Archives for posts with tag: Atlantic 10

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Sometimes the street signs take your attention away from the road. Selection Sunday is less than four weeks away-and that means the annual elevation of “Bracketology”.  I used to do it as a kid with the weekly AP poll–and as a cottage industry it’s been around for about 20 years.  Where projecting the field was once the near-exclusive domain of ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, CBS, FOX and Yahoo! have gotten into the act as well.

And it’s not just an in-season thing:  you can find projected brackets as early as the week after the Final Four–updated over the summer! (seriously, people- go to the beach or do the crossword by the pool).  The women’s tournament even has ESPN’s Charlie Creme to set that field of 64.

So prepare to have each and every win and loss by the schools in the NCAA mix be talked about in terms of not what happened during the game, but how the result might move a  school up or down a line.  Or-heaven forbid- into the “First Four Out”, “Next Four Out” and “Further Four Farther Out”.  Sometimes it feels as though the analysts are more focused talking about the projected bracket shift than the actual game.

How do teams deal with the extra noise? Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said, “Well I know the guys watch it…the good thing is we’re being mentioned in it. But there’s so much basketball left-and we’re really trying to get better.”  After missing the NCAA Tournament and the NIT last March for the first time since 2014, the Terps are projected as a #6 seed by ESPN, CBS and FOX.   “The good thing is that we’re being mentioned that we’re going to be in it right now.” Turgeon said, “Now we’re not in it for sure–we’ve got work to do…but that’s a good sign that we’re headed in the right direction.”

For comparison, the networks have Virginia a #1 seed, Virginia Tech a #5 or #6, and VCU (taking the Atlantic 10 automatic bid) anywhere from a #9 to a #11.  Even Georgetown has been listed as one of the “First Four Out” on Yahoo! Sports’ latest bracket.  But not like anyone’s watching…just ask Mark Turgeon: “Of course I don’t pay attention to anything except my team-and watch film”.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange host #1 Duke three days after Zion Williamson sprained his knee…and the Blue Devil freshman won’t be playing Saturday.  Jim Boeheim will be coaching–just three nights after being involved in a car accident that killed a pedestrian on I-690.  One thinks of the deceased man’s family and friends at this time.

Saturday’s Games:

#3 Virginia (23-2, 11-2 ACC) at #18 Louisville (18-9, 9-5), 12 p.m., ACC Network.  Can the Cavaliers somehow win the conference despite getting swept by Duke?  The Blue Devils’ loss Wednesday to #8 North Carolina evens matters in the loss column, and who knows how long they’ll be without freshman phenom Zion Williamson (according to coach Mike Krzyzewski it’s a sprained knee)?  Duke’s finishing kick also involves three road games in Blacksburg, Chapel Hill and Syracuse.  Don’t tell Louisville about the Carrier Dome:  the usually potent Cardinals (fourth in the ACC in scoring) shot 26% while putting just 49 points on the board there Wednesday.  UVa has to contain forward Jordan Nwora, who notched a double-double against Duke and leads Louisville in scoring and rebounding.  A reasonable task for the top defensive team in the ACC.

#24 Maryland (20-7, 11-5 Big Ten) vs. Ohio State (17-9, 7-8), 2 p.m., ESPN.  The Terps took the January 18th matchup in Columbus by 15 despite 19 turnovers thanks to 20 points from Anthony Cowan Jr.; Tuesday the junior guard scored 17 points with a season-high 8 assists in a 66-65 win over #21 Iowa.  That victory was the first for the Terps on the road against a ranked foe since January 2008 when they upset then-#1 North Carolina.  The Buckeyes are 0-5 against ranked teams this winter-and are less than one week removed from scoring 13 points in the second half of a loss to #10 Michigan State.  But if scoring in the forties (they posted 44 in East Lansing) is a disease, then OSU most certainly passed it on to Northwestern in their 63-49 win Wednesday.

George Washington (8-18, 4-9 Atlantic 10) at VCU (20-6, 11-2), 2 p.m., ESPN+.  The Rams have won seven straight to go from underwhelming contender to perhaps a likely at-large contender-last year the A-10 received two such bids (Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure).  They also won the February 6th matchup between these two teams in Foggy Bottom by ten; it was a game where GW had 17 turnovers to 15 made baskets. D.J. Williams scored 16 points that night- he’ll need more help this time (his teammates shot 9-for-34 and 0-for-9 from three-point range that night).  The Colonials are coming off their first win in five games this month:  Maceo Jack tallied 20 points with 7 rebounds in the 79-67 win over UMass.  They’ll need more than Jack and Williams to play well Saturday.

