watch:  Sa’eed Nelson is averaging 19 points with 5 assists…while sophomores Sam Iorio and Mark Gasperini give Nelson two solid scoring options.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday they visit George Washington.  Can coach Mike Brennan’s team make it 2-for-2 against the A-10 Georges?

 

Howard (6-7)- December is often difficult for the Bison, who usually go on the road for the bulk of the month.  But the six wins are the most of any MEAC team at this time.  Can coach Kevin Nickelberry guide the program to its first winning season since 2002?  Best Win:  a 68-63 win November 16th at UMass that made this team 4-0.  Worst Loss:  a December 22nd stumble to Hampton where they coughed up 57 points in the second half of an 89-82 defeat.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday at noon they visit Georgetown.  Good luck.

Merry Christmas to one and all– and even though some of our favorite college football teams didn’t give us what we wanted under the tree, the area schools certainly supplied a few stocking stuffers of magnificent memories from 2018.  And even though they failed to beat Virginia Tech for the 15th straight year, my UVa tailgating pals Kippy & Buffy had one fun fall supporting their team as well as making new friends while enjoying pretty good wine.  They’d like to extend best wishes during the holiday season for all out there who enjoy a pregame beverage by sharing their game-by-game selections (excerpted from the award-snubbed “Presto’s Picks” on WTOP.COM.)

Richmond- One program that never changes at Scott Stadium is Kippy & Buffy’s tailgate, and the popped-collar pair are already in midseason form.  They kick off 2018 with a bottle of Moscato:  Beni di Batasiolo Moscato d’Asti Bosc dla Rei 2013.  On name value alone it impresses, but “with the palate profile packing D’Anjou pear and red apple nuances, the fizzy, fruit-forward themes run well-balanced from the semi-sweet start to fairly, full finish.”  What a way to start, indeed.

Indiana- Kippy & Buffy aren’t messing around with any short stuff at their tailgate:  Conundrum White 2015 “lures you with scents of apricot, pear and honeysuckle.”  There’s also a “hint of oak” that I think is more of a strong suggestion. I suggest a pairing with brie and crostini.

Ohio- A semi-neutral site game means a semi-neutral white wine for Kippy & Buffy;  nothing says “home away from home” better at the tailgate than Chateau O’Brien’s Northpoint White.  The 2017 Chardonnay offers “a beautiful array of creamy hazelnut and subtle butterscotch” and “shows a profound maturity, along with a balancing elegance and grace”.   Perfect with take-out from Bojangles.

Louisville- The first ACC game means Kippy & Buffy switch over from white to red wine…and there’s no better way to kick off conference play than with a bottle of A to Z Pinot Noir from Oregon.  The 2015 vintage offers “striking aromas of black cherries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries are overlaid with a cornucopia of spices. As the wine moves across the palate, ripe, dusty tannins bracketed by juicy acidity give shape and definition to the powerful fruit flavors in harmony with a mineral quality, reminiscent of slate and graphite.”  As we’re already in the Beaver State, Kippy & Buffy break out the Rogue Smokey Blue cheese on multi-grain crisps.

NC State- this is the first meeting between these two founding ACC members since that game, so Kippy & Buffy go with the Founding Father inspired “Federalist Bourbon Barrel-Aged Zinfandel“.  The 2015 vintage possesses “aromas and flavors of black fruit, smoke, caramel and vanilla”.  Despite the portrait of university founder Thomas Jefferson’s rival Alexander Hamilton on the bottle, “the finish is long and smooth making this a thoroughly enjoyable wine.”  Enjoy with aged cheddar on club crackers.

Bye Week- don’t you dare think Kippy & Buffy will be taking it easy this weekend.  Bye weeks are for shuttering up the cottage in the Outer Banks-and there’s no better way to wave goodbye to summer than by enjoying a 2010 bottle of JM Gobillard et Fils Millesime Champagne.  “Straw color, lovely aromatics (violets and strawberries), persistent perlage (meaning the bubbles are evocative of pearls), and pleasant mix of fruity and pastry-like notes.”   Break out the Black Diamond Hackleback Caviar on toast points (the lighter toasted, the better).

