Archives for posts with tag: Hoyas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tipping off Today/Tonight:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Starting Five:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting Five:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Starting Five-

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Maryland received a rude awakening in December when they lost again at Penn State. Now the eastern wing of the Big Ten neighborhood could be even dicier.  I said it here last week in this space, and I’m going to say it again. Rutgers is actually good this year.  The Scarlet Knights are 14-4 and are currently ranked by the AP for the first time since 1979: when the Top 25 was a Top 20, the shot clock was years away from being used in the college game, and the three-pointer wasn’t even used in the NBA. The Big East hadn’t even been formed and the NCAA Tournament was going from 32 to 40 schools, with the Final Four broadcast on NBC and ESPN not even created yet to broadcast the first two days.  The ensuing 40-plus years have not been kind to a school that’s logged time in five different conferences, as they’ve not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991 (that was three leagues ago when they were an Atlantic 10 member).  But coach Steve Pikiell in his fourth year at the helm as built the Scarlet Knights into a defensive dynamo: they allow a Big Ten-low 58.7 points per game while ranking second in steals and fourth in rebounding margin.  We’ll know how far they’ve come Wednesday night when they visit No. 19 Iowa.

 

Alma Mater Update- back to back to back wins for the Orange have SU over .500 in the ACC for the first time all winter.  Saturday’s 71-69 win at Virginia Tech avenged a loss from the week before in the Dome as Buddy Boeheim tied a career high with 26 points.  The Buddy Watch has the sophomore at 511 career points with 13 games remaining; if he keeps up his current average of 16.2 points per game he’ll enter the ACC Tournament with 721.  His dad scored 745 career points before going on to win over 1,000 games with his alma mater.

 

Wow of the Week- Richmond (14-4, 4-1 Atlantic 10) has already surpassed last winter’s win total, and the Spiders did so by triumphing twice on the road.  Wagner transfer Blake Francis has settled in to spearhead the offense (18 points per game), allowing big man Grant Golden to focus inside and guard Jacob Gilyard to worry more about running the offense.  Coach Chris Mooney is in his 15th season at the helm, and after consecutive 20-loss campaigns appears to have the Spiders set back on a familiar course that will have them contending in the A-10.

 

Player to Watch- Virginia gave us four years of the unintentional comedy that was big man Jack Salt:  the six-foot-ten center from New Zealand, despite shooting 59% from the field during his career, notched more personal fouls than made baskets in each of his four seasons with the Cavaliers.  Salt’s exit means more run for seven-foot-one Jay Huff, who after averaging under ten minutes per game in his first two seasons has turned into a major force this winter.  He’s averaging 24.5 minutes and recorded 17 points with 8 rebounds in a win against Georgia Tech that ended a three game slide.  But Huff was back to single digits in Monday’s loss to NC State, and UVa finds itself at .500 in league play.

 

League Look- one game separates the top five teams in the Patriot League as preseason favorite Colgate (14-5, 5-1) is being chased by American and Navy, along with Boston University and Bucknell.  The Raiders won at Navy earlier this month; Jordan Burns and company visit AU Saturday.

 

Ballot Battles- this week I moved Baylor into the top spot after two more wins; I very well could have moved them there last week after the win over Kansas but I try to be less knee-jerk when it comes to number one.  This week I received grief for having Colorado in the top 20 while keeping Arizona out despite the Wildcats win over the Buffaloes at home Saturday.

 

This Week’s Starting Five (games of local interest)-

Tuesday: No. 17 Maryland at Northwestern. The Terps may be 0-3 on the road in the Big Ten, but that’s the rule as opposed to the exception in the conference this winter.  Home teams are 40-7 so far this season, but the last-place Wildcats have two of those defeats.  If the Terrapins want to stay in the top half of a very good Big Ten (ten schools in Ken Pomeroy’s top 40), they need every road win they can get.

