Archives for posts with tag: ACC Tournament

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Conference Tournament week has the area schools scurrying to locations like Charlotte, Chicago, New York City, Brooklyn and Norfolk.  Even though conference expansion has changed these tourneys from tight three-day affairs to bloated five-day album cuts, the little dances before the Big Dance will provide plenty of thrills, chills, and spills leading up to Selection Sunday.

Tournaments with DC area schools:

ACC- Spectrum Center, Charlotte.  Sure the SEC had a tournament in the 1930’s and 40’s, but the Atlantic Coast Conference created the mold for league tourneys.  And sure, it’s a major hike to Blacksburg and Charlottesville–but there are plenty of alums who reside inside the beltway and either pop their collars or talk about turkey legs and a 15-year football streak.  Beware of the bluebloods:  Duke or North Carolina have won 13 of the 19 tournaments this century–and either the Blue Devils or the Tar Heels have played in the Finals every year since 1997 (the trivia answer would be Wake Forest-Georgia Tech).

#2 Virginia (28-2, 16-2 ACC)- the Cavaliers (10-3 in the ACC Tournament over the last five years) await the winner of Clemson-NC State in the #8 vs #9 game.  The Tigers-Wolfpack noon showdown will have the feel of an NCAA Play-in game, as both  schools are squarely on the bubble.  UVa routed Clemson 63-43 January 12th (holding the Tigers to 26% shooting and 3-19 from three-point range); they needed overtime to edge NC State 66-65 January 29th in their sloppiest game of the season (16 turnovers).  The Wolfpack beat the Tigers during their lone regular season matchup 69-67 and won three of five to wrap up the regular season;  but those three wins came against Boston College (2) and Wake Forest (1), who both lost in Tuesday’s bottom-of-barrel-scraping First Round.  UVa  meets the winner at noon Thursday.

#16 Virginia Tech (23-7, 12-6 ACC)- the Hokies (2-5 in the ACC Tournament over the last five years) face Miami at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Second Round, five days after beating the Hurricanes 84-70.  They also beat Miami 82-70 in their January meeting and in the sweep hit over 50% of their three-point shots against the Canes.  Primary offensive weapon Kerry Blackshear Jr. did not play well in either game: scoring 1 point in January, 8 last Friday, while shooting 4-for-20 over both games.  Hurricane to watch:  senior Anthony Lawrence II notched 20 points with 10 rebounds against Wake Forest and averaged a double-double against the Hokies this winter.  Achilles’ Heel to watch:  Miami ranked last in the ACC in rebounding margin.  A win sets up a rematch against #12 Florida State in the quarterfinals, a little over a week after blowing a double-digit lead in a loss at the Seminoles.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are a less than beautiful 19-12 after Saturday’s loss at Clemson…and even though most models have them “in” the NCAA Tournament, I won’t sleep unless they dispose of last-place Pitt in Wednesday’s Second Round.  A win means a third game this winter against Duke–and I’m not expecting any miracles.  Plus, coach Jim Boeheim is more of a Temptations fan than Smokey Robinson anyways.

 

Big Ten Tournament- United Center, Chicago.  After playing 2017 at Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center and 2018 at Madison Square Garden (a week early) in New York City, the league returns to its roots with a week in the Windy City.  Although to mix things up, this year for the first time the conference instituted a 20-game schedule (don’t worry, the ACC will follow suit next winter).  Sixth ranked Michigan State may enter as regular season champ, but #10 Michigan has won the last two Big Ten Tournaments and nobody is paying attention to #13 Purdue and the league’s leading scorer Carsen Edwards.

#21 Maryland (22-9, 13-7 Big Ten)- at 3 p.m Thursday the Terps (2-4 in the tournament since joining the conference) face the winner of  Rutgers and Nebraska (6:30 p.m Wednesday).  They beat both schools during the first week of January:  Jalen Smith’s last-second bucket gave Maryland a 74-72 win over the Cornhuskers in the kind of tight game they were getting the reputation of losing lately, and the road win at the Scarlet Knights (where they held Rutgers to 19 first-half points) showed that there would be no road woes this winter like last season.  Rutgers took the regular season matchup 76-69;  one game later Nebraska’s second-leading scorer and rebounder (and Georgetown transfer) Isaac Copeland Jr. went down with a torn ACL and the Huskers haven’t recovered. Rutgers remains Rutgers, however:  ranking 12th in the conference in points allowed, shooting and turnover margin; 13th in scoring and three-point shooting; and last in defending the three.  A Terps win Thursday would set up a rubber match with Wisconsin, the home team prevailing each time during the regular season.

 

Big East Tournament, Madison Square Garden, New York City.  The league nobody wants to win holds its postseason affair with plenty of possibilities.  Top seed Villanova lost its last five road games while Marquette dropped its last four games overall.  St. John’s moved from third to seventh place over the last week with three straight defeats.  Even Georgetown found a way to lose to DePaul by 32 (since the Blue Demons swept the Red Storm and bubble team Seton Hall along with that rout of the Hoyas, we’ve dropped the traditional “Lowly” prefix from their name).  Good luck figuring this one out.

