Archives for posts with tag: Duke

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College football loves to build up weekends around themes- from “Rivalry Week” to “Showdown Saturday” to “Rutgers isn’t scheduled at noon”.  They could have billed this past weekend as one of those “Separation Saturdays”:  previously unbeaten Minnesota and Baylor both fell for the first time this fall. The Golden Gophers were handcuffed by Iowa on the road while the Bears blew a 28-3 first half lead at home to Oklahoma.  Both schools were making cases for being in the College Football Playoff picture while rolling up either less-than-impressive wins or victories against less-than-impressive foes.  November football has a way of sorting things out.  Alabama (9-1) may have steamrolled Mississippi State, but the Crimson Tide lose quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the rest of the season with a dislocated hip. They still have Auburn in two weeks and won’t play in the SEC Championship game unless No. 1 LSU loses to Arkansas (0-6 in the SEC) and Texas A&M.   This week’s Final Four:  LSU, Ohio State, Clemson & Georgia.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange somehow came out of the bye week on fire and roasted Duke 49-6.  This keeps the faint bowl hopes alive, with rebuilding Louisville and fading Wake Forest on the horizon.  Can you say “Pinstripe Bowl possibilities”?  I’m just happy that SU didn’t go winless in the ACC after being ranked in the preseason.  It’s like getting an order of wings and realizing you didn’t get all flats after all.

 

Navy (7-2) saw things get late early in South Bend; the 52-20 loss at Notre Dame saw the Fighting Irish take a 38-0 lead before the Mids got on the board.  Thankfully this won’t affect their status in the AAC West, but head coach Ken Niumatalolo needs to get this loss out of his team’s head pronto.  They can’t let the Fighting Irish beat them on successive Saturdays.  Easy to say when you’re not an 18-to-22 year old.

Midshipmen Medals: Malcolm Perry ran for 117 yards while Mychal Cooper caught three passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.  Jacob Springer and Diego Fagot each notched ten tackles.  Owen White averaged 41.7 yards per punt while Bijan Nichols made both of his field goal attempts.

Midshipmen Miscues: four fumbles led to 28 points for Notre Dame;  the first two helped put Navy down 21-0 with 12:32 left in the second quarter.  The passing game that was supposed to take flight this fall completed 4-13 attempts on a day when they needed to rally.  The defense allowed six touchdowns plus a field goal on their first seven possessions.  While they contained the Fighting Irish running game (3.4 yards per carry), the secondary was roasted for 305 yards on 22 attempts.

Saturday: at 3:30 p.m. against 9-1 SMU.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC) may have been wondering in early October if this turnover-prone team with a rather accommodating defense could scrape together enough wins to keep its bowl streak intact.  As we enter the second half of November the Hokies are two wins away from returning to the ACC Championship Game (VT has won the Coastal six times in fourteen years), and their 45-0 rout of Georgia Tech puts division-leading Virginia and defending Coastal champ Pitt on notice.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker completed 9-13 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown while running for two more scores. And no fumbles or interceptions.  The running game pounded out 258 yards, with this week’s trick play involving a 49-yard scamper from freshman Tayvion Robinson.  Alan Tisdale notched a pair of sacks as the defense held the Yellow Jackets to 2-15 on third down and posted its first shutout since their 10-0 blanking of Virginia in 2017.  That Hokies D posted three shutouts en route to a 9-4 season.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 45.5 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings:  tough to find one in as thorough a rout as this one.  The offense moved the chains on just 3-10 third downs.  I’m sure the postgame meal could have been better as well.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. vs. 7-3 Pitt.

 

 

 

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Halfway through the season, we not only start to trim the list of potential College Football Playoff participants but figure out exactly who the Heisman Trophy candidates are.  Round up the usual suspects:  Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was the runner-up last year, and this fall he’s joined by his former backup/teammate Jalen Hurts who transferred to Oklahoma.  LSU QB Joe Burrow has been lights out this fall after making a big splash in the Tigers’ win at Texas, and Ohio State’s Justin Fields has picked up where Dwayne Haskins left off.  Wisconsin’s 24-23 loss at Illinois didn’t just torpedo the Badgers’ Big Ten West hopes; Jonathan Taylor’s Heisman candidacy takes a hit.

This should be no surprise; during this decade only one running back has won the award…can you name him?  Yes, I had to look up Alabama’s Derrick Henry too.  Tailbacks used to dominate the balloting, once enjoying a stretch where they won it 11 straight years.  But the 21st century favors the passer, and since 2000 16 of the 19 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks.  Not many are talking about the nation’s leading rusher Chuba Hubbard, who on name value alone is awesome, because even though the Oklahoma State running back has 1,265 yards and 15 touchdowns his Cowboys are 4-3.  Boston College’s A.J. Dillon is second in FBS, but his Eagles are also 4-3.  It’s a pitch and catch world, and the teams making playoff pushes can each air it out.  Sorry, Earl Campbell.

 

Alma Mater Update- the 27-20 loss to Pitt drops the Orange to 3-4.  The season that began in the Top 25 is almost certain to end Thanksgiving weekend.  Instead of wondering about bowl eligibility SU should be wondering if it’s going to go winless in the ACC as there are no soft touches remaining on the slate.  The fun continues at Florida State, a team the Orange torched last fall in the Carrier Dome.  Somehow I don’t think this will be as fun.