Richmond (11-15, 5-8 Atlantic 10) at La Salle (8-17, 6-7), 2 p.m., ESPN+.  The Explorers took the February 2nd meeting 66-58 as Pookie Powell tallied 18 points; after a minor hiccup (a season-low two points in a loss last weekend to Saint Louis) Powell produced 20 in La Salle’s 62-60 loss to St. Bonaventure Wednesday.  First-year head coach Ashley Howard is less than a year removed from cutting down the nets as part of Villanova’s national championship staff; growing pains are to be expected in the A-10.  Just ask Chris Mooney, who posted losing seasons his first two years in Richmond.  Unfortunately the Spiders of the present are on the verge of a second straight losing season for the first time since 2006 (Mooney’s second season).  But they do head to Philly having won four of six.

Navy (9-17, 6-9 Patriot League) at Colgate (13-10, 10-5), 2 p.m., CBSSN.  While the Midshipmen’s game with Loyola of Maryland was pushed back a day due to the winter weather, the Raiders have been storming up the standings with a five game winning streak-a streak that includes victories over conference co-leaders Lehigh and Bucknell.  The Midshipmen took the January 3rd matchup in Annapolis by six on a day where they hit 45% of their shots (their season average is 31%).

Georgetown (16-10, 6-7 Big East) at Creighton (14-13, 5-9), 2:30 p.m., FOX.  The Hoyas’ 85-73 win over #17 Villanova was huge not just because it snapped a nine game losing streak to the Wildcats but it was also coach Patrick Ewing’s first victory against a ranked opponent in his head coaching career.  It was the best 40-minute effort of Ewing’s team this winter–on both ends of the floor.  The defense that’s coughed up points early and often?  Held Nova to 39% shooting and 24% from three-point range.  The offense that squandered double-digit leads?  Freshman James Akinjo notched nine assists to three turnovers while piloting the Big East’s highest scoring attack.  Getting from this win to the NCAA Tournament is a major leap, but at least 20 wins remains a possibility for Ewing’s second season at the helm.  The Bluejays have made the tournament each of the last two seasons; barring a major miracle that won’t happen this March for coach Greg McDermott’s team.  It’s been an aggravating slide, with two overtime losses plus a pair of two-possession defeats before their win over DePaul.

#20 Virginia Tech (20-6, 9-5 ACC) at Notre Dame (13-13, 3-10), 4 p.m..  The Hokies attempt to bounce back from another loss to Virginia, although this one was much closer than the 22-point drubbing they were dealt last month in Charlottesville.  How soon will Justin Robinson return from his foot injury?  The team is 3-3 this month without the senior guard, scoring more than 70 points just once.  They began league play the first weekend of January with a 15-point win over the Fighting Irish in Blacksburg.  Since that day things have not been ideal for Mike Brey’s team: their three league wins have come against sub-500 squads Boston College (twice) and Georgia Tech.

George Mason (15-11, 9-4 Atlantic 10) vs. Duquesne (17-9, 8-5), 4 p.m., ESPN+.   Both teams have lost three of their last five games while having the entire week to prepare for this battle for fourth place…and while each team still has five conference games remaining it’s never too early to think about playing for the double-bye in the upcoming A-10 Tournament (and even if it is, we’re already dissecting brackets for the Big Dance).  Mason has won four straight at home…while the Dukes’ Eric Williams Jr. has been heating up in February (shooting 51% from the field and 56% from three-point range).

Howard (12-15, 6-6 MEAC) at Coppin State (6-21, 6-6), 4 p.m.  The Bison play their final four games of the regular season on the road-and that might not be a bad thing.  R.J. Coles and company are 4-0 away from Burr Gymnasium in league play.  The Eagles have already won more games this winter than in coach Juan Dixon’s first season;  they’ll be hard-pressed to keep up with the most prolific offense in the MEAC-especially with a unit that ranks last in the conference in turnover and rebounding margin.

 

Sunday’s Game:

American (13-13, 7-8 Patriot League) at Army (12-16, 7-8), 2 p.m.  The Eagles can make the case for being the snakebitten area team of the month with three straight losses coming by two points.  This battle for fourth place carries extra weight because the Patriot League plays its tournament games on the campus of the higher seed.  AU beat the Black Knights 71-68 February 9th thanks to freshman Jacob Boonyasith’s 20 points:  that may have been an isolated incident, because in the three games since that afternoon the guard has scored a combined 19 points.

