Archives for posts with tag: Big Ten

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November is supposed to be “closing month” in college football, but with the scrambled schedule we’ve seen this autumn more than a few teams are in their “show me month” cycle. But it’s never too early to panic, freak out, or get excited; and with Navy and Virginia’s games being postponed due to COVID-19 concerns we get a little of everything with Virginia Tech and Maryland-while a Big Ten blueblood appears to be at a crossroads.

Michigan brought Jim Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor so the Wolverines could compete for Big Ten and National Championships, and in five-plus years he’s won 48 games but is 0-5 against Ohio State, 3-3 against Michigan State, and 9-14 against ranked foes. This autumn’s anguish has added an early-season stumble to the in-state Spartans (with a first-year coach) as well as their first loss in 33 years to…Indiana? Saturday’s defeat at the 13th ranked Hoosiers means the Wolverines haven’t beaten a top 15 team on the road since 2006. That’s the Lloyd Carr era, three coaching hires ago. Harbaugh knew nothing but success at Stanford in the Pac-10 and with San Francisco in the NFL; today the fourth-highest paid Head Coach in college football has a 1-2 team that’s tied with Rutgers and Michigan State for fourth place in the Big Ten East. Thank goodness the Scarlet Knights are still on the schedule…right?

Alma Mater Update- the Orange came up short at home to Boston College 16-13 and are now 1-7. The inability to run (2.5 yards per carry) was complimented by the defense’s inability to get off of the field (BC was 10-19 on third down). Freshman quarterback JaCobian Morgan threw for 188 yards and a touchdown (which came in garbage time), while one wonders what is next in a Dino Babers era that started 19-19 but is 5-14 since. Winter arrived two months ago in Central New York.

Virginia Tech (4-3) appeared to have completed one crazy comeback against Liberty when they returned a blocked 59-yard field goal attempt with eight seconds left in regulation, only to learn they had called time out right before the kick. The Flames took advantage with an 8-yard pass on 4th down that set up a 51-yard attempt that sailed through the uprights as time expired and the Hokies lost 38-35.

Hokie Highlights: After Khalil Herbert exited early with a hamstring injury, Hendon Hooker put the offense on his back by throwing for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns while running for 156 yards and 3 scores. Tre Turner caught 6 passes for 90 yards and a score as Hooker’s number one option. Chamarri Conner tallied 10 tackles while the defense recovered two fumbles that would lead to a touchdown and a field goal. Oscar Bradburn averaged 51 yards per punt while Brian Johnson connected on 2 of 3 field goals.

Hokie Humblings: the much-maligned defense allowed a first-drive touchdown to the Flames and would put the team in a first half double-digit crater. And then they couldn’t get a stop when it mattered, allowing 17 fourth quarter points. A fumbled punt set up the Flames’ first TD in the final period. The time out that wiped out victory and wound up setting up defeat will haunt this team for some time.

Next: Saturday at noon against No. 11 Miami.

Maryland (2-1) scored on their first possession at Penn State before holding the Nittany Lions on a 4th and goal from the 7 on their first drive; the Terps went on to beat Penn State 35-19 and posted their third-ever victory in the series. They scored 28 points in the first half; Maryland had managed 20 points over the last four games combined against their nemesis to the north. What began as a season of “here we go again” at Northwestern has turned into a fall of rising. Let’s keep the happy vibe and not look ahead to see who they face this week, okay?

Terrapin Triumphs: Taulia Tagovailoa threw three touchdown passes and had over 200 yards in the first half while this week’s top target was Rakim Jarrett (5 catches for 144 yards and 2 TD). The offense converted 9 of 16 third downs while posting scoring plays of 34, 38, 42 and 62 yards. The defense notched 7 sacks while Chance Campbell tallied 6 tackles and recovered 2 fumbles, returning one for a touchdown. Nick Cross recorded 8 stops plus an interception.

Terrapin Troubles: three out of six offensive possessions in the second half were three and outs. Eight penalties after ten the week before. The game was well in hand, but the defense did allow a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns after dominating the first three periods.

Next: Saturday vs. No. 3 Ohio State at 3:30 p.m.

Everybody loves a good comeback story, especially in college football where those at Maryland still recall rallying from 31 points down to beat defending national champion Miami 42-40 in 1984. This year on the national and local level we’ve seen more than our share, where double-digit leads and deficits are meant to be erased in the blink of an eye-or scoring plays of 82 and 90 yards like the ones Virginia Tech allowed at Louisville.

Every game features momentum swings; it’s a natural part of the sport which features adjustments and counter-punches over a 60-minute streatch. But with more offensive oomph in the game this year, the pendulum swings are more pronounced: No. 1 Clemson trailed Boston College 28-10 at one point before rallying past the Eagles 34-28. No. 6 Oklahoma State wasn’t as lucky, seeing a 31-20 lead over Texas transform into a 41-34 overtime loss (before you start saying “TEXAS IS BACK!” please know the Cowboys were the Big 12’s last legitimate playoff hopeful). The massive momentum movements make for a much more entertaining Saturday afternoon and evening, even though it makes life more difficult for those writing against deadline.

Alma Mater Update- there will be no such rollercoasters in Central New York this fall, as the Orange lost another game that they never really were in from the start. The 38-14 loss to Wake Forest means that SU will finish under .500 for the sixth time in seven years. At least freshman JaCobian Morgan (7-7 for 57 yards and a TD) looked promising. The remaining four teams on the schedule are a combined 16-10, with a trip to Notre Dame wrapping things up in a neat little bow.

Maryland (1-1) kicked off the weekend with a 45-44 overtime win over Minnesota that felt like three distinct games; the first saw the Terps jump out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter while the second saw the Golden Gophers reel off 31 straight points before the Terrapins finished with a 24-6 kick that included a missed extra point in OT for the visitors. After playing on Friday night, they’ll need the extra day off to recover.

Terrapin Triumphs: Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 394 yards and three touchdowns while running for two more scores; he was the first Terp to throw for over 300 yards since Caleb Rowe in 2013 against–wait for it–Virginia. Jake Funk rushed for 221 yards, running for one TD while catching a touchdown pass to complete his recovery from a torn ACL and answer those who thought he was a “good special teams player but not a feature back” (that would be me). Chance Campbell spearheaded the defense with 13 tackles and a sack; the D earned an A in the second half by getting off of the field on 5 of 6 third downs.

Terrapin Troubles: last week Head Coach Mike Locksley said theyo would clean up the team’s run defense, and that part of the game needs another deep cleanse after allowing 262 yards on the ground. Ten penalties, a with a more than a few of them coming at the most inopportune times. Two turnovers; the first set up a Minnesota touchdown and the second occurred on first and goal from the Golden Gophers’ one.

Next: Saturday at 0-2 Penn State; 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

Virginia Tech (4-2) bounced back from its lowest scoring output of the season by reaching the end zone on three of its first four possessions, outscoring Louisville 42-35 in a game where the VT offense scored every time they had the ball in the second half with the exception of a game-ending kneel-down. They’re still a few weeks removed from the ACC gauntlet that includes Miami and Clemson, so the defense can be fixed up. Right?

