Archives for posts with tag: Buzz Williams

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Conference Tournament week has the area schools scurrying to locations like Charlotte, Chicago, New York City, Brooklyn and Norfolk.  Even though conference expansion has changed these tourneys from tight three-day affairs to bloated five-day album cuts, the little dances before the Big Dance will provide plenty of thrills, chills, and spills leading up to Selection Sunday.

Tournaments with DC area schools:

ACC- Spectrum Center, Charlotte.  Sure the SEC had a tournament in the 1930’s and 40’s, but the Atlantic Coast Conference created the mold for league tourneys.  And sure, it’s a major hike to Blacksburg and Charlottesville–but there are plenty of alums who reside inside the beltway and either pop their collars or talk about turkey legs and a 15-year football streak.  Beware of the bluebloods:  Duke or North Carolina have won 13 of the 19 tournaments this century–and either the Blue Devils or the Tar Heels have played in the Finals every year since 1997 (the trivia answer would be Wake Forest-Georgia Tech).

#2 Virginia (28-2, 16-2 ACC)- the Cavaliers (10-3 in the ACC Tournament over the last five years) await the winner of Clemson-NC State in the #8 vs #9 game.  The Tigers-Wolfpack noon showdown will have the feel of an NCAA Play-in game, as both  schools are squarely on the bubble.  UVa routed Clemson 63-43 January 12th (holding the Tigers to 26% shooting and 3-19 from three-point range); they needed overtime to edge NC State 66-65 January 29th in their sloppiest game of the season (16 turnovers).  The Wolfpack beat the Tigers during their lone regular season matchup 69-67 and won three of five to wrap up the regular season;  but those three wins came against Boston College (2) and Wake Forest (1), who both lost in Tuesday’s bottom-of-barrel-scraping First Round.  UVa  meets the winner at noon Thursday.

#16 Virginia Tech (23-7, 12-6 ACC)- the Hokies (2-5 in the ACC Tournament over the last five years) face Miami at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Second Round, five days after beating the Hurricanes 84-70.  They also beat Miami 82-70 in their January meeting and in the sweep hit over 50% of their three-point shots against the Canes.  Primary offensive weapon Kerry Blackshear Jr. did not play well in either game: scoring 1 point in January, 8 last Friday, while shooting 4-for-20 over both games.  Hurricane to watch:  senior Anthony Lawrence II notched 20 points with 10 rebounds against Wake Forest and averaged a double-double against the Hokies this winter.  Achilles’ Heel to watch:  Miami ranked last in the ACC in rebounding margin.  A win sets up a rematch against #12 Florida State in the quarterfinals, a little over a week after blowing a double-digit lead in a loss at the Seminoles.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are a less than beautiful 19-12 after Saturday’s loss at Clemson…and even though most models have them “in” the NCAA Tournament, I won’t sleep unless they dispose of last-place Pitt in Wednesday’s Second Round.  A win means a third game this winter against Duke–and I’m not expecting any miracles.  Plus, coach Jim Boeheim is more of a Temptations fan than Smokey Robinson anyways.

 

Big Ten Tournament- United Center, Chicago.  After playing 2017 at Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center and 2018 at Madison Square Garden (a week early) in New York City, the league returns to its roots with a week in the Windy City.  Although to mix things up, this year for the first time the conference instituted a 20-game schedule (don’t worry, the ACC will follow suit next winter).  Sixth ranked Michigan State may enter as regular season champ, but #10 Michigan has won the last two Big Ten Tournaments and nobody is paying attention to #13 Purdue and the league’s leading scorer Carsen Edwards.

#21 Maryland (22-9, 13-7 Big Ten)- at 3 p.m Thursday the Terps (2-4 in the tournament since joining the conference) face the winner of  Rutgers and Nebraska (6:30 p.m Wednesday).  They beat both schools during the first week of January:  Jalen Smith’s last-second bucket gave Maryland a 74-72 win over the Cornhuskers in the kind of tight game they were getting the reputation of losing lately, and the road win at the Scarlet Knights (where they held Rutgers to 19 first-half points) showed that there would be no road woes this winter like last season.  Rutgers took the regular season matchup 76-69;  one game later Nebraska’s second-leading scorer and rebounder (and Georgetown transfer) Isaac Copeland Jr. went down with a torn ACL and the Huskers haven’t recovered. Rutgers remains Rutgers, however:  ranking 12th in the conference in points allowed, shooting and turnover margin; 13th in scoring and three-point shooting; and last in defending the three.  A Terps win Thursday would set up a rubber match with Wisconsin, the home team prevailing each time during the regular season.