Miami- Just like college football’s bluebloods (Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State) look down their noses at Miami as “nouveau riche” (even though they’ve been a force for over 30 years), Petit Verdot is a varietal that’s been around forever (the Romans enjoyed it) but only recently getting its due as a stand-alone varietal.  Trinchero Napa Valley’s Central Park West Vineyard Petit Verdot “presents a deep, inky purple color, supported by beautiful black fruit and floral aromas reminiscent of lavender and lilac. With layered blueberry and blackberry flavors, this wine’s ripe tannins lead to a sensual, round mouthfeel.” Kippy & Buffy concur.

Duke- Kippy & Buffy prepare for facing the ultimate “bro” school by once again tailgating with Breaux Vineyards-this time they break out the Cabernet Franc.  “Redolent of dark fruits and sweet spice (cardamom) and somewhat woodsy.  Full and juicy with loads of fruit and spice on the palate.  The drying tannins accompany a long juicy finish”.  Sadly, the finish this Saturday will be somewhat sour.

North Carolina- Kippy & Buffy would be more than happy to tell you that the 2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot also exceeds expectations, “underscored by polished tannins, the juiciness of the entry evolves into a lush, silky texture that carries the flavors to a long, generous finish marked by notes of freshly ground coffee beans with a splash of ripe, red cherry.”

Pitt- Kippy & Buffy move the chains and much more during their tailgate by going with a 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon:  “the aromas are bright, with notes of cherry, plum, vanilla and baking spice. The fruit flavors are plump, with plenty of barrel accents. The tannins come off as quite dry, leading to a sweet vanilla-filled finish. The oak is at the fore.” 

Liberty- The final home game at Scott Stadium has Kippy & Buffy breaking out white wine for a non-conference foe one final time, and this week it’s a bottle of 2017 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc“Tightly structured, with strong, vigorous passionfruit and lime flavors, woven with steely acidity, and obvious potential.”

Georgia Tech-  Kippy & Buffy hit the road with a bottle of Cain Five.  The 2014 vintage is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot (remaining grapes used are split between Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot).  “The aromas are discrete: fruity—floral—herbal—spicy—and pure. On the palate, the wine has a certain density, but now the tannins have melted and this wine just flows.” 

Virginia Tech- Ending a sorry streak is always a tough task, but Kippy & Buffy plan to do their part by breaking out a bottle of Chateau O’Brien 2013 Mourvèdre.  “The smell of Mourvèdre is an explosion of dark fruit, flowers like violet and herbaceous aromas of black pepper, thyme, and red meat.  The variety can be a difficult grape to grow, preferring “its face in the hot sun and its feet in the water.”

Every so often in Redskins Nation, there are defeats that signal the perhaps not the end of an era but certainly the beginning of the end.  One thinks of the 45-10 home loss to Kansas City in 2013 that set the wheels in motion for Mike Shanahan’s departure or the infamous “swinging gate” game for Jim Zorn against the New York Giants in 2009. Or Steve Spurrier’s team getting shut out by Dallas on a day where Tim Hasselbeck went 6-26 with 4 INT’s.  One even glances at Joe Gibbs calling consecutive timeouts against Buffalo in 2007.  Sunday certainly felt like one of those games.  The 40-16 dismembering by the Giants dropped the Skins to 6-7 and turned what was their best start in ten years into another likely non-playoff campaign (that would be nine in the last eleven years if things hold).

Quarterback Carousel- Mark Sanchez did not have a good day.  His pick-six put the Skins in a hole while his second INT led to another Giants score.  Thank goodness for Josh Johnson, a journeyman who has been with 11 teams previously.  The 32-year old threw for one touchdown while running for another…and will start against Jacksonville.  This is the first time the Skins will have started four different quarterbacks in a season.  Not under Zorn or Spurrier.  Not even in the post-Sammy Baugh/pre-Sonny Jurgensen days.

