Archives for posts with tag: Indiana

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

In college basketball, especially with the three-point shot, leads are built to be lost.  But Georgetown letting a 17-point lead wither away in Wednesday’s 81-75 loss at Xavier has the Hoyas looking for answers.  The fact that this came immediately after a final minute meltdown where they saw a five-point lead disappear in a loss to St. John’s has those bullish after an 11-3 start wondering if this program is still a year or two away.  “We just have to find a way to close out the game,” coach Patrick Ewing said after the loss to the Red Storm, “We can’t keep making the mental mistakes that we do.”  The inability to close games haunted the Hoyas in a one-point loss to Syracuse on the road and almost cost them at home against Little Rock (they prevailed in OT after losing a late lead).  Just like it takes a group effort to resurrect a once-proud program, it takes a village to lock down W’s with smart play late.  “We gotta just play,” Ewing said, “You know-everybody wants to do it themselves, instead of moving the ball and making the right plays.”  Rest assured, I’ll have my TV on Fox Sports 1 this Saturday at around 1:50 p.m.

 

Friday’s Game:

Maryland 13-3 (4-1 Big Ten) vs. #22 Indiana (12-3, 3-1), 7 p.m., FS1.  The Terps are fresh off consecutive road conference wins, which equals their total from last winter.  While the rally past Minnesota was impressive, avoiding a 40-minute letdown at Rutgers was just as huge: those were the kinds of games better Terp teams had lost in recent seasons.  The Hoosiers are coming off a double-digit loss to second ranked Michigan but boast high-scoring freshman Romeo Langford (18.2 points per game) and leads the conference in field goal percentage.  IU does the vast majority of its damage inside the arc, as the team ranks 13th in the Big Ten in three-pointers made per game.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are 2-0 in the ACC after wins over Notre Dame and Clemson with a Saturday evening game against Georgia Tech on the horizon.  While junior Tyus Battle appears to have taken a step back or at least plateaued after last season, transfer Elijah Hughes (18 points per game in league play) has been a pleasant surprise this winter.  After the Yellowjackets, buckle up as SU visits #1 Duke Monday night. And for the record–that was a block, not a charge.

Saturday’s Games:

#4 Virginia (14-0, 2-0 ACC) at Clemson (10-5, 0-2), 12 p.m., ACC Network.  One benefit of the Tigers taking College Football’s National Championship?  Back to back losses to start the conference season sneak under the radar, even though there’s no shame losing to top-ranked Duke or at the Carrier Dome to Syracuse.  It doesn’t let up as three of their next four games are against ranked teams.  The primary concern for UVa’s defense that leads the nation in scoring defense and is tops in the ACC at stopping the three-pointer?    Tiger senior Marcquise Reed averages 19.6 points per game but the Cavs held the Landover, Maryland native to 12 points on 5-of-24 shooting over two games last season.

Georgetown (11-5, 1-2 Big East) vs. Providence (10-5, 0-2), 12 p.m., FS1.  Will we ever see highly-touted freshman Mac McClung take the floor against another Big East school?  The guard with tons of sizzle hasn’t played a minute due to a sprained ankle since dropping 38 points on Little Rock the Saturday before Christmas.  After losing three of their top four scorers from last season, the Friars are in full-rebuild mode.  Ed Cooley’s team ranks last in the Big East in shooting but brings the conference’s top rebounder to DC in Alpha Diallo.  Too bad the Hoyas possess a one-two punch in the post with senior Jessie Govan and freshman Josh LeBlanc.

American (8-6, 2-1 Patriot League) at Bucknell (8-7, 2-1), 12 p.m.  Sa’eed Nelson is on fire this early conference season:  the junior guard is averaging 24 points on 58% shooting.  The Bison are three-time defending regular season champs, but minus the inside-outside combination of Zach Thomas and Stephen Brown have taken their lumps this season.  They are coming off of an 84-81 win against a Colgate team that beat American by four last weekend.

VCU (11-4, 2-0) at Davidson (11-4, 2-0), 2 p.m., CBSSN.  Two of the A-10’s new-money programs tangle as the Rams are less than a decade removed from dominating the CAA and the Wildcats still have fans who miss the Southern Conference.  While VCU has served as a launching pad for coaches to Power Five conference programs this century, Bob McKillop is in midway through his 30th season with the school. He also has Jon Axel Gundmundsson at his disposal:  the junior from Iceland hopes to heat up from outside Saturday (he’s 0-8 from three-point range in conference play) against a pesky Rams defense.