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Even with Maryland no longer in the ACC, there’s still a little residual disgust in and around the district towards a private school located in Durham, NC.  And with all of the people who have moved to the Washington area who brought their Yankees and Cowboys fandom with them, there’s a healthy Duke contingent in the area.  Beltway basketball fans, prepare of two months of dread–because the Blue Devils are likely en route to Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s sixth National Championship, turning this into the Duke Decade (they beat Butler in 2010 and edged Wisconsin in 2015).

Duke may not currently be #1 in the nation;  Tennessee has held the top spot since the Blue Devils’ loss to Syracuse and as the Volunteers haven’t lost since, let’s just say pollsters can act in a glacial manner when it comes to moving teams up and down.  But the team to beat and as well as the one everyone is talking about is Coach K’s collection of NBA-in-waiting freshmen Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Tre Jones.  They remind me of the 1998-99 Duke team (Elton Brand) that went unbeaten in the ACC and finished 37-2, dropping an early-season game to Cincinnati (during an era when Bob Huggins had the Bearcats in the top ten annually) and the National Championship game to UConn (Rip Hamilton was just a little too much).  Every time that Duke team took the floor you weren’t thinking they would win–you were wondering if it would be a blowout.

This year’s team is 7-1 against ranked foes;  last Saturday they went to Charlottesville and out-executed a #3 Virginia team that out-executes everyone–with Williamson’s skying- blocked shot the highlight burned into our minds.  The Blue Devils then turned around and rallied from 23 down in the second half at #16 Louisville.  While they still have #8 North Carolina twice on their schedule and visit #22 Virginia Tech, those who dislike Duke (and there are a few out there) are feeling some discomfort.  Especially with this year’s Final Four in Minneapolis–the site of their 2001 championship where the Blue Devils rallied from 22 down to beat Maryland in the semifinals.

Alma Mater Update- one rough road loss for the Orange at NC State that felt similar to their home defeat to Florida State the week before.  Another rally from an early deficit…and then running out of gas in the second half before another double digit defeat.  The 8-4 start in ACC play is nice, but after taking this weekend off SU plays #16 Louisville, #2 Duke and #8 North Carolina over a seven day period.  Gulp…

Saturday’s Games:

#24 Maryland (19-6, 9-4 Big Ten) at #6 Michigan (22-3, 11-3), 12 p.m., FOX.  The Terps head to Ann Arbor after their most impressive win of the season:  they rallied from 11 down in the first half to beat #12 Purdue 70-56, holding the Boilermakers to 17% shooting after intermission.  The Wolverines?  Steaming from a loss at Penn State (previously 1-11 in league play)…much like Dr. David Banner, you don’t want to make coach John Beilein’s team angry.  But Michigan can be beaten on the boards (the Nittany Lions outrebounded them by ten) and no team is better on the glass in the Big Ten this winter than Maryland.

George Washington (7-17, 3-8 Atlantic  10) at Duquesne (16-9, 7-5), 12 p.m., NBCSN.  Both teams have been sliding down the standings over the last few weeks: while the Colonials have lost six of seven the Dukes have dropped four of six, losing all four games by six points or less.  GW’s descent began January 20th when they fell at home 91-85 in overtime to Duquesne;  Michael Hughes led the Dukes with a season-high 21 points while Colonials big man Javier Langarica had 19 that day.  Their two paths have diverged since:  Hughes is hitting 64% of his shots this month while Langarica has made just 13-of-33 attempts since that afternoon.

#4 Virginia (21-2, 9-2 ACC) vs. Notre Dame (13-11, 3-8), 2 p.m., ACC Network.  The Cavaliers bounced back in fine fashion from their home loss to #2 Duke by beating #8 North Carolina two days later in Chapel Hill to improve to 6-2 against top 25 teams (the two losses coming to the Blue Devils).  The Fighting Irish’ 0-5 mark against ranked foes this season includes January 26th’s 82-55 loss to UVa in South Bend.  How sharp were the Cavaliers?  They committed just a pair of turnovers.  Irish junior forward John Mooney is averaging a double-double but isn’t getting a ton of help:  ND ranks 14th in the ACC in field goal percentage and 13th in rebounding margin.

Navy (8-16, 5-8 Patriot League) vs. Army (12-14, 7-6), 2:30 p.m., CBSSN.  The Midshipmen are 4-2 in Annapolis during conference play thus far while the Black Knights have lost four of five.  But they did beat the Mids in West Point last month by 11 as Navy’s offensive issues (10th in the Patriot League in scoring and shooting) emerged when they were held to 18% from three-point range.  Tommy Funk had 22 points that day for Army; after a drought where he was held to single-digit scoring in four of six games the junior appears to have regained his swagger by netting 17 in Wednesday’s win over Boston University.