Wednesday:  Georgetown at Xavier.  The Hoyas are also 0-3 on the road in Big East play, but home court dominance isn’t as great in a conference where road teams are 11-17 this winter.  Both teams find themselves in the bottom half of that league, with the Musketeers coming off of three straight double digit defeats.  They also have trouble scoring (seventh in shooting and ninth from three point range), making things a little easier on the Hoyas who allow the most points per game in conference.

Also Wednesday: George Washington at Fordham.  The Colonials have won consecutive Atlantic 10 games for the first time since February 2018.  Armel Potter was a big reason why, as the senior guard averaged 24 points with 6 assists in those victories.  The run can continue for first-year coach Jamion Christian, as they play their next two games against schools winless in the A-10.  First is a Rams team that ranks 345th in the nation in shooting and 348th in scoring.

Saturday: Navy vs. Army.  It’s not the football spectacular, but this Patriot League matinee is not without relevance.  The Midshipmen have won three of four while the Black Knights have won two straight.  Army also is led in scoring by Tommy Funk, which on name value has to count for something.

Sunday: Virginia at Wake Forest.  The defending national champs knew they’d have growing pains with the bulk of last year’s producers departing, but the Cavaliers have lost four of five and are slowly slipping towards the NCAA Tournament bubble.  The Demon Deacons are to the ACC what Rutgers used to be to the Big Ten:  a school with distant Final Four history and often a tough out but a team you need to beat if you want to stay in contention.

Hindsight is 20/20, unless you’re former Redskins head coach Steve Spurrier (the ol’ ball coach said it was “50-50”, only adding to his legend while here).  As 2020 begins there’s plenty of hindsight, foresight, long and short sight regarding the local college basketball teams.

I don’t think anybody expected that Maryland’s high-profile recruits, the Mitchell twins, would be gone by New Year’s Eve.  And I hazard a guess that few would have thought that Georgetown would win six straight after losing James Akinjo and three other players.  Just like nobody saw Stephen F. Austin-Duke or Evansville-Kentucky ending the way they did; Gonzaga became the sixth school to reach number one this season during Christmas week and the Bulldogs remain atop both polls.

Alma Mater Update- after spending the last few winters on the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Orange need to get hot this month just to play their way onto the bubble. At 8-6 and 1-2 in the ACC, they’ve lost games against every quality non-conference foe and Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame was a great opportunity missed.  SU plays Virginia Tech and Virginia this week; two more losses and they’ll be on a different bubble. As in the one that has the bottom six ACC teams playing the first day of the Tournament.

Ballot Battles- this is the second winter I’ve voted in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.  For the most part fans are cool even though the website collegepolltracker.com leaves me open for emails from San Diego State fans for not having the unbeaten Aztecs ranked higher.  Each week there are questions as one puts together the top 25, and this week’s deal was how the bottom third (my 16th through 25th ranked teams) didn’t lose.  It’s tough to break a new team in, although I did so with VCU.  The Rams have been in and out of my Top 25 all season.

Roster Rotations- Georgetown (10-5) may have wrapped up non-conference play with six consecutive wins, but the Hoyas are 0-2 to start Big East play not because of the December defections but Mac McClung’s eye injury suffered against American December 28.  The sophomore missed the loss at Providence and shot 7-20 from the field in the defeat at Seton Hall.  On the bright side, three of their next four games are at home.  No. 12 Maryland (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten) plays four of its next six games on the road, and the Terps are still getting adjusted to the absence of twin towers Makhi and Makhel Mitchell.  Even though the duo averaged a combined 16 minutes per game, their absence means more time in the pivot for sophomore Jalen Smith.  At least until seven-footer Chol Mariol gets in gear.

Wow of the Week- VCU (12-3, 2-0 Atlantic 10) played solid basketball in the pre-conference slate, losing games to schools (Purdue, Tennessee, Wichita State) that have all been ranked at some time this season.  The Rams made a major statement in the first week of A-10 play, with the exclamation point a 72-59 win at George Mason (11-3, 0-1) where they held the Patriots scoreless for the game’s first 4:20.  Marcus Santos-Silva scored a career-high 26 points for the Rams while Mason received a wake-up call as to what play will be like in a league where five other schools won at least ten non-conference games.