Georgetown (19-12, 9-9 Big East)- the Hoyas play third seed Seton Hall Thursday in the last quarterfinal of the day, and while the schedule reads “9:30 p.m.”, both you and I know better (more like 9:45-9:50 start-if there’s no overtime).  Home court prevailed during the regular season, with the Pirates Myles Powell averaging 32.5 points against the Hoyas.  Jessie Govan scored 20 and 21 points against Seton Hall, but went scoreless in the first half at Capital One Arena before catching fire:  the senior scored all 11 Hoya points in double-overtime of the 77-71 win.  The freshman duo of Mac McClung and James Akinjo had rough nights in both games, shooting a combined 2-for-11 in the road loss and 9-for-28 in the home win.  The winner likely faces #23 Marquette in the semifinals, barring a continued collapse by the Golden Eagles (a distinct possibility).

 

Atlantic 10 Tournament, Barclays Center, Brooklyn.  I actually enjoyed having the A-10 in DC last March, and can’t wait for it to return in 2022.  It was a shame all four area schools had down years in 2018:  VCU, George Mason and Richmond each finished 9-9 in league play while George Washington played on the first day of the tournament.  This year, the Rams are on a roll with 12 straight wins and the Patriots are enjoying their best-ever conference season since leaving the CAA.  The Spiders and Colonials…not so much.

George Washington (8-23, 4-14 Atlantic 10)- the Colonials (5-5 since re-alignment in 2014)  play UMass in the first game of the tournament Wednesday at 1 p.m. GW took the regular season matchup 79-67 on February 20 as Maceo Jack scored 20 points;  that’s their only win since January.  The current five game losing streak involves four double-digit defeats.  UMass may have two wins in their last five games, but are winless away from Amherst against A-10 competition this winter.  They also have a hobbled leading scorer as Luwane Pipkins has played in just three of the team’s last nine games due to a hamstring injury.

George Mason (17-14, 11-7 Atlantic 10)- the Patriots (2-5 in the tournament over the last five years) play the winner of George Washington and UMass in Thursday’s Second Round (2:30 p.m.);  somehow this Patriots-Colonials-Minutemen sub-bracket is kind of amusing for history majors (though not as cool as the potential VCU-Rhode Island-Fordham Rams Regional would be).  Mason swept both teams during the regular season, with their  January 16 win at UMass (an 18-9 finish over the last 6:40 delivering a five-point margin) setting the tone for a 7-2 start in league play.  Freshman Jordan Miller could be an X-factor this week:  the Middleburg, VA native averaged 14 points (on 58% shooting) with 9.5 rebounds over his last four games.  The winner takes on St. Bonaventure in Friday’s Quarterfinals (2:30 p.m).

Richmond (12-19, 6-12 Atlantic 10)- the Spiders (4-5 with one tournament finals appearance since 2014) face Fordham in Wednesday’s other First Round game (3:30 p.m.).  It’s been a rough finish for both teams:  Richmond has lost four straight while the Rams have dropped five of six.  The Spiders took the lone regular season meeting 72-69 February 20;  Grant Golden scored 16 points, including the go-ahead jumper with 20 seconds left.  Freshman Nick Honor paced the Rams with 23 points that day—a sign that the future is bright.  The present is another matter for the league’s last-place team.

VCU (25-6, 16-2 Atlantic 10)- the Rams are 13-5 in the A-10 Tournament since leaving the CAA, and with the exception of last March have advanced to the Finals every year.  Their run this year begins in the Quarterfinals Friday at noon against the winner or Rhode Island and La Salle.  While the Rams beat the Explorers 69-63 in early January, they fell 71-65 to Rhode Island on a night where they coughed up 50 second-half points, turned the ball over 18 times and shot 17% from three-point range.  Coach Mike Rhoades’ team hasn’t lost since.  URI beat La Salle in the regular season 78-67 thanks to 20 points from Fatts Russell.  Let the record show the A-10 has some sweet names this year, from the Explorers’ Pookie Powell to my favorite:  Duquesne guard Sincere Carry-who naturally just happens to lead the conference in assists.

 

MEAC Tournament, Norfolk Scope, Norfolk.  This league runs its men’s and women’s tournaments concurrently, meaning Monday’s First Round winners often next play Wednesday or Thursday.  While the #1 seed has won five titles in the last ten years, there have been upsets like last March when #6 seed North Carolina Central beat regular season champ Hampton in the Finals.

Howard (16-15, 10-6 MEAC) reached the Semifinals as a #11 seed two years ago;  the Bison have just two other wins in the tournament this decade.  The lead the league in scoring but play a defensive style that can sometimes be referred to as “matadorish”; but when you have the conference’s top two point producers in R.J. Cole and Charles Williams you take your chances.  Coach Kevin Nickelberry’s team is also riding a ridiculous 8-0 road record in conference play to Norfolk-where they wrapped up the regular season by beating top seed Norfolk State.  The #4 seed Bison battle Bethune-Cookman Thursday in the Quarterfinals at 8 p.m.;  the Wildcats boast the league’s best big man in Cletrell Pope (#1 in rebounding, #2 in shooting percentage and #3 in blocked shots).   The winner likely gets an angry Norfolk State in the Semifinals Friday.

 

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before:  the ACC is loaded again this winter.  Five of the top sixteen schools in both polls reside in that league.  And it’s not just the traditional blue bloods Duke and North Carolina– Miami, Notre Dame and Louisville also promise to make the conference campaign a gauntlet for the other ten schools.  Two of which reside in the Commonwealth and are also receiving votes this November.

