Archives for posts with tag: Houston

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Starting Five-

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

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

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

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

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

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

2019 has been a year to remember in Charlottesville, with Virginia winning National Championships in Men’s College Basketball as well as Men’s Lacrosse. They’ve even had a chance to bask in the Nationals’ World Series run, as Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle played their college ball for the Cavaliers.  How do you top that?  There’s only one answer–and that’s a win over Virginia Tech in football that would result in a Coastal Division crown.

The Cavaliers entered the year the lone Coastal team without an appearance in the ACC Championship Game, and with the other six schools taking turns representing the division the previous six years it almost made sense to pencil UVa in this year.  Thankfully the softest Power Five Conference division with multiple schools in rebuild or revamp mode provides the Cavaliers with the perfect avenue to complete what would be one crazy seven-year run for the Coastal.  But they have to get past their nemesis-if you haven’t heard or read before, Virginia has not beaten Virginia Tech in football since the Hokies entered the ACC in 2004.  That’s not just a small snapshot, but a tapestry of tragedy that ranges from routs (52-14 in 2005 and 52-10 in 2016) to heartbreak (17-14 in 2008 and last year’s 34-31 overtime loss).  That’s fifteen straight years of woe instead of “Wahooha!”.

At the University of Virginia, they eschew terms like “freshmen” and “seniors” for “first year” and “fourth years” because in theory you’re always learning (or at least paying tuition).  Factoring a four-year stay on “the grounds” (never “campus”), no current fourth-year student has attended the University with anyone who’s gone to school with anyone who’s been a student with anyone who’s been in classes (I hope they don’t have a special name for “classes”) with a fellow student who was at Virginia the last time they beat Virginia Tech.

Since arriving in Charlottesville in 2016, head coach Bronco Mendenhall has turned around a program that posted eight losing seasons in ten years to one that will make its third straight bowl.  He’s established stability at the quarterback position that was previously a revolving door and has the Cavaliers one step shy of a first-ever Coastal Division crown.  More than just a step, a win Friday would represent a giant leap for the program and complete a year to remember.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange wrap up the season Saturday by hosting Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are a lot like SU: a private school fish swimming in a sea of public school sharks.  The Atlantic Division will long be the domain of Clemson and Florida State as long as those schools refrain from bad coaching hires, but there is evidence that a school like Wake Forest can be competitive.  Moving forward, the Orange need to take that cue.

 

Friday’s Game:

No. 23 Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) at Virginia (8-3, 5-2), noon (ABC).

Despite the streak being almost old enough to drive, close games have been the rule recently with four of the last seven games decided by one possession (with two more decided by ten points).  Two months ago this had all of the signs of being the year, but that was before the Hokies defense found its teeth and Hendon Hooker became the starting quarterback (the sophomore still has yet to throw an interception).  Since getting smacked by Duke 45-10 head coach Justin Fuente’s team has won six of seven, averaging 35 points per game.  They’ve gotten better in college football’s closing month, outscoring foes 109-17 the last three weeks.  You could say UVa peaked in their 48-14 October win over the Blue Devils;  they’ve coughed up 114 points in the four games since and have trailed in the first half of each game. Yes, even against Liberty.  Despite an inconsistent running game that ranks 13th in the ACC and an offensive line that allows over three sacks per game, Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins has responded down the stretch with heroics on a weekly basis.  Can he dial it up one more time?

Kippy & Buffy try to dial up some magic from the last time UVa beat the Hokies:  this week they’ll be enjoying a bottle of 2003 Chateau Lynch Bages. “Blending power, concentration, style and charm. Forest floor, cedar wood, fennel, smoke and cherry liqueur scents start off the concentration of flavor, supple, round tannins and a sweet, finish filled with ripe cherries and crème de cassis.”  Lynch Bages is a wine for patient wine lovers, as it often needs 15-20 years in the top vintages to show its best.

Presto’s Pick: Kippy & Buffy have to be a little more patient, as the Cavaliers come up short 24-14.  Can you say “back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back”?

 

Saturday-

Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) at Michigan State (5-6, 3-5), 3:30 p.m. (FS1). 

