Archives for posts with tag: American

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–:

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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

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.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

By George, that was one rough opening night.  Which was more painful, George Mason’s 72-71 loss at home to Penn or George Washington wasting a 22-0 first half lead in their defeat to Stony Brook?  Never mind, as GW compounded it by losing to Siena Thursday evening.  The Patriots and Colonials will battle twice in Atlantic 10 play, with GW going to Fairfax January 26th and Mason heading to Foggy Bottom March 9th.  Meanwhile, DC houses two more Division I programs…and American visits Howard December 8th.  Both teams are rebuilding:  the Eagles are looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 while the Bison have a 26-year Big Dance drought.  Of the four, George Mason has the best chance of making waves this winter while the other three have hopes-for the moment.

 

George Mason- the Patriots enter coach Dave Paulsen’s fourth year at the helm, meaning every player in the program is someone brought to Fairfax by his efforts. “There’s just a comfort level that the kids have and a comfort level that I have with the kids,” Paulsen said, “What we’re starting to see when is when the players enforce the culture, when the players can help correct some things on the side.”

Mason has improved from 12th to 7th to 5th in the Atlantic 10 over the last three years;  this fall the Patriots return all five starters and have been picked to finish 4th in the A10’s Preseason Poll.  Paulsen returns all five starters and every significant bench player from last winter.  This is a team built to contend. “We talk a lot about playing two-tempo basketball:  being able to push it in transition but also be able to really execute on the offensive end.”

Leading the returnees is guard Otis Livingston II: the senior was named Preseason all-Atlantic 10.  While his 17 points per game paced the Patriots last winter, Livingston’s coach feels they’ve only scratched the surface.  Paulsen said, “We really challenged Otis to become a complete point guard in the truest sense.  To assert himself more defensively and pressure the ball…and continue to be aggressive scoring the basketball.”

Livingston will have plenty of options at his disposal:  Jaire Grayer led the team in threes while the 6-foot-5 guard was also the best player on the boards.  Six-foot-seven Minnesota mountain man Goanar Mar looks to build off of what was a productive freshman season in the post.  Paulsen said, “I do think we’ll have better balance–we pretty much lived and died on the perimeter last year and I think we’ll be able to throw the ball inside and get some easy buckets in there as well.”

That they’re picked 4th in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll is nice, but the coach expects a long winter with many twists and turns.  “There’s always a team that does very well and always a team that doesn’t perform as well as expected–but there’s no easy night”, Paulsen said.  The schedule has Mason playing defending A10 regular season champ Rhode Island once (on the road) and tournament winner Davidson at home.

 

George Washington- Maurice Joseph’s team was picked to finish 13th in the conference after losing their top three scorers off of last year’s 15-18 team.   Stepping into the vacuum of the graduating Yuta Watanabe and Patrick Steeves plus the transferring Jair Bolden (bound for South Carolina), 6-foot-8 forward Arnaldo Toro.  The junior from Puerto Rico led the Colonials in rebounding last winter and will be expected be the primary post presence moving forward.  Getting him the ball will be Baltimore product Terry Nolan Jr.:  the preseason Atlantic 10-All Defensive Team guard was fifth in the conference in steals as a freshman.  The season begins with a bang as GW faces top 25 teams Virginia and Michigan in November.

American- the Eagles were extremely young last year and it showed in a 6-24 finish (3-15 Patriot League).  But after taking those lumps coach Mike Brennan’s team returns a nucleus of Sa’eed Nelson (Preseason Player of the Year), senior Larry Motuzis (15 points and while leading the team in threes) and sophomore Sam Iorio (15 points while leading the team in rebounding).  Despite the experience, the Eagles are picked seventh in the conference…with everybody chasing Lehigh and Bucknell.  Games to watch include trips to George Mason (November 9th) and George Washington (December 27th).

Howard- forgive me for being shy about the Bison.  This program was THIS CLOSE to breaking through with James Daniel leading the nation in scoring and his teammates leading the country in untimely injuries.  Kevin Nickelberry has rebuilt the roster and has HU picked to finish fourth in the MEAC (keep in mind they have one winning conference record since 2002) and once again boast a high-powered backcourt.  Preseason MEAC Player of the Year RJ Cole looks to build on one incredible freshman season (his 24 points per game ranked 7th nationally) while junior Charles Williams (20 points per game last winter) can fill it as well.  Upper Marlboro, MD native Zion Cousins led the Bison with 7.1 rebounds per game as a freshman.  If he can develop a better offensive game, Howard might just finally find a way to turn from pretender to contender.

It’s not technically March Madness, but conference tournament time is here after an underwhelming regular season for most of the local schools.  Yes–I know that Virginia is #1 in the nation and Virginia Tech is fresh off wins over the Cavaliers and Duke, but the bulk of the beltway schools have struggled in conference play.  Unlike previous years where at-large bids were possibilities, the only route to the field of 68 for Maryland, Georgetown and others involves winning a conference tournament championship.