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker completes 10-10 passes for 183 yards while rushing for three touchdowns, and just as important the junior didn’t turn the ball over. Khalil Herbert rushes for 147 yards and a touchdown (his 803 on the season are second-most in the ACC). Justus Reed tallies two sacks (his 4.5 leads the team this fall) while Brian Johnson connects on field goals of 30 and 41 yards.

Hokie Humblings: the defense allowed 548 yards and surrendered touchdowns on five of the Cardinals’ final seven possessions of the game (other two ended with interceptions, with one coming at the VT two-yard line). The offense despite all of its success converted just 1-7 third downs. Oscar Bradburn averaged under 40 yards per punt with one touchback.

Next: Saturday at noon against 6-0 Liberty.

Navy (3-4, 3-2 AAC) reached the end zone the first two times they had the ball and scored on their last three possessions in their game at No. 22 SMU, but generated just 95 yards on 35 carries in between the strong start and furious finish in a 51-37 loss to the Mustangs. Two weeks ago there were possibilities of playing in the AAC Championship Game; today the question is can this team finish over .500.

Midshipmen Medals: backup quarterback Tyger Goslun threw two fourth quarter touchdown passes to make the score respectable, while Chance Warren ran for two scores. Mitchell West tallied 10 tackles and Bijan Nichols connected on a 46-yard field goal (the only scoring during the team’s mid-game drought).

Midshipmen Miscues: another rough night for a defense that allowed 6.9 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per pass (as in pass attempt, not pass completion) while Mustangs went 7-11 on third down.

Next: Saturday at noon against 3-1 Tulsa.

Virginia (2-4) wrapped up the weekend much like Maryland had started it; the Cavaliers 44-41 win over No. 15 North Carolina saw UVa fall behind 20-13 in the first half before going on a 28-0 run only to hold off a 21-3 UNC finishing kick. There are those who tell you that Virginia’s “true rival” is the Tar Heels, and most of them either live in Charlottesville or have a degree from the school. But anytime you snap an in-season losing streak at four games by beating a longtime conference foe for the fourth straight year, it’s a sunny day on the grounds.

Cavalier Congrats: talk about offensive balance-they passed for 208 yards and ran for 210. Brennan Armstrong only threw 22 passes, but three of them were touchdown strikes. He also had a 23-yard scoring run that put UVa on the board. Billy Kemp IV’s apparent mandate on being the leading receiver saw four more catches to pace the team. Charles Snowden notched 10 tackles, four of which were sacks. One of those sacks generated a fumble that set up a UVa touchdown; a special teams fumble recovery on a punt return set up another TD.

Cavalier Concerns: despite putting a season-high 44 points on the board, the offense converted just 3-12 third downs. The defense didn’t fare much better, getting off of the field on four of ten opportunities while allowing 536 yards (443 through the air). A missed extra point could have proven costly but thankfully it did not.

Next: Saturday against 2-5 Louisville at 8 p.m.

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The Big Ten’s return to the college football landscape saw plenty of the usual goings-on, from No. 5 Ohio State’s 52-17 rout of Nebraska to No. 18 Michigan’s 49-24 blasting of Minnesota that begins the tradition narrative that ends in either Ann Arbor or Columbus (this year the Buckeyes have home field). But this year’s opening weekend also served notice to Maryland that the always-tough East Division may be even more of a challenge, as traditional also-rans Rutgers shocked Michigan State 38-27 and Indiana pulled out a 36-35 overtime win over No. 8 Penn State.

Greg Schiano’s triumphant return helped the Scarlet Knights not only end a 21-game conference losing streak; Rutgers 38 points in their opener was 13 shy of last year’s total accrued over nine league games. And the Hoosiers’ rollercoaster ride went from a ten-point halftime lead to down eight with under a minute remaining, only to survive a last-second field goal attempt in regulation before finally triumphing on a two-point conversion in OT. Penn State and Michigan State aren’t going away either, which makes Maryland’s mountain to climb all the steeper.

Alma Mater Update- at least they covered the 46-point spread. And the Orange played well enough to merit tough questions to Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney, who had issues with what he was asked after an underwhelming victory over a team that was minus its starting quarterback and top receiver. But the Orange are now 1-5 and face just one team with a losing league record the rest of the way. The 2005 team is nervous.

Navy (3-3) dropped to 3-1 in the AAC with their 37-21 loss to Houston. The Mids did a nice job limiting the Cougars to field goals before allowing a 51-yard touchdown pass late in the first half. Unfortunately after intermission a pair of missed field goals and an interception turned the tide the visitors’ way before a last-minute touchdown made the score somewhat respectable.

Midshipman Medals: Dalen Morris had his best day as a starter, throwing for 206 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a score. Diego Fagot notched 10 tackles plus a sack; the defense bent but did not break in the first half as they held the Cougars to 1-7 on third down.

Midshipman Miscues: a pair of missed field goals in the second half hurt any chances at keeping up with Cougars, and the defense that previously bent broke as Houston converted 5-6 third downs after the break. Daniel Davies averaged under 35 yards per punt, giving the visitors decent starting field position on multiple occasions (two field goal drives in the first half began at midfield).

Next: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against No. 23 SMU.

Virginia (1-4) didn’t fall behind double digits in the first quarter as has been their custom this fall, but the Cavaliers still came up short at No. 11 Miami 19-14. While the effort was better and for the first time this fall UVa played a game decided by fewer than 17 points, Bronco Mendenhall’s team is off to its worst start since Mike London’s final season in Charlottesville.

Cavalier Congrats: Brennan Armstrong is back! The quarterback threw two touchdown passes while also rushing for 91 yards. Billy Kemp IV continues to be the hero UVa quarterbacks need, want, and deserve, catching five more receptions to lead the team yet again. Nick Jackson notched 16 tackles as the defense recorded five sacks and held the Hurricanes to 2.5 yards per carry.

Cavalier Concerns: allowing a 2-play, 75 yard scoring drive on the first possession of the night is not how you want to begin any game, against anyone, anywhere. Let alone the No. 11 team in the country. In a game of inches, the little things turned out to loom large: a second quarter touchdown that would have given them a 14-7 lead was wiped out due to an ineligible man downfield penalty. They’d go on to miss a 36-yard field goal. A lost fumble ended the team’s final drive with under a minute to play in regulation.

Next: Saturday against No. 13 North Carolina at 8 p.m.

No. 23 Virginia Tech (3-2) and Wake Forest each averaged more than 40 points per game entering Saturday’s showdown in Winston-Salem, so naturally 39 points were scored between the two teams in a 23-16 Demon Deacon victory. Halfway through the 10-game ACC schedule, the Hokies find themselves locked into the league’s middle class, which in this year turned upside-down isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker rushed for 98 yards as the ground game gained 210 on the afternoon. Chamarri Conner tallied 10 tackles as the defense limited Wake to 3-15 on third down. Brian Johnson connected on three field goals, including a 54-yarder that made the game a one-possession affair in the fourth quarter.

Hokie Humblings: Hooker threw three interceptions, each to freshman safety Nick Andersen (who happens to hail from Clifton, VA). Ten penalties certainly didn’t help matters. Johnson missed a pair of field goals- from 42 and 51 yards- with a sack on third down preceding the miss. The defense allowed 206 yards rushing.

