Archives for posts with tag: big east

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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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January means more than resolutions, a new calendar and writing the wrong year on your checks (for the record, I’m still writing “2016”).  College basketball transitions from holiday/tropical tournaments, cupcake games and the random worth-watching showdown into conference play (I know, Maryland played two Big Ten games early last month and most everybody else got their first league games in over the final weekend of December)…which can be jarring for some schools that played super-easy non-conference schedules (Georgetown, anybody?).  Can the guy who scored 25 against Gardner-Webb do the same thing against other teams of similar skill level?  For the area schools the two-games-a-week rhythm starts against the usual suspects:  league foes.  The march to March begins in earnest…with more than a few roadblocks for schools in and around the beltway.

 

Maryland (13-4, 2-1 Big Ten)- the Terps played a pair of December conference games (the league is ending its regular season February 25 so they can play the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden the week before the Big East own MSG) and entered January ranked second in the league in rebounding margin.  That might not last as their frontcourt suffered two major setbacks over the last week, losing forwards Justin Jackson (labrum) and Ivan Bender (knee) for the season.  After surviving at home against Penn State, the Terps lost at #1 Michigan State 91-61.  The duo of Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan scored 42 points on 13-of-27 shooting while the rest of the team combined to hit 7-of-26 shots.  With Jackson done for the year, the firm of Huerter & Cowan badly need a new associate.

Bully on the Block:  #1 Michigan State.  The Spartans blew away the Terps while notching 30 assists on 32 field goals–it’s no surprise they lead the nation with 21.7 assists per game and their average margin of victory is 26 points.  They also come to College Park Sunday January 28th.

Georgetown (11-3, 1-2 Big East)- the Hoyas began conference play by blowing a 20-point first half lead in an overtime loss to Butler.  Cue critics of their soft non-conference slate (five opponents outside of the top 320 in the RPI).  Naysayers during the 10-1 start also pointed to the Hoyas propensity to turn the ball over.  Cute 25 turnovers in their loss to Marquette.  That Patrick Ewing’s team was able to hold off multiple rallies by DePaul in a 90-81 win at the Blue Demons was a step in the right direction;  and over the next three weeks they’ll play DePaul again and face St. John’s twice.  Jessie Govan’s 25 points and 12 rebounds was a nice turnaround from the first two league games where he shot 9-of-25, turned the ball over 7 times and picked up 5 fouls.  But regardless of the competition and the outcome, the junior still rebounds well.  They’ll need that against Creighton Saturday as the Blue Jays lead the Big East in shooting.

Bully on the Block: #3 Villanova.  The Wildcats are the Hoyas’ nearest neighbor-but the two programs couldn’t be further apart this decade.  Since the new Big East was formed, Nova is 64-10 in conference play while Gtown has had just one season where they’ve lost fewer than 10 league games.  The snappily-dressed Jay Wright brings his team to DC January 17th.

 

#8 Virginia (13-1, 2-0 ACC)– the Cavaliers escaped upset by beating Boston College by one at home before crushing Virginia Tech 78-52 in Blacksburg.  Ty Jerome followed up a career-high 31 points against the Eagles with 13 points and 5 assists against the Hokies.  But the story as it usually is with UVa was stellar defense, one that held the conference’s best-shooting team to 36% from the field and 17% from three-point range.  Even big man enigma Jack Salt had more points than fouls (6 to 4).  There’s little time to celebrate because coach Tony Bennett’s team hosts a #12 North Carolina team that’s smarting from a one-point loss at Florida State.

Virginia Tech (11-4, 0-2 ACC)- the Hokies entered the new year with the highest scoring offense in the league…only to score a season-low 56 points in a loss at Syracuse before being held to another season-low at home against their in-state rivals (note how I don’t refer to the Hokies as the Cavs’ rival, they’re particular about such things in Charlottesville).  Two offensive nightmares to start conference play-and not a lot of time to sort things out with the 9 p.m. tipoff Wednesday and noon start Saturday.  At least both are at home–but after playing last-place Pitt this weekend they’re either on the road or facing a ranked team for the rest of the month.  Who put this schedule together?