 

Patriot League- one of many “one-bid” conferences, the Patriot League holds each round on campus sites which places more value on the 18-game regular season.  But that hasn’t guaranteed anything:  just twice since 2011 has the regular season champ won the tournament and two years ago the road teams went 5-4 as 9th seeded Holy Cross emerged from the rubble.

Team to Beat- Bucknell won its fourth straight regular season title by going 16-2 (12 of those wins coming by double-digits).  The Bison have lost just once at home this winter (to Boston University January 2nd).  They led the conference in scoring and shooting while also being the best at defending the three-point shot.

Players to Watch- Bucknell’s Zach Thomas led the conference in scoring and rebounding (21 points with 9 rebounds per game) en route to winning MVP honors;  last March as a junior he averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists to help the Bison cut down the nets in the Patriot League Tournament.  Lehigh’s Lance Tejada paced the conference in three-point shooting percentage as well as three’s made per game.  Army’s Tommy Funk was tops in assists–and possesses one cool name.

Fun Fact- American actually owns the best record in Patriot League Tournament history, their .622 winning percentage a whisker better than Bucknell’s .621.  Of course, the Bison have been in the league 12 more seasons than AU, but that’s splitting hairs.

 

Tuesday’s First Round:

#10 American (6-23, 3-15 Patriot League) at Lafayette (9-20, 7-11).  The Leopards won both regular season games, shooting 65% from the field (and 75% from three-point range) February 17th in a 90-85 triumph.  They also have the conference’s Rookie of the Year in guard Alex Petrie while senior Matt Klinewski discovered his three-point shot this winter, hitting 48 of 110 attempts after attempting just four threes (all misses) in his first three seasons.  The Leopards have had issues taking care of the ball this winter, ranking last in the league in turnover margin.  As befits a team that enters the tournament having lost 10 of 11, AU ranks last in the conference in shooting, rebounding, stopping the three and defending shots in general. Coach Mike Brennan does have a decent 1-2 combination in freshman forward Sam Iorio and sophomore guard Sa’eed Nelson.  Both will need to produce for the Eagles to have hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.

 

Thursday’s Quarterfinal:

#3 Navy (20-11, 11-7 Patriot League) vs #6 Holy Cross (11-18, 8-10).  Yes-you read that correctly.  The Midshipmen have won 20 games for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.  Their 5-1 sprint to the finish began with a 69-34 win on the Crusaders’ home court-a game where they were minus first team all-conference guard Shawn Anderson due to illness.  The senior came back with a healthy shot, making more than 50% of his attempts since returning to the lineup.  Rebounding knows no virus, and no team was better on the glass in the Patriot League this winter than the Mids.  The offensively challenged (last in the conference in scoring) Crusaders boast the Defensive Player of the Year in junior Jehyve Floyd (2.2 blocks per game) who is also their best offensive weapon after posting a league-best .657 shooting percentage this winter.  Holy Cross has also won four of their last five road games and took Navy to overtime in Annapolis.  After going 15 years in between Patriot League Tournament wins, nobody is looking ahead to potential semifinal matchups.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Is this really the most wonderful time of the year?  Most of us still have our football mindset with the NFL season entering its final few lengths and 40 (!) bowls on the menu.  Forgive us if college basketball is somewhat of an afterthought–like getting to the Barnes & Noble and Bath & Body Works for Christmas presents, I’ll get around to the hoop season.  Promise!  Unfortunately while there have been a few gifts in the pre-conference season (I know Maryland has begun Big Ten play and Duke lost its ACC opener to Boston College, but just work with me here), we’ve also been treated to some refugees from the Island of Misfit Toys.  And for the record, a gun that shoots jelly is pretty cool in the long run.  Here are early impressions of the local schools…who’s getting the Star Wars Death Star™ playset and who receives tube socks and a bathrobe this December?

 

Maryland (10-3, 1-1 Big Ten)– hold on.  They actually trailed Division III Catholic 20-18 in the first half?  Ugh.  What’s Nice:  Anthony Cowan has taken ownership (16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game) of this team while freshmen Bruno Fernando and Darrell Morsell have emerged as major contributors (not unlike last year’s trio of Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson).  What’s Naughty:  they lead the nation in turnovers per game and lack of an effective offense against zones is the nightmare that won’t go away.  Instead of a breakout year, Jackson while posting more rebounds and assists has regressed as a shooter (37% from the field and 25% from three after making 44% from both last winter).  Best Win:  December 3rd at Illinois.  The Illini may not be expected to do much in the Big Ten, but the Terps could ill-afford to start conference play 0-2.  A clutch free throw from Cowan with one second left gave the sophomore a career-high 27 points.  Worst Loss: a 63-61 stumble to St. Bonaventure saw 20 turnovers and 5-of-23 three-point shooting.  Yes, the Bonnies play zone.  Game to watch before conference play:  Friday December 29th UMBC comes to College Park.  The 7-5 Retrievers boast former VCU guard Jairus Lyles (20 ppg & 46% from three-point range) and the kid-brother mentality that Catholic brought to Xfinity Center, only they have more staying power.