 

Maryland (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) came up short against Indiana 34-28.  The Terps had a pair of chances to take the lead in the final four minutes, but turned the ball over on their final two possessions of the day.  Likewise, the team had two chances to inch closer to bowl eligibility but winds up finding itself three steps shy with a remaining schedule that’s a combined 27-8.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Javon Leake rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns, the first a 60-yard scamper for a score.  Tyrrell Pigrome threw for 210 yards and two TD’s.  Dontay Demus caught 5 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown.  Chance Campbell tallied ten tackles while Antoine Brooks added seven stops plus and interception.

Terrapin Troubles:  the defense took a while to get in gear, allowing the Hoosiers to reach the end zone the first two times they had the ball.  They also allowed backup quarterback Peyton Ramsey to come in and complete 20 of 27 passes.  While penalties (six this week) were down, the two fourth quarter turnovers killed their comeback hopes.  Ball security by Leake and decision-making by Pigrome need to improve.

Next: Saturday at noon at 7-0 Minnesota.

 

Virginia (5-2, 3-1 ACC) snapped a two-game losing streak by blasting Duke 48-14.  After shutting down the Blue Devils in the first half, the offense scored the first four times they had the ball after intermission.  When Duke did finally score, Joe Reed returned the kickoff back for a UVa touchdown. The season of possibilities is back as they once again stand alone atop the Coastal Division.

Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins ran for three touchdowns while Wayne Taulapapa ran for 78 yards and a score.  Joey Blount tallied 10 tackles and an interception while the defense held the Blue Devils to 2-14 on third down and secured five takeaways.  Brian Delaney made both of his field goals while Reed continues to shine on special teams.

Cavalier Concerns:  Perkins completed just 50% of his passes while tossing an interception.   It was nice to see Chris Moore and Joey Blount finish 1-2 on the team in tackles, but one never likes to see the defensive backs making all the stops.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 4-3 Louisville.

 

Virginia Tech (5-2, 2-2 ACC) needed six overtimes to get by North Carolina, finally prevailing in a 43-41 marathon.  The win gives the Hokies a bit of a bounce entering their bye week, and the fact remains that they control the path to the ACC Championship Game.

Hokie Highlights:  the quarterback carousel paid off, with Hendon Hooker completing 8-12 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown before going down with an injury. Ryan Willis stepped in to throw the go-ahead TD pass in the second quarter. Quincy Patterson II ran for 122 yards and a touchdown in the second half while also tossing a TD pass in overtime.  Rayshard Ashby notched 17 tackles while Jarrod Hewitt added 2.5 sacks.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 49.2 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings: Brian Johnson missed 41 and 42 yard field goals that would have won the game.  The defense coughed up 348 yards through the air.  The offense lost two of their three fumbles on the afternoon.  Turnovers all but torpedoed the season in September; they’ll have to keep the mistakes to a minimum if they want a November to remember.

Next: November 2 at No. 8 Notre Dame.

 

Navy (5-1, 3-1 AAC) posted another dominant effort, crushing South Florida 35-3.  The difference this fall has been a defense that is much more disruptive than previous units.  The usual offensive efficiency saw Malcolm Perry join Keenan Reynolds, Napoleon McCallum and Chris McCoy as the only Mids to post 3,000 career yards rushing.

Midshipmen Medals: Perry rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns while the team gains 434 yards on the ground. Diego Fagot notched 10 tackles as the defense tallied five sacks and kept the Bulls out of the end zone.  Owen White averaged 47 yards per punt.

Midshipmen Miscues: Perry’s legs may be legendary, but his arm remains a work in progress after an 0-3 performance that included two interceptions.  Six penalties for 45 yards isn’t a big deal at most schools, but it is at the Academy.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 5-2 Tulane.

 

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Some say timing is everything, and if it isn’t it certainly remains a pretty big factor.  College Football’s Power Five slate kicks off at 12 p.m. Saturdays with more chaff than wheat while its prime matchups are usually offered up to ABC, CBS, and ESPN in the coveted 3:30 p.m. window.  The late games kick off from 6 to 7:30 p.m., with a prime time showdown and the customary Pac-12 After Dark duel wrapping up the day’s action.  It should be easy to have everybody play at a reasonable time.

Except with dreaded noon eastern games in the Central Time Zone.  This Saturday there are four games involving ranked teams that begin at 11 a.m. local time:  Oklahoma-West Virginia, Wisconsin-Illinois, Auburn-Arkansas and Purdue-Iowa.  Earlier this fall to fit into the ACC Network’s grid, Pitt played Ohio at 11 a.m. EDT.

Last month Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban complained about a 12 p.m. EDT game against Southern Miss, which would kick off at 11 a.m. local time.  Saban was pounced on by some as being elitist, but I completely understand his thinking.  In a sport where empty seats are a pox and the final days of summer can be toasty, late-morning is the last time you want to gather 75,000 people outside in the sun.  On weekends the last thing many want to do is have to be anywhere by 11 a.m.; even though noon is just an hour later it feels a world away from late-morning.  College students waking up and getting anywhere on a Saturday morning by 11?  Right.  And even though college athletics is not always about the actual student athletes, a player’s body-clock can’t benefit from the morning start.