 

Big East Tournament, Madison Square Garden, New York City.  The league nobody wants to win holds its postseason affair with plenty of possibilities.  Top seed Villanova lost its last five road games while Marquette dropped its last four games overall.  St. John’s moved from third to seventh place over the last week with three straight defeats.  Even Georgetown found a way to lose to DePaul by 32 (since the Blue Demons swept the Red Storm and bubble team Seton Hall along with that rout of the Hoyas, we’ve dropped the traditional “Lowly” prefix from their name).  Good luck figuring this one out.

Georgetown (19-12, 9-9 Big East)- the Hoyas play third seed Seton Hall Thursday in the last quarterfinal of the day, and while the schedule reads “9:30 p.m.”, both you and I know better (more like 9:45-9:50 start-if there’s no overtime).  Home court prevailed during the regular season, with the Pirates Myles Powell averaging 32.5 points against the Hoyas.  Jessie Govan scored 20 and 21 points against Seton Hall, but went scoreless in the first half at Capital One Arena before catching fire:  the senior scored all 11 Hoya points in double-overtime of the 77-71 win.  The freshman duo of Mac McClung and James Akinjo had rough nights in both games, shooting a combined 2-for-11 in the road loss and 9-for-28 in the home win.  The winner likely faces #23 Marquette in the semifinals, barring a continued collapse by the Golden Eagles (a distinct possibility).

 

Atlantic 10 Tournament, Barclays Center, Brooklyn.  I actually enjoyed having the A-10 in DC last March, and can’t wait for it to return in 2022.  It was a shame all four area schools had down years in 2018:  VCU, George Mason and Richmond each finished 9-9 in league play while George Washington played on the first day of the tournament.  This year, the Rams are on a roll with 12 straight wins and the Patriots are enjoying their best-ever conference season since leaving the CAA.  The Spiders and Colonials…not so much.

George Washington (8-23, 4-14 Atlantic 10)- the Colonials (5-5 since re-alignment in 2014)  play UMass in the first game of the tournament Wednesday at 1 p.m. GW took the regular season matchup 79-67 on February 20 as Maceo Jack scored 20 points;  that’s their only win since January.  The current five game losing streak involves four double-digit defeats.  UMass may have two wins in their last five games, but are winless away from Amherst against A-10 competition this winter.  They also have a hobbled leading scorer as Luwane Pipkins has played in just three of the team’s last nine games due to a hamstring injury.

George Mason (17-14, 11-7 Atlantic 10)- the Patriots (2-5 in the tournament over the last five years) play the winner of George Washington and UMass in Thursday’s Second Round (2:30 p.m.);  somehow this Patriots-Colonials-Minutemen sub-bracket is kind of amusing for history majors (though not as cool as the potential VCU-Rhode Island-Fordham Rams Regional would be).  Mason swept both teams during the regular season, with their  January 16 win at UMass (an 18-9 finish over the last 6:40 delivering a five-point margin) setting the tone for a 7-2 start in league play.  Freshman Jordan Miller could be an X-factor this week:  the Middleburg, VA native averaged 14 points (on 58% shooting) with 9.5 rebounds over his last four games.  The winner takes on St. Bonaventure in Friday’s Quarterfinals (2:30 p.m).

Richmond (12-19, 6-12 Atlantic 10)- the Spiders (4-5 with one tournament finals appearance since 2014) face Fordham in Wednesday’s other First Round game (3:30 p.m.).  It’s been a rough finish for both teams:  Richmond has lost four straight while the Rams have dropped five of six.  The Spiders took the lone regular season meeting 72-69 February 20;  Grant Golden scored 16 points, including the go-ahead jumper with 20 seconds left.  Freshman Nick Honor paced the Rams with 23 points that day—a sign that the future is bright.  The present is another matter for the league’s last-place team.

VCU (25-6, 16-2 Atlantic 10)- the Rams are 13-5 in the A-10 Tournament since leaving the CAA, and with the exception of last March have advanced to the Finals every year.  Their run this year begins in the Quarterfinals Friday at noon against the winner or Rhode Island and La Salle.  While the Rams beat the Explorers 69-63 in early January, they fell 71-65 to Rhode Island on a night where they coughed up 50 second-half points, turned the ball over 18 times and shot 17% from three-point range.  Coach Mike Rhoades’ team hasn’t lost since.  URI beat La Salle in the regular season 78-67 thanks to 20 points from Fatts Russell.  Let the record show the A-10 has some sweet names this year, from the Explorers’ Pookie Powell to my favorite:  Duquesne guard Sincere Carry-who naturally just happens to lead the conference in assists.