Player Spotlight- American University’s Sa’eed Nelson was the preseason pick for Patriot League Player of the Year, and the senior has not disappointed in averaging 16 points with 5 assists per game for the Eagles.  Nelson’s 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists helped AU pull past Boston University 67-63 for their first conference win of the winter. He’ll need the supporting cast to step up this week with games at Army and Lehigh.

 

Starting Five- as in games involving local schools I will keep my eyes on this week:

Tuesday at 7 p.m.- No. 12 Maryland (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten) plays No. 11 Ohio State (11-3,   1-2).  Both teams have been in the top five at times this season; each have suffered tough losses as well.  Buckeyes big man Kaleb Wesson has held to 3-12 FG last winter, but that was with Bruno Fernando on his back.  This year Jalen Smith draws that assignment.

Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.- Georgetown (10-5, 0-2 Big East) plays St. John’s (11-4, 0-2).  We can’t even play this up as the coaching matchup of legends Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin; Mike Anderson has guided the Red Storm to wins over Arizona and West Virginia, but they’ve dropped their two league games by a combined ten points.  Neither school can start 0-3 in the conference if they want to keep the dream of playing in March alive.

Thursday at 6 p.m.- Towson (7-9, 1-3 CAA) meets Drexel (9-7, 2-1).  The Tigers have looked good in spots (a victory over Tulane) and less than ideal on other nights (45 points in a loss to Northeastern).  Do they have a chance to make their way back up the league standings?  Senior Brian Fobbs is averaging 14 points in two games since being held to a combined 15 the previous two.

Saturday at 2 p.m.- George Mason (11-3, 0-1 Atlantic 10) visits La Salle (10-4, 1-1).  The Patriots go on the road for the first time in league play.   The Explorers have already matched last season’s win total.

Saturday at 2 p.m.- Virginia Tech (10-4, 1-2 ACC) hosts NC State (10-4, 1-2).  The Hokies and first-year coach Mike Young are enjoying a stellar freshman season from Landers Nolley II, but the 6-foot-7 guard could use some help as he scored 18 of the team’s 39 points in their loss at Virginia.  The Wolfpack know exactly what it’s like being the “other” state school in the conference.

 

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Welcome back everyone, and prepare to enter what has been claimed to be the best regular season in sports (amazing how many one-loss Alabama and Clemson teams make the playoff in a world where “every week matters”).  This year there’s a twist though:  Clemson is ranked first and Alabama is second!  I know, I’ll wait for you to pick yourself off of the floor.  In the current College Football Playoff era, the Tigers and Crimson Tide have combined for nine of the 20 semifinal berths.  And there’s a very good chance they’ll be joined by the two other schools with multiple CFP berths (blue bloods Ohio State and Oklahoma) while the Pac-12 champ pounds sand once again.  But it all starts this weekend.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  Even though No. 8 Florida faced Miami in Orlando last Saturday, this is technically week one.  Fans of the Gators and Hurricanes got to see to underprepared teams combine for five turnovers, 23 penalties and convert a combined 4-for-24 on third down.  Heading into the showdown it was referred to as “Week Zero”, and I wholeheartedly agree.  Bring on the real season.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange begin the year ranked for the first time since 1997.  Yes, SU hasn’t been in the Preseason Top 25 since Donovan McNabb was wearing #5.  Naturally they’re opening the season at…Liberty.  I do have friends headed to Lynchburg for the game as the drive is manageable, and I’m wondering if they’re going to follow the trend and bring Spiked Seltzer to the tailgate.  I’m holding my breath.

 

Maryland vs. Howard, noon (Big Ten Network).