 

Georgetown (8-0)– with four wins over MEAC foes, the Hoyas may actually be eligible for that league’s postseason tournament should things end early in the Big East.  Actually, the schedule involves three schools that have already lost eight games, 1-10 Howard and 0-11 Coppin State.  They couldn’t at least bring St. Leo to DC?  What’s Nice:  coach Patrick Ewing said a lot would be expected of Jessie Govan this winter, and the junior has delivered in averaging 23 points (on 63% shooting) and a Division I-best 13 rebounds per game.  The offense is tied for 11th in assists per game.  It’s not “Hoya Paranoia” yet, but they rank third in the Big East in scoring defense, second in defensive field goal percentage and first in stopping the three-pointer.  What’s Naughty:  the schedule gives means “Georgetown Cupcake” is now more than just a thriving business on the corner of 33rd and M (not that I’ve ever been there).  They’re last in the Big East in turnover margin…and that’s going against teams with a combined 21-63 record (with nine wins coming against non-Division I schools).  Best Win: an 82-76 win at Richmond (the Hoyas lone road trip before conference play).  Five in double-figures proves this is more than a one-man team.  Game to Watch before conference play:  the Hoyas host Syracuse Saturday at 12:30 p.m.  CBS will be there.  Even in the final days of John Thompson III, Georgetown was still able to beat its hated rival consecutive years.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are off to an 8-1 start that includes wins over Maryland and UConn that make one think they’re better than the team picked 10th in the ACC preseason poll…with a loss to Kansas reminding the faithful how much they still have to improve before becoming a contender instead of a pretender.  Saturday they play at Georgetown–an occasional win in this series would be nice.

Virginia (8-1)- reports of the Cavaliers’ demise after London Perrantes graduated and multiple players transferred were premature:  coach Tony Bennett has this team in the top 20 and eyeing a double-bye in the ACC Tournament.  What’s Nice:  Kyle Guy got rid of the famed man-bun and came back to campus even more productive-the sophomore is averaging 17 points per game while shooting 45% from outside the arc.  They lead the nation in scoring defense and almost caused basketballs worldwide to explode in their 49-37 water-drip win over Wisconsin.  What’s Naughty:  Jack Salt is back–and the center from New Zealand has only two more points than personal fouls through nine games (25-23).  Better big man production will be needed when the conference slate begins.  Best Win: the 76-67 victory at VCU.  Forget that the Rams have a first-year head coach.  It’s nice to stay the top dog in the Commonwealth.  Lone Loss: a 68-61 defeat at #18 West Virginia.  No shame in coming up short in Morgantown; the Mountaineers are a good team, even if their coach wears a track-suit.  Game to Watch pre-ACC:  Saturday always-dangerous Davidson drops by Charlottesville.

 

Virginia Tech (9-1)- introducing the high-flying Hokies:  #1 in Division I in shooting and scoring while ranking second in three-point shooting.  Forgive us if we’re getting adjusted to a coach Buzz Williams’ sportscar;  we’re accustomed to pickup trucks in Blacksburg (often with a faulty transmission).  What’s Nice:  Freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker is a sparkplug from the perimeter (14 points per game and 47% from three) while Chris Clarke’s recovery from a torn ACL is far enough along that the junior is shooting 60% from the field while averaging 6.8 rebounds per night.  What’s Naughty:  tough to find a smudge on this early season–but the Hokies do allow the fourth-most points per game in the ACC. Best Win: a 103-79 neutral-site victory over a Washington team that has since gone on to upset Kansas.  Nice to get a victory on the Madison Square Garden floor.  Lone Loss:  the night before VT fell to Saint Louis 77-71 after getting outrebounded by ten.  Last year rebounding was an issue…it couldn’t be again when they begin league play, could it?  Game to Watch before ACC play: Saturday the Hokies visit #8 Kentucky.  The tipoff is at 2 p.m–but this will go a long way to determining if they’re ready for prime time.