 

MEAC Tournament, Norfolk Scope, Norfolk.  This league runs its men’s and women’s tournaments concurrently, meaning Monday’s First Round winners often next play Wednesday or Thursday.  While the #1 seed has won five titles in the last ten years, there have been upsets like last March when #6 seed North Carolina Central beat regular season champ Hampton in the Finals.

Howard (16-15, 10-6 MEAC) reached the Semifinals as a #11 seed two years ago;  the Bison have just two other wins in the tournament this decade.  The lead the league in scoring but play a defensive style that can sometimes be referred to as “matadorish”; but when you have the conference’s top two point producers in R.J. Cole and Charles Williams you take your chances.  Coach Kevin Nickelberry’s team is also riding a ridiculous 8-0 road record in conference play to Norfolk-where they wrapped up the regular season by beating top seed Norfolk State.  The #4 seed Bison battle Bethune-Cookman Thursday in the Quarterfinals at 8 p.m.;  the Wildcats boast the league’s best big man in Cletrell Pope (#1 in rebounding, #2 in shooting percentage and #3 in blocked shots).   The winner likely gets an angry Norfolk State in the Semifinals Friday.

 

Advertisements

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:  the ACC is loaded again this winter.  Five of the top sixteen schools in both polls reside in that league.  And it’s not just the traditional blue bloods Duke and North Carolina– Miami, Notre Dame and Louisville also promise to make the conference campaign a gauntlet for the other ten schools.  Two of which reside in the Commonwealth and are also receiving votes this November.

Virginia is coming off of a 23-11 campaign and the departure of London Perrantes.  The centerpiece of the Cavaliers’ resurgence under coach Tony Bennett started 134 games and scored 1,225 points in a career that included a pair of 30-win seasons and #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, an ACC Championship and one trip to the Regional Finals.  Last winter it felt like UVa was “London and four guys from the Y”, especially when they hit the midseason wall and lost six of eight.  Three other pieces of the rotation (Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson and Jarred Reuter) transferred in the offseason-but there are plenty of contributors coming back from the team that allowed the fewest points per game in Division I last winter.  Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins has increased his productivity in the paint every season he’s been in Charlottesville and senior guard Devon Hall has developed into a fantastic perimeter defender while being able to initiate the offense when needed.  Guard Kyle Guy made almost 50% of his three-pointers as a freshman with the most popular hairstyle in the college game;  hopefully Guy’s cutting of the infamous man bun won’t have Samson-like ramifications to his shooting touch.  Jack Salt is from New Zealand and the 6-foot-10 center’s play resembles that of a Shiraz from down under:  plenty of boldness and unpredictability as just once in ACC play last winter did Salt post more field goals than personal fouls.  Seven-footer Jay Huff has gained 30 pounds after redshirting last season;  he’ll get every chance to compete for minutes.

The Cavaliers pull no punches in November and December, visiting VCU and #11 West Virginia while facing Vanderbilt in the NIT Season Tip-off Thanksgiving Day.  They won’t play North Carolina or Duke twice in ACC play–once is more than enough for most programs anyways.  It’s not the ACC opener, but circle January 3rd on your calendar as The Cavaliers visit Virginia Tech–they’ve lost two straight in Blacksburg.

Penthouse Prediction- the transfer departures prove to be addition by subtraction, while Wilkins and Hall make the leap we’ve seen previous upperclassmen make in Charlottesville.  Guy is even better without the man-bun and Huff is the center Tony Bennett has been craving.  A top-four finish in the ACC and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Worst Case Scenario- the power of the man-bun is proven and Kyle Guy shoots 20% from the field before hastily growing one over semester break.  Huff has an even higher fouls-per-rebound ratio than Jack Salt.  The ACC eats UVa alive…and they go under .500 in conference play en route to the NIT.  They also get swept by the Hokies.

 

Virginia Tech enters year four under coach Buzz Williams.  They were perhaps a year ahead of schedule last March when they made their first NCAA Tournament since 2007.  Technically they return 77% of their starts, but their top two scorers last winter were seniors Zack LeDay and Seth Allen who primarily came off the bench.  Who fills the void?  Junior Chris Clarke is recovering from a torn ACL-and he was the best rebounder on a team that was near the bottom of the ACC on the glass.  Redshirt freshman Kerry Blackshear, Jr. missed last season with nagging shin injury–but if he’s back at full-strength the 6-foot-10 forward will provide production in the post.  While senior Justin Robinson’s sturdy hand steers the Hokies offense, freshman Nickiell Alexander-Walker started the preseason exhibition against South Carolina and led the team in scoring.