Next: Saturday at 4 p.m at 2-4 Louisville.

Maryland (0-1) kicked off its 2020 season on the road with their first-ever football game in Evanston, Illinois. I’m sure they’re not looking forward to heading back there anytime soon after a 43-3 thumping delivered by a Northwestern team that looks like it may be more contender than pretender for the West Division title they took two years ago. And on a Saturday where Indiana and Rutgers both posted upsets, the Terps look around the East Division cellar for company and don’t get any eye contact from Penn State and Michigan State.

Terrapin Triumphs: a first-possession field goal! The offense’s initial drive mixed eight runs and four passes while producing the team’s longest gain of the afternoon (a 24-yard scamper by Jake Funk). Jeshaun Jones caught 5 passes after missing most of the last two seasons with injuries. Chance Campbell (14 tackles) was expected to be one of the key contributors on defense, and he produced as expected.

Terrapin Troubles: three interceptions and one fumble completely undercut the offense and put the defense in less than ideal spots (Wildcats generated 17 points from those miscues). The running game generated just 64 yards on 20 carries and the quarterback combination of Taulia Tagovailoa and Lance LeGendre averaged under eight yards per completion.  Zero sacks for a defense that allowed Peyton Ramsey to complete 77% of his passes and also surrendered 6.1 yards per carry.

Next: Friday against 0-1 Minnesota at 7:30 p.m.

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The Big Ten begins play this weekend with Maryland and thirteen other schools preparing for an eight week sprint that will be followed by crossover matchups and the Championship Game, leaving the league little margin for error (the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 have already had to shuffle their schedules this fall) as it tries to put a worthy candidate up for consideration to the College Football Playoff. You have one guess at the most likely candidate, and if you don’t say “Ohio State” your penance is singing “Hang On Sloopy” ten times (with the O! H! I! O! included for good measure).

The No. 5 Buckeyes have won three straight Big Ten Championships and four of six since the league disposed of the laughable “Leaders” and “Legends” Division names. But even during a stretch of dominance by one school (and one division as the East has won six straight Championship Games), the Big Ten offers up plenty of drama. There’s recent regular runner-up Penn State, who beat the Buckeyes in 2016 and won the league only to see OSU advance to the Playoff; in the last three years the Nittany Lions have lost to Ohio State by 1, 1, and 11 points. There’s underachieving older brother Michigan, whose 42 conference titles are the most in league history but their dominance is distant history (the last championship for the Wolverines came in 2004). Jim Harbaugh is also 0-5 against the Buckeyes. Overachieving younger sibling Michigan State has recent success (8-4 against Michigan since 2008 and the 2015 Conference Championship) but a new Head Coach as Mel Tucker takes over for the retiring Mark Dantonio. For every good hire in Lansing that delivers a Dantonio or George Perles, there’s been a Frank Waters (10-23 and fired after three years) or a Bobby Williams (16-17 and fired during his third year) that has turned sour swiftly.

In the West Division there’s the guy who crushes his sales numbers but has “easier clients”, Wisconsin: while the Badgers have won four West Division titles since realignment they’re 0-4 in the title tilt against the East and are 0-4 in the Rose Bowl this century. There’s the “we were much cooler at our other school” Nebraska, who went from perennial Big Ten contender to Big Ten pretender overnight. There are schools that have played for titles under the current format in Iowa and Northwestern, each led by the two coaches in the conference with longer than seven year tenures in Kirk Ferentz and Pat Fitzgerald.

Then there’s the Big Ten underbelly, a motley crew of schools known more for winter sports like hockey (despite Minnesota’s recent success) and hoops (Indiana and Purdue fans know full well that Hoosiers was about jumpshots and not power sweeps). There’s a Super Bowl coach trying to bring Illinois to the level of respectability (all four hires since 1991 have left Champaign with losing records), a Rutgers trying to relive its best modern-day stretch by bringing back former coach Greg Schiano (can you go back to Camelot? Just look at Randy Edsall & UConn), and then there’s Maryland. The Terps enter their second season under Head Coach Mike Locksley with a quarterback situation to solve and a defense in need of an upgrade. Who’s ready to get underway?

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are 46-point underdogs at No. 1 Clemson this week; the Tigers have outscored foes 242-60 this year while SU has yet to score 25 points in any game and has coughed up over 30 three times already this autumn. In other words, things do not look good. They’ve faced the nation’s top ranked team 12 times, with just one victory (the 17-9 upset of Nebraska in 1984) and one near-miss (the 16-10 loss to Miami in 1992 when Chris Gedney was tackled at the one). Other than that it’s been rather ugly, from a 33-6 rout at Cornell in 1940 to a 46-14 dismemberment at Florida State in 1991 (the 4-0 Orange were No. 10 entering the game before getting deflated). This is the third time they’ll face a top-ranked Clemson; they lost 37-27 in 2015 and were roasted 41-6 last autumn. It’s hard to imagine this team led the Tigers for a big chunk of their game in Death Valley two years ago, and I can only imagine what the final score will be this Saturday.

Navy (3-2, 3-0 AAC) vs. Houston (1-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network). The Cougars didn’t even play their first game of the season until October after seeing games with Rice, Memphis, Baylor, and North Texas get postponed/canceled due to COVID-19 concerns; they also originally had a date with Washington State that was wiped out when the Pac-12 temporarily closed shop. Both schools have met No. 12 BYU, with Houston stumbling last Friday night 43-26 and Navy needing a while to get over their 55-3 loss on Labor Day. When the Mids have played well they’ve won nail-biters as they’ve carved out a 3-0 start in the conference, but when they’ve not played well it hasn’t been close. They were fortunate that Holton Ahlers didn’t play last week for East Carolina; junior Clayton Tune started nine games over his first two years with the program and has thrown for over 300 yards in both of his games this fall.

Presto’s Pick: Mids can’t contain the Cougars in a 35-27 loss.

No. 19 Virginia Tech (3-1) at Wake Forest (2-2, 1-2 ACC), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3).

Fireworks in October! Both teams enter this matchup averaging over 40 points per game. The Hokies have turned back the clock to the 1970’s by dominating on the ground (an ACC-best 312 yards rushing per game) behind Khalil Herbert and his 148 yards per game on 9.7 per carry. But the Demon Deacons boast Kenneth Walker III who is coming off of three straight 100-yard efforts and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. In addition to clearing holes for Herbert and quarterback Hendon Hooker, the offensive line has been very effective in keeping the QB upright-whether he’s Hooker, Braxton Burmeister or Quincy Patterson II (six sacks allowed over four games). Meanwhile, the Demon Deacons have posted just five sacks in three ACC games.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies hold on for dear life, 41-34.

Maryland at Northwestern, 7:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network).

Both teams went 3-9 last fall, but for the Wildcats it could be seen as a hiccup (four straight winning conference seasons and bowl appearances was snapped). The Terps haven’t had a winning conference record since 2010, which was five coaches and one league ago; since then they’ve averaged eight losses per season. The revamped defense will face an old foe in a new uniform: Graduate Transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey started three games against the Terps while he was at Indiana, and the Hoosiers went 2-1 in those games averaging 36 points (Ramsey was injured in the game Maryland won). Whoever winds up starting at quarterback will have plenty of weapons: the Terps’ top five receivers from 2019 are back and that doesn’t include Jeshaun Jones, who torched Texas in the 2018 opener and has been sidelined with injuries most of the last two years. Maryland has won ten straight openers, although for the record five of those wins came against FCS schools.