The Terps will start a different quarterback in their opener for the fourth straight season, as Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson gets the nod. While with the Hokies Jackson started Labor Day weekend wins over ranked foes West Virginia and Florida State.  And he never had a running threat like Anthony McFarland: the sophomore looks to continue the momentum of last November where he posted a pair of 200-yard rushing games.  The Bison counter with third-year starting quarterback Caylin Newton (yes, he’s Cam’s younger brother) and the offensive weapons that led the MEAC in scoring last fall, but they also bring a defense that allowed 34 points per game in 2018.  

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins Triumph, 45-20.

 

Navy vs. Holy Cross, 3:30 p.m (CBS Sports Network). 

The long road back from 3-10 begins with a game against a Patriot League foe. One that was picked to finish second in its conference and ended 2018 with four straight wins.  But the Crusaders lost quarterback Geoff Wade to graduation, and Emmett Clifford (under 10 yards per completion and a 1-3 touchdown to interception ratio) is just the kind of QB the new-look Navy defense wants to confuse pre-snap.  All eyes will be on the arm of Midshipman quarterback Malcolm Perry as the team has been talking all month about throwing the ball more.  It’s one thing to say you’re going to open up the offense, it’s another thing entirely to try to do so in game situations and yet another thing to execute.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen crush the Crusaders, 38-14.

 

Virginia Tech at Boston College, 4 p.m (ACC Network).  

Of the three schools that marked the first exodus of the Big East to the ACC in 2004-05, the Hokies have been the most successful (Miami didn’t even win a Coastal Division title until last year) but for a while BC held its own against the Clemsons and Florida States in the Atlantic Division.  But since finishing first or second in the Atlantic each of their first five years in the league, the Eagles haven’t posted a winning ACC record.  Junior running back AJ Dillon rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Hokies last year.  We’ll see how revamped Virginia Tech’s defense is this year after finishing near the bottom of the conference in 2018.  The road team has won four of the last five games in this series.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies make it happen, 27-17.

 

Virginia at Pitt, 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Could this be the Cavaliers’ year?  The other six Coastal Division schools have each taken turns advancing to the Conference Championship Game since 2013.  Last year’s representative was a Pitt team that reached Charlotte behind 1,000-yard rushers Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall; both are trying to stick with NFL rosters this summer.  The Panthers also have four new starters on their offensive line and a quarterback in junior Kenny Pickett who has plenty of experience but also a very low ceiling.   Cavaliers QB Bryce Perkins is coming off of a spectacular season where he was one of two FBS players to pass for at least 2,600 yards while rushing for 900+.  The other? Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray.

My UVa tailgating pals Kippy & Buffy are back for another exciting season, and just like their team that’s dreaming big in 2019 my favorite couple begins big: a bottle of 2013 Joseph Phelps Insignia. “Focused and fresh, this exceptionally concentrated wine showcases elegant tannin structure and a silky mouthfeel layered with dark fruit, sweet vanilla bean, cracked black pepper and bittersweet chocolate.”  Nothing bittersweet about the season ahead.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers are focused, fresh, and find a way to win, 27-20.

 

Georgetown falls at Davidson, Towson tops The Citadel, James Madison makes FCS proud with an upset win at West Virginia, William & Mary wins at Lafayette.

Last Year: 69-44, including a 1-8 week where I should have pulled a George Costanza and went the opposite.

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For college football fans in the D.C. metro area, this has been one rough decade. Maryland has had multiple reboots since firing the ACC Coach of the Year, while Virginia Tech saw the sad decline from perennial Coastal Division contender to a team that needed to schedule a bonus game against Marshall in order to keep its bowl streak alive. Virginia hasn’t beaten the Hokies since “Friends” was still on the air. Even Navy wasn’t immune last fall, with a 3-10 season that included a third straight loss to Army.

Thank goodness for the FCS. Area programs annually contend for conference crowns, deliver trips to the Football Final Four, and occasionally play for or even bring home a National Championship. Once again this fall there’s plenty of anticipation involving schools in the CAA, MEAC, and Patriot League — especially when one factors in the head coaching carousel that fired up this past offseason.