Leagues blame TV; one wants to show as many games to as many people as possible.  But if the SEC and Big Ten have their own networks, can’t they move the 11 a.m. Central games to noon/aka 1 p.m. Eastern?  It’s not like these channels don’t have pregame and highlight shows that could fill those slots.  So your SEC mid-afternoon game kicks off at 4:30 instead of 3:30…or the seven o’clock game starts at eight.  People will still watch–because it’s football.  Unless it’s Rutgers.

 

Alma Mater Update- major gut-check time for the Orange, who need three wins to become bowl-eligible.  First up is 4-2 Pitt, who’s coming off of three straight wins by a combined seven points.   But at least it’s at home–even if it’s on Friday night.  The offensive line that allowed eight sacks against NC State needs to find itself, and Tommy DeVito needs to put up quality yards instead of simply a quantity of yards.  I’m not confident that will happen this year.

 

Maryland ( 3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (4-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network). 

Speaking of early starts, how is this game not beginning at 12?  I thought “Maryland-Indiana” was French for “noon kickoff”.  Both schools suffer from the “Rutgers Inflation Effect”.  The Terps torched the Scarlet Knights by 41 points while the Hoosiers won by 35 against RU.  They’ve each been humbled by Big Ten foes not residing the state of New Jersey, Maryland getting outscored 99-14 while IU’s been pasted 91-41.  Indiana brings the Big Ten’s second-best passing game into College Park Saturday, and the Terps passing defense allows the most yards per game in the conference.  Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (69.5% completion rate) has the necessary counter-punch in running back Stevie Scott III (5.0 yards per carry) to keep opponents honest; sadly he lacks a “IV” on the roster.  Tyrrell Pigrome starts for the second week at quarterback as Josh Jackson’s ankle still isn’t right, and running back Anthony McFarland’s high ankle sprain looks to limit the sparkplug that gained over 1,000 yards last fall further (he notched four yards at Purdue and dropped a pass in the end zone).

Presto’s Pick: Terps tumble, 35-20.

 

Virginia (4-2, 2-1 ACC) vs. Duke (4-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Easter may be in springtime, but last Friday the Cavaliers laid a major egg in their 17-9 loss at Miami.  So much for the “Season of Possibilities” (thankfully not trademarked yet). Early issues that won’t go away begin and end with an offensive line that can’t generate a running game (a league-worst 102 yards per game) or protect Bryce Perkins (13 sacks in their last two games).  Duke has already won in the Commonwealth this fall, but after scorching Virginia Tech by 35 they allowed 33 points in a loss at home to Pitt.  Quentin Harris  is also averaging fewer than 10 yards per completion in four of six games this fall;  UVa’s defense leads the ACC in sacks and will need to make him uncomfortable all afternoon.

Kippy & Buffy are more than comfortable going with an old standby for Duke week:  the ultimate “bro” school demands a bottle from Breaux Vineyards.  This year it’s the ”
Equation Red”, a blend that is 73% merlot with dashes of Petit Verdot, Chamborcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  With aromas of “ripe cherry, plum, and chocolate” plus the taste of “juicy fruit, baking spices such as clove and nutmeg” the lingering dusty tannins will go great with some sauteed mushrooms plus Bleu Cheese on toast against the Blue Devils.

Presto’s Pick:  the Cavaliers find the right equation and defeat Duke, 24-20.

 

Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-2 ACC) vs. North Carolina (3-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Past is present in Chapel Hill, as Mack Brown returned to the program he led to 69 wins from 1988 to 97 (including consecutive 10-win seasons that wrapped up his tenure).  Behind freshman quarterback Sam Howell (15 touchdowns and 3 interceptions) the Tar Heels began the season with thrilling wins over South Carolina and Miami, before dropping one-possession games to Wake Forest, Appalachian State, and then-No. 1 Clemson.  While a 16-point win at 1-5 Georgia Tech doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, look at the Hokies: they led Rhode Island by seven in the fourth quarter and it was just as close in wins against Furman, Old Dominion and Miami.  Cause for confidence:  VT is 2-0 since going with turnover-free Hendon Hooker at quarterback.  What’s helped the sophomore is the presence of a running game, with Deshawn McClease emerging as the primary ground threat.

Presto’s Pick:  Hokies come up short, 26-20.

 

Navy (4-1, 2-1 AAC) vs. South Florida (3-3, 1-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

The Midshipmen are coming off of their first road win in over two years, while the Bulls are .500 at midseason despite returning 15 starters.  The sizzle for the Mids is often its option offense, and quarterback Malcolm Perry is directing an attack that leads the nation in rushing.  But major strides have been made so far this year on defense:  the team leads the AAC in stopping the run as well as fewest yards and points allowed.  USF has had major issues protecting the quarterback (a league-high 24 sacks allowed) as well as moving the chains (second-worst in the conference).

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move one step closer to bowl eligibility with a 31-17 win.