Presto’s Pick: Terps tumble, 42-30.

Virginia (1-3) at No. 11 Miami (4-1, 3-1 ACC), 8 p.m. (ACC Network).

The Cavaliers wrap up the first half of conference play needing a much better first quarter: so far they’ve been outscored 48-3 in the first period. They’re also allowing the second-most points per game in the ACC, and with quarterback Brennan Armstrong a question mark as he recovers from the concussion suffered against NC State they can ill afford another early double-digit deficit. Last week’s QB rotation of Lindell Stone, Isaiah Armstead and Keytaon Thompson generated yards (202 passing and 121 rushing) but they won’t be surprising a Hurricanes defense that has a full game’s worth of tape on the trio. Miami might not be in the elite company of No. 1 Clemson, but so far this year they’ve avoided the stumbles against inferior competition that have driven their fans nuts over the last decade-plus. Houston transfer D’eriq King has proven to be equally as dangerous through the air (59% completion rate with 10 touchdowns) as he is on the ground (54 yards rushing per game).

Kippy & Buffy know bringing the wrong wine to a tailgate can be downright dangerous, even in the socially distanced virtual world. They’re going with a bottle of Limerick Lane 2017 Estate Grown Zinfandel (Russian River Valley) with Manchego cheese . According to Wine Spectator, “a bright cherry tone mixes with tar and baking spice, with a firm weight and structured tannins that center around a chewy, grippy finish.” With each of their games decided by at least 17 points this fall, Kippy & Buffy are looking for a grippy finish.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come up short, 37-20.

Last Week: 3-1.

Overall: 18-10.

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Maryland football has experienced plenty of highs and lows over the last 15 years that include competing for the ACC Atlantic Division Thanksgiving weekend as well as multiple 2-10 seasons. They’ve had multiple head and interim coaches in that span as well, and each has had to deal with one constant-the lack of a consistent starting quarterback. Since 2003, only twice has Maryland started the same player at QB in each of their regular season games: 2006 with Sam Hollenbach and 2014 with C.J. Brown.

Whether it’s been injury or ineffectiveness, the Terps have fired up the quarterback carousel more often than not. In his first year at the helm, Head Coach Mike Locksley started both Josh Jackson and Tyrrell Pigrome because of both. The year he was interim coach after Randy Edsall’s firing, the Terps started three QB’s. His first season at Offensive Coordinator (2012) Maryland lost three quarterbacks to injury and the team had to use scout team linebacker Shawn Petty with a tight end as his backup to end the season. “I’ve been through quite a few of these from my last place of business to being here. We’ve not had a consistent starter in the time I’ve been here,” Locksley said. “As I’ve always stated, the quarterback who starts for us is the one who gives us the best chance to win games.”

The two contenders for this year’s starting job are redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre and sophomore transfer Taulia Tagovailoa. “We feel very excited about the talent we have in the quarterback room with both Lance and ‘Lia’,” Locksley said. “Those two have done a good job of the mental part of learning what we do.” The duo bring quite a bit of potential but not a ton of experience as their combined career numbers are 15 passes thrown over eight games played. So even with the limits of practicing in the COVID-19 pandemic, both need to progress this fall if the passing game is going to be better than it was in 2019 (12th in yardage and efficiency in the Big Ten). “I can just tell both guys have taken done a tremendous job of taking the coaching and taking the system,” Locksley said. “Lance Legendre from last year to this exponentially looks so much more comfortable in the pocket-winning in the pocket. Obviously Taulia is as advertised as a player; his ability to throw the football and get the ball out quick. Both guys offer athleticism at the position.”

While each passes the eye test, Locksley plans to use a modern manner in determining who emerges as the first string quarterback. “There are some things we do in practice, that we can put empirical data to show us who does the best job of moving the ball down the field, who does the best job of scoring points,” Locksley said. “We’ll be putting the quarterbacks in these competitive game-simulated situations and see how they respond and how they perform.”

Locksley’s role as a quarterback whisperer has changed throughout his career, from position coach to coordinator and now Head Coach. “I’m a people person. I’m one of those guys who loves being in the meeting room and the camaraderie that comes with it,” Locksley said. “But I also know you can’t have a bunch of guys talking to the quarterback. We’re running our system, the system I’ve run over the course of the years I’ve been a coordinator.” So that means less may be more for his direct input in the QB room, focusing on quality instead of quantity. “I’m going to always have my hands on the offense, I’m always going to be one of those guys that will be the ‘extra eye’,” Locksley said. “I see myself as being more of a tutor, in terms of assisting (offensive coordinator) Scottie (Reynolds). I kind of know it well enough to be able to skip a couple of the processes to say ‘this is why the ball goes here’.” Knowing what should be happening is one thing. Seeing it happen on the field is another. Being able to sustain it happening is the key to whoever gets the nod at quarterback, and the key to a successful season is keeping that man successful and upright.

Coming up tomorrow- Offensive Line: depth doesn’t always come on time.

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Four days until Selection Sunday. Five more bids were claimed last night bringing the number of teams in the field to 11:  No. 2 Gonzaga, Robert Morris, North Dakota State, Northern Kentucky, and Hofstra.  The Pride’s 70-61 win over Northeastern in the CAA Championship Game was its first in four Finals appearances, and punched the school’s first ticket to the NCAA Tournament since they competed in the America East Conference as the “Flying Dutchmen”.  Their win wrapped up four days at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southeast DC; the first of three years the CAA will be coming to Washington.

Meanwhile, a pair of locals played last night with their seasons on the line as neither Virginia Tech nor Howard had a legitimate shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team.

The Hokies (16-16) lost to North Carolina in the ACC First Round 78-56 after shooting 29% while getting outrebounded by 15.  Who knows if the future is bright, but it’s most certainly on campus in Blacksburg: freshmen Hunter Cattoor (14 points), Jalen Cone (11 points) and Landers Nolley II (10 points) scored 64% of the Hokies’ points.  Unfortunately the rest of the team shot 6-for-29 (21%).  How will Coach Mike Young build off of that nucleus with his first complete recruiting cycle?  In an ACC that was in flux much of the winter, we’re a few years away from learning which direction this program that is going after watching its consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances streak end at three.  Never an easy night, winter, or year in the ACC.