 

James Madison (9-4, 6-2 CAA, FCS Second Round) is the CAA Preseason favorite and begins the fall ranked second nationally in both FCS Polls.  The Dukes lost Head Coach Mike Houston to East Carolina, but for the second time in three years hires a proven replacement from the FCS ranks.  Curt Cignetti led Elon to the tournament in both of his seasons with the school, and last fall the Phoenix beat JMU in Harrisonburg.  He comes to a program that’s loaded:  19 of 22 starters return, and of those 19 starters 12 were All-CAA last season.  Quarterback Ben DiNucci returns for his second season as a starter, and he’ll have his top two targets back in wide receivers Riley Stapleton and Kyndel Dean.  Cignetti will have to revamp a running game that lost its top three ground gainers to graduation.

But just like last season, this year’s Dukes will once again begin with D: four of the returning 10 starters from the CAA’s #1 unit in 2018 were voted first team All-Conference. That includes senior linebacker Dmitri Holloway, who finished second in the league with 81 tackles in 2018.  The secondary may have lost Jimmy Moreland to the Redskins and the NFL, but back after missing 2018 with injury is Rashad Robinson (seven interceptions in 2017).

Last year the Dukes kicked off their season with a loss at NC State.  This year’s Power Five trip is to Morgantown, where they’ll visit West Virginia in coach Neal Brown’s debut;  the Mountaineers will also have a new quarterback as Will Grier is gone to the NFL.  Of the five CAA schools in the Preseason Top 25, JMU will not play No. 7 Maine or No. 22 Delaware.  While they visit No. 21 Elon September 28, No. 11 Towson comes to Harrisonburg October 26.

 

Towson (7-5, 5-3 CAA, FCS First Round) is back, by the way.  After missing the tournament for four straight years, Rob Ambrose has the Tigers thinking title.  He’s got a senior quarterback in Tom Flacco, brother of Joe-and no, he’s not thinking about transferring to the University of Denver.  Flacco the Younger threw for 3,237 yards, 27 touchdowns and 1 interceptions while also leading the Tigers with 742 yards rushing.  He’ll lean on a pair of senior Shanes:  running back Shane Simpson (687 yards with six touchdowns rushing last fall) on the ground and wide receiver Shane Leatherbury (67 catches for 885 yards and seven TD’s) in the air.

The team’s ability to deliver on the preseason hype will rest on the shoulders of a defense that finished last against the run and overall in the CAA. New Defensive Coordinator Eric Daniels comes to the Tigers from NAIA school Briar Cliff University (Iowa), where he turned around the Chargers’ defensive woes.  Daniels has a pair of solid building blocks, beginning with senior defensive lineman Bryce Carter (6.5 sacks in 2018) and senior linebacker Robert Heyward (99 tackles plus a fumble recovery).

The schedule serves up a mixed bag.  The other two top projected teams in the CAA are James Madison and Maine, and Towson visits both schools this year.  They do draw Delaware and Elon at home in November, potentially providing coach Ambrose’s team with some necessary late-season momentum if they’re on the FCS Playoff bubble again.

 

Richmond (4-7, 2-6 CAA) did not get any favors from the schedule-makers last year, facing four ranked conference foes.  So instead of contending for an FCS Playoff berth like the previous November, the Spiders saw their first losing season since 2011.  Even with the departure of quarterback Kyle Lauletta to the NFL, coach Russ Huesman’s offense still finished second in the conference in passing.  Junior quarterback Joe Mancuso led the team in rushing while splitting time last fall with Kevin Johnson; this year he’ll be pressed by Air Force transfer Beau English.  Whoever wins the job won’t have Dejon Brissett to throw to, as last year’s top receiver transferred to Virginia. Regardless, ball security will be a priority one autumn after the Spiders lost a CAA-high 27 turnovers.