 

Georgetown beats Lafayette, James Madison wins at William & Mary, Richmond gets by Yale, Towson beats Bucknell, Morgan State slips to South Carolina State.

Last Week: 5-5.  Overall: 44-19.

 

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More isn’t always better; sometimes it’s just more.  College football rules the roost on Saturdays between Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekend, and Thursday night football has been a fixture for over 20 years.  As previously mentioned in this space, college actually does Thursdays better because more often than not the teams playing are coming off of bye weeks and even those that aren’t have had four days off instead of the NFL’s three (and with a larger roster to eat up snaps).  Expansion to Friday only seemed the next logical move, and when it comes to Friday games I don’t count Labor Day’s opening weekend nor do I count the day after Thanksgiving due to the fact both are “holiday Fridays”.  But it’s not necessarily better, nor welcome.  Instead of the Thursday night island, distinct enough of an entity to have its own sense of place; Friday night feels like the sand bar at low tide.  And just like Sundays belong to the NFL, Fridays should belong to high school football.  I mean, has nobody read the book or watched the movie/TV show “Friday Night Lights”?   (Aside: if you stopped watching the show during season two’s murder storyline, I’d understand).

One of the reasons I was happy Syracuse was leaving the Big East was that at the time the ACC didn’t have Friday night games.  Now they do, as is the case with everybody but the SEC (even the ten-member Big 12 has Kansas playing on a Friday night this year).  And this is the third season of Friday night football in the tradition-rich Big Ten; it was only a matter of time before Maryland would have to close down its campus for classes on a Friday and host one of these games.  I get it. For schools and conferences that aren’t major brands it’s a great way to be in the spotlight as opposed to being buried as one of 50+ games on a Saturday.  But just because one can play games on a night previously reserved solely for the feeder system to your sport doesn’t mean you should for some TV bucks.  And just because I’m not a fan of the 21st Century version of Friday Night Lights doesn’t mean I won’t watch when teams I cover or root for are playing. Clear eyes, full hearts. Right?

Alma Mater Update- the Orange host Holy Cross Saturday at noon.  I do believe “Syracuse-Holy Cross” is Greek for “noon kickoff”, although I’ve been wrong before. I’ve also been wrong in supporting my school this fall. As I realized over the weekend, SU is outscoring foes 65-17 when I’m not watching/listening (thank you 1180 AM in Rochester for your long reach after dark) while I’ve witnessed them getting outscored 120-37.  Surely I can cut into that deficit while watching the Orange roast an FCS team, right?  I’m still on the fence–it’s been one of those years.

 

Thursday’s Game:

Navy (2-0, 1-0 AAC) at Memphis (3-0), 8 p.m. (ESPN). 

Both teams are off to dominant starts, but while the Midshipmen are outscoring the opposition 87-17 those wins have come against Holy Cross (1-2 with a three-point win over New Hampshire) and East Carolina (winless against FBS schools).  The Tigers have beaten an SEC school (Ole Miss counts, believe it or not) and have also won on the road (South Alabama isn’t the Crimson Tide, but the Jaguars are in FBS).  They also finally decided the “Brady Brawl” at quarterback:  Brady White starts while Brady McBride transferred to Texas State.  Even with last year’s one-point loss in Annapolis, the Tigers won the AAC West and they look better this season.   And while Navy’s much better than last year’s 3-10 nightmare, a prime time game on the road might be too much to ask.

Presto’s Pick: Mids come up short, 35-24.

 

Friday’s Games:

Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-1 ACC) vs. Duke (2-1), 7 p.m. (ESPN). 

After a week off, the Hokies rollercoaster ride continues with a date against the Blue Devils.  Both schools lost Labor Day weekend, but while the Hokies coughed up a winnable game at Boston College the Blue Devils were blown out by No. 2 Alabama (somewhere there has to be that oddball who roots for Duke football and Alabama basketball).  Duke has also dominated in its two wins while Virginia Tech has struggled to scrape past Old Dominion and Furman.  Daniel Jones may be off to the NFL, but Quentin Harris is completing 73% of his passes and unlike ODU’s Sterling Smartt or Furman’s Darren Grainger actually saw action on the field last year.  The Blue Devils also keep Harris upright:  Duke has allowed an ACC-low eight sacks this fall while the Hokies pass rush has been somewhat lacking.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies are humbled, 21-16.

 

Maryland (2-1) vs. No. 12 Penn State (3-0), 8 p.m. (FS1).

The rivalry that isn’t has two Eastern schools in a Midwest-based league kicking off conference play.  The Terps’ tumble at Temple robs what could have been some serious buzz around this game.  Instead, prepare yourselves for a Penn State invasion:  College Park is the closest Big Ten campus from Beaver Stadium and there are plenty of alumni and Nittany Lion fans inside the beltway (including one or two that work at WTOP).  Maryland owns the conference’s top-ranked running game and the defense that ranks second-best in sacks is also third best in getting off of the field on third down.  Penn State’s led by first-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford, and while he’s put up decent numbers (facing Idaho and Buffalo will do that) the sophomore is directing an offense that ranks last in the Big Ten on third down conversions.