Running Aground- Adrian Peterson finished with 16 yards on 10 carries, the fourth time he’s been held under two yards per carry.  Tough to find running room when your offensive line is changing by the week.  Tough to get carries when you’re trailing by 34 points at the half. He’s still within shouting distance of 1000 yards.

Catching Cold- it’s also a challenge when a team’s top target is on the shelf.  Jordan Reed’s injured toe could keep the tight end on the shelf for the rest of the season.  Josh Docston enters the concussion protocol.  Jamison Crowder has been limited to six games due to injury.  It’s amazing how this team once had a tandem of weapons in Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson stretching secondaries.

Third and Nightmarish- the Skins moved the chains just twice on 11 attempts, both with Josh Johnson at the controls after the game was no longer in doubt.  Mark Sanchez went 1-4 with two sacks and no conversions.  Jamison Crowder was his top target–but all three passes to Crowder fell incomplete.  Both of Johnson’s first downs came off of scrambles.  Yardage Breakdown:  1-3 on short-yardage, 1-1 on medium (4-6 yards needed) and 0-7 on third and long.  So…64% of the time you’re facing third and long with a third or fourth string quarterback, both of whom have been with the team less than three weeks.

D earns an F- remember when the defense was a strength?  For the fifth time in six weeks the Skins coughed up 400+ yards.  Big gains by Saquon Barkley (52 & 78 yards) turned the tide as all eyes are on 2019 and who potentially stays.

Special Situations- thank goodness for Tress Way who averaged 51 yards per punt.  Greg Stroman did not have a standout day returning kicks.

Flying Flags- are you ready?  Fifteen penalties for 135 yards.  Ten on offense, two on defense and three on special teams.  Two false starts on Morgan Moses give the tackle the team lead with 12 penalties on the year.  Most costly penalty?  A hold on tackle Austin Howard-turning a 3rd and 4 into a 2nd and 12. A Mark Sanchez interception would follow shortly.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas’ overtime win over Philadelphia gives the Cowboys a two-game lead in the NFC East and the tiebreaker over the Eagles.  Dallas owns the #4 seed in the conference while Philly is #8 and the Skins are 9th (head to head tiebreaker).  The Giants are in last (and at 5-8 they’re in 12th place of the division) but with four wins in five games are a serious threat to shove the Redskins back down the basement steps.

Playoff Picture- with three weeks to play, your wildcard matchups have Dallas hosting Seattle while Chicago entertains Minnesota.  New Orleans plays the Cowboys/Seahawks/Vikings while the Los Angeles Rams face the Bears/Dallas/Seahawks.  The AFC has a wildcard weekend of Baltimore at Houston and the Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh.  Kansas City faces the Steelers/Chargers/Ravens while New England gets the Texans/Steelers/Chargers.

Comparing Quartets- the AFC West are a league-best 30-22.  The AFC East brings up the rear at 24-28.  The NFC East?  A subpar but not awful 25-27.  The Interconference contest has the AFC leading 28-24 with eight games remaining.

It’s Not Over Yet- losses by Minnesota, Philadelphia and Carolina keep the Skins on the precipice of contention.  There are scenarios for the Redskins making the playoffs if they take two of their last three–there’s even a chance if they go 1-1-1. And you thought I was foolish for picking a 6-7-3 finish.  Heading into the game with Jacksonville, the Skins need a victory plus losses by the Vikings, Eagles, Panthers and Packers to improve their limited chances.

Elimination Island- four teams join San Francisco and Oakland in looking ahead to 2019.  Jacksonville, Buffalo and Arizona are on the outside thanks to week 14 defeats while the New York Jets even with their win over the Bills are officially out of contention.  That means 26 teams have hope entering the third to last week of the season. Pete Rozelle would be smiling.