Virginia is coming off of a 23-11 campaign and the departure of London Perrantes.  The centerpiece of the Cavaliers’ resurgence under coach Tony Bennett started 134 games and scored 1,225 points in a career that included a pair of 30-win seasons and #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, an ACC Championship and one trip to the Regional Finals.  Last winter it felt like UVa was “London and four guys from the Y”, especially when they hit the midseason wall and lost six of eight.  Three other pieces of the rotation (Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson and Jarred Reuter) transferred in the offseason-but there are plenty of contributors coming back from the team that allowed the fewest points per game in Division I last winter.  Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins has increased his productivity in the paint every season he’s been in Charlottesville and senior guard Devon Hall has developed into a fantastic perimeter defender while being able to initiate the offense when needed.  Guard Kyle Guy made almost 50% of his three-pointers as a freshman with the most popular hairstyle in the college game;  hopefully Guy’s cutting of the infamous man bun won’t have Samson-like ramifications to his shooting touch.  Jack Salt is from New Zealand and the 6-foot-10 center’s play resembles that of a Shiraz from down under:  plenty of boldness and unpredictability as just once in ACC play last winter did Salt post more field goals than personal fouls.  Seven-footer Jay Huff has gained 30 pounds after redshirting last season;  he’ll get every chance to compete for minutes.

The Cavaliers pull no punches in November and December, visiting VCU and #11 West Virginia while facing Vanderbilt in the NIT Season Tip-off Thanksgiving Day.  They won’t play North Carolina or Duke twice in ACC play–once is more than enough for most programs anyways.  It’s not the ACC opener, but circle January 3rd on your calendar as The Cavaliers visit Virginia Tech–they’ve lost two straight in Blacksburg.

Penthouse Prediction- the transfer departures prove to be addition by subtraction, while Wilkins and Hall make the leap we’ve seen previous upperclassmen make in Charlottesville.  Guy is even better without the man-bun and Huff is the center Tony Bennett has been craving.  A top-four finish in the ACC and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Worst Case Scenario- the power of the man-bun is proven and Kyle Guy shoots 20% from the field before hastily growing one over semester break.  Huff has an even higher fouls-per-rebound ratio than Jack Salt.  The ACC eats UVa alive…and they go under .500 in conference play en route to the NIT.  They also get swept by the Hokies.

 

Virginia Tech enters year four under coach Buzz Williams.  They were perhaps a year ahead of schedule last March when they made their first NCAA Tournament since 2007.  Technically they return 77% of their starts, but their top two scorers last winter were seniors Zack LeDay and Seth Allen who primarily came off the bench.  Who fills the void?  Junior Chris Clarke is recovering from a torn ACL-and he was the best rebounder on a team that was near the bottom of the ACC on the glass.  Redshirt freshman Kerry Blackshear, Jr. missed last season with nagging shin injury–but if he’s back at full-strength the 6-foot-10 forward will provide production in the post.  While senior Justin Robinson’s sturdy hand steers the Hokies offense, freshman Nickiell Alexander-Walker started the preseason exhibition against South Carolina and led the team in scoring.

The Hokies’ pre-conference slate includes battles with Ole Miss and Iowa…and a trip to preseason-#5 Kentucky.  The league schedule is no kinder:  in addition to playing Virginia twice Tech gets two games with Louisville, Miami and Duke.  Once again we return to the Blue Devils.

Penthouse Prediction- Clarke and Blackshear come back healthy and Alexander-Walker is better than advertised.  They steal a win and just like the last two seasons exceed expectations.  Somehow Buzz Williams has this team playing in the ACC Championship Game.  They reach the second weekend in the NCAA’s for the first time ever.

Worst Case Scenario- they miss Seth Allen and Zach LeDay a lot more than they thought…while Blackshear and Clarke are never 100%.  After getting all of the bounces last year, the Hokies revert to the mean.  And that means an early exit in the ACC Tournament and a trip to the NIT.

 

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The first few weeks of March always brings us back to fundamental questions.  What do you value in an at-large college basketball team?  Do great wins outshine bad losses?  And how many Shamrock Shakes can we knock down before McDonald’s stops offering the seasonal treat?  Thirty-six invitations will be extended in four days…and as always there are more than fifty schools who think they should be in the mix.  But what criteria should be used?

There is the school of thought that you want the 36 “best” teams in the tournament, meaning if two schools played ten times the one that would prevail more often should get the bid.  That’s similar to the “eye test” that allows analysts to say a “team is much better than their record” and takes into account playing in a tough conference.  These people would tell you that an ACC school finishing 9-9 or 8-10 is a better fit for the field than the runner-up of the MAC or MVC Tournament.  So the teams with talent and ten home games in November and December that couldn’t prove in January and February that they belonged in the big dance get another shot?

The other viewpoint is that the NCAA Tournament should have a “representative field”, meaning that even though an Illinois State would probably lose to Michigan State more times than not, the Redbirds deserve to be in the field because they dominated their regular season.  Just as you will be told “there are no nights off in the Big Ten” (obviously nobody’s watched Rutgers this winter), the Missouri Valley Conference is loaded with schools whose sole purpose is to scout, prepare for and beat Illinois State.  And even though ISU failed their final (no shame in losing to #21 Wichita State), they aced the rest of their classwork.  MSU?  The Spartans struggled before Big Ten play (losing to Northeastern) and went 2-7 on the road in the league.  Of course everything changes if Tom Izzo is able to coax a run through the bracket in DC (and the Spartans are 12-2 in the last five Big Ten Tournaments). 