Presto’s Picks: Terrapins tumble, 24-17.

 

Saturday’s Games:

No. 18 Virginia (4-0) at No. 10 Notre Dame (2-1), 3:30 p.m. (NBC).

The Fighting Irish are coming off of a six-point loss at No. 3 Georgia, just the kind of tough defeat that may have actually helped their chances at getting into the College Football Playoff.  As crazy as this sounds, the Cavaliers are currently the highest ranked foe remaining on their schedule (Michigan has dropped to No. 20 and USC is No. 21).  Ian Book threw for 275 yards in the loss to the Bulldogs.  Even though UVa’s defense has allowed just three second-half touchdowns this fall (and two were while holding a 30-plus point lead over William & Mary), Book is better than any of the four QB’s they’ve faced.  Bronco Mendenhall’s ground game took a step back against Old Dominion (27 carries for 85 yards when accounting for sacks), and that’s a shame because Notre Dame allows over 200 yards per game rushing.

Kippy & Buffy realize if you can’t beat them, tailgate with them.  Knowing that Irish are stereotypically redheads, their plan is to enjoy a bottle of Mount Veeder 2017 Chardonnay: “On the nose, beautiful and delicate floral aromas of jasmine marry with sweeter notes of honeysuckle and candied ginger. A very subtle hint of vanilla creme and toffee from the oak aging emerge on the lingering finish.”  Let the record show that Kippy & Buffy are cool with redheads, as Thomas Jefferson founded the University.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers linger into the second half but come up short, 30-18.

 

Howard slips to Bethune-Cookman, Georgetown loses at Columbia, James Madison beats Elon, Towson tumbles at Florida, Richmond beats Fordham, William & Mary edges Albany.

Last Week: 4-2. Overall: 25-8.

Who’s ready for Opening Day!?!  In March???  It’s the price of doing business playing 162 reguarl season games with 3+ rounds of playoffs while not holding the World Series in November.  For better or worse.  I know-I get this feeling twice every year.  It happens in early November, when we’re halfway through the NFL season and just into college football’s closing month when suddenly we’re supposed to care about Maryland-Hofstra.  The men’s college basketball season concludes over the next few weeks, so it’s only fitting some of the NCAA Tournament thunder is robbed by baseball’s pomp and circumstance.  Usually opening week in baseball overlaps with the Final Four;  this year the Nationals will have played nine games (weather permitting) by the time the nets are cut down in Minneapolis.

That said, the calendar waits for no one. The Washington Nationals attempt to bounce back from an 82-80 season as well as the offseason loss of Bryce Harper.  But this team will be bolstered by offseason additions like Patrick Corbin as well as the catching duo of Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki.  The Nats were built to handle Harper’s departure as good as they could be, with prime prospect Victor Robles joining last year’s breakout rookie Juan Soto in the “future is now” category.  If only Adam Eaton can play 140 games in rightfield while leading off;  the veteran has been limited by injuries to just 118 games over the last two years.  Other questions involve the health of mainstays Ryan Zimmerman (85 games played last year) and Stephen Strasburg (22 starts).  Also, will manager Davey Martinez return for year two armed with lessons learned in 2018?  Unlike the NFL, baseball is not a snapshot season.  Over 162 games a team’s players and manager rise or fall to their actual level a lot more than pro football-or even the NHL and NBA.  Let’s get this season underway.

 

Regional Roundup: fourteen of the top sixteen seeds advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, with three glaring losses by David over the first weekend.  Thursday, Belmont was a tipped pass away from beating Maryland and New Mexico State missed two of three free throws against Auburn when three makes would have upset the Tigers and two would have forced overtime.  But both of those losses paled in comparison to UCF leading Duke late but being unable to hold off the overall number one seed in the final minute.  So instead of Cinderellas, we get a #5 seed Auburn and a #12 seed Oregon as the only Regional outliers.

 

Sweet Sixteen Showdowns–

South-

 #1 Virginia vs. #12 Oregon.  While the Cavaliers avenged last year’s First Round loss to UMBC by rallying past Gardner-Webb and moved past 2017’s Second Round loss to Florida, the “Ghosts of Regionals Past” are just as haunting.  UVa has won just one Regional Semifinal game this century…while the Ducks have reached the Final Four as recently as 2017.  They also boast the 12th ranked defense in Division I-UVa allowing the fewest points per game again this season.  Coach Dana Altman’s team is the only double-digit seed still in the tournament thanks to ten straight wins.

#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Purdue. Rick Barnes previously led Clemson and Texas to the Sweet Sixteen, and it’s no different with his third straight orange-clad school.  One would think that if things don’t work out longterm in Tallahassee, he’ll head to Illinois.  The Boilermakers were a Lucas Haas injury away from doing major damage last March;  guard Carsen Edwards led the Big Ten in scoring this past winter and is averaging 34 points a game in the NCAA Tournament.

 

West-

#1 Gonzaga vs. #4 Florida State. The Bulldogs have lost to ACC schools in four straight NCAA Tournaments, and the Seminoles are one of the more athletic teams in the bracket.  It’s also amazing how somehow FSU coach Leonard Hamilton looks younger than he did 20 years ago.