The defense had issues in 2018, allowing the most points per game in the CAA while ranking last or second to last in most categories. The 4-2-5 formation has been ditched for the 4-3 this fall; no matter how the Spiders line up it all begins with senior defensive lineman Maurice Jackson, who led the CAA with 10 sacks in 2018.

This year’s slate is back-loaded with two bye weeks in September.  How better the turnover/defense issues are will be apparent over a four-week stretch where Richmond faces Delaware, Stonybrook and James Madison.

 

William & Mary (4-6, 3-4 CAA) has a new head coach for the first time since the Carter Administration.  Jimmye Laycock’s retirement brings back a familiar face to both the Commonwealth and the CAA:  former Richmond and Virginia coach Mike London crosses the Potomac after a two-year stint with Howard where he breathed new life in a long-dormant program.  The Tribe is no where near where the Bison were two years ago, but they have posted three consecutive losing seasons and have notched just one winning conference campaign since 2010.

London will find quite a contrast in Williamsburg from the offense he left behind.  The Tribe returns junior quarterback Shon Mitchell and leading rusher Albert Funderburke, but last year W&M ranked last in the CAA in rushing, scoring, total offense, and third down conversions.  Coastal Carolina transfer Kilton Anderson originally played at Fresno State before completing 58% of his passes for 1,010 yards and 8 touchdowns while with the Chanticleers in 2018, proving two things. One-he’s a viable option at QB, and two-I like to work the word “Chanticleers” into conversation way more than one should.

The Tribe return eight starters on defense, with seniors Nate Atkins and Isaiah Laster  the top two tacklers from 2018.  Developing a pass rush (last in sacks) will be a priority for coach London.  The new regime begins August 31 against Lafayette, and the schedule is marked with games against two of London’s former employers: at Virginia September 6 and at Richmmond November 23.  What, they couldn’t add Howard?

 

Howard (4-6, 3-4) will have its fifth head coach this decade as Ron Prince takes over for Mike London. The former Kansas State coach and Michigan assistant steps into quite an offense: quarterback Caylon.  Preseason CAA Offensive Player of the Year Caylin Newton (2,629 yards passing and 504 yards rushing last year) has his top targets back in Jequez Ezzard and Kyle Anthony; Anthony led the MEAC last fall with 53 receptions while Ezzard’s 1,064 yards topped the league.  Running back Dedrick Parson (706 yards with 9 touchdowns rushing) returns to provide a nice counterpunch on the ground.

Coach Prince’s main task this fall will be shoring up a defense that ranked last in the MEAC and concluded the year by allowing 56 points to Bryant.  Bryant!?!  Leading tackler Marcellos Allison is back, as is top pass rusher Zamon Robinson.  The season begins with a bang:  trips to Maryland, Youngstown State and Delaware State plus a showdown with longtime rival Hampton dot the first month.  For some reason, they don’t play the other FCS team located in Washington, DC this year.

 

Georgetown (5-6, 4-2 Patriot League) is coming off of its best season under coach Rob Sgarlata:  their four league wins in 2018 was more than the three posted over his previous four years with the Hoyas.  And this was after being picked to finish not just last in the Patriot but by a country mile.  Heady times indeed.  The difference last fall was a defense that ranked second behind league juggernaut Colgate, and that’s where any hopes of unseating the Raiders begins.  Look no further than a pass rush that led the Patriot League in sacks and interceptions:  senior defensive lineman Kristian Tate (a conference-high 10 sacks last year) along with junior Owen Kessler (6.5) generate most of the heat from the trenches.  Linebacker Wes Bowers (4.5 sacks last season) is more than just a pass rusher, as the junior paced the team with 91 tackles and four interceptions.

While the defense might help them catch Colgate, they only way they’ll pass the Raiders will be if the offense improves from the unit that averaged just 15 points per game in 2018.  Starting quarterback Gunther Johnson returns for his senior season and the Hoyas also get their leading rusher in sophomore running back Herman Moultrie) and top receiver in senior Michael Dereus.

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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.