American (13-11, 7-6 Patriot League) vs. Colgate (16-10, 8-5), 4 p.m.  The difference between third and fourth place in the conference is a 73-69 win by the Raiders January 6th in Hamilton, NY.  Sophomore guard Jordan Burns tallied 18 points with 6 rebounds and 10 assists that afternoon;  an ankle injury sidelined him for five games and he’s just getting back into rhythm–scoring 9 points on 2-of-13 shooting over the Raiders’ last two games.  AU is coming off a heartbreaking 86-84 loss at Bender Arena to Loyola (MD) where they were outscored 17-6 over the final three minutes of regulation and the Greyhounds’ winning points came thanks to free throws with one second left.

Howard (12-13, 6-4 MEAC) vs. North Carolina A&T (13-11, 8-2), 4 p.m.  Two straight wins move the Bison into the upper half of the league as R.J. Cole is fresh off of a season-high 32 points at Bethune-Cookman.  While Cole leads the league in scoring (and is 30th in Division I) with 21.2 points per game, junior Charles Williams isn’t far behind at 18.8.  The Aggies are focused more on quality than on quantity, ranking seventh in scoring while leading the MEAC in field goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio.  And they don’t have a player averaging even ten points per game.

VCU (18-6, 9-2 Atlantic 10) at Dayton (16-8, 8-3), 4 p.m., NBCSN.  Immovable object meets unstoppable force as the Rams allow the fewest points per game in the A-10 while the Flyers lead the league in scoring.  Defense prevailed in the January matchup as VCU won 76-71 as they held Dayton to one basket over the final four minutes of regulation.  Marcus Evans scored 17 points that night, including the Rams’ last seven points.  Flyers leading scorer Josh Cunningham scored 13–but is shooting 64% against VCU during his career.  Coach Mike Rhoades’ Rams are coming off of an 81-60 rout of Richmond that snapped a two game losing streak to the Spiders.

#12 Virginia Tech (19-5, 8-4 ACC) at Pitt (12-13, 2-10), 4:30 p.m., ACC Network.  The Hokies are one win shy of a fourth consecutive 20-win season, their longest such streak since the early 80’s against Charles Moir.  Coach Buzz Williams also knows they are less than a week removed from stubbing their toe at Clemson, and even though the Panthers have dropped eight straight let the record show their two conference wins have come against teams currently in the top 20 (Louisville and Florida State).  Tech remains the best three-point shooting team in the conference (42% from outside the arc) and is coming off a win over Georgia Tech where they notched 20 assists on 25 field goals.

Sunday’s Game:

George Mason (15-10, 9-3 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (10-14, 6-5).  If you’re desiring a compelling conference race as the regular season winds down, look no further than the A-10:  one game separates first from fourth place and a half game is the difference between sixth and ninth.  The Patriots needed late-game heroics at home to put away La Salle (a 14-7 finishing kick) and UMass (down four with a minute left in regulation).  The Bonnies have won four of six, losing only to A-10 co-leaders VCU and Davidson.  Mason took the January meeting after outscoring St. Bonaventure 26-9 over the game’s final ten minutes.  Justin Kier notched 15 points and 14 rebounds in the win, one of his seven double doubles this season.

 

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Maryland may have the upcoming weekend off game-wise but they can’t escape what is beginning to settle in the world of college hoops: the dog days of the regular season where conference play is no longer new, yet the postseason feels a year away.  Under coach Mark Turgeon the Terps have been known for February fades: in his eight years at the helm, only the 2014-15 team posted a better record in the second half of conference play than the first (that wasn’t always the case as his last three teams at Texas A&M each had better marks in the second half of Big 12 play).  How does the coach plan to keep this team rested but not rusty?  “We’ll take a little more time off,” Turgeon said, “but when we get together we’ll practice hard.”  They could use a breather after a Big Ten schedule that gave them 10 games over a 31-day stretch between January 2nd and February 1st.  “We take care of our bodies–I think really do that on a high level,” sophomore forward Bruno Fernando said, “Even on our days off we’re coming in here trying to do recovery as much as we can.”