Bully on the Block:  #2 Duke.  The Blue Devils may have lost to Boston College, but this winter’s edition features the most highly rated newcomer in Marvin Bagley III and the most hated veteran in Grayson Allen.  Bagley’s playing just well enough to make everybody forget Allen’s tripping history.  The Blue Devils face Virginia Tech twice (February 14th and 26th) while Virginia plays the conference and national favorites just once (January 27th).  Come to think of it, the Cavaliers also play #8 Miami, #12 North Carolina, #24 Florida State and #25 Clemson just once as well.  Seriously, who MAKES this schedule?

Alma Mater Update- as sharp as the Orange (12-3, 1-1) looked in their win over Virginia Tech, things came undone late in their 73-67 loss at Wake Forest.  The Demon Deacons hit 47% of their threes–many of which were open–and SU was also beaten on the boards for the first time all season.  But what’s most important was losing the chance to snare a road victory in the ACC-the inability to win on the road last year (2-8 in true road games) cost the Orange an NCAA Tournament berth.  Trips to #8 Virginia and 24th ranked Florida State loom next week.

 

George Washington (8-7, 1-1 Atlantic 10)- the Colonials missed a chance to start league play 2-0 for the first time since 2015, losing 69-52 at Duquesne Wednesday.  A two-possession game with 13:55 left turned sour as the Dukes held GW to three field goals over the next 11 minutes and went on a 19-5 run to seal the game.  The opportunity missed turns into one tough task at hand:  defending conference champ Rhode Island visits Foggy Bottom Saturday before GW plays four of its next five games on the road.

George Mason (7-8, 1-1 Atlantic 10)- the Patriots rallied to win at UMass in overtime despite blowing a 10-point lead in the second half and going scoreless for the final 1:02 of regulation.  Instead, senior Otis Livingston II scored 9 of his 33 points in the extra session (while notching a pair of steals) in Mason’s 80-72 victory.  Livingston and Jaire Grayer are the two lone upperclassmen in the rotation this year, although freshman Goanar Mar and sophomore Justin Kier have been pleasant surprises.  Sunday Davidson drops by Eagle Bank Arena in the first of three straight games at home the Patriots will play against schools currently with losing records.

VCU (9-6, 1-1 Atlantic 10)- the highest-scoring offense in the conference couldn’t outscore St. Joseph’s, falling in overtime 87-81.  The Rams were haunted by 20-20 vision:  they shot 20.7% from three-point range while also turning the ball over 20 times.  Justin Tillman tallied his fourth consecutive double-double (22 points and 12 rebounds), but his game-winning three that fell at the end of regulation was launched just after time ran out.  The Rams try to recover this weekend at LaSalle, one of ten teams to start 1-1 in A-10 play (there are 14 schools in the league).

Richmond (3-11, 1-1 Atlantic 10)- yes, it does feel like EVERYBODY is 1-1 in league play.  Even a Spiders team that struggled for much of the first two months of the season.  And shocker of all shockers, UR’s game at Fordham went into overtime before they lost 69-65.  Hope is not lost-as the team that ranked second to last or last in the A-10 in points allowed, opponents field goal percentage, defending the three and rebounding margin actually defended and rebounded well against the Rams and Davidson.  Some teams take longer to come together and that might be the case here.

Bully on the Block: Rhode Island.  The Rams’ top four scorers are seniors from last year’s 25-10 team that reached the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.  If they make their way back to the big dance, prepare to be shocked when the URI is “randomly” paired with Arizona State (and coach Dan Hurley’s brother Bobby).