 

George Washington (5-5)- the Colonials have had quite an ambitious pre-Atlantic 10 slate, visiting the likes of Florida State and Penn State while playing holiday tournaments against #15 Xavier and Kansas State.  Sadly they’re 0-4 against those schools.  What’s Nice: sophomore Jair Bolden has emerged as a do-it-all floor general, leading the team in assists while developing into the team’s best three-point threat.   What’s Naughty:  they’re not the best at taking care of the basketball (12th in the conference in assist-to-turnover margin).  Against the VCU’s and better defensive teams in the league that will be a major issue.  Best Win: December 3rd they beat Temple 71-67.  The Owls used to run the A-10 like their private rec-club, so it’s nice to beat the school that won nine tournament titles over a 26-year span before bolting for the AAC.  Worst Loss: a home loss to Rider from the MAAC.  Not the MAC (Mid-American) or even the (Mid-Eastern Athletic) but the Metro Atlantic Athletic-ugh.  Game to watch before league play tips off:  Saturday they host #6 Miami at noon.  Really, does every good December game involving beltway schools have to be this Saturday?

 

George Mason (5-6)- one year after winning 20 games perhaps a year earlier than expected, coach Dave Paulsen’s team is one of nine Atlantic 10 schools that are within one game of .500.  What’s Nice:  Otis Livingston II came back for his junior year with a three-point shot (46% this season as opposed to 34% as a sophomore) while freshman Goanar Mar has produced since opening night for the Patriots.  What’s Naughty:  you think GW has issues with turnovers?  Mason has the most miscues in the A-10 by a wide margin.  Best Win: a 76-72 grand larceny November 29th at James Madison.  They trailed by four with seven seconds left but an Ian Boyd three began a furious finish.  Worst Loss: Tuesday’s 74-51 loss to Georgia Southern.  The Eagles may be 8-2 but shooting 29% and turning the ball over 21 times at home is no way to go through life.  Best pre-conference game remaining:  Sunday they host Penn State.  Beware the Green Machine.

 

VCU (5-5)- coach Mike Rhoades has a lot to live up to in his debut season:  his predecessor Will Wade won 25 games in his first season at the helm, Shaka Smart’s Rams went 27-9 in his first winter as head coach and Anthony Grant’s first team bounced Duke in the first round of the NCAA’s en route to a 28-7 mark.  So there’s obviously no pressure whatsoever.  What’s Nice:  all five losses are to legit programs, including Smart’s Texas team.  Senior Jonathan Williams leads the A-10 with 6.6 assists per game.  They’re also second best in the league at scoring as well as shooting from three-point range.  What’s Naughty:  something intangible feels like it’s missing this season…and it’s going to take a while for this program to come together under their new head coach.  Best Win: an 83-69 win in Maui against Cal.  Pass the poi.  Worst Loss: a 90-67 defeat at Seton Hall.  They turned the Pirates over just twelve times and allowed 55% shooting.  Game to Watch:  Saturday against Bucknell.  The Bison almost won at Maryland-and aren’t scared of anybody.

 

Richmond (2-8)- the Spiders’ run of ten straight non-losing seasons is in danger of not going to eleven.  Triple-threat TJ Cline took Atlantic 10 MVP honors last winter–and this season you’re seeing how exactly valuable he was.  What’s Nice:  sophomore big man Grant Golden has stepped up from a role player to a primary contributor, netting 15 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this fall.  Freshman Jacob Gilyard has become a force on both ends of the floor, averaging 3.1 assists and 2.4 steals per contest.  What’s Naughty:  they’re the worst free-throw shooting team in the Atlantic 10 and have lost five games by double-digits.  Best Win:  the 74-71 win over James Madison snaps a six game slide…hopefully turning the pre-conference tide.  Worst Loss: an 82-76 home defeat to Georgetown.  You don’t often get the Hoyas on your home floor…and with Patrick Ewing’s rebuild this was a golden opportunity.  Game to Watch:  at Boston College Saturday December 23rd-I’m curious because this BC team beat Duke yet lost to Nebraska.  They could easily slip against the Spiders.

 

Navy (9-3)- this could be the Midshipman team that ends a near-two decade NCAA Tournament drought.  Ed DeChellis directed the program to its first winning conference season since 2009, and this fall they’re off to their best start of any team in the Patriot League.  November and December mean little in one-bid league’s come March, however.  What’s Nice:  the stifling defense allows the fewest points per game in the Patriot League and they’re the best rebounding team in the conference.  Senior Shawn Anderson leads the Mids in scoring, rebounding and assists while passing the 1,000 career points barrier last month.  What’s Naughty:  the Mids rank last in the Patriot League at defending the three…and in a conference of Davids it’s often the slingshot that causes the most damage.  Best Win: opening night against Pitt. Yes, the game was in Annapolis and the Panthers may be a mess under second-year coach Kevin Stallings, but they’re still an ACC opponent.  Worst Loss: falling to 8-4 Penn, 7-4 FGCU and #6 Miami is nothing to be ashamed about.  One cannot help but feel this Midshipmen team is something special.  Last game before league play:   Thursday December 21st against Lipscomb- the Bisons are off to a 6-4 start that includes losses at Alabama, Texas and #24 Tennessee.  Should be a good test.