 

Alma Mater Update- Syracuse’s stay in the ACC Tournament was as short in Brooklyn as last year’s was in DC…a tough loss in the 8-9 game.  The Orange put down their blue-books as an 18-14 team that’s 2-11 in road/neutral games…and await the committee’s decision.  Coach Jim Boeheim in his press conference after teh 62-57 loss said that the ACC Tournament should be played in major markets like Brooklyn, Atlanta and Washington…as opposed to Greensboro, NC and thus earning the ire of the city.  While I agree with having the ACC rotate between top-ten markets, I would have waited until SU had actually won a game in the tournament before proposing to move it.

 

Automatic Berths Captured-

#4 Gonzaga wins the West Coast Conference title game over #19 St. Mary’s; it will be interesting to see where the committee seeds the Bulldogs and the Gaels given the “body of work” and “strength of conference schedule”.  South Dakota State captures the Summit League, Northern Kentucky wins the Horizon, and Mount St. Mary’s takes the Northeast Conference.  They’re still celebrating in Emmitsburg, MD, as the Mountaineers make their first trip to the big dance since 2008.

 

Bid on the line tonight-

Patriot League:  Lehigh at Bucknell, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network.  I’ve seen Tim Kempton terrorize the conference for four years, and even though he didn’t win a third straight player of the year award the senior still averaged a double-double this winter.  Bison big man Nana Foulland took the honor this March, and while the junior averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds in Bucknell’s two games against the Mountain Hawks this season-Kempton and Lehigh still came out on top twice.  The difference in those games was three-point shooting:  Lehigh shot 59% and 47% from outside the arc to 30% and 26% for Bucknell.

 

Tonight’s Games-

Big East First Round-Georgetown (14-17) vs St. John’s (13-18), 7 p.m. FS1.  There was once a time where the 8-9 game in the Big East was reserved for the likes of Seton Hall and Providence;  tonight the Hoyas and Red Storm are in that less than ideal place.  Which St. John’s team shows up tonight- the one that shot 5-for-25 in the second half of a loss in DC or the one that hit 54% from three-point range last month?  And which Georgetown team do we get- the one that outrebounded the Red Storm by 20 in January or the unit that turned the ball over 22 times at MSG?  And the reward for whichever one of these consistently uneven teams wins is a lunch date tomorrow at noon with regular season and defending national champ Villanova.

ACC Second Round-

Virginia Tech (21-9) vs Wake Forest (19-12), 7 p.m. ESPN2. The Demon Deacons held off a pesky Boston College team to keep its NCAA bubble hopes alive, while the Hokies still have the fresh memory of Wake coming to Blacksburg last Saturday and leaving with an 89-84 victory.  John Collins might merit most of the attention as the sophomore led the ACC in field goal percentage, was second in rebounding and third in scoring.  But Bryant Crawford was the one who scored a team-high 26 points at Cassell Coliseum;  and when BC doubled Collins early and often yesterday the sophomore from Silver Spring led WF with 20 and 6 assists.  Seth Allen scored 20 points in the regular season finale;  does the senior have one more week of miracles in his pocket?

Virginia (21-9) vs Pitt (16-16), 9:30pm ESPN2.  Another rematch from last weekend has the Cavaliers playing the Panthers for the third time this winter:  Pitt prevailed in the first game 88-76 (shooting 63% from three-point range while outrebounding the Cavs by 18)while UVa took the regular season finale 67-42 (holding Pitt to 20% from outside the arc and winning the battle of the boards by 7).  The Panthers are not your garden-variety ten games under .500 in the conference team:  Michael Young and Jamel Artis both finished in the top five in the ACC in scoring and they returned two other starters from last year’s NCAA squad.  The transition from Jamie Dixon to Kevin Stallings has been less than ideal…but they ended Georgia Tech’s bubble hopes last night in a 61-59 win over the Yellowjackets.  The Cavaliers are already in the field…but a loss here might knock them down from a 5 to a 6 seed.

 

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Six days before Selection Sunday, welcome to bubble week in and around the Beltway.  The NCAA Tournament admits thirty conference champions (yes, the Ivy League is finally in the 21st century with a four-team tournament) plus 38 at-large schools.  There will be drama atop the bracket (does a one-loss Gonzaga deserve a #1 seed?), and at the bottom (does one take a .500 ACC school over a 20-win Big Ten school over a 27-win Illinois State?)…but not as much mystery in the area as previous years (one can’t ever hope to match Virginia Tech’s four consecutive NIT berths).  The Terps, Cavaliers, Hokies and Rams are virtual locks while the Spiders, Patriots and Colonials need to win the A-10 to make the field of 68.  And Georgetown…make sure you’re sitting down when you read their entry.

Punching Tickets-  four schools are already in:  Jacksonville State (Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon’s first head coaching job) wins the Ohio Valley Conference,  Florida Gulf Coast takes the Atlantic Sun, Winthrop wins the Big South and Wichita State captures the Missouri Valley Conference title.  While the Shockers and both Eagles have shown the ability to blow up NCAA brackets, its the first trip to the big dance for the JSU Gamecocks since they moved to Division I in the 1990’s.