 

American (3-10, 0-2 Patriot League)- the Eagles were within one point of Colgate at 58-57 with 4:47 left, but AU shot 1-for-7 with 6 turnovers to end the game and the Raiders pulled away to win at Bender Arena 72-63.  You think the weather has been rough this week?  It’s been one difficult winter for American- who rank 9th or 10th in the conference in just about every major category (exceptions include 3rd in defending the three-pointer and 8th in points allowed).  Sa’eed Nelson and company try to post a full 40 minutes Friday at Navy.

Navy (10-5, 1-1 Patriot League)- the Midshipmen bounced back from an opening day loss to top Lehigh 78-66 Tuesday.  On a night where leading scorer Shawn Anderson shot 3-for-12, George Kiernan scored a career-high 27 points that included 4-of-7 three-point shots against the Mountain Hawks.  He also grabbed a season-high 7 rebounds, and for a Mids team that leads the conference in rebounding a great effort on the glass can keep you on the floor longer than a shooting streak.  The schedule is set up for a strong start with six of the first nine league games taking place in Annapolis.  American comes to campus Friday.

Bully on the Block:  Bucknell.  The Bison were picked to win the league behind senior Zach Thomas who only came back better (23 points, 9 rebounds and 49% from three-point range).  Despite the home loss to Boston University and sub-500 record, they remain the league standard as they attempt to reach the postseason for the fourth straight season.  They visit Navy January 24th and wrap up the regular season at American February 24th (Bucknell opened league play with an 84-55 thumping of AU last Friday).

 

Howard (3-14, 0-1 MEAC)- the Bison began league play with an 84-76 loss at Florida A&M, a 15-loss team whose previous win this season was against non-Division I school Albany (GA) State.  Somehow I’m feeling I’m not going to be buying into the Bison this winter.  How do you spoil a 30-point effort by freshman phenom RJ Cole?  By coughing up 50 points in the second half to a foe that ranks 346th in the nation in scoring.  That said, the MEAC is a tough league to figure out in early January because most schools play a heavy diet of paycheck games, which results in all 13 schools owning losing records entering league play and nine teams with 10+ losses.  The Friday-Monday schedule has Howard at home this weekend against Bethune-Cookman and Hampton.

Bully on the Block:  Morgan State .  The Bears were picked to win the league and is 5-9 after edging Maryland-Eastern Shore in its conference opener.  They have sophomore Tiwian Kendley who’s 30.3 points per game would lead the nation if he had played enough games to qualify.  Despite being just up the road in Baltimore, Morgan State plays Howard just once this winter- February 5th in the Charm City.

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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.

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In 1981, Patrick Ewing was the perfect fit for Georgetown.  The highly-recruited center tuned the Hoyas from one of the better Big East schools into a powerhouse:  three Final Fours, a national championship and near-misses in two of the more memorable title tilts.  Thirty-two years after last wearing the signature gray t-shirt underneath his jersey, Ewing tries to bring his school back from what has been a rough couple of years.  Consecutive 18-loss campaigns.  Early exits at the Big East tournament.  Defeats to lowly DePaul.  Roughly 5,000 fans on hand at Verizon Center for the St. John’s game.  There’s work to be done.

Say goodbye to the “Princeton Offense”, run by John Thompson III.   Ewing said, “it’s going to be a blend of the NBA style and also the style that we played here at Georgetown in terms of pressing and being up the floor-all that stuff in my years here.”  Music to the ears of the fans who watched the Hoyas finish last in the Big East in steals and turnover margin in 2016-17.  He’ll have a revamped roster to work with as only two of his top six scorers are back from last winter.  Ewing does have a big man at his disposal:  6-foot-10 forward Jessie Govan.  “Jessie is one of the keys to our success,” Ewing said, “If he does not have step up and have a great year for us we won’t be successful.  I’ve put a lot on his plate.”  To say the least.  The junior forward averaged 10 points per game last winter and was tied for the team lead in rebounding…does he feel any pressure in practice dealing with the best big man in school history?  “I mean–not pressure.  I just gotta listen to everything he says,” Govan said, “because everything he says is with a purpose.  I’m just listening to everything he says and then going out there to do my thing.”  Govan’s thing is pretty good when he hits his stride: he scored 23 points and 8 rebounds against NCAA-bound Marquette last February.  But he posted just a pair of double-doubles last winter- neither occurring in Big East play.