 

American (3-6)- can the Eagles overcome a slow start to contend in a Patriot League that features not only a Navy program hitting its stride but the usual bully Bucknell that returns four double-digit scorers?  A young roster has turned the first two months of the regular season into a “getting to know you” process for coach Mike Brennan’s team.  What’s Nice: the one-two punch of Larry Motuzis and Sa’eed Nelson (each averages 19 points per game) has provided the bulk of the offense.  What’s Naughty: ninth in the conference in rebounding margin and defending the three, eighth in scoring and scoring defense as well as assist-to-turnover ratio.  Best win: 74-70 at New Hampshire November 21st.  When you play seven of your first eight away from DC, life can be rough on the road.  Sa-eed Nelson netted a season-high 26 points that night.  Worst Loss: a 100-89 loss to St. Francis (PA). Shoot 56% and still come up short?  At least this wasn’t against the 2-7 St. Francis (BKN) Terriers.  Game to see: they host Mt. St. Mary’s from the one-bid Northeast Conference.  Should be a truer test than trips to West Virginia and Marquette.

 

Howard (2-10)-  DO NOT accuse the Bison of stocking their schedule with non-conference W’s.  Just the opposite:  coach Kevin Nickelberry’s team has played 9 of 11 games on the road.  As the song plays, “they’ve been everywhere, man.”  Trouble?  They’ve had their share, man– from a 106-69 thumping at Gonzaga to an 81-67 loss at Georgetown.  Never paid their fair, man?  Well, these are buyout games.  What’s Nice:  freshman guard RJ Cole leads the team with 19 points and 6 assists per game-including 30 in their win over Washington Adventist.  He’s one of five players in the nine-man rotation in their first year with the program.  What’s Naughty:  it’s a shooter’s game and the Bison rank 341st in field goal percentage.  Gotta Watch:  no more home games in 2017–so if you can get a good rate there’s that game against Hawaii December 29th.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

How do you legislate spontaneity?  Court-storming is a tradition that rears its head every winter when teams pull upsets or last-second victories over ranked foes.  For instance, when American won its first ever Patriot League Tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, they stormed the court at Bender Arena.  In theory the court-storming emphasizes big moments.  Wednesday night at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse “upset” #10 Duke 78-75 on a last-second three-pointer by John Gillon.  Naturally the students rushed the floor to celebrate the victory, because that is evidently what you do in these situations.  But wait-aren’t the Orange less than a year removed from advancing to the Final Four?  Didn’t they also storm the court after wins over Florida State and Virginia–this season?  Showing restraint and not running onto the floor after a big game doesn’t prevent said game from becoming an “instant classic”.  It’s easy to say to 18-to-24 year old kids (I’m speaking to all students, even the six-year ones) to act like you’ve been there before.  Especially when many of them have.  In the last five minutes.  As an alum, it makes us look like we don’t belong on the sports’ greatest stage- and after two Final Fours this decade and a National Championship last decade, I think Syracuse does.  But that’s just comgin from a guy who left his seat in March 1990 for the floor when the Orangemen beat Georgetown in overtime to win the Big East regular season title.

Alma Mater Update- does storming the court multiple times in one winter render one ineligible for at-large consideration?  Hopefully not, as the Orange’ three-point win somehow counters the previous three-game losing streak.  During this improbable run they’ve won two games on last-second shots while needing a miraculous comeback to take the third.  A win Sunday at Louisville gets them that much further embedded in the NCAA Tournament bubble.  SU still probably needs to beat Georgia Tech the following weekend, because getting swept by the top-ten Cardinals isn’t nearly as bad as getting broomed by the bubble-bound Yellow Jackets.

Saturday-

12 p.m.

Georgetown (14-14, 5-10 Big East) at St. John’s (12-16, 6-9).  Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin this is not.  In a league that values defense and rebounding, the Red Storm allow the most points and are the worst on the glass.  They’re also last in the conference defending the three-point shot.  Yet somehow, the Hoyas after four losses in five games are looking up the standings at this team.  Georgetown won the previous game this winter after holding St. John’s to 5-of-25 shooting in the 2nd half and 28% for the night.  The scary number was that the listed attendance was 5,158 at Verizon Center.  Sleepy Floyd and Walter Berry this is not.

#18 Virginia (18-9, 8-7 ACC) at North Carolina State (15-14, 4-12).   The Cavaliers in the last two weeks have gone from playing for a share of the conference lead to in the mix for the dreaded first round of the ACC Tournament.  Yes, having 15 schools means there’s a 10 vs. 15 game unless somebody eats the poison pill and declares themselves ineligible for postseason play (like Louisville last year and Syracuse in 2015).  London Perrantes has shot 28% during the four-game losing streak…and he’s not assisted by a consistently uneven frontcourt.  The Wolfpack are coming off a 71-69 win against Georgia Tech that ended a seven-game losing streak; there’s the saying that even a dead cat bounces once.  While UVa is last in the ACC in scoring due largely to design (Tony Bennett’s deliberately precise pace focuses on quality instead of quantity), NC State allows the most points in the league and is 328th nationally due largely to ineffectiveness.