Bids up for Grabs Tonight-(3)

UNC-Greensboro plays East Tennessee State in the Southern Conference championship:  UNCG won both regular season games between the two schools. Despite the Spartans and Eagles both dominating league play with 14-4 regular season marks, they’ve both had to scrape their way to the final with each win coming by single digits.

UNC-Wilmington faces Charleston in the Colonial Athletic Association- or the league that housed VCU and George Mason when the Rams and Patriots made their Final Four runs.  Both the Seahawks and Cougars have a history of scaring teams and bursting brackets in March.  One team will be ticked off when they’re banished to the NIT…or worse.

Siena (17-16) faces Iona (21-12) for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title.  The 17-16 Saints are fresh off an upset of regular season champ Monmouth, who despite having the bench that dances up a storm will not go dancing for a second straight March.  They also have former Maryland assistant Jimmy Patsos as their head coach.  He’s probably the only coach in Division I who could stay with Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams perspiration bead for bead.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange enter the ACC Tournament fresh off a blowout win on Senior Day.  The 18-13 mark is full of blemishes and less than ideal moments. Conventional wisdom says they need to beat Miami in the 8 vs 9 second round game to have hopes for an NCAA bid…but they advanced to the 2016 tournament despite a 19-13 mark and a less than ideal finish.

Division II Digest- I mentioned in this space that Richmond-VCU was the best local rivalry, and in doing so was brought back to a D-2 rivalry I covered in the 1990’s.  New Hampshire College plays the role of VCU and Saint Anselm is the Richmond in this story.  Two schools that share a city and play in the same conference…while looking down at each other for various reasons.  They met last Saturday for the Northeast Ten championship (a league that has 15 schools, proving that bad math isn’t just a D-1 thing) and while the Hawks prevailed over the Penmen, both schools are in the same regional and could meet in that Final.

Locals, hopefuls and wistfuls-

#25 Maryland (24-7, 12-6 Big Ten)- the Terps wrapped up Big Ten play with a bang as Melo Trimble’s three-pointer was the difference in a 63-60 win over Michigan State.  They enter the Big Ten Tournament with as many league and overall wins as last year’s super-hyped squad.  Melo Trimble is the common factor as the only starter back…and the junior is scoring 2.1 more points while dishing out 1.2 fewer assists per game.  He’s also shooting better from the field and three-point range this winter.  Melo scored 22 the last time he played at Verizon Center…and that’s where the Big Ten Tournament will be held this March.  Could a run bump them to the 5-seed line?  CBS and USA Today have the Terps as a #6 seed while ESPN rates them a #7.

Georgetown (14-17, 5-13 Big East)- the Hoyas trailed #2 in the nation Villanova 49-43 with under ten minutes left in the second half before going belly-up.  The Wildcats scored on 15 of their next 17 possessions, Georgetown shot 2-for-14 over the game’s final nine minutes and Nova won going away 81-55.  The shouts “Fire Thompson!” rang loud from the 400-level (I don’t believe they’re big donors though) and a school spokesman stepped in when John Thompson III was asked a non-game specific question.  For the second straight year, the Hoyas are 14-17 playing on the first night at MSG.  They’d need four wins to reach the NCAA Tournament and three to avoid a losing season;  the team has won once since the end of January.

Virginia (21-9, 11-7 ACC)- three straight wins to end the regular season return the Cavaliers’ glass from half-empty to half-full. The team that scored under 50 points in consecutive games held #5 North Carolina and Pitt (two of the top six scorers in the ACC play for the Panthers) to under 50 points a piece.  London Perrantes leads the way one final time in Charlottesville as the senior tallies 22 points in the 67-42 rout of the Panthers.  Unfortunately the rest of the team shot 19-for-50 from the field, keeping my “London and four guys from the Y” theory alive.  Off to Brooklyn and the ACC Tournament. CBS, USA Today and ESPN have the Cavs a #5 seed.

Virginia Tech (21-9, 10-8 ACC)- so much for entering the ACC Tournament on a roll.  The Hokies fall at home to…Wake Forest?  The Demon Deacons are one of two teams that have had to play in the dreaded first round in each of the four years that nightmare has existed.  Defense and rebounding once again haunt the Hokies (they ranked 11th in points allowed and were last in the conference in rebounding this winter), as Wake shot 53% from the field while outrebounding VT by seven.  Barring Boston College winning for the second time since New Year’s Day, coach Buzz Williams’ team will face the Deacs Wednesday in the ACC Tournament.  CBS has the Hokies a #7 seed, while ESPN rates them a #8.  USA Today hands Virginia Tech a 9th seed-plus a first round game against Williams’ former school Marquette.

George Washington (18-13, 10-8 Atlantic 10)- the Colonials enter the A-10 Tournament on a roll with five straight wins…and Tyler Cavanaugh taking no prisoners.  The senior’s averaging 22 points and 9 rebounds during the streak…while shooting 55% from the field.  While an NCAA Tournament berth will only happen if GW can somehow win four games in four days, an NIT bid is definitely a possibility for the defending champs.

George Mason (19-12, 9-9 Atlantic 10)- even with Saturday’s loss at VCU, the Patriots are still in position to win 20 games one season after losing 21.  Senior Marquise Moore led the A-10 in rebounding despite standing just six-foot-two while Jalen Jenkins made a league-best 62% of his shots.  Mason also avoids the dreaded first round for the first time since entering the A-10.  While one doesn’t expect coach Dave Paulsen’s team to reach the weekend, nobody expected them to finish .500 in the conference either.