#2 Michigan vs. #3 Texas Tech.  Two of the top three defensive teams (UVa being #1) battle with the Wolverines looking to make a return trip to the Elite Eight.  The Red Raiders reached the Regional Final last year as well before falling to Villanova.

 

East-

#1 Duke vs. #4 Virginia Tech.  An ACC matchup takes place one round earlier than it should; I’m still flummoxed that the committee was cool with putting three Big Ten schools in the lower half of the East bracket.  The Hokies beat the Blue Devils when Zion Williamson was hurt, but so was VT guard Justin Robinson. Tech is 17-3 with the senior in the lineup; 7-5 without.

#2 Michigan State vs. #3 LSU.  One coach is being flogged for freaking out during a game, while the other is in the land of limbo. Will Wade hasn’t coached since the Tigers’ penultimatet regular season game…but LSU finds itself in DC along with Tom Izzo, who might be persuaded to drink more decaf this weekend.

 

Midwest-

#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Auburn. Another strong regional has the Tigers as an outlier–although coach Bruce Pearl’s team was in the top 25 for a big chunk of the season and they did win four games in four days at the SEC Tournament.  The Tar Heels are the best team nobody’s talking about, and senior Luke Maye feels like he’s in his 8th year at the school.  Both teams can score in bunches.

#2 Kentucky vs. Houston. They want Wildcats-Heels in the Regional Finals, right?  PJ Washington remains a question mark with his foot injury- and at best will play 15-20 minutes against a Cougars team that is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1984- when Akeem Olajuwon led the team to the Final Four and a loss to Georgetown in the National Championship game.

 

 

 

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The NCAA Tournament begins Tuesday night with the First Four.  If you’ve filled out a sheet or two already you’re probably trying to figure out how to better your workplace rivals.  First things first–

1–Do not be the person who tells everyone what the standings are Thursday afternoon after each result.  Odds are they know–and if say they pick a Georgia Tech to go to the Final Four and they lose the first day of the tournament don’t want to to be told.  And if they didn’t, to be notified after every result is a water torture nobody wants to experience.

2–You don’t have to share your picks.  Honestly, win or lose.  You had Houston beating Michigan and the Wolverines hit a last-second shot?  Sorry to hear…as in I’m sorry you felt as though you had to tell someone.  Everybody’s pool takes hits with each upset–and we don’t want to know how you’d be winning the office pool if only Virginia had beaten UMBC.

3–“Almost picking” is not the same as picking. So if your Final Four picks flame out the first weekend, don’t tell us which schools you thought about taking but didn’t.

4–Don’t discuss your “other sheet”.  Oh yes, the famous “other sheet” that you filled at your other job or with other friends.  The sheet that has all of the winners, even though the sheet you’re playing with your friends has no Final Four teams remaining.  The “other sheet”.  Right…

 

It’s time for our Bold, Fold and Gold picks for 2019…

Bold- which sleepers might bust a bracket or two?

Fold- which teams are likely to make in early exit?

Gold- who advances to the Final Four?

 

East Regional- Duke is the team to beat after entering the NCAA Tournament ranked number one in the nation for the first time since…2006.  For all of their success this decade one would have thought they’d have been atop the rankings at least once. Perhaps they’re making up for lost time this winter.  I thought Michigan State should have gotten the last number one seed, but instead the Spartans are on the other side of the Blue Devils’ regional.

Bold- Minnesota boasts the Big Ten’s leading rebounder in Jordan Murphy, and the Golden Gophers play Louisville- who just happened to fire Rick Pitino two years ago.  Minnesota is coached by Richard Pitino, who happens to be Rick’s son.  They already have plenty of tape and a scouting report on the likely second round foe Michigan State.

Fold- LSU was in the top ten before coach Will Wade was served a subpeona by the federal government and a suspension by his school regarding the recent FBI investigation.  The Tigers then wilted in the SEC Tournament.  While they have the clear edge talent-wise over Yale, the circumstances surrounding the program aren’t the recipe for a deep tournament run.

Gold- Duke has the best player in Zion Williamson and the best coach in Mike Krzyzewski. They’ll find their way to Washington DC for a coronation next weekend after disposing of their alphabet soup (NCC, NDSU, VCU, UCF) in nearby Columbia, SC.  A likely avenging of a February loss (Virginia Tech) looms.  The question is, how did three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Maryland, Minnesota) wind up in the bottom half of that regional?  I thought the Selection Committee’s long lunches were put in place to prevent that.

 

South Regional- Virginia is a number one seed for the fourth time in six years.  We don’t need to discuss what happened last season.  Unfortunately March Brings Cinderellas to the forefront.  Condolences to Gardner-Webb.  Unless the Runnin’ Bulldogs somehow repeat the Terriers’ feat.  Then it’s going to be another summer of discontent in Charlottesville.

Bold- Cincinnati is fresh off beating Houston to win the AAC Tournament…and the Bearcats are also bound for Columbus, which happens to be the capital of the state that the city of Cincinnati resides.  Don’t be surprised to see the underseeded Bearcats make noise.

