Archives for posts with tag: American

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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.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The college basketball world breathed a collective sigh of relief when Grayson Allen learned his lesson and returned to the Duke lineup for their bludgeoning of Georgia Tech.  After being suspended “indefinitely” for his third trip of an opposing player in less than a calendar year, the All-American sure learned his lesson this time.  I mean–even Bobby when taking out Daniel LaRusso’s leg in the All-Valley Karate Tournament was more apologetic (Dutch, a completely different story).  Johnny Lawrence would be proud with how the prized pupil of Durham’s Cobra Kai chapter handled himself in his return.  Just as by announcing the need for back surgery after the loss to Virginia Tech takes the focus off the Blue Devils’ loss in Blacksburg, the return of Grayson Allen after one game away sours those on the fence regarding the Blue Devils.  Just as the coach who publicly chastised an Oregon player in the handshake line after a loss now decides to teach his players “internally”, the phrase “double standard” once again begins and ends with a D.  A big, blue D.

 

Alma Mater Update-

How do you lose to Boston College?  Even though it was on the road, the Eagles don’t even try unless it’s hockey.  They even already have their “we can’t compete because of strict academic standards” speech ready for their eventual defeat.  As underwhelming as the ACC opener was, the win over Miami gave one hope.  At least until they play Pitt at noon Saturday.  It’s going to be one of those bubblicious seasons for SU-made worse because of the broom closet my Alumni Group has elected to watch games at in DC.  While the “Big Country Breakfast” is worthy of its name, one feels like they are in the middle seat on an airplane.  For future reference- use the restroom before tipoff.

Saturday’s games:

Noon-

Georgetown (8-7, 0-3 Big East) vs #18 Butler (13-2, 2-1).  The Hoyas haven’t started 0-4 in conference play since Hall of Fame coach John Thompson, Jr. retired midway through the 1998-99 season.  The Bulldogs are coming off a home win over top-ranked and defending national champ Villanova…so they might be ripe for the picking.  They’re also own the #1 turnover margin in the conference…while the Hoyas rank 9th and if there was a “costly turnover category” one feels they’d be leading that.  At least this game starts at noon instead of 11 a.m. like last week’s morning matinee with Xavier.

1pm-

VCU (12-3, 2-0 Atlantic 10) vs UMass (10-5, 0-2).  We could use the transitive property of basketball and say that because the Rams beat George Mason and the Patriots beat the Minutemen, Virginia Commonwealth is better than Massachusetts.  You could also go the Captain Obvious route and simply realize that VCU is better than UMass.  Just when the A-10 was getting used to a world without Melvin Johnson, freshman Samir Doughty tallies 23 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists in the Rams’ midweek win over Duquesne.  Meet the new boss…similar to the old boss.

2pm-

#21 Virginia Tech (12-2, 1-1 ACC) at #12 Florida State (14-1, 2-0).  The road will be cruel this winter in the Atlantic Coast Conference…as witnessed by the Hokies in their 104-78 loss at NC State where they allowed the Wolfpack to shoot 64% from the field.  It doesn’t get any easier…as the Seminoles lead the lead in shooting percentage and are second in the ACC in scoring.  Can Buzz Williams cook up a defense that can contain FSU’s Dwayne Bacon (18 points per game and less than a week removed from a game-winning three against Virginia)?

3:15 pm-

Maryland (13-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at Michigan (11-4, 1-1).  The Terps showed their fans the absolute ceiling (25-point thumping of Illinois) and floor (scoreless final 6:02 in a loss to Nebraska) for the upcoming conference season.  The Wolverines have been much more consistent, looking as equally underwhelming in their three-point loss at Iowa as they did in a three-point win at home against Penn State.  The maize and blue are also 13th in the Big Ten in rebounding margin and last in the league at defending the three-pointer.  With #25 Indiana coming to College Park Tuesday, this is a must-win from a standings, confidence and momentum standpoint for Melo Trimble and company.

5pm-

George Mason (11-4, 1-1 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (9-5, 1-1).  The Patriots held their own in their conference opener against VCU and played well in their victory over UMass…but will this translate to the road?  It’s been said that “defense and rebounding travel”…and Mason (led by Marquise Moore) leads the A-10 in rebounding margin.  The Bonnies boast the highest scoring offense in the conference and hit a league-best 38% of their three-pointers.  Junior Jaylen Adams is the A-10’s top scorer at 23 points per game and likely hasn’t forgotten last winter’s 3-for-16 shooting performance in Fairfax against GMU.

7pm-

Howard (3-12) at Columbia (5-7).  The Bison began MEAC play Wednesday with a 78=66 loss at home to Florida A&M.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that James Daniel played for the first time all season and the nation’s returning leading scorer tallied a team-high 24 points.  There’s more good news in the form of James Miller playing for the first time in eight games–netting 18 points.  Now that coach Kevin Nickelberry has his stars back, he needs to keep them healthy while finding the right combinations with the rest of a roster that’s shown plenty of talent.  This game is the final dress rehearsal for the preseason MEAC favorites.

Sunday-

12pm-

George Washington (9-6, 1-1 Atlantic 10) vs Richmond (8-6, 2-0). After making 11 of 18 three-pointers in their 73-69 win over Davidson Thursday night, the Colonials may find things a little stickier on the perimeter against the Spiders (2nd in the A-10 at defending the three).  GW continues to have issues taking care of the ball:  17 turnovers against the Wildcats didn’t help the school that’s last in the conference in turnover margin (Richmond is fourth-best in the league).  It’s a matchup of versatile big men in Tyler Cavanaugh against T.J. Cline- both average 17 points per game while being their team’s offensive focal point.  Richmond may be unbeaten in league play, but let the record show both of their A-10 wins have come against schools that are 0-2 in the early going.

2pm-

American (4-10, 1-2 Patriot League) at Lehigh (7-7, 1-2).  Both teams are coming off home losses…but the Eagles may be able to build off their 69-60 defeat to conference-leading Bucknell better than the Mountain Hawks in their attempted recovery from blowing an 18-point lead in a loss to Loyola (Md.).  AU freshman Mark Gasperini will have his hands full with two-time Patriot League Player of the Year Tim Kempton (21 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 38% from three-point range).  Sophomore Lonnie Rivera has the hot hand for the Eagles…although the 15 points he scored against the Bison were nine shy of equaling his total during Patriot League play last winter.  Thursday may be an isolated incident.

Navy (5-10, 0-3 Patriot League) vs Colgate (3-13, 1-2).  After dropping their first two conference games by a combined five points, the Midshipmen dropped the ball early and often Thursday against Boston University-turning the ball over 27 times during a 71-53 loss.  Coming into Annapolis is a red-hot freshman by the name of Will Rayman (averaging 22 points per game in conference play) and a team that actually has a better record on the road than on their own campus.  Okay, so 2-7 isn’t that much better than 1-6…but when you’re already ten games under .500 the first weekend in January you have to cook the books in some manner to highlight the possibilities.

8pm-

#11 Virginia (11-3, 1-2 ACC) vs Wake Forest (10-5, 1-2).  How crazy is the Atlantic Coast Conference season after one full week?  Entering Saturday’s games 10 of the 15 schools were 1-1.  The Cavaliers can ill afford to start 1-3 in league play…and they face a Demon Deacons team that is their defensive opposite.  While UVa  leads the conference in scoring defense and opponent’s field goal percentage, Wake ranks 13th in points allowed and 15th in opponent’s shooting.  They also don’t have the offensive weapons Florida State and Pitt possess.  Quietly, junior guard Devon Hall has scored in double figures in each of the Cavaliers’ ACC games…is that a three-game oasis or the start of a trend?