Things get lighter this month:  after Wednesday’s win at Nebraska, seven games remain over the final five weekends of the regular season.  “This is where teams fold or where teams get better,” said sophomore guard Darryl Morsell, “we don’t want to be the team that folds this year.”  Last year’s team lost seven of eight road games after the new year;  this year’s edition is 5-1 on the road since conference play resumed.  And they’ll have six days off before #15 Purdue comes to College Park next Tuesday.  “It gives us more time to watch film, which is what we really need,” Turgeon said, “and I think down the stretch we’ll probably do a little more with film than we will on the floor.”  After finishing the first half of Big Ten play 7-3, the Terps have won two of three.  They’ll have more time off, but after the Boilermakers come to Xfinity Center the Terps visit #7 Michigan and #20 Iowa.  One rough/ruff road, indeed.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange began Tuesday’s game with #22 Florida State by getting outscored 36-14, rallied to within one point of the Seminoles, and then was outscored 34-17 the rest of the way.  Suffice it to say this is one streaky team…and the Louisville-Duke-UNC gauntlet is a couple of weeks away.  Hopefully coach Jim Boeheim won’t be tossing his jacket Saturday when Boston College comes to the Carrier Dome.  Bring on the bubble once more…

 

Saturday’s Games:

Georgetown (15-8, 5-5 Big East) vs. Butler (13-10, 4-6), 12 p.m.,

The Hoyas are coming off of their first sweep of Providence since the conference realigned thanks to dominating the glass (a 50-33 rebounding advantage).  Road court advantage has held lately in this series:  the Hoyas have won three in a row at Hinkle Fieldhouse (where the rims remain ten feet above the court) while the Bulldogs have won three straight in DC.  Coach Patrick Ewing’s team shot 55% from three-point range in the two team’s meeting January 2nd–and that was a game they played minus Mac McClung.  Kamar Baldwin was the only Butler starter to score in double figures that night, and the junior lit up the Hoyas for 31 points the last time he came to Capital One Arena.  For the record, two years ago these two teams went to overtime in Washington–and last year’s game went to double-OT.  We politely ask that if you’re attending the game not to make an early dinner reservation.

#11 Virginia Tech (18-4, 7-3 ACC) at Clemson (14-8, 4-5) 12 p.m., ESPN2.  The Hokies come a home loss to Louisville where they allowed more points in the first 13 minutes than they did in 40 minutes at NC State.  Seriously, the Wolfpack sent the game back to the 19th century by shooting 9-for-54 and resembling teams playing the cartoon Harlem Globetrotters. The Tigers’ win over Georgia Tech Wednesday was its first on the road in league play and their third straight–but before you start looking at first and second round NCAA sites, remember the Yellowjackets are 3-7 in league play and the other two wins in the streak have come against Pitt and Wake Forest (a combined 4-16 in the ACC).

American (12-10, 6-5 Patriot League) at Army (11-13, 6-5), 2 p.m.  Two of the league’s three 6-5 teams get to this point from opposite directions:  AU has won four of five while the Black Knights have dropped three straight.  Despite having the conference’s best rebounder in Matt Wilson (8.6 boards per game), Army ranks seventh in the league on the glass.  The Eagles received a nice boost from Patriot League Freshman of the Week Jacob Boonyasith last week, only to see the guard experience growing pains (2 points on 1-6 shooting in the loss at Navy) this week.

VCU (16-6, 7-2 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (9-13, 5-4), 2 p.m. CBSSN.  Double-digit wins over George Mason and George Washington put the Rams one game out of first place in the conference at the halfway mark;  unfortunately they won’t play league-leading Davidson again in the regular season (the Wildcats took the January matchup at Belk Arena).  The Bonnies have won three of four, but losing three players to graduation and three more to transfer have forced coach Mike Schmidt to lean on freshman Kyle Lofton big-time this winter (the guard’s 38 minutes per game leads the A-10).

Howard (10-13 4-4 MEAC) at Florida A&M (9-14, 6-2), 4 p.m.  The Bison take to the floor for the first time since blowing a 24-point lead to Norfolk State in an 80-78 loss that saw a postgame scuffle brew out of the handshake line.  Three players will be suspended: Princewill Anosike, Jalen Jones and Andre Toure-of which only Anosike averages over 15 minutes per game this season.  The Rattlers provide a metaphorical one-two punch in being the best three-point shooting team in the MEAC while also allowing the second-fewest points per game in the league.  They also beat Howard in DC by ten January 5th thanks in part to turning them over 20 times.