Govan will have help.  Fellow junior Marcus Derrickson expects to build off a sophomore year that began with a bang: the Bowie, Maryland native averaged 15 points over first five Big East games last winter.  Unfortunately he posted just a pair of double-digit efforts the rest of the way.  “I know going into this season and coming out of last year I have a lot to work on,” the 6-foot-7 forward said, “I had to get in better shape and just improve my overall game.  Coming into college and not winning for two years really motivated me to push myself so I can win this year.”  Former Ole Miss recruit JaMarko Pickett will also be in the mix…and while they won’t make anybody forget the days of Ewing and Michael Graham, they should be able to hold their own inside this winter.

Potential producers on the perimeter are guards Jagan Moseley (second in assists as a freshman) and former Juco Transfer Jonathan Mulmore.  There’s help at the point in the form of graduate transfer Trey Dickerson (South Dakota) and freshman Jahvon Blair.  Greg Malinowski is a graduate transfer from William & Mary where he shot 40% from three-point range last season.

The schedule has few speedbumps–a November 25th trip to Richmond an a December 16th game against Syracuse (even with all of their issues the last two winters, John Thompson III’s team was able to beat the Orange).  Big East play begins with Butler December 27th.  The Hoyas also play DePaul, Marquette and Creighton before finally facing a conference foe that was in the league when Ewing was a player–at St. John’s on January 9th.  I think there might be more than 5,158 at Capital One Arena when the Red Storm drop by the District January 20th.

Ewing returns to campus after being an assistant coach in the NBA for the last 15 years.  He’s never been a head coach anywhere and has never coached in the college game–until now. “We’ll just take it day by day, step by step, laying the foundation and we’ll see what happens in the future.”  For those who grew up on Hoya Paranoia in the 1980’s, #33 remains one final attempt to return to the program’s “Camelot”- after the hires of Craig Esherick and John Thompson III each saw early success before eventually meeting failure. “You know, everyone was wearing the Georgetown starter jacket.  From the east coast to the west coast.  People in the movies were wearing it.  I think all that showed how dominant we were,” Ewing said.  The long road back begins November 12th against Jacksonville.

Penthouse Prediction:  Ewing gets through to Govan who becomes a beast.  A soft non-conference schedule allows this team to find its feet before the conference wars.  They take their lumps, especially in Big East play, but shock the world with a win or two and make the NIT.  Of course they beat Syracuse.  And of course Jim Boeheim whines during his press conference.

Worst Case Scenario:  the career NBA assistant takes a little longer than expected to get in gear with the college game.  Govan turns out more like Brandon Hayes than Greg Monroe.  The perimeter players cobbled together aren’t able to gel.  A 20-loss season is punctuated by obnoxious orange-clad fans telling the Capital One Arena crowd what time it is on December 16th.

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Sport’s most important regular season kicks off this weekend as the tradition of college football is like none other–hold on, the season actually began last weekend?  With a game in Sydney, Australia?  In a sport where shifting criteria used by a 12-member committee determines a 4-team playoff field and a conference doesn’t even need to have divisions to have a Championship Game (thank you, Big 12), it almost makes sense.  In a world where tradition is trumpeted yet leagues change membership like shirts and schools have 75 different uniform combinations, college football is the fickle mistress that dazzles us one moment while confounding us the next.  She knows we’ll be back–and we are once again.  Special thanks to #2 Ohio State for rallying past Indiana Thursday–you saved me from having to completely rewrite my opening thoughts to the season.  And good luck next week against 7th ranked Oklahoma.