Howard (8-23, 5-11 MEAC)- the Bison play Coppin State in the first round of the MEAC tournament…the Eagles won the lone regular season meeting by nine in a game where freshman Dejuan Clayton scored 28 points.  The league holds its men’s and women’s tournaments concurrently in Norfolk, meaning if they win Monday they’ll have until Thursday off.  If they lose?  It’s back to the drawing board for coach Kevin Nickelberry after a second straight season of promised was hijacked by injuries.

American (8-22, 5-13 Patriot League).  The Eagles’ year ended in the conference first round at Army in a 74-58 loss February 28th, meaning AU’s season didn’t even get to March.  Now that is madness.  Coach Mike Brennan has a talented nucleus returning with Mark Gasperini and Sy’eed Nelson both being named to the all-rookie team.  With Delante Jones coming back as well, one looks forward to the next year’s recruits and a better season at Bender Arena.

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“March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb”.  If that’s the case this year, it’s because there’s a roar in the district surrounding the diminishing season of Georgetown men’s basketball…with coach John Thompson III going out like a sacrificial lamb if certain fans and alumni have their way.  The Hoyas’ February fade saw the team go 1-6 last month with a loss to cellar-dwelling DePaul.  Barring a Big East Tournament run of four wins in four nights a losing record is all but assured for the second straight winter.  And just how likely is four straight wins at MSG?  Georgetown has won a total of four Big East Tournament games since 2010.  Instead of a rebound from last winter’s 15-18 thud, the program is dangerously close to matching that record.  And like any school with a National Championship and multiple Final Fours in its past, the locals are getting restless.  “Fire Thompson!” has been chanted at Verizon Center, the student newspaper has called for his job, and just to show how 21st century fans are there was a sign reading #FireJT3 at a recent game. 

As mentioned, the team went 15-18 last year.  That was supposed to be an aberration; instead the 22-11 team from the season before that lost during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is becoming the outlier of the last four years.  Since the Final Four team of 2007, victories in March have been few and far between.  Davidson, Ohio, VCU, and Florida Gulf Coast each took their turn with the slingshot in ending Georgetown’s postseason of great expectations.  The top-tier talent coming to Georgetown has also dried up.  When Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert led the Hoyas to the Final Four, it seemed as though the pro prospect faucets had been turned on again.  But in the last ten years, who turned your head on the hilltop?  Otto Porter is the lone kid who had a great Georgetown career before moving onto the pros.  Greg Monroe and Hollis Thompson are two other former Hoyas in the NBA at this time.  Missing out on top-level talent in a league has resulted in a program that’s relying on a graduate transfer (Rodney Pryor) to try to keep things afloat.  Add in the recent rash of transfers (Isaac Copeland being the latest) and you have a future that doesn’t look a lot more better than the present.

Okay, so Georgetown fires Thompson.  What’s next?  Which coach comes to DC to lead a team that practices in the John Thompson, Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center?  For those new to the area, Thompson Jr. is the father of John Thompson III and is responsible for building Georgetown from a mid-Atlantic independent of minimal notoriety into a national power.  Take away Thompson and Georgetown is a highly regarded school that produced a U.S. President-like Dickinson or Amherst-but one that has more in common in basketball with American University than the University of Maryland.  Since retiring in 1999, Thompson has remained associated with the program and university.  Suffice it to say, Big John is big in stature and influence.  And he’s not shy about voicing his opinions, even at age 75.  Speak softly and carry a big stick?  Big John speaks so loudly you wish he was carrying a stick instead.

Even if somehow JT3 exits gracefully in a manner that doesn’t upset his Hall of Fame father, what’s next?  The new practice facility is nice, but to be honest the school built the wrong type of building.  What they needed to construct was an on-campus arena.  A McDonough Gymnasium 2.0 modeled on Duke’s Cameron Indoor.  Have you seen a Georgetown game lately at Verizon Center?  Unless it’s for Syracuse or maybe Villanova, you’re in danger of four-digit crowds and when 5,158 show up to watch St. John’s it feels like 500 people.  Does a prospective recruit, even with the Fox Sports 1 TV deal that has the occasional 11am tipoff (I know, tempting), want to play in that kind of atmosphere?  Stack that up against XFinity Center (Maryland), Eagle Bank Arena (George Mason) or the Smith Center (George Washington).

Then look at DePaul.  Another private, catholic school set in a big city minus an on-campus arena.  See how they thrived under Hall of Fame Coach Ray Meyer.  See how they wilted under his son Joey during his 13-year tenure.  See also the lack of success after the school moved on from the son of the man who put the program on the map.  Even with being located in a major metropolitan area that is overflowing with talent.  DePaul is on its fourth coach and fifth regime (Dave Leito is in year two of his second tenure, I guess making him the Grover Cleveland of Blue Demons basketball).  At least DePaul is moving its home games from Allstate Arena in Rosemont (18.5 miles away from campus) to an arena on the Near South Shore (4.4 miles from the school).  Verizon Center sits 3.3 miles away from McDonough Gymnasium;  no matter how they handle their current coaching position Georgetown feels like a million miles from where it wants to be.