The Hokies’ pre-conference slate includes battles with Ole Miss and Iowa…and a trip to preseason-#5 Kentucky.  The league schedule is no kinder:  in addition to playing Virginia twice Tech gets two games with Louisville, Miami and Duke.  Once again we return to the Blue Devils.

Penthouse Prediction- Clarke and Blackshear come back healthy and Alexander-Walker is better than advertised.  They steal a win and just like the last two seasons exceed expectations.  Somehow Buzz Williams has this team playing in the ACC Championship Game.  They reach the second weekend in the NCAA’s for the first time ever.

Worst Case Scenario- they miss Seth Allen and Zach LeDay a lot more than they thought…while Blackshear and Clarke are never 100%.  After getting all of the bounces last year, the Hokies revert to the mean.  And that means an early exit in the ACC Tournament and a trip to the NIT.

 

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.

It’s nothing novel to say that Virginia and Virginia Tech are completely different schools, with men’s basketball programs and coaches that couldn’t be less similar.  I even stated so right here last year.  This year the Cavaliers and Hokies once again operate from different perspectives and with different expectations.

 

Virginia Tech’s glass is half-full.  Buzz Williams enters year three with high hopes as last winter saw a five-game winning streak to end the regular season followed by a trip to the NIT.  Where College Hoops’ “other tournament” once represented the purgatory Seth Greenberg’s program was banished to (thanks to a combination of poor non-conference scheduling or bad league losses), the NIT was pure heaven for the Hokies.  Even with an unbalanced league schedule, ten ACC wins were more than the program had in the previous three seasons combined.  Wins over top ten teams like #7 Miami to end the regular season…and a home triumph over #4 Virginia to provide hope for a roster that returns seven of his top eight players.

Picked to finish tenth in the ACC, you say?  Tell that to senior Zach LeDay (16 points and 8 rebounds per game) who will be joined by his twin brother Seth (19 points and 8 rebounds per game at Northwest Mississippi Community College) this winter.  Senior Seth Allen (15 points per game) and junior Justin Biggs (45% from three-point range) will provide perimeter threats.  The next step is out there to be made for this team…and even if it means fewer wins in arguably the toughest conference in the country, the Hokie faithful are optimistic that better days are ahead.

The non-conference highlights come in dates with Michigan and Ole Miss…one school likely to be competing for an NCAA bid and the other looking to return to the tournament after rebuilding.  The conference schedule appears favorable, with home-and away-series against Miami (picked 9th), Clemson (11th) and Boston College (15th).  The Cavaliers come to Cassell Coliseum February 12th…but do they dare dream of beating UVa in Charlottesville February 1st?  It’s morning in Blacksburg…

 

Virginia’s glass?  Half-empty.  Yes, they won 29 games last year against the toughest schedule in the nation (rated by teamrankings.com) and grabbed another #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament…but their March ended in a Regional Finals collapse for the ages.  After the recent success the program has had under coach Tony Bennett, it’s easy for the Cavaliers faithful to focus on what isn’t as opposed to what is.  Instead of the first-ever unbeaten (15-0) season inside John Paul Jones Arena (and first unblemished campaign at home since 1981-82), the Cavaliers’ 4-5 ACC road record gets trotted out (including that -gulp-loss to the Hokies).   Instead of celebrating the fantastic careers of building blocks Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, UVa laments that the duo depart Charlottesville without returning the program to the Final Four.

Thank goodness catalyst London Perrantes returns;  the senior led the team in assists and steals last winter and was deadly (49%) from three-point range.  Who steps up from supporting player to primary contributor?  Isaiah Wilkins and Memphis transfer Austin Nichols are expected to provide presence in the post…while juniors Devon Hall, Darius Thompson and Marial Shayok will compete for minutes on the wings.  Can McDonald’s All-American guard Kyle Guy show enough defensively to coach Bennett so that he merits enough minutes to showcase his offensive abilities?

 

Non-conference games with Iowa, Ohio State, West Virginia and Cal will test the Cavaliers early and often before league play opens at Louisville December 28th.  UVa gets two games with the nationally ranked Cardinals…just as they face preseason #6 North Carolina twice.  They catch a break by playing Pitt (and new head coach Kevin Stallings) twice…as the Panthers despite returning four starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team is picked to finish 12th in the ACC.  Tough league, indeed…