Howard (4-28), however, showed how mad March can be sometimes.  The Bison somehow shocked South Carolina State in the First Round of the MEAC 70-63.  Let’s put this in perspective:  HU went 0-9 in November, 2-3 in December, 0-8 in January and 0-7 in February.  But they’re 2-1 in March, and more importantly they live to play another day thanks to Charles Williams (24 points), Kyle Foster (18 points), and team defense that held the Bulldogs to 2-19 shooting from three-point range.  Next up? Second seed North Carolina A&T; the Aggies went 12-4 in league play and beat the Bison by four in February.  So HU can still dream.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange ended the regular season with a loss at Miami, dropping the team to 10-10 in a soft ACC and 17-14 overall.  The team finished 1-1 in overtime games and 3-5 in regulation games decided by five points or fewer.  The 14 regular season losses is the most for the program since 1969, Roy Danforth’s first year and the last time the Orange posted a losing record (9-16).  And they face a North Carolina team that rolled them on Senior Day in the ACC Second Round.  It’s technically the “9 p.m. game”, but anybody who knows anything about the ACC realizes that the nightcap will not begin much before 10 p.m.  Buddy Update: his 12 points against Miami give the sophomore 474 for the season and 691 for his career, putting him 54 points shy of his father Jim’s career total.  If he scores his regular season average of 15.3 per game, the Orange will need to win at least two games (meaning he’ll play in four) in the ACC/NIT for Buddy to pass the other guy who once wore No. 35.

Ballot Battles- I caught heat this week from a San Diego State fan for dropping the Aztecs all the way from sixth to 15th after their loss to Utah State.  For the record they were probably overvalued while still staying unbeaten, and there is a bit of a market correction for mid-major schools losing games this late.  Power five schools may get a pass because in some leagues (Big Ten, Big East) most of the conference schedule is against potential NCAA Tournament teams; not so in the Mountain West or West Coast Conference (sorry, BYU).  Biggest differences between my ballot and the composite poll?  Oregon (I’ve got the 13th ranked Ducks 7th), Virginia (I’ve got the 17th rated Cavaliers 11th), and Creighton (I have the 7th ranked Bluejays 15th).  Small school shout-outs go to Stephen F. Austin (28-3, first place in the Southland and that win over Duke) East Tennessee State (30-4 and making me look smart with their roll through the Southern), and New Mexico State (the Aggies have won 19 in a row).

Bids up for Grabs:  just one on Wednesday, with Colgate hosting Boston University for the Patriot League Championship.  Since joining the conference for the 2013-14 season, the Terriers are 5-6 while the Raiders are 7-5 with last year’s title in their trophy case.  They also won both regular season games between the two schools and are led by facilitator Jordan Burns (15 points and 5 assists per game).  I’ll be watching wondering how AU can get back there.

 

Tipping off Today/Tonight:

The Atlantic 10, Big Ten and Big East begin their tournaments in Brooklyn, Indianapolis and New York City.  Meanwhile, the MEAC continues in Norfolk as does the ACC in Greensboro (without Virginia Tech).

1 p.m. – George Mason (16-15 overall, 6-12 A-10) vs. St. Joseph’s (6-25, 2-16). What a difference a few months and a key injury makes.  The Patriots began the season 11-1 even with Justin Kier’s early injury issues but when the senior re-injured his foot the team went into a tailspin (that will happen when you lose the previous season’s leading scorer).  Coach Dave Paulsen’s team has lost five of seven, with the two wins coming against tied-for-last Fordham and St. Joe’s.  Mason’s 62-55 win over the Hawks saw Javon Greene score 20 points; the St. Joseph’s player to watch is junior guard Ryan Daly who leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. He’s slacking in the blocked shots department (fourth).

3:30 p.m. – George Washington (12-19, 6-12 A-10) vs. Fordham (8-22, 2-16).  Newsflash: teams that play in the “dreaded first round” are not hot entering March.  The Colonials have lost five straight, with one of those defeats coming to the Rams.  Actually GW is the only A-10 team Fordham has been able to beat this winter, so the last-place Rams have the bracket right where they want it.  It’s also a matchup of the two lowest-scoring teams in the conference:  while GW’s 65.6 points per game ranks 313th the Rams’ 58.1 is 349th.  Somehow Fordham also found a way to post November wins against UConn (now 19-12) and Bradley (MVC Tournament winner).

7 p.m. – Georgetown (15-16, 5-13 Big East) vs. St. John’s (16-15, 5-13), 7 p.m.  If this feels familiar, it’s because this is the third meeting in the eight-nine game between the Hoyas and Red Storm in the last four years.  Since the revamping of the “New Big East”, the old powers have had it rather rough:  this is the fifth straight March the Johnnies have played in the first round while Gtown is making its sixth appearance in seven years on the first night at MSG.  The Hoyas swept the regular season series, rallying from 17 points down at the Garden on Super Bowl Sunday.  They’ve won just twice since, while St. John’s won two of three to end their regular season.

8:30 p.m. – Howard (4-28) vs. North Carolina A& T (16-15, 12-4 MEAC).  Can the Bison keep the dream and its season alive?  As impressive as last night’s upset of South Carolina may be, HU has not won consecutive games all season.  NC A&T won four of five to conclude the regular season, with the only loss coming to regular season champ North Carolina Central.  The Aggies are led by senior forward Ronald Jackson, who tallied 18 points with 10 rebounds against the Bison last month and averages a double-double.  Howard senior Charles Williams may be averaging 25 points over his last three games, but the guard shot 4-11 and 0-2 from three point range against the Aggies last month.

Six days until Selection Sunday means the first batch of Automatic NCAA Tournament bids have been snatched up (Belmont & Utah State Saturday; Bradley, Winthrop & Liberty Sunday) while the first shot across the bow at “Bracketologists” has been fired (Indiana coach Archie Miller comparing Joe Lunardi’s ilk to “Sesame Street”).  While bubble schools cross their fingers for minimal upsets this week and ranked teams try to project their seeding, one local school gets to hang a banner in its arena.

Maryland hasn’t won or shared a regular season conference title in ten years, or since they were in the ACC.  It looked like the Terps couldn’t overcome issues on the road earlier this winter (starting 0-3 away from Xfinity Center in Big Ten play) and then it appeared as though their traditional second half of conference play slide (three losses in four games from February 23 to March 3) was going to derail a promising run.  But instead, the Terps led Michigan for most of Sunday afternoon’s 83-70 victory thanks to their two constants:  senior Anthony Cowan Jr. tallied 20 points with 8 assists while sophomore Jalen Smith added 18 points with 11 rebounds.  Cowan came back for his senior year because he wanted to be remembered as a winner; and he helps deliver a share of the regular season Big Ten Championship.  There are still the unfriendly waters of the Big Ten Tournament (they’re 2-5 with their last win coming in 2016) and the treacherous seas of the NCAA Tournament (one trip to the second week since 2003), but Cowan and coach Mark Turgeon will always have a banner at Xfinity Center they can look up to that will say “2020 Big Ten Regular Season Champions”.  And while March may be fickle, a banner is forever.

Wow of the Week- Howard avoided a winless conference season by beating Maryland-Eastern Shore last Monday.  And while the Bison dropped their season finale to Delaware State, at least they don’t have to deal with the offseason stigma that befalls Kennesaw State (Atlantic Sun), The Citadel (Southern) and Chicago State (WAC).  The Bison are building under coach Kenneth Blakeney, and last Monday was the first of many steps.