Alma Mater Update- as Jim Boeheim winds down his career with the Orange, one realizes how little success SU has enjoyed without the bespectacled one.  And with the Georgetown situation one realizes how rare sustained success actually is.  But that’s the future…the present has the team needing a home win over Georgia Tech to further its at-large bid hopes.  Once again they’ll have fans on the edge of their seats during games and more importantly Selection Sunday this year.

Saturday’s games-

12 p.m.

Georgetown (14-16, 5-12 Big East) vs #2 Villanova (27-3, 14-3).  Great one to start with.  The Wildcats won the February 8th meeting by 11 in a game where Hoyas big man Jessie Govan was held to 4 points over 18 minutes.  With the sophomore’s inconsistency and senior Bradley Hayes’ consistent disappearing act, the lack of a presence in the post has hurt Georgetown early and often this year.  The defending National Champions are the stingiest in the conference, leading the Big East in fewest points allowed, field goal defense and defending the three-pointer.  Georgetown-not so much.

#23 Virginia (20-9, 10-7 ACC) v Pitt (15-15, 4-13), ACC Network.  Back to back wins by the Cavaliers turn around what could have been a horrific slide down the standings.  Instead they can still secure a coveted double-bye with a win plus lossed by Duke and Louisville plus a Florida State victory.  UVa leads the conference in scoring defense; that’s what makes their 88-76 loss to the Panthers in January all the more perplexing.  Pitt shot 61% from three-point range in that game and boast two of the top five scorers in the ACC in Michael Young and Jamel Artis (he led the Panthers with 24 that night).

2 p.m.

Maryland (23-7, 11-6 Big Ten) vs Michigan State (18-12, 10-7), Big Ten Network.  The winner gets the #3 seed next week at Verizon Center while the loser has to play Thursday in “what used to be the first round but now that there’s that dreaded bottom feeder day this is being called the second round”.  The Spartans have had a rough road this winter, going 1-7 away from East Lansing in conference play.  They’re not great defensively (9th in the league in points allowed and last in steals), but can rebound (an achilles heel for the Terps).  Will we see the team that went to Rutgers and gritted out a win on the road or the one that was overwhelmed last weekend by Iowa?

George Mason (19-11, 9-8 Atlantic 10) at VCU (23-7, 13-4).  The Patriots are coming off a one-point victory over Duquesne while the Rams are trying to rebound from a loss to Dayton that eliminated them from the regular season title chase.  Coach Will Wade’s team has dropped two straight, but they’re 8-0 at home in the A-10.  One of their road wins came December 30th in Fairfax as they outrebounded the Patriots by 11.  Since then, Mason has asserted itself as the best team on the boards in the league.  If only they took as good care of the ball (13th in turnover margin).  That might not bode well against VCU’s havoc defense…especially on their home floor.

 

4 p.m.

Richmond (18-11, 12-5 Atlantic 10) vs St Louis (11-19, 6-11).  Just who makes the A-10 schedule?  I feel bad for the hoop junkies in the Commonwealth’s capital city that can’t catch the Spiders after watching the Rams play downtown at 2.  Both teams enter the final weekend heating up;  Richmond’s won three straight while the Billikens have won consecutive conference games for the first time this season.  SLU is also offensively challenged, ranking last in the conference in shooting and scoring.  It’s senior day for T.J. Cline, who’s making a case for Conference Player of the Year (5th in scoring, 4th in rebounding and 2nd in assists)…and likely wants to atone for his 9 point, 3 rebound performance in Wednesday’s win over UMass.

4:30 p.m.

Virginia Tech (21-8, 10-7) vs Wake Forest (17-12, 8-9), ACC Network.  The Hokies may be out of contention for a double-bye, but they’re a near-certainty for the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2007.  The Demon Deacons last made the field of 68 when it was the field of 65 in 2010…and Danny Manning’s team has a chance IF they finish .500 in the conference and IF they win a game in Brooklyn next week.  It’s the classic contrast of inside-outside as the Hokies lead the ACC in three-point shooting while the Deacs are third worst in the conference at defending the three.  But Wake also boasts one of the league’s better big men in 6-foot-10 sophomore John Collins (20 points and 9 rebounds per game).  That’s enough to make any coach sweat, let alone a proficient perspirer as Buzz Williams whose team ranks last in the ACC on the glass.

8 p.m.

George Washington  (17-13, 9-8 Atlantic 10) vs Dayton (24-5, 15-2), CBS Sports Network.  If you have a mid-major you want to keep your eye on for the NCAA’s look no further.  The Flyers took off after a couple of midseason hiccups and locked up the #1 seed in the upcoming A-10 tournament with Wednesday’s 79-72 win over VCU.  They lead the conference in shooting and are the best in the A-10 at defending the three.  Dayton also has an extremely efficient senior point guard in Scoochie Smith, who on name value alone is pretty awesome.  He won’t be easily rattled at the Smith Center.  Expect GW’s defensive Swiss Army Knife Yuta Watanabe to chase Smith as well as Flyers’ leading scorer Charles Cooke throughout the night.  How big is this game for GW?  A win plus a St. Bonaventure loss gives them the 5th seed while a loss plus wins by La Salle and Davidson could drop them to 9th.