American (7-21, 4-13 Patriot League) at Loyola-Maryland (14-14, 8-9).  The Eagles can avoid last place with a victory plus a Lafayette loss at Colgate…while the Greyhounds are trying to turn around a stretch where they’ve lost four of five.  Loyola ranks last in the conference in shooting;  AU held Navy to 31% from the field and 18% from three-point range in a win on the road Wednesday.  Greyhound senior Jarred Jones netted 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 68-66 win in DC December 30th;  Eagles freshman Sa’eed Nelson scored 22 that night and is averaging 16 points per game this month.

Navy (15-14, 10-7 Patriot League) at Bucknell (22-8, 14-3).  What happened to the “hottest team in the area”?  The Midshipmen are taking major water with four losses in their last six games-including a Senior Night stumble to last-place American.  The conference-leading Bison are not the kind of team you get well against.  Especially in Lewisburg where they’re 24-5 against conference foes the last three seasons.  Causes for confidence?   Navy can rebound (1st in the Patriot League) and defend (they allow the second fewest points in the conference).  The Bison have four players who score in double figures; but the Mids held their leading scorer Zach Thomas to 5 points in the school’s first meeting.  Problem was, Kimbal Mackenzie scored 22 and the Bison escaped Annapolis with a four-point win that day.

2 p.m.

VCU (23-5, 13-2 Atlantic 10) at Rhode Island (18-9, 10-5).  This will be the only meeting between these Rams in the regular season-and for the record there was also only one game between both schools and the Fordham Rams.  Is that by design?  VCU has won nine straight, the last four by double digits.  Senior JeQuan Lewis is having the season you want from your offensive and defensive catalyst (among the A-10 leaders in points, assists and steals).  URI has won two straight to climb back into the mix for the coveted double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament after losing at home to Fordham.  There’s that Ram-on-Ram thing again…

2:30 p.m.

Richmond (16-11, 10-5 Atlantic 10) at Fordham (13-15, 7-8).  Despite following up a 5-0 league start by splitting five of its last ten games, the Spiders are in great position land the coveted double-bye in the A-10 Tournament as they wrap up their regular season with three straight games against foes with losing conference records.  Fordham may be under .500 on paper (or computer screen), but these Rams have won three in a row (each by double-digits) and lead the Atlantic 10 in steals per game.  The well-traveled Javontae Hawkins (previous stops at South Florida & Eastern Kentucky) is scoring 19 points during the three game winning streak…but was held to 10 points in a January 4th loss to the Spiders.  Richmond’s DeMonte Buckingham scored 22 that day…he may have hit the “freshman fade” as the guard is averaging 7 points on 36% shooting over his last five outings.

 

4 p.m.

Virginia Tech (19-8, 8-7 ACC) at Boston College (9-19, 2-13).  Could the Hokies get to 20 wins before Virginia?  Don’t tell anyone in Charlottesville.  Buzz Williams’ team won the matchup between these two schools in Blacksburg despite getting outrebounded by nine…that’s one of the few things the Eagles do well.  BC is 14th in the ACC in points allowed, shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio while ranking last in turnover margin and field goal defense.  I know what you’re thinking- they’re focusing too much on an offense that ranks 12th in the ACC in scoring.  Seth Allen is enjoying quite a senior sendoff with game-winning shots against Virginia and Clemson this month…they shouldn’t need to call on him here.

6 p.m.

#24 Maryland (22-6, 10-5 Big Ten) vs Iowa (15-13, 7-8).  Beware the February fade.  Last season the Terps fell from #2 in the nation to a 5th seed in the South Regional; this year the team’s lost four of six to find itself no longer in control of the Big Ten race (and don’t tell the Terps faithful they’re also in danger of losing the coveted double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament).  Last month’s 84-76 win in Iowa City saw plenty of good (57% shooting and 23 assists on 30 made baskets) while plenty to be worried about (21 turnovers, -3 in the rebounding column).  The Hawkeyes’ Peter Jok hit just 4 of 12 shots in that game, but the Big Ten’s leading scorer was troubled by a back injury.  Not that there is added pressure, but the 2001 Final Four and 2002 National Championship teams will be on hand…making Danny Miller likely the most awkward person in the building.

6:30 p.m.

Howard (7-21, 4-9 MEAC) at Norfolk State (14-14, 11-3).  A second-half rally came up short against league-leading North Carolina Central Monday, and the Bison’s reward was a trip to face the second-place Spartans.  Not just any Norfolk State team that had won ten of eleven, but a team that saw its ten-game winning streak snapped by a sub-par Bethune-Cookman team.  They’ll have their hands full with Jonathan Wade, who scores just under 20 points per game.