Alma Mater Update- Excuse me?  The Orange are playing a Friday night game?  Didn’t we leave the Big East to avoid garbage like this?  SU entertains Central Connecticut State as Dino Babers begins his second season resurrecting the once-proud program.  Hopefully the defense will be better than the one that surrendered 76 points to Pitt (the Panthers men’s basketball team averaged 73 points in two games against the 2-3 zone).  The offense has a heralded quarterback in true freshman Tommy DeVito, who depending on your age and influences either reminds you of “Goodfellas”, or “Jersey Boys”.  Hopefully he’s redshirted–let’s hang on to the eligibilty he’s got.  If he isn’t redshirted, brace yourself for Joe Pesci and Four Seasons references early and often this fall.

Friday-

Navy at Florida Atlantic, 8 p.m., WFED 1500 am and ESPNU.  In our preseason preview I marveled at how coach Ken Niumatalolo had been the head man for nine seasons while the rest of the AAC coaches had a combined eight years in their current jobs.  They’ve got nothing on Lane Kiffin, who’s had five different gigs in the last ten years.  Kiffin was actually coach in the NFL at Oakland when Niumatalolo began his tenure in Annapolis.  After being fired by the Raiders, Kiffin has held top jobs at Tennessee and USC while also serving as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.  Exactly how long do the Owls expect him to stick around?  Zach Abey takes over the reins…but the junior is by no means a first-year starter after seeing action against Army and the Mids’ bowl game last December.  Midshipmen begin with a bang, 38-21.

 

Saturday-

Maryland at #23 Texas, 12 p.m., FS1.   After taking most of summer workouts to determine who would start at quarterback (sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome gets the nod), the Terps tangle with a Longhorns team that’s coming off three straight losing seasons for the first time since 1938.  Texas also returns ten starters on defense…and if there’s one thing Maryland did not do well in 2016 it was protect the passer:  their 49 sacks allowed were the most in the Big Ten.  Conventional wisdom is if somebody’s going to steal a win in Austin it’s while coach Tom Herman and staff are still installing their program as well as weeding out non-contributors.  Can Herman translate what he did with Houston to sophomore QB Shane Buechelle (60% passer with 21 touchdowns in 2016) against a defense that was near the bottom of the Big Ten in turnovers and total defense?  These two teams last met in the 1978 Sun Bowl in a game where the Longhorns won 42-0 behind three guys named Johnny Jones:  they were known by the monikers Lam, Ham and Jam.  Oh, the good ole days.  Terrapins tumble, 34-17.

Virginia vs William & Mary, 3:30 p.m., ACC Network.  Something about facing in-state schools always makes the Cavalier faithful uncomfortable:  they opened last year with a loss to Richmond and almost fell to William & Mary in 2015.  UVa may have caught a break this year though, as the Tribe will be starting a new quarterback and runningback.  The good news for the Cavaliers?  They return eight starters on defense. The bad news?  That defense had issues stopping the run (11th in the ACC) and pass (12th in yards, 14th in efficiency) in 2016.  The best news is that there is stability at the quarterback position for the first time in eons.  Kurt Benkert played well in stretches last fall, and with runningbacks Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid both graduating he’ll be leaned on a little more in his second season as a starter.  Back for another fun fall are my tailgating pals, Kippy & Buffy.  After their tour of Virginia wineries exclusively in 2016 resulted in a 2-10 campaign, they’re branching out this fall…and beginning with Conundrum White.  This “blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli and Viognier lures you in with scents of apricot, pear and honeysuckle–and if you’re paying attention, orange and lemon meringue pie.”  Oh, we’re most definitely paying attention as we enjoy a glass with pepper jack cheese on Ritz crackers.  Cavaliers come through, 31-20.