Call this the Disappointment Bowl:  both teams were ranked in September before dropping three-point games in week three.  The Spartans can still secure bowl eligibility with a win and are coming off of a shutout of Rutgers.  They also have a senior quarterback in Brian Lewerke who they’ve been able to protect (a Big Ten-low 17 sacks allowed).  The Terps rank 14th in the conference defending the pass and are second-worst at getting off of the field on third down. They’ve also been hamstrung on offense thanks to multiple injuries at quarterback (they played four in the Nebraska loss) and runningback (Anthony McFarland was never right this fall).  Head coach Mike Locksley referred to this season as “Year Zero”, and he’ll have meetings with players and coaches Sunday and Monday.  While that won’t prevent his team from putting forth maximum effort Saturday, their limitations will prevent the sendoff they desire for their seniors.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 38-14.

 

No. 24 Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) at Houston (4-7, 2-5), 7 p.m. (ESPN2). 

The Midshipmen will know by kickoff if this game is for the AAC West;  No. 18 Memphis meets No. 19 Cincinnati Friday afternoon and if the Tigers tumble there will be a window of opportunity open to the Mids for their first division title since 2016. The Cougars won the inaugural AAC Championship Game in 2015 but that was two head coaches ago:  Tom Herman bolted to Texas, and his successor Major Applewhite was fired after 2018’s 8-5 finish.  When Applewhite was hired, University President Renu Khator told faculty and staff at her annual holiday party, “The winning is defined at University of Houston as 10 and 2…we’ll fire coaches at 8 and 4”. That’s a tall order for a program that’s produced five nine-victory campaigns seasons since 1990.  Even a taller order for first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, who posted one such season in his last seven years with West Virginia.  He’s been accused of tanking his first season on campus by having his best players redshirt. This is the kind of program Navy wants to share the field with?

Presto’s Pick: Mids make it happen, 44-20.

Last Week: 5-4.

Overall: 82-34.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

 

While the closing of the local swimming pools is usually the figurative end for summer, it doesn’t really feel like autumn until we start to hear about the hot seats in college football.  And while there is one at Nebraska after the Cornhuskers began the season 1-2, any heat Mike Riley feels is now obscured by the hot mess that is the firing of Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst.

Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.  Nebraska dominated the Big Eight and its successor the Big 12 (also known as the Big XII on some logos) before joining the Big Ten (which had previously been dealing with an 11-team membership for two decades).  They went from being a senior partner in a firm they helped create to becoming a junior associate that can’t even win the easier West division (let the record show the Huskers did win one Legends Division before the Big Ten regained its mind).  And now they’re not even the new kid in town who wears red (expanding with Maryland and Rutgers mean 50% of the league wears some shade of that color) anymore.  While men’s basketball has gone from playing in the 8-vs-9 game the first day of the Big 12 Tournament to playing in the 12-vs-13 game the first day of the Big Ten Tournament, the football program no longer has a schedule that allows easy access to recruits in Texas–or games against Iowa State and Kansas.  The same people who couldn’t wait to get rid of Frank Solich a decade ago couldn’t wait to be done with Bo Pellini two winters ago…and now those same people are wondering if they can buy out Mike Riley who is 16-13 with mostly Pellini’s players.  Thankfully the Huskers begin league play with games against Rutgers and Illinois.

 

Alma Mater Update– there was once a time when the Orange went toe to toe with LSU… beating the Tigers in the 1989 Hall of Fame Bowl.  This week SU takes its 2-1 record into Baton Rouge against a 2-1 Tiger team that got roasted by Mississippi State last weekend.  That’ll go over real well.  The 7 p.m. kickoff means I’ll miss the first half (as I’ll be covering Maryland-UCF)…which might be a good thing.