Navy (8-14, 5-6 Patriot League) at Lehigh (15-7, 8-3), 4:30 p.m.  Consecutive wins over Loyola (MD) and American take the Mids from flirting with last place to one game out of third in the conference.  The Mountain Hawks are coming off of a loss to Colgate where they turned the ball over 21 times.  Lehigh did take the January matchup in Annapolis as senior Lance Tejada hit five three-pointers en route to 22 points.  The Mids need to get Evan Wieck the ball more:  the junior leads the Patriot League in field goal percentage (.708) but takes under five shots per game.

#3 Virginia (20-1, 8-1 ACC) vs #2 Duke (20-2, 8-1), 6 p.m., ESPN.  The Cavaliers were done no favors when the league schedule their home game with the Blue Devils two days before a roadtrip to North Carolina.  The makeup call?  Seven days to prepare for Coach K’s crew.  The meeting in Durham saw the two teams combine to shoot 67% from inside the arc and 5-for-31 (16) from three-point range.  Can UVa find a way to contain Zion Williamson & RJ Barrett (the duo tallied 57 points on 21-of-35 shooting)?  And will point guard Ty Jerome’s back (he sat out the Miami win) be good enough for him to keep pace with the healthy Tre Jones (14 points and 5 assists per game since his return from injury)?

George Washington (7-15, 3-6 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (9-14, 3-7), 6 p.m.  Good news for those who enjoyed the A-10 Tournament at Capital One Arena last March- the league’s postseason tourney returns to DC in 2022.  Even with none of the local schools reaching the weekend it was a great five days, with just one blowout (naturally the late Friday 3-vs-6 Quarterfinal) and a thrilling Final (Davidson upsetting Rhode Island 58-57).  The January meeting between these two schools saw the Spiders win by 20.  While rebounding (Richmond held a 38-25 edge on the glass) was a major factor that day, the major mismatch between these schools is ball security:  GW ranks 12th in the league in turnover margin while the Spiders’ Jacob Gilyard leads the conference in steals.

Sunday’s Game:

George Mason (13-10, 7-3 Atlantic 10) vs La Salle (7-14, 5-4), 2 p.m.  The Explorers are attempting to be this year’s Richmond:  last winter the Spiders bounced back from a 2-10 non-conference mark to post a .500 record in league play and almost upset NCAA Tournament at large team St. Bonaventure in the Quarterfinals.  The Patriots are trying to avoid becoming this year’s VCU:  the Rams lost six of eight last February to finish without a winning record for the first time since they joined the A-10.  Mason’s coming off a disaster in Richmond where they turned the ball over 20 times and allowed 57% shooting.  La Salle has won four straight–but those victories have all come against the bottom four schools in the league.

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

 

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

 

Friday’s Game:

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

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

 

Saturday’s Games:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sunday’s Game:

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

 

 

 

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

 

Friday’s Game:

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

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

Saturday’s Games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sunday’s Game:

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

 

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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.

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Welcome to the cordial Commonwealth.  Okay, so Virginia-Virginia Tech and Richmond-VCU aren’t exactly polite affairs.  To the Cavaliers and Spiders, the Hokies and Rams will always represent the new kids on their respective conference block–even though Virginia Tech is the ninth most senior member out of 15 ACC schools and VCU has dominated the A10 since joining.  VCU and Richmond can show off their Cinderella runs, from the Spiders upset of Syracuse (first time ever a #15 seed beat a #2) to the Rams run from the “First Four” to the Final Four seven years ago.  And the ACC duo can try to conceal scars from Tournaments past, from the Hokies landing on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble four straight years to the Cavaliers loss as a #1 seed to #16 UMBC this past March (for those living under a rock, the first time that happened in the men’s tournament).  It just gets fun when these schools play one another.  For those curious, days of reckoning this winter are January 19th in Charlotte, February 18th in Blacksburg, as well as February 13th and May 2nd in Richmond.

 

Virginia- the Cavaliers bring back plenty of talent (not just one, but three players named Preseason all-ACC), lofty expectations (5th nationally including a pair of first-place votes), and the Elephant in the Room from this past March.  UVa’s had March meltdowns in the past under coach Tony Bennett, but losing multiple times to Michigan State or slipping to a double-digit seeded Syracuse pales in comparison to coming undone in the second half to UMBC after entering the Big Dance as the tournament’s #1 overall seed.   You may have heard that a top seed had never lost to a #16…until last year.   So those ghosts will make a reappearance in March.

Until then, Virginia has to compete in an ACC that boasts five other schools in the Top 25.  Thank goodness they have Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter back.  Guy despite cutting his famed man-bun averaged 14 points while shooting 39% from three-point range as a sophomore.  Jerome led the Cavaliers with 20 points in the opening-night win over Towson while Hunter notched a double-double against the Tigers.  Back for one more go-around is six-foot-10 New Zealand enigma Jack Salt:  the big man made 64% his shots last winter but over the season had 10 more personal fouls than made baskets.