 

Sunday-

#21 Virginia Tech vs #22 West Virginia (at FedEx Field), 7:30 p.m, ABC.  Former regional and conference rivals reunite:  the two schools met 51 times between 1912 and 2005…and between them won 10 Big East conference titles from 1993-2011.  Both teams will feature new quarterbacks—but while the Hokies are starting redshirt freshman Josh Jackson the Mountaineers have ex-Florida starter Will Grier.  The junior had the Gators cruising to a 6-0 start in 2015 when he was suspended for PED use.  The running of Justin Crawford (7.3 yards per carry last year) will make Grier’s transition easier.  Last year Justin Fuente rolled the dice correctly with transfer Jerod Evans last year-but that was with a veteran receiving corps at Evans’ disposal.  Jackson faces an unorthodox defense (WVU runs a 3-3-5), but one that is loaded with inexperience (eight new starters, including the entire defensive line).  Even though the Hokies own the Northern Virginia fan base (sorry, Kippy & Buffy), they don’t fare well in Landover:  winless in three games against USC (understood), Boise State (makes sense) and Cincinnati (what?).  Hokies come up short, 31-24. 

 

Richmond falls at Sam Houston State, James Madison beats East Carolina, Towson tops Morgan State, Howard loses at UNLV.

Last Year:  85-35.

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Past met present at Georgetown…with an eye towards the future.  The school introduced Hoyas great Patrick Ewing as its head men’s basketball coach in front of a room packed with media, boosters, fans, students, alumni and a pep band that did not know “Vehicle” by the Ides of March.  But the name “Patrick Ewing” was music enough to everyone’s ears at the John Thompson Jr. Athletic Center.  Ewing even replicated his famous scene from when he committed to play at the Big East school in 1981, holding a Georgetown pennant above his head.  Ewing has less hair now and has put on a little weight, but the three-time All-American can still pose for a picture.

“I’m very honored and pleased to be named head coach at Georgetown basketball,” Ewing opened, “we’ve had a rich tradition led by the man in the back–Coach Thompson. His vision, his hard work, his dedication has helped to lift the program to where it has gotten. It’s my job to add on to that legacy.”

On the right-hand side after the first few rows of chairs and conveniently near a door for his quiet exit sat the man who brought Ewing to DC from Boston.  John Thompson, Jr. retired 18 years ago and saw his #1 assistant (Craig Esherick) make a Sweet Sixteen appearance before getting fired after a sub-500 season.  He then witnessed his first-born son (John Thompson III) lead the program to the Final Four before getting fired after consecutive losing campaigns.  Now Big John sees his best player take over the program and brand he and Ewing took to an elite level over 30 years ago.

“If it was any other university I wouldn’t be doing this,” the longtime NBA assistant coach said, “but it’s my alma mater. It’s Georgetown. I’m a Hoya. I just thought it was a great opportunity to come back and rebuild the program.”

The job is open for a reason.  John Thompson III’s tenure ended with three losing seasons in its last four years, punctuated by a ninth-place Big East finish this March with a loss at home to cellar dwelling DePaul.  A highly-touted freshman class of three years ago resulted in players underachieving, transferring, or both.  The Hoyas lose their top two scorers from this past season (Rodney Pryor and L.J. Peak).  That means the Hall of Famer will have to rebuild on the fly for next winter.

“We’re going look at JuCo (players) if they can get in, we’re going to look at fifth year seniors. European…anything. Anybody that we think has the ability to be successful here.” Ewing said, then cautioned: “But I’m not going to just jump into it and bring in people in here that in two years I’m saying ‘now why the hell did I bring him in here?’. I want to take my time and make sure we bring in the right people.” It’s early April…and time is not a luxury Ewing and his yet to be comprised staff has for the 2017-18 campaign.

Ewing’s first task is putting together that coaching staff.  He’ll need assistants who can guide him along the recruiting road, as all of his experience on the bench has come in the NBA.  But the Jamaican-born and Boston-educated Ewing knows where the Hoyas bread will be buttered if they’re to become successful.