Sunday-

2 p.m.

George Mason (18-10, 8-7 Atlantic 10) at George Washington (15-13, 7-8).  Sometimes neighbors aren’t that welcoming.  Since the Patriots joined the Atlantic 10, the Colonials are 7-0 against their friends in Fairfax.  Even with this winter’s resurgence, Mason lost by 19 at home to GW–and the game wasn’t that close.  Perimeter production was a pivot point in that showdown:  the Colonials hit 11-of-19 from outside the arc while the Patriots were 1-for-8 from downtown.  Tyler Cavanaugh led GW with 20 points and 7 rebounds that night, while Marquise Moore notched 15 points and 10 rebounds for GMU.  Don’t be surprised if the seniors shine one more time Sunday.

Rivalries are organic.  They can’t be mandated- that’s why the Maryland-Rutgers football fight remains a shrug even though the Big Ten’s two newest schools would be a natural fit. Just ask UConn how their “rivalry” with Central Florida is going.  In the area there was Georgetown-Syracuse and there still is George Washington-George Mason…and while we’ll always have Virginia-Virginia Tech (see last Sunday) the best basketball rivalry remains in the Commonwealth’s capital city.

Virginia Commonwealth University is a public research university boasting 24,000+ undergrads.  The University of Richmond is a private, non-sectarian liberal arts college with under 5,000 undergrad and graduate students combined (less than VCU’s grad student total).  One school is a part of the downtown fabric of the city…while the other, despite sharing the name with said city is lodged on the outskirts.  You even have to drive past the “Country Club of Virginia” to get there.

VCU has been the popular Cinderella over the last decade, with more than a few upsets under their belts before we even get into their run from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011.  Richmond?  Been there, done that.  The Spiders were the first #15 seed to win in the tournament (sorry, Syracuse) and they also bounced big-name favorites like Indiana, Auburn and Vanderbilt in the dance.

The Rams joined the Colonial Athletic Association in 1995, only to have Richmond leave for the Atlantic 10 two seasons later.  The two schools still played annually, comparing the apples of one league to the oranges of the other.  Until 2012 when Shaka Smart brought his havoc defense to the A-10 and promptly took his program to the Tournament finals.  VCU has appeared in the title tilt every year it’s been in the league…while Richmond hasn’t advanced to the league semifinals since 2011.  To make things more interesting the Spiders have lost to the Rams in the quarterfinals two of the last three years.

Rival up.

Last Night-

VCU (22-5, 12-2 Atlantic 10) beat Richmond (15-11, 9-5) 84-73 to complete a season-sweep of the Spiders.  The Rams hit 58% of their shots while sinking 7 of 14 three-pointers…and used a mid-game 15-0 run to take control.  JeQuan Lewis nets 16 points with 7 rebounds and 5 assists to lead the way while VCU holds T.J. Cline to 4-of-12 shooting.  The victory gives VCU a half-game lead in the A-10 (Dayton plays St. Bonaventure Saturday at 2) while the Spiders are in danger of dropping into a three-way tie for third (and they don’t own the tiebreaker with George Mason).

Alma Mater Update- so much for major momentum.  The Orange are saddled with a two-game losing streak and the distinct possibility of going to McDonough Arena for the NIT.  Over the final three weeks of the regular season they’ll face Georgia Tech twice (can’t escape that red-hot rivalry), host Duke and visit Louisville.  One thinks a 3-1 performance will keep them safely in Bubbleland.

Saturday-

1 p.m.

Virginia Tech (18-7, 7-6 ACC) at #8 Louisville (21-5, 9-4), ACC Network.  The Hokies followed up their improbably rally against Virginia with a gritty road victory at Pitt.  Up next?  Only the best defensive team in the conference:  the Cardinals rank second in points allowed and turnover margin while ranking third in rebounding margin.  Did I mention they’re tops at defending the three?  Tech has to deal with the season-ending injury to Chris Clarke;  the sophomore was arguably their best all-around player and contributed greatly in multiple areas of the game.  Buzz Williams’ bunch has their work cut out for them.

1:30 p.m.

Navy (15-12, 10-5 Patriot League) vs Army West Point (9-17, 3-11), CBS Sports Network.  The last time these two teams met?  How about a 96-80 overtime thriller where Shawn Anderson poured in 30 points for the Midshipmen.  Kennedy Edwards tallied a season-high 20 points for the Black Knights in that loss; Jordan Fox scored 17 to lead Army past Holy Cross in their most recent game.  The Midshipmen have lost two of three but are in the driver’s seat to host at least their conference quarterfinal game (the Patriot League uses a home-court system for its tournament).  The Black Knights are in position to also host a tournament game, but one in the dreaded first round as a #7 or #8 seed.

4 p.m.