 

Friday Night-

Virginia (2-1) at Boise State (2-1), 8 p.m., ESPN2.  A battle of 2-1 teams takes place on the blue turf in the Gem State…but not all 2-1’s are alike.  The Broncos lost in triple-overtime at a ranked Washington State after losing their starting quarterback to injury while the Cavaliers were soundly beaten at home by a second-tier Big Ten school.  Brett Rypien could potentially return for BSU–although Montell Cozart is a dual threat that gives teams like UVa nuts (they’ve coughed up 32, 89 and 90 yards rushing to the three starting quarterbacks they’ve faced this fall).  The Cavaliers don’t have a ton of happy Friday memories:  two years ago they were roasted 56-14 at Scott Stadium on a Friday night by…Boise State.  Despite name recognition, Bronco Mendenhall went just 2-2 (and 0-2 on the road) against the Broncos when he coached BYU.  Something about that blue field.  Kippy & Buffy tailgate for their first road and night game…looking for sweets.  Thank goodness my Uncle Chris and Aunt Kristi own a chocolate shop in Boise.  The Chocolat Bar (www.thechocolatbar.com) specializes in truffles…and my UVa friends will enjoy those with a bottle of Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2016: “sweet and seductive as the hills where it is born and grows; as vibrant and sharp as the mountains that surround and protect the land on the horizon; refreshing and effervescent, like the wind rushing down from the Alps towards their hills.”  Add a signing nun and we’ve got something here.  Cavaliers come up short, 38-24.

 

Saturday-

#13 Virginia Tech (3-0) vs Old Dominion (2-1), 2 p.m., ACC Network Extra.  While the ACC schedule kicks off against defending national champ Clemson next weekend, college football’s version of “Linner” (not lunch, but definitely not dinner) has the Hokies playing a local foe for the fourth straight week.  Pass protection will be a priority-as the Monarchs lead the nation with 16 sacks this season.  The Hokies by comparison have allowed three sacks over three games.  Redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson’s education is a little easier when he has three seniors and two juniors up front protecting him…and having Cam Phillips (nine catches and 139 yards receiving per game) can’t hurt either.  ODU’s offense will be led by 17-year old freshman Steven Williams…and plan B is turnover-prone quarterback Blake LaRussa.  The Monarch’s defense?  Performing like paupers in allowing 53 points to North Carolina team that’s an underdog at home to Duke this week.  Not that anybody is looking ahead to the Clemson game.  That’s in Blacksburg, right?  Hokies handle the Monarchs, 45-13.

 

Maryland (2-0) vs UCF (1-0), 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1.  The Terps are coming off on an odd early-season bye (they did have week two off in 2011, but that was after playing the previous Monday night).  Meanwhile, the Golden Knights are coming off of two weeks off due to the hurricane devastation of the Sunshine State- as UCF’s game with Georgia Tech was canceled and their conference tilt with Memphis was moved (major credit to the AAC for being able to reshuffle the league schedule jenga-style).  Quarterback McKenzie Milton made his first career start last year against Maryland–and threw for 260 yards while accounting for all three of their touchdowns in a double-overtime defeat.  Whether you read “Paradise Lost” or watch “Office Space” in your spare time, containing Milton in the pocket will go a long way towards remaining in the Garden of Unbeatens as well as stapling another victory to the 2017 resume.  Last year’s game was won by true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome’s feet in double-overtime;  this year true freshman Kasim Hill will be contributing from the opening possession.  Terrapins Triumph, 44-20.

 

Navy (2-0, 1-0 AAC) vs Cincinnati (2-1), 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network.  Before you ask me, “why is Cincinnati in the AAC East and Navy is in the AAC West?” just remember that the Bearcats should be in the Big 12 as a travel partner with West Virginia if only for the Bob Huggins effect during hoop season (Houston is the school that won’t make things an even dozen because the Big 12 schools are petty).  While the Mids had a week off to digest their near-defeat at home to Tulane (and watch the Green Wave get bludgeoned by Oklahoma), Cincy is coming off of a 21-17 win over Miami (Ohio Version) and boasts an offense that remains a work in progress.  The Bearcats rank last in the AAC in total offense and third down conversions, while gaining 3.2 yards per carry and completing just over 50% of their passes.  If Navy is going to contend for a West Division title, the defense that returned six starters needs to make a statement Saturday in Annapolis.  Midshipmen make a statement, 28-14.

 

Howard beats Bethune-Cookman, Georgetown loses at Columbia, James Madison mauls Maine, Richmond rips Elon, Towson tumbles at Stony Brook.

 

Last Week: 5-2.  Overall: 18-5.