“The D.C., Baltimore and Virginia area is a hotbed of great talent.” Ewing said, “That’s my job to try to get us back to that level that these great players try to stay home.”  On this past season’s 14-player roster, just five were from the region.  Great players like Josh Hart (Villanova) as well as those who made immediate impact like Anthony Cowan (Maryland) went elsewhere…as the Hoyas’ local talent base slowly eroded over the last five years.

The major question mark facing Ewing is what is more of a challenge for a career NBA assistant (15 years):  becoming a first-time college coach or a first-time head coach?  There will be adjustments on both fronts;  and just as not all valued assistants become successful head coaches, pro success does not directly translate into winning at the college level.  Fellow 80’s Big East icon Chris Mullin is 22-43 after two seasons with St. John’s, but the Red Storm won six more conference games this past winter and Mullin doesn’t have nearly the coaching experience Ewing possesses.  Fellow Dream Teamer Clyde Drexler went straight from playing to coaching at his Alma Mater Houston…and two years later he left with a 19-39 mark.  Eddie Jordan after a career as an NBA assistant and head coach returned to Rutgers and posted a 29-68 record over four seasons with his former school.  Despite the Hoyas recent dip, the program is in much better shape than the other three situations.

When the Redskins had to deal with a third coaching change in four years (I’m not including interim coach Terry Robiskie for accounting purposes) they looked lost in the wilderness…before bringing back Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs.  Despite limited success, Gibbs represented a magic bullet for the Burgundy and Gold faithful.  For anyone dissatisfied with how the John Thompson III era finished or how he was treated in the final days, Patrick Ewing is a seven-foot tall magic bullet with a vision and work ethic to bring the Hoyas back to relevance.  Heaven forbid if this move doesn’t work out.

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John Thompson III’s firing on paper almost makes sense.  Consecutive losing seasons for a school that once ruled the Big East.  A ninth-place finish this year in a conference that only has ten schools (and a home loss to lowly DePaul to boot).  A 69-62 mark over the last four years…with first weekend losses in the NCAA Tournament (Florida Gulf Coast, Ohio) the rule and not the exception since their Final Four run ten years ago.  You could even make the case that JT3’s Final Four team was built with his predecessor Craig Esherick recruits (Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert).  Forget about those who were shouting “Fire Thompson!” at Verizon Center…think about the 5,158 who actually showed up to watch the Hoyas host St. John’s.  But we don’t exist in a vacuum…and Georgetown’s heart and soul will have to find itself over the next few months as the parting with the son of Big John will need a while to take hold.

Think about where the program was when John Thompson, Jr. took over in 1972.  A private, catholic university that was near the White House but far from relevant.  A paltry postseason history that included one NCAA Tournament berth plus a pair of trips to the NIT.  Fresh off a 3-23 season.  Enter a 31-year old high school coach with a couple of NBA Championship rings.  Sounds like a bad sitcom on the CW, right?  But Big John turned around a program that was fighting for fourth place inside the beltway behind Maryland, George Washington and American (remember, this was during the Kermit Washington era) into a national power.  The 1980’s Georgetown teams ran through a newly created Big East conference and more often than not were cutting down the nets at Madison Square Garden each March.  Unforgettable stars ranging from slippery guards like Sleepy Floyd and Allen Iverson to giants ranging from Patrick Ewing to Alonzo Mourning.  Fantastic supporting players from Victor Page to Jaren Jackson.  Under Big John, Georgetown became a Big Deal locally and nationally.

Thompson was more than just successful on the court- the first African American coach to win a national title was also a vocal supporter of student-athletes, once walking off the court before a 1989 game to protest the NCAA’s Proposition 42 that took scholarships away from academic non-qualifiers.  Thompson also went toe-to-toe with a D.C. area drug dealer to stay away from his players.  Big John provided a lifeline for many underprivileged young men…all while winning six Big East Tournament titles and a National Championship.  He’s still around the program to this day…sitting on the baseline near the home bench at Verizon Center.  And even seated, John Thompson, Jr. will always cast a shadow.