Player Spotlight- Jagan Mosely was recruited to Georgetown by John Thompson III and had hoped to turn around what appeared to be a hiccup in the program.  Instead, the Hoyas posted a second straight losing season and JT3 was shown the door.  In came Patrick Ewing and a different system, along with the growing pains of a rebuild.  Mosely was all set to lead the Hoyas back to the NCAA Tournament (the school’s last trip to the big dance was in 2015) this March, but defections (four transfers in December) and injuries (Mac McClung’s foot and Omer Yurtseven’s knee) have hijacked all hopes.  Six straight losses have dropped the Hoyas to 15-16, meaning that reaching the NIT would be a major stretch.  But through it all Mosely has been a standout player for Ewing’s program, leading the Big East with 38.4 minutes played in conference games.  The Marlboro, New Jersey native deserved much better.  But just think how bad things would have been without the team’s backbone this winter.

Bids for Grabs- Just one on Monday.  The Southern Conference was created in 1921, but in the years since schools like Alabama and Auburn left to create the SEC while North Carolina and Maryland departed to form the ACC.  Another generation of schools like George Washington and Richmond marked their time before winding up in the Atlantic Ten, Marshall and East Carolina used the Southern as a stepping-stone to Conference USA and the AAC, and most recently Elon and Charleston have passed through on their way to the CAA.  All told-the Southern Conference has 34 former schools (aka Spinal Tap) with two even dropping down to Divsion III (Sewanee as well as Washington & Lee).  Tonight, regular season champ East Tennessee State (29-4) plays upstart Wofford (7th seed) for the league’s likely lone bid.  Hopefully both schools will stay a while after their title game appearance.

Locals in the Mix- the CAA Tournament comes to the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southeast DC, but the schools closest to Washington went home Sunday evening as Towson tumbled to Northeastern while William & Mary lost to Elon.  The Tribe’s loss ends the schools drive for its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.  Their first big dance banner will have to wait at least one more year.

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As March begins, Maryland and Georgetown fans can take solace in knowing that they’re members of arguably the two best conferences in the country.  Beware the Big Ten and Big East.  Both leagues are playing at a high level as we enter college basketball’s “closing month”.  Most bracket models have 10 Big Ten schools (71% of its membership) reaching the NCAA Tournament, while seven Big East schools are in the mix for the field of 68 (7/10 makes for easier math).  The Big Ten is enjoying a ridiculous run right now, with eight schools in the most recent Associated Press Top 25.  What is this, SEC football?  “The Big Ten’s always really good; it’s just unusual to have this sort of quality depth where the league performed at such a high level in the non-conference, and then seemingly everybody at least early on protected their home courts like you don’t see very often.” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said before last Saturday’s Maryland-Michigan State game. “I’m not sure that the Big Ten 1-2-3 at the top is significantly better than the ACC or the SEC.  But one through ten, I don’t think it’s a close call.  It’s the best league top to bottom and by far the most competitive.”

In a 21st century college hoops landscape where third-year juniors are a rarity and fourth-year starters are virtually extinct (Maryland’s Anthony Cowan is the exception that proves the rule),  the man wearing the suit (not always with a tie these days) becomes all the more important. “Continuity in coaches-the coaches have been there for a long time,” Bilas said.  And they have:  seven have been at their current jobs at least since 2013, with Purdue’s Matt Painter (15 seasons) and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (25 years) the longest tenured.  That leads to programs on solid footing:  with Penn State, Rutgers, and Illinois likely making this year’s NCAA field, Nebraska (2014) would be the only program not making the Tournament in the last five years.

The Big East may not have the Big Ten’s depth, but they do have what they don’t: National Championships.  Since the Big Ten won its last in 2000, the Big East has boasted six titlists (from an accounting standpoint, we count the 2013 vacated Louisville team but don’t recognize UConn in 2014 as the Huskies were in the AAC).  And this year the league has seven likely participants.  They also have the all-important continuity with six having five-plus years at their respective schools.  “Everybody’s recruiting at a very, very, very high level,” Xavier second-year coach Travis Steele said. “Every time we get a young man committed, I always tell our guys, ‘Hey-don’t forget, Georgetown’s getting the same thing. So is Marquette, so is Villanova, so’s Providence’. Everybody’s good.”  Bad news for a Georgetown that’s on the underbelly of the bubble with four straight losses, and minimal comfort for a Maryland that may lead its conference but has dropped two of three.

Alma Mater Update: the Orange played their home finale Saturday by saluting John Wallace and enabling Jimmy Fallon.  Wasn’t it neat to see Fallon pal around with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman courtside before directing the Sour Citrus Society?  Yeah, right.  Meanwhile, SU lost to North Carolina and slipped to 16-13 on the season and 9-9 in the ACC.  They still need to beat Boston College or Miami to secure that 17th victory and a winning season.  A berth in the NIT is no lock, by the way.  On the Buddy Watch:  the younger Boeheim is averaging 15.2 points per game, putting him on pace for 471 this season which would give him for 688 in his career.  Or 57 shy of his father entering the ACC Tournament.

Wow of the Week: Once again the wow comes from Charlottesville.  Virginia continues its surge up the standings in the ACC with two more wins.  Saturday’s 52-50 triumph over then-No. 7 Duke saw the Cavaliers get a career-defining game from Jay Huff (15 points, 9 rebounds and 10 blocks) as they once again win a nail biter: six of their wins in the current 9-1 stretch have come by one possession.  They’ve already locked up a double-bye in the ACC Tournament and could take third with two wins or a one victory plus help.

Player Spotlight: Sa’eed Nelson earned our first player spotlight at the beginning of January, and as we enter March the spotlight comes full circle.  The senior became American University’s all-time leading scorer last Wednesday, passing Russell “Boo” Bowers.  The guard was also named Patriot League Player of the Year as he helped power AU to a second-place finish, their highest since 2014 when they advanced to the NCAA’s.

League Look:  the Patriot League gets a jump on everyone else with their tournament beginning Tuesday evening.  And unlike most other conferences, games are on campus sites.  Defending champ Colgate repeated as regular season titlist and enters as the No. 1 seed; the conference’s highest-scoring offense (76 points per game) is also the most dangerous from three-point range (36%).  They also have the conference’s top rebounder in Will Rayman (8.9 boards per game).  Perennial favorite Bucknell is conspicuous by its absence from the top of the standings.  This is the first time since 2014 the Bison haven’t finished with a share of the league’s best record, and their history of dominance with six tournament titles and 13 regular season crowns and two of the league’s three NCAA Tournament victories.  Instead, they’re playing in Tuesday’s First Round against last-place Holy Cross knowing that a win sends them to Bender Arena and a date with American on Thursday.

Ballot Battles:  Maryland was oh so close to finding its way into this week’s top five once again, but a loss to Michigan State holds the Terps back.  This week’s movers include UCLA (the Bruins suddenly atop the Pac-12) and Creighton (I’ve got the Bluejays 20th as opposed to the 11th they’re at this week), with small school shout-outs going to Stephen F. Austin, East Tennessee State, and Northern Iowa.  The biggest heat I’m getting?  BYU fans after I dropped the Cougars from 20th to 21st (they’re 15th overall) on my ballot.  While the West Coast Conference’s second place team has won nine in a row, I moved Michigan State and Ohio State over them based on quality wins by the Spartans and Buckeyes over the last eight days.