Fold- Villanova has been boom or bust recently, either advancing to the Final Four or saying adios the first weekend.  The Wildcats gritted their way to the Big East Tournament championship for a record third straight year, but wrapped up the regular season with five straight road losses.  Even though Hartford isn’t exactly San Jose, I’m feeling Jay Wright’s team has a short stay this March.

Gold- Virginia will be tested by a Tennessee that doesn’t have to travel far (Columbus & Louisville), but this year the Cavaliers have additional hitch to their giddy-up in an offense that might not be able to match their best in the nation defense (I think it’s Grandfathered in that UVa leads the nation in scoring D) but has the necessary firepower to pull away from foes. De’Andre Hunter’s wrist is intact, unlike last March, and so are the Cavaliers’ Final Four hopes.

 

Midwest Regional- North Carolina won neither the ACC regular season or tournament, but why recognize another league like the Big Ten or SEC at this time?  The Tar Heels head up the Blue Blood Bracket, with Kentucky and Kansas (sadly UCLA could not attend the NCAA Tournament this year) joined by a few schools who actually did win their conference tournaments in Auburn and Iowa State.

Bold– Seton Hall is fresh off losing the Big East Tournament championship and possesses the type of player (Myles Powell) who can make noise in the big dance.  They’ve also beaten Kentucky this season.

Fold- there’s always that one team that wins its league tournament that somehow feels like it spent a ton of energy doing so…and then can’t recreate the magic the following weekend.  Auburn took the SEC in an emotional day for Bruce Pearl, who lost an assistant coach not to another job but to prison (Chuck Person convicted in the FBI probe).  New Mexico State ranks 26th in the nation in scoring defense and won’t be a walkover.

Gold- why in the heaven am I taking another ACC team?  North Carolina has the talent, the experience, and the gosh-darnit-aw-shucks coach in Roy Williams on the sidelines to do just enough to infuriate the fan base that thinks the Heels should win every game by 50.  They won’t win every game by 50, and there’s going to be at least one win where UNC looks like they have no idea how to play basketball for 5-10 minutes but survive anyway.

 

West- Gonzaga is going to join the ACC as a provisional member so commissioner John Swofford can boast that for the first time all four seeds come from the same league.  Actually, if the Atlantic Coast Conference can have schools in Louisville and South Bend while the Big Ten can have 14 schools, this isn’t THAT much of a stretch.  The Bulldogs have been in the top five all season and begin another tournament run Thursday in Salt Lake City.

Bold- Syracuse plays that famed 2-3 zone and gets their best player back from injury in Tyus Battle.  The Orange lost late regular season games to North Carolina, Duke and Virginia after leading all three games at the half.  They won’t be star-struck by the Bulldogs, who have lost the last four years in the NCAA’s to an ACC school.

Fold- Marquette was once 23-4 and in conversations to not only win the Big East but secure a #2 seed.  But four losses to end the regular season plus a four-hour Big East Semifinal defeat to Seton Hall have exposed the Golden Eagles as another ordinary team.  Markus Howard is a dynamic point guard, but he won’t be enough to get this team out of its late-season skid.

Gold- or Maize.  Michigan began the year 18-0 and has lost just three times since Valentine’s Day-each loss coming to Michigan State who happens to be in a different region.  Coach John Beilein always gets the best out of his teams in March and this year won’t be an exception.  Ann Arbor’s not too far from South Bend…perhaps the ACC could reach out to the Wolverines.

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The NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament tips off tomorrow with the Infamous “First Four”.  Before you dismiss the dealings in Dayton, take note that in the eight years they’ve had the last four at-large teams face off a “First Four” team has won a First Round game every year.  Four times one of these schools has reached the Regional round and we will always have the initial First Four Graduate VCU’s Final Four run as an example.

 

East- the road to the Final Four goes through Washington, DC with overall number one seed Duke and Zion Williamson expected to find their way to Capital One Arena.  Their First Round matchup may very well be a Durham City Championship Game, as North Carolina Central faces North Dakota State in the First Four Wednesday.

Favorites- the Blue Devils have lost just once this season while playing at full-strength, and their run through the ACC Tournament now that Zion Williamson puts the rest of the nation on notice.  Intriguing potential first weekend showdowns include the Durham City Championship in the First Round if North Carolina Central wins its First Four game (remember, the First Four Success doesn’t transfer to No. 16 seeds), or an alumni reunion against ninth-seeded UCF coached by former Blue Devils All-American and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins.  Flying under the radar on the other side of the bracket is Big Ten regular season and tournament champion Michigan State.

Best Matchup- No. 10 seed Minnesota is coached by Richard Pitino.  The Golden Gophers draw No. 7 Louisville, who fired Pitino’s father Rick two years ago. Who said the Selection Committee doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Locals-

Maryland (22-10) is seeded sixth after its disappointing showing at the Big Ten Tournament.  In their last NCAA appearance the sixth-seeded Terps lost to Xavier by 11 in Melo Trimble’s final game.  Anthony Cowan Jr. shot 1-for-4 that night;  last week it was Bruno Fernando who shot 1-for-4 against the Cornhuskers.  The Terps need the sophomore big man to return to the form that made First Team All-Big Ten if they’re going to reach the weekend.  The Terps will face either Belmont or Temple Thursday–the Bruins are 0-7 all-time in the big dance and the Owls are 2-5 in the tourney under coach Fran Dunphy.

