Archives for posts with tag: Bucknell

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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.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Tuesday’s First Round:

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

 

Thursday’s Quarterfinal:

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

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

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

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

Saturday-

12 p.m.

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

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

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

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

2 p.m.

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

2:30 p.m.

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

 

4 p.m.

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

6 p.m.

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

6:30 p.m.

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

Sunday-

2 p.m.

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