 

Starting Five:

Friday- Richmond at Duquesne.  The Spiders have won seven of eight to move onto the NCAA Tournament bubble; unfortunately most of those wins have not been of the marquee variety and most bracket models still have Richmond on the outside looking in.  The Dukes are likely the best team U of R has faced since falling to now-No. 7 Dayton in late January.  While a win won’t bolster their at-large consideration, a loss will definitely go towards deflating it.

Saturday- Georgetown vs. Villanova. Patrick Ewing is officially using paper clips and duct tape to hold his roster and rotation together, with Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven joined on the hobbled list by Malcolm Wilson.  Who’s that?  A 6-foot-11 big hoping to redshirt in peace-and he couldn’t even do that, suffering an injury in Saturday’s practice.  The Wildcats are playing for seeding in the Big East as well as NCAA Tournament and won the game up in Philly by 14 when Sadiq Bey sunk eight threes on his way to 33 points.

Also Saturday- No. 22 Virginia vs. Louisville.  The last team to beat the surging Cavaliers? The Cardinals in an 80-73 affair that saw UVa break the 70-point barrier for the first time all season.  Jordan Nwora notched 22 points and 7 rebounds that day, and containing the junior forward is key:  since the start of February he’s averaging 19 points with 9 rebounds (shooting 41% FG and 38% from three) in Louisville’s six wins, 5 points with 7 rebounds (shooting 24% FG and 13% from three) in their three losses.

Also Saturday- George Washington at No. 3 Dayton.  The Colonials try to play spoiler on Senior Day for the Flyers, who are attempting to zero in on the conference’s first number one seed since Saint Josephs in 2004.  Celebrations aside, all eyes will be on a certain sophomore.  Forward Obi Toppin leads the A-10 in shooting (63%), ranks second in scoring (19.8) and is seventh in rebounding (7.8).  GW doesn’t have the firepower to match:  the Colonials rank 13th in the conference in scoring and are also second to last in turnover margin.

Sunday- No. 9 Maryland vs. No. 25 Michigan.  The Terps begin the week one win away from a share of their first conference regular season title since 2010, and they remain in the driver’s seat to secure their first outright regular season crown since the National Championship season of 2002.  The Wolverines have yo-yoed their way through the season, going from starting the season unranked with first-time head coach Juwan Howard to making its Top 25 debut in December at No. 4.  They’ve won five straight and have lost four in a row during conference play and find themselves at .500 with two games left in the regular season.  It’s another tough test for the Terps on the perimeter; Xavier Simpson averages a conference-best 7.9 assists per game.

 

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For 37 minutes Saturday afternoon the script went as it has for most of the Mark Turgeon era on a micro and macro level.  After coughing up a 15-point lead at Michigan State, the Terps trailed the Spartans 60-53 with 3:25 left.  Second half slides have been the rule as opposed to the exception over the last decade; just once in Turgeon’s tenure has the team posted a better record in the second half of conference play than the first (the 2014-15 season saw the team start 6-3 in the Big Ten before finishing 8-1).  But instead of another February fade, the Terps turned the tables on the Spartans by holding them scoreless for the final 3:25.  Jalen Smith made a three-pointer and helped hold Michigan State to one shot by notching three late rebounds while Anthony Cowan finished the deal with back to back to back threes (he’d add two free throws with seven seconds left for the icing on the cake) as Maryland emerged with a 67-60 victory.  All of a sudden the team that couldn’t win on the road all season has won four straight away from home in the toughest conference.  And all of a sudden the Terrapins find themselves in position to capture their first regular season league title since 2002.

Alma Mater Update:  the Orange led Florida State until late in the second half, falling  80-78 in Tallahassee when a road victory would have been a signature win for a team that desperately needed one.  Instead, another rough outing saw SU slip to .500 in the ACC and closer to .500 for the season.  Next up? A Louisville team that’s dropped two in a row and is just as angry as the Florida State team they fell to last weekend. When does lacrosse begin?

Wow of the Week: Georgetown beat No. 19 Butler 73-66 Saturday despite being minus their top two players, as Omer Yurtseven had yet to fully recover from a badly sprained ankle and Mac McClung has missed four straight games with a foot injury.  Somehow the Hoyas went into Hinkle Fieldhouse (where the rims are still ten feet off of the court) and hit 10 of 15 three-pointers while Terrell Allen (not even a starter until James Akinjo left the program) scored a career-high 22 points. At 15-10 and 5-7 in the Big East, Georgetown still has a window of opportunity (however slim) to make the NCAA Tournament.

Player Spotlight:  Richmond’s resurgence this winter saw the Spiders avenge their January loss to VCU by routing the Rams 77-59.  This winter they’ve been sparked by high-scoring Blake Francis and anchored by big man Grant Golden while Jacob Gilyard pilots the offense.  But every so often an unsung hero comes up big:  Saturday it was Nick Sherod who scored 23 points while hitting 5-of-7 three-pointers.  The junior has done a lot of the little things this winter to help the Spiders bounce back from consecutive 20-loss seasons, and at this time coach Chris Mooney’s team is making its way towards the NCAA Tournament bubble.

League Look: despite Clemson’s recent success on the gridiron and Virginia’s men’s lacrosse title, the ACC is first and foremost a basketball conference.  Former Duke player Gene Banks said during an era when a maximum of two schools per conference made the big dance that “if the ACC got six teams into the NCAAs, they’d all make the Final Four.”  Six schools have made the field every season since the league expanded to 15 during the 2013-14 season, but this year they’ll be hard-pressed to get five.  Back to back wins by Virginia (one in overtime, another on a last-second shot) have the Cavaliers on the right side of the bubble, but after that there’s a hot mess where fifth and 12th place are separated by a total of two games. Perhaps quality instead of quantity is this year’s mantra:  the league’s  soft center will help upper tier schools like Duke, Florida State, and Louisville likely land top three seeds next month.

Ballot Battles:  last week’s turnover has been rectified, as Pac-12 leader Colorado makes the Top 25.  Maryland moves up three spots on my AP ballot from 10 to 7 this week, while Seton Hall and West Virginia both slide down the teens.  Butler (once as high as number five) drops out after falling to a depleted Georgetown at home.  Small school shout-outs this week go to the usual suspects:  Wright State, East Tennessee State, Stephen F. Austin, and Rhode Island.  Just missing the cut:  Iowa and New Mexico State.

Starting Five:

Wednesday- Georgetown vs. Providence.  The Hoyas lost to the Friars by 16 on the road last month, and while they were hurt by the absence of Mac McClung (eye injury) they were hurt just as much by Alpha Diallo’s 20 points and 8 rebounds.  PC has beaten three ranked teams this month, but has lost road games at Xavier and St. John’s.

Also Wednesday- George Mason at Richmond.  The Patriots are smarting after getting swept by George Washington, but let the record show they went into the Siegel Center last week and beat VCU.  The Spiders shot 67% in a January win at Fairfax, while Mason’s Javon Greene scored 39 points in defeat.

Thursday- William & Mary at Towson.  Both schools are chasing first-place Hofstra in the CAA, with the second place Tribe one-half game ahead of the Tigers, who took the January meeting by 12 thanks to a career-high 21 points from freshman Jason Gibson.  They also lead the conference in scoring defense and rebounding margin.