George Mason (18-8, 8-5 Atlantic 10) vs Rhode Island (16-9, 8-5).  Could coach Dave Paulsen’s program be a year ahead of schedule?  One winter after going 5-13 in league play, the Patriots are pushing for a double-bye in the A-10 Tournament…and are fresh from beating Richmond by 23.  Senior Marquise Moore is making his candidacy for conference Player of the Year, averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds per game.  The Rams have lost two straight, including a perplexing defeat to Fordham where they shot just 30% while scoring 43 points (full disclosure:  Fordham is also the Rams so perhaps that led to confusion).  Doc Nix and the Green Machine will be waiting at Eagle Bank Arena.

6 p.m.

Howard (6-20, 3-8 MEAC) vs North Carolina A&T, (2-24, 0-11).  The Bison ended their slide at six straight losses by beating Morgan State (despite 21 turnovers).  The Aggies also won  recently, but their victim was NAIA-Division II Allen.  The closest A&T has come to a win in the league was a two point loss at Coppin State.  Charles Williams scored 30 points in the previous meeting this season (a 15-point Bison win);  the freshman has continued to play well in leading the team in scoring this winter.  James Miller scored 26 in that win-and the senior is going out in style, averaging 19 points per game this month.

8:15 p.m.

#14 Virginia (18-7, 8-5 ACC) at #10 North Carolina (22-5, 10-3).  These two schools tangled on a Saturday night in March last year in the ACC Tournament Final;  this game would be for first place if it weren’t for a two-game slide that saw the Cavaliers cough up a 14-point second half lead at Virginia Tech…followed by a tough loss at home to Duke.  The Tar Heels lead the conference in scoring while UVa allows the fewest points per game.  To the surprise of nobody on the planet, coach Roy Williams team is super-talented yet has multiple lapses over a 40-minute stretch.  Justin Jackson (6th in the ACC in scoring), Kennedy Meeks (4th in rebounding) and Joel Berry II (4 assists per game directing the offense) will provide the latest test for Tony Bennett’s top-notch defense.  The question again though-as has been the case all winter-is will London Perrantes get any help from an underperforming frontcourt?

Sunday-

12 p.m.

American (6-20, 3-12 Patriot League) vs Holy Cross (13-15, 7-8).  Wednesday’s loss at Lafayette dropped the Eagles from 8th to 10th in the conference…while the Crusaders are also cooling off.  Five losses in seven games has a one-time contender in the role of Patriot League pretender…but don’t tell that to coach Bill Carmody.  All he did after they finished 5-13 and in 9th place last March was win four games en route to the NCAA Tournament.  AU turned the ball over 23 times en route to a 63-55 loss the last time these two teams tangled.

George Washington (13-13, 5-8) at Duquesne (10-16, 3-10), NBC Sports Network.  The Colonials won the previous meeting this winter 65-63 thanks to shutting down the Dukes’ perimeter attack (4-of-21 from three-point range) while Tyler Cavanaugh tallied 11 points and 10 rebounds.  The senior’s heated up lately, posting three double-doubles in his last four games.  The road has been rough for GW during conference season:  the team’s lone win in seven games away from Smith Center was in nearby Fairfax against George Mason.

1 p.m.

#23 Maryland (22-4, 10-3 Big Ten) at #11 Wisconsin (21-5, 10-3), CBS.  Depending what happens with Purdue (also 10-3 in the conference) at Michigan State Saturday, this very well could be for first place (Boilermakers own tiebreakers with both teams).  Coach Mark Turgeon’s team is at its best when it’s defending well…while the Badgers allow the fewest points per game in the league.  Nigel Hayes was the Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year, but its actually Ethan Happ who’s making the difference this season.  The six-foot-ten sophomore is second in the conference in shooting percentage as well as steals, while ranking third in rebounding and tenth in blocks.  Happ leads Wisconsin in those categories as well as scoring and assists.  The Terrapin big men will have their hands full inside…while the Badgers’ guards will be tested by Melo Trimble (32 points against Northwestern) outside.  And the winner still might be chasing Purdue…

Georgetown (14-12, 5-8 Big East) at #20 Creighton (21-5, 8-5), Fox Sports 1.  Much like a candidate trying to work out Electoral College math to get to 270, the Hoyas faithful are trying to figure out what it would take-barring the automatic berth from winning the Big East Tournament-to get this team into the NCAA’s.  Conventional wisdom would say four wins in five regular season games (with no bad losses) followed by two more wins at Madison Square Garden to have even a prayer.  The Bluejays have been losing altitude since Maurice Watson Jr. went down for the season with a knee injury;  they’ve dropped four of seven while slipping from 7th in the nation to one bad loss away from being unranked.  The Hoyas held Creighton to 34% shooting and 1-for-18 from three-point range in a 20-point win last month;  they’ll have over a week to prepare for the Bluejays this time.