Sunday-

Patriot League Semifinals, #4 Navy (16-15) at #1 Bucknell (24-8), CBS Sports Network.  The Midshipmen bounced back from losing their final four regular season games in a 49-42 win over Holy Cross at home.  But Annapolis is no Lewisburg, PA…as seen by the Mids’ four point loss at home to the Bison compared to last Saturday’s 82-60 defeat where Bucknell went on a 30-to-1 run in the first half (outside of that, it was a tight game throughout).  Kimbal Mackenzie scored 18 points off the bench for the Bison last weekend-he also had 22 in the December 30th matchup in Annapolis.  Can the Midshipmen get their shot back?  Navy was held to 3-for-21 by Holy Cross…and is 15-of-85 (18%) over its last four games .

Last winter offered the best of times in Charlottesville and the worst of times in Blacksburg…two college towns that celebrate each other’s pain and shortcomings.  Two towns that look down on the other instead of banding together against Tobacco Road.  Two schools that should be playing their final regular season game against one another–especially now that Maryland has left the league.  Cavaliers-Louisville March 7th at the KFC Yum Center get your blood boiling?  Me neither.

 

Virginia tries to build off a dream season.  The Cavaliers increased its ACC and overall wins each season under coach Tony Bennett-but I don’t think anybody thought there was a 30-win, 18-ACC victory campaign in the Cavaliers last year.  It became a weekly bit–“Virginia is off to its best conference start since…1995…1983…1981” as the season progressed…wrapping up with the school’s first outright regular season crown since 1981 and the program’s first ACC tournament title since 1976.  Even with their Regional Semifinal loss to Michigan State, last winter was one they’ll be looking back at for years.

 

UVa starts the season ranked 9th nationally…and returns seven of their top nine scorers from last year.  While they’ll miss the Akil Mitchell’s rebounding (a team high 7.0 boards per game) and Joe Harris’ outside shooting (paced the team with 72 threes–hitting 40% from outside the arc)…they’ll miss their leadership as well.  Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon looks to build off a successful first season in orange and blue…will 6-foot-11 junior Mike Tobey fill the vacuum left by Mitchell?  Can sophomore London Perrantes be the floor general necessary for an offense that focuses more on quality than quantity?  He’s sitting out the regular season opener (along with junior forward Evan Nolte) due to violating team rules over the summer.

 

Much was made last winter that Virginia faced Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse just once during the regular season… but you can only control your non-league schedule.  An ambitious and representative non-conference slate begins at James Madison November 14th…and includes dates with 2014 NCAA Tournament teams VCU and George Washington.  There’s even a December duel with #25 Harvard.  While UVa plays the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Orange just once this winter–they do face preseason #8 Louisville twice.  Who’s ready for rivalry week with the Cardinals?

 

 

Virginia Tech tries to climb out of the wreckage that was the two-year tenure of James Johnson: 22 wins and 41 losses with a 6-30 mark in the ACC.  A very difficult situation that began with the surprise spring firing of Seth Greenberg that had the school scrambling for a coach during the worst possible time of year to be searching for a coach.  Was Johnson the right guy to guide the Hokies?  Ideally, no–but he was the best choice of a less than ideal candidate pool.  It’s tough to pull the plug on a coach this early– Johnson’s just the fifth ACC mens basketball coach to last less than three years–and the first in 40 years:  Press Maravich left NC State to take the LSU job, Jack Murdock was an interim coach at Wake Forest, Frank Fellows was moved out of Maryland to make room for Lefty Driesell, and Duke’s Neil McGeachy was unable to survive a 10-16 season that included blowing an 8 point lead in the final 17 seconds at North Carolina.

 

The buzz this fall in Blacksburg?  Curly can coach.  First year Hokies coach Buzz Williams comes to Virginia Tech after posting a 139-69 record over six years at Marquette–his final season the only year in which he didn’t guide the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament.  Marquette reached the Sweet Sixteen three straight years– bouncing 3rd seed Syracuse in 2011 and top seed Miami two years later.  He takes over a program that beat Miami twice last year– before losing by four to the Hurricanes in the ACC Tournament (former UVa assistant and current Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga had to find that a tiny bit amusing).  To say the Hokies were offensively challenged would be a major understatement:  out of 351 Division I schools, they ranked 331st in 302nd in assists, 326th in shooting and 331st in scoring.  Just to show that it wasn’t all offensive offense, the Hokies ranked 351st and dead last in steals.

 

Who’s back?  Adam Smith is the team’s returning leading scorer (11ppg) –but injuries kept him out of 17 games last winter…effectively ending his sophomore season January 19th.  The 6-foot-1 guard gets help from sophomore Devin Wilson at the point (5 assists per game as a freshman) and Joey Van Zegeren inside (the 6-foot-10 junior from the Netherlands was second on the team in rebounding and field goal percentage last year).

 

Not surprisingly, the Hokies are picked to finish last in the ACC this season.  As befits a program that’s trying to find itself, the schedule doesn’t offer a lot of heavy lifting–December offers a pair of road tests at Penn State and West Virginia., with plenty of home games against the likes of  VMI, Alabama A&M and Presbyterian (even though this is basketball they kind of serve as the football version of Longwood).  Williams doesn’t get the kindest conference schedule as a welcome from the ACC–they’ll face Virginia and Syracuse twice while also getting home and homes with Miami and Florida State.  The Hokies welcome Maryland-Eastern Shore November 14th to Cassell Coliseum.