Sunday- American at Boston University.  AU enters the week one game behind the Terriers for second place in the Patriot League;  in a conference where the tournament is played on home courts tiebreakers are all the more important. The Eagles won the previous meeting by four in DC thanks to Sa’eed Nelson; the senior is the only active NCAA D-1 player to have recorded 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in his career.

Sunday- No. 7 Maryland at Ohio State.  The Terps took the January meeting after falling behind 8-0 and going scoreless into the game’s first media timeout.  The sibling tandem of Kaleb & Andre Wesson combined for 29 points and 14 rebounds that night, but their teammates shot a collective 10-for-43 (23%).  The Buckeyes boast the Big Ten’s best scoring defense and are tops at defending the three;  should the Terps find themselves down seven with three minutes left on this time they might not find a comeback as easy in Columbus as it was in East Lansing.

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Maryland’s road to March has been bumpy so far this winter, to say the least.  An 0-4 start in true road games included the annual hiccup at Penn State (although for scheduling purposes, this season it happened in December), a shocker at shorthanded Seton Hall (although the Pirates have played their way back into the Top 25), a flameout at Iowa, and a last-minute meltdown at Wisconsin.  So when the Terps started slowly once again at last-place Northwestern we weren’t shocked by any stretch of the imagination.  When they trailed the Wildcats by 14 at the half the narrative was in motion once again.

But then Jalen Smith happened: the sophomore forward scored 21 of his 25 points after intermission as the Terps won its first road game of the winter 77-66.  And he wasn’t done:  Smith scored 29 points-including the go-ahead basket with 16 seconds left in Sunday’s 77-76 win at Indiana (the Terps’ first win in Bloomington since joining the Big Ten).  The Baltimore native also grabbed 11 rebounds in each of the Terrapins’ wins and was named Big Ten Player of the Week.  Almost halfway through league play, the 6-foot-10 forward ranks eighth in the Big Ten in scoring, fourth in rebounding, and third in blocked shots.  If he had enough attempts to qualify, Smith’s 42.9% would be tied for the league lead…in three-point shooting.  In the coming weeks, he’ll have duels with centers Luka Garza of Iowa and Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu.  And just like he’s helped re-write his team’s road performance narrative, Jalen Smith can re-write his own story as the Big Man of the Big Ten.

 

Alma Mater Update- can you say “Back to back to back to back to back”?  The Orange are suddenly 6-3 in the ACC after beating Notre Dame and Pitt, two schools they should be beating (Fighting Irish & Panthers are a combined 6-11 in league play).  They’re in…fourth place.  Granted, this is a down ACC this winter–but seriously?  SU hasn’t received a “double-bye” in the ACC Tournament since they finished second in the conference during their inaugural season of 2013-14.  That year feels like decades ago.  This week the Orange visit Clemson (Tigers have already won at North Carolina for the first time ever and followed that up with a victory over Duke) and then host Duke.  Gulp…

Wow of the Week- Towson has won six in a row to suddenly become a factor in the CAA race.  The Tigers are doing it with defense, allowing the fewest points per game while holding foes to the lowest shooting percentage in the conference.  They’re also second best in the league at defending the three and in rebounding.  While senior guard Brian Fobbs is their best offensive threat (16 points per game), freshman Jason Gibson is heating up with double-digit efforts in three of his last five games (including 21 points in a win at William & Mary).  Coach Pat Skerry has won 20 games three times since taking the reins of the program in 2011;  all of a sudden this team is in the mix to begin the 2020’s with a 20-win campaign.

Player to Watch- Virginia Tech is faring well in their first season of the post-Buzz Williams era. One reason has been the play of freshman guard Landers Nolley II- the Atlanta, GA native is averaging 18 points with 6 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 37% from three-point range.  He’s the true barometer for this team: in five ACC wins he’s netting 23 points per game while Nolley is averaging 13 points in their four league losses.

League Look- the Atlantic 10 has six schools with 14+ wins.  While No. 7 Dayton is the only school in this week’s Top 25,  more than just Dayton. Rhode Island is also receiving votes this week while VCU as well as Duquesne have also been on ballots this winter.  A good year for the A-10 means bad news for George Washington and George Mason:  both schools are under .500 in league play and are one bad week away from dipping into the bottom four (meaning they play in the dreaded First Round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament).  I enjoyed covering the tournament when it was held at Capital One Arena two years ago; I wish I didn’t have to wait two more years for the A-10 to return to DC.

Ballot Battles- while my top ten stayed the same this week, the bottom of my Top 25 got overturned with Stanford, Florida, Duquesne and Memphis making their exits. Back in is plucky Akron from the MAC and making it’s debut from the Southern is East Tennessee State.  Unfortunately my number 26 school Houston did not make the cut this week, prompting ire from the Cougar fan base.  I can only imagine how mad they’d be if the Big 12 had let them in the conference.

 

Starting Five-

Tuesday- Georgetown vs. No. 16 Butler.  The Bulldogs lead the Big East in rebounding margin while the Hoyas rank second;  but Butler is also tops in scoring defense while also leading the conference in shooting and defensive field goal percentage.  They also boast Kamar Baldwin; the senior scored 31 points in Saturday’s overtime win against Marquette.  The big question mark is junior guard Aaron Thompson;  the Paul VI product sat out the Marquette with with a left wrist injury.  If he’s able to play he’ll face DeMatha Catholic product Terrell Allen, who remembers Thompson well from their younger days.

Also Tuesday- VCU at Richmond.  College basketball rivalries have nothing on our capital city duo.  It’s state school versus private institution. It’s 21st Century Cinderella against the original article.  It’s also a winter where both programs are A-10 contenders for the first time in three years:  each is 15-5 and 5-2 in the conference.  The Rams have health on their side this time as Spiders’ leading scorer Blake Francis is out with a sternum injury.

Thursday- No. 15 Maryland vs. No. 18 Iowa.  The Terps had as many turnovers as made baskets (17) in their January 10th loss at the Hawkeyes.  Coach Fran McCafferty’s team shot 3-20 from three point range Monday against Wisconsin; no matter as they finished off the Badgers thanks to a 23-5 closing run.  Jalen Smith will have his hands full against Luka Garza as the junior center leads the Big Ten in scoring and ranks second in rebounding.

Also Thursday- Towson vs. UNC-Wilmington.  How much of a high-wire is the CAA?  Seven schools are within two games of league-leading William & Mary.  The Tigers trail the Tribe by one game after winning by 12 in Williamsburg, and are home this week.  With slumping Charleston coming to campus Saturday, enter “Trap Game 101”.  UNCW may be 2-7 in the league but has just beaten Charleston and Northeastern (two of the seven schools in the hunt).

Saturday- Virginia Tech vs. No. 5 Florida State.  The Seminoles were picked to finish fifth in the ACC, and soft seasons by North Carolina and Virginia have created a bit of a vacuum which coach Leonard Hamilton’s team has been more than happy to fill.  But three straight single-digit victories may lead one to believe FSU’s run is about to end, or at least be sidetracked for a game or two.  And who knows what shape they’ll be in from a tempo standpoint after facing Virginia Tuesday night.