Virginia Tech (24-8) is seeded fourth as the Hokies make the NCAA’s for the third straight year (the first time that’s happened in program history).  The also get point guard Justin Robinson back in the lineup–since the senior went to the shelf with a foot injury the Hokies are 7-5, including a pair of overtime losses to red-hot Florida State.  They draw Atlantic Ten champ Saint Louis;  the Billikens won four games in four days while banishing Dayton and Davidson to the NIT.

VCU (25-7) is seeded eighth after their upset loss to Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals.  Thankfully URI is not in the tournament-as they’re the only team to have beaten the Rams since January 12.  Coach Mike Rhoades’ initial opponent is a UCF team that lost by 24 points in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament.

 

South- Virginia (29-3) gets a number one seed for the fourth time in six years…as the Cavaliers will not only face Gardner-Webb but will also confront the ghosts of last March.  UVa’s loss to UMBC in 2018 will be a scarlet L the program will wear for some time.  They’re a little older and a little wiser this year;  they’re also a lot healthier as De’Andre Hunter is 12 months removed from the broken wrist that hijacked his-and in effect the Cavaliers’-campaign last March.

Favorites- the Cavaliers’ toughest test may be Tennessee at the other end of the bracket, but the Volunteers have a potential Second Round showdown with AAC champ Cincinnati-in Columbus, Ohio.  Defending national champion Villanova is also in the region as the No. 6 seed, fresh from becoming the first school to win three straight Big East Tournaments.

Best Matchup- No. 12 seed Oregon has won eight straight, and they’ve done so minus 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol (son of the late Washington Bullets center Manute Bol), while Wisconsin is led by four-year starter Ethan Happ in the pivot.

Locals-

Virginia- the top seed enters the NCAA’s again with the best scoring defense in the nation, but this year’s team has a little more firepower with Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter providing scoring punch.  In addition to a Gardner-Webb team making its first-ever trip to the tournament, Ole Miss (five losses in seven games) and Oklahoma (a Big 12 Tournament loss to sub-500 West Virginia) stand in their way to the Regional in Louisville.  Break out the bourbon.

Old Dominion- former UVa and American University coach Jeff Jones is back in the NCAA Tournament after leading the 26-8 Monarchs to the Conference USA tournament championship.  ODU gets a No. 14 seed and plays Purdue;  the Boilermakers may be coming off of an upset loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Quarterfinals but have advanced to four regionals in ten appearances under coach Matt Painter and boast the Big Ten’s leading scorer in Carsen Edwards.  Jeff Jones’ team is led by B.J. Stith and his 16.9 points per game;  Stith is the son of Virginia’s all-time leading scorer Bryant Stith (who played his last two years at UVa under Jones).

 

Midwest- North Carolina gets the ACC’s third No. 1 seed- the first time one league has nabbed three top seeds since the Big East in 2009.  The Tar Heels head to nearby Columbia, SC where the local school refers to itself as “Carolina” and “USC” to the dismay of some and the amusement of others.  The Regional is in Kansas City-and if the seeds hold UNC will play Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen.  I’ve been told that Kansas City is somewhat near the state of Kansas.

Favorites- in addition to the Tar Heels and Jayhawks, the bracket boasts blue blood Kentucky as well as AAC regular season champ Houston–not to mention SEC Tournament winner Auburn and Big 12 tournament champ Iowa State.  Buckle up.

Best Matchup- Cinderella Wofford played its way to a national ranking as well as the Southern Conference championship, while Seton Hall scraped its way to within two points of the Big East Tournament title.  Seven-ten matchups

 

West- Gonzaga has been in the top five of the national rankings all season, and even their loss in the WCC finals couldn’t keep the Bulldogs out of the top seed.  They’ve also advanced to the second weekend four straight years, and this year’s obstacles include First Four winner Fairleigh Dickinson or Prairie View A&M plus potential Second Round foes Baylor and Syracuse.

Favorites- at the other end of the bracket is last year’s national championship runner-up Michigan.  The second-seeded Wolverines began this season 18-0 and have lost only three times since Valentine’s Day-all to Michigan State.  No. 4 seed Florida State is coming off of an impressive ACC Tournament run that included a double-digit win over Virginia.

Best Matchup- No. 6 seed Buffalo awaits the First Four winner of St. John’s-Arizona State;  while an Empire State showdown (we have to wait for Albany-Buffalo for our Erie Canal clash) would be exciting the Sun Devils are in their second season under former Bulls coach Bobby Hurley.  For the record, the Selection Committee does not go out of its way to generate specific matchups.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange play the late game Thursday evening against Baylor, another team that has issues offensively.  But they’ll have Tyus Battle back in the lineup.  And an ACC team has eliminated Gonzaga in each of the last four years.  So there’s that.  More important is the drumstick to flat ratios.

 

 

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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.

 

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

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

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

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

Saturday’s Games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday’s Game:

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

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP:

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

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

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

 

Saturday’s Games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday’s Game:

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