 

Virginia Tech- the Hokies are coming off of consecutive NCAA Tournament berths for the first time since 1986.  They also begin the year ranked 15th, the school’s highest ranking since the 1995-96 season.  How huge is this turnaround that coach Buzz Williams has undertaken?  Last year’s 10-8 ACC mark was the third straight year the Hokies had finished with double-digits in conference wins–something that had never previously happened in program history.  They reached postseason play perhaps a year early in 2016 and made the NCAA Tournament a year before everyone thought they would the next March;  does this current team have what it takes to advance to the second weekend of the tournament?

Preseason All-ACC second teamer Justin Robinson returns for his senior season;  last winter he notched 20 points and 7 assists in the Hokies’ 61-60 overtime win at Virginia.  Six-foot-ten forward Kerry Blackshear (13 points and 6 rebounds per game as a sophomore) looks to be the main threat inside;  he’ll need to take a bigger role on the boards at returning leading rebounder Chris Clarke was suspended indefinitely from the team last week.  That vacuum might mean bigger things sooner for four-star recruit Landers Nolley II.

 

 

VCU- coach Mike Rhoades’ first season was rather un-Ramish.  For the first time since 2000 (and their days in the CAA), VCU did not post a winning conference record.  Instead of playing for an Atlantic 10 Tournament championship like they had the previous five years they were in the league, the Rams and their throng of fans headed home from Capital One Arena Friday afternoon following a loss in the quarterfinals.  VCU was picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10:  not as bad as it sounds when one realizes there are 14 schools in the A-10, but nowhere near what this program is accustomed to.

Isaac Vonn had 16 points with 8 rebounds in the Rams’ 69-57 season-opening win over Gardner-Webb.  Mike’L Simms was the only other player to score in double figures.  Six-foot-six guard Vince Williams could be the impact player needed if VCU is going to play its way back to the Atlantic 10’s top-tier and return to forcing its fans to stay in Brooklyn (site of this year’s A-10 Tournament) into the weekend.

 

Richmond- the Spiders also had an off-year, and much more drastic than their cross-town rivals.  The first losing campaign in 11 years saw a nightmarish 2-10 start only matched in surprise by a 9-9 league finish.  But Chris Mooney’s team beat VCU twice and was also the last local (GW, GMU & VCU) school standing when they gave St. Bonaventure all they could handle in Friday’s quarterfinal.  Not like that sort of thing doesn’t get noticed the Commonwealth’s capital.

First Team All-Atlantic 10 center Grant Golden is back.  The junior posted a double-double in an overtime loss to Georgetown–the Spiders visit the Hoyas November 28th.  Jacob Gilyard is the primary triggerman in the motion-offense;  junior Nick Sherod went from eight to 14 points per game last winter and will be a factor on the perimeter this season.

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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.

So much for the “Beltway Basketball Bonanza”.  None of the schools in and around the beltway made the NCAA Tournament- and the area is Marchless for the first time since 1978.  Not even an NIT bid!  So the as the winter of our discontent concludes…we move on to being interested observers of the Madness.

Atlantic 10 Tournament Thumbnails- despite being one of those five-day affairs that are the result of leagues ballooning to 14+ teams where fans don’t get to see the #1 team in the conference until the seventh game of the week, the A-10 put on a pretty good show at Capital One Arena.  Eleven of the 13 games were competitive and only the Davidson-Saint Louis Friday night 3 vs 6 game was bad from the beginning.  While the four local schools didn’t reach the weekend, each team posted a victory before being bounced.  And we got a nail-biter of a victory by Davidson on Sunday where the Wildcats won despite going over 13 minutes without a basket.  Deservedly, three schools advance to the Big Dance (truth be told I was a little nervous about St. Bonaventure after their semifinal loss).  And while the media dining wasn’t as elegant as two years ago when the ACC rolled into town (nobody does the tournament like the Cadillac of Conferences), it was MUCH better than the Big Ten last March.  Here’s hoping we get the Atlantic 10 back in Washington sooner rather than later.