The transfer from the elder Thompson to longtime assistant (and former player) Craig Esherick in the late 1990’s was less than smooth.  One trip to the NCAA’s in his five full seasons…and no Big East finals appearances.  When John Thompson III came over from Princeton (with two NCAA appearances and an NIT berth) to succeed the fired Esherick in 2004, it felt natural to move from one heir apparent to the namesake.  And for a while it was amazing.  DePaul never got to the Final Four under Joey Meyer…and Sean Sutton was quickly disposed of at Oklahoma State.  Pat Knight?  A sub-500 record at Texas Tech.  JT3 won (albeit with Esherick recruits) and did so by staying true to his Princeton offense roots.  People recall the first round flameouts and recent winters of discontent, but I’m going to remember the John Wallace-Jeff Green-Roy Hibbert team that upset Ohio State in the 2006 Sweet Sixteen, advanced to the Final four in 2007 and ran into a hot-shooting Steph Curry and Davidson the following March.  Little did we know that would be the peak of the JT3’s thirteen-year tenure.

I always dreaded “Parent Observation Day” in elementary and middle school.  Tough to be “cool-at-school-Dave” when your parents are sitting in the back row.  And that was for two hours once a year.  John Thompson III has enjoyed the wisdom and guidance of his Hall of Fame father, but has also had his dad in the classroom with him for most of the last thirteen years.  Big John is not shy when sitting in the back row at press conferences, from calling out referees for sloppy efficiency or kissing former conference rival Syracuse goodbye after a 61-39 thumping at Verizon Center.  He’s also protective of his son, having sent someone to pipe down students chanting “Fire Thompson!” at a recent game. One can imagine despite however beneficial-how uncomfortable it was for JT3 trying to become a successful coach in his own right under a legend he couldn’t hope to match let alone eclipse.

Off the air with WTOP’s digital sports editor Noah Frank this week I mentioned how “it’s always easier to perform the autopsy than the diagnosis”.  There will be post-mortems on Thompson-the-Younger’s success and failures.  And reasons why recruiting wasn’t as successful the last few years.  There will be discussions about how the Hoyas play in a half-full NBA arena instead of a Cameron 2.0.  There will be short lists of who’s next, from Rhode Island’s Danny Hurley (not to be confused with brother Bobby) to current Charlotte associate coach Patrick Ewing (if you’ve read this far, you might have heard of him).  There will be a search led by Athletic Director Lee Reed and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  But until one hears what John Thompson, Jr. has to say, the final word has yet to be spoken.

 

Regional Roundup- Thursday gave us three nailbiters and a blowout…not bad for the second weekend when your viewing options are fewer than the first two rounds.  And even the Kansas-Purdue game was competitive for 24 minutes…at least until the Jayhawks turned a 53-51 game upside-down by going on a 45-15 closing run.  They’ll meet an Oregon team that held Michigan scoreless for the final 2:04 as the Wolverines’ season ends with just three shots (all misses) in the last two minutes of their season.  Finishing droughts wasn’t the exception, as West Virginia didn’t score for the final 1:48 and miss 5 shots plus 2 free throws in that span in their loss to Gonzaga.  Arizona?  Nothing to show for the final 2:40 as Wildcats coach Sean Miller won’t have the chance to experience heartbreak in the Elite Eight this year.  The Musketeers move on to their first Regional Final since 2008–when Sean Miller was their coach.

Tonight’s Games- in Memphis it’s the bluebloods plus a team that wears blue.  Butler meets North Carolina in the early tipoff (try to tell the Tar Heels they’re the warmup act) while UCLA meets Kentucky (19 NCAA titles combined) in the nightcap.  Madison Square Garden is still recovering from losing both the Big East and ACC Tournament winners last weekend:  minus Villanova and Duke, the South Carolina-Baylor and Wisconsin-Florida matchups have a Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl feel about them.