Selection Show Thoughts- well, it was definitely different.  TBS took the reins and kind of fell flat, from a studio audience that wasn’t necessary to naming the at-large teams in alphabetical order.  Hopefully that’s a one-year experiment.  It doesn’t help that they force announcers on us who don’t cover the college game and expect us to buy into their expertise.  Would you take Jim Spanarkel or Bill Raftery seriously if they jumped on board for the NBA Playoffs?  The easy solution for this would be if TBS simply had a game of the week (hello, Southeast Conference).  You could rotate Charles & Kenny in with a regular college hoops analyst in the studio, have Ernie’s March backup be the primary host and voila–Turner could swat down any accusations about how they don’t devote one second of effort until March.

Bracket Racket- I was surprised to see a 15-loss Alabama, an Oklahoma team that lost 11 of its last 15 games and a Syracuse squad that went 8-10 in the ACC (and that’s with two wins over Pitt) make the field.  Who was robbed?  Oklahoma State went 2-1 against the Sooners and swept Kansas.  USC finished second in the Pac-12 and played in the conference championship game.  Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary’s were sent to the NIT despite rolling up gaudy win totals.

Planting Seeds- nothing really egregious, although it is amusing to see North Carolina and Duke no matter where they finish in the national rankings find their way to a #2 seed.  Midwest #1 Kansas starts in Wichita and plays the regional at Omaha?  Just remember last year the Jayhawks lost in Kansas City.  Overall number one Virginia has a less than appetizing potential Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky or Arizona.  The biggest question is how will the four Big Ten schools in the bracket fare with at least ten days off- and Ohio State will take to the court Thursday having played just once in 20 days.

Destination Dayton, or Here Comes the First Four!- at least they’re not referring to it as the “first round” anymore.  Somehow there is sanity somewhere in the NCAA.  Eight schools fly to the middle of the country to play one game…and then four of them fly to other cities to play two days later.  At least three of the four cities aren’t too far from Dayton:  Pittsburgh, Detroit and Nashville are all short hops (Dallas being the exception).  Part of being in the tournament is BEING IN THE TOURNAMENT.  That means rubbing shoulders with the other members of the sub-regional.  In a perfect world we’d have only 64 teams in the tournament;  in a world I wouldn’t mind I’d settle for sending the two play-in schools to that weekend’s subregional site while still having them play there on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Coming up Wednesday- Bold, Fold and Gold Picks…

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Of all years for the Atlantic 10 Tournament to come to DC.  Honestly.  The closest school to Capital One Arena, George Washington, is the 11th seed and might be saying goodbye just as the rest of the league is saying hello.  Fifth seeded George Mason owns a losing record overall, while seventh seeded Richmond is almost guaranteed to have its first sub-500 campaign since 2007.  Thank goodness for VCU…what’s that?  The Rams drop by the district having lost six of nine that includes a 24 point loss at GW?  Rough winter…

Virginia Commonwealth drops by the district with a 17-14 mark–its most losses since Mack McCarthy was guiding the program in 2001.  The last time the Rams failed to win 20?  The 9-9 conference mark is its first non-winning league record since 2000. While previous debut seasons have provided major splashes (Shaka Smart’s 2010 team won the CBI while Anthony Grant’s 2007 club bounced Duke in the NCAA Tournament), former Rams assistant Mike Rhoades’ initial campaign at VCU has been more of a kerplunk.

But the Rams boast a pair of seniors who have known nothing but success- forward Justin Tillman and guard Jonathan Williams have played in three straight A-10 Championship Games (actually, VCU has played for the title every year since joining the conference in 2012-13.  Tillman led the conference with 9.7 rebounds per game and was fifth in the league in scoring (18.9);  he enters the tournament on a roll with five straight double-doubles.  Williams led the Atlantic 10 with 5.7 assists per game while being the catalyst defensively (11th in steals) for the Rams.  Will they get the necessary help from sophomore Di’Riante Jenkins, whose 41.7% accuracy from three-point range ranked 4th in the league but had issues shooting and taking care of the ball in losses down the stretch?

As the #8 seed the Rams face Dayton in the Thursday’s Second Round.  They split the regular season series with the Flyers, losing 106-79 on the road in January (they were down 66-40 at the half) while needing overtime to win 88-84 at home last month (Justin Tillman scored 37 points–including seven of the Rams’ nine in OT).  A potential battle of bigs could emerge as Dayton forward Josh Cunningham leads the A-10 in shooting (.646), but the 6-foot-7 junior has been held to 50 points over his last five games.  Defense may prove to be the difference, as the Flyers hit 63% of their shots while turning the ball over just 11 time in the January win while hitting 44% from the field with 19 turnovers in the February meeting.  Can the Rams dial up a little Shaka Smart/Will Wade/Anthony Grant inspired havoc?