Navy (5-9, 2-1 Patriot League) vs. Boston University (8-8, 1-2), 2 p.m.  Home teams are 10-5 so far this conference season.  The Mids are coming off of a loss at American where they shot 12% from three-point range.  Just another night of misfiring during a season where they’ve been offensively challenged:  the team ranks last in the Patriot League in scoring, shooting, three point shooting and turnover margin.  The Terriers are led by big man Max Mahoney who leads the conference in shooting and ranks fourth in scoring.

George Washington (5-10, 1-1 Atlantic 10) vs. Richmond (6-9, 0-2), 4 p.m., ESPN+.  Both teams are looking to shake off less than ideal starts in conference play.  Somehow the Colonials let a 22-point first half lead against Dayton dissolve thanks to major droughts:  scoring just five points in the last eight minutes of the first half and going scoreless in the final 4:04 of regulation.  The Spiders are a precarious 0-2 to begin league play despite Jacob Gilyard’s 23 points per game while shooting 12-25 from three-point range.  Richmond needs the Grant Golden from the Rhode Island loss (17 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists) more than the Golden from the Dayton defeat (4 points and 4 turnovers).

Howard (7-9, 1-1 MEAC) vs. Bethune-Cookman (5-10, 0-1), 4 p.m.  The Bison snapped a six game losing streak and bounced back from their loss to Florida A&M by blasting Maryland-Eastern Shore by 40.  More impressive than R.J. Cole’s 26 points was the fact that they held the Hawks to 21% shooting.  We all know Howard can score, but if their defense can improve on the current unit that ranks 327th in Division I there may just be a decent conference campaign ahead.

 

Sunday’s Game:

George Mason (8-8, 2-1 Atlantic 10) at Rhode Island (8-6, 1-1), 5:30 p.m., NBCSN.  While the Patriots are kicking themselves after shooting 10% from three-point range in a loss at home to Davidson, coach Dave Paulsen’s team is off to its best start since joining the league earlier this decade.  Paulsen hopes Otis Livingston II returns to form after the senior shot 2-for-11 against the Wildcats.  Rams first-year head coach David Cox has big shoes to fill:  before Danny Hurley left for UConn he had guided the Rams to consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

 

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PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Conference expansion has made Championship week unwieldy at best and unwatchable at worst.  For years the ACC had to deal with having the “Les Robinson Game” that pitted the 8th and 9th place teams…adding drama to the late-season for the bottom-feeders.  Everybody dreaded playing in the Les Robinson Game, even the NC State coach the game was named after (fittingly his final win with the Wolfpack came in the Robinson game).  The expansion of the SEC, Big East and creation of the Big XII meant that 12-team brackets would become commonplace…and by the time the ACC had finished its first round of picking the bones of the Big East the dozen felt natural:  four first round games to feed the back end of the quarterfinals.

But expansion to 14 (and 15 in the ACC) schools mandates another round, and since we already have the “first round” that precedes the quarterfinals one wants to call the first day of these tournaments the “opening round” or “day of dreck”.  Instead of a first round that gave you bubble teams fighting for bids, you have bottom-feeders playing for their coach’s contract.  For a while the 16-school Big East didn’t invite the 13th through 16th place teams to Madison Square Garden, if only to spare us of having to watch Rutgers or DePaul play one more time (if there’s any bonus to recent realignment, it’s that we will never have to see Rutgers-DePaul again in a conference tournament).  Unfortunately cooler heads did not prevail-thus creating a double-bye, a five-day tournament and a difficult to draw bracket.

At least the current Big East with its ten-school membership is down to semi-workable numbers (I like the round-robin and the lack of double-bye).  If you’re an ACC fan and want to see North Carolina, you’re going to have to wait until the third day of their tournament.  Same case with Kentucky and the SEC.  Maryland fans who are excited to be able to make the short trip to Verizon Center will have to wait until the 10th game of the Big Ten Tournament to see the Terps in action.  The new first round features the usual suspects:  so get ready for a Boston College team that hasn’t won since mid-January, a Rutgers team that’s made the opening day in the Big Ten their home just like they did in the Big East, and a Duquesne that’s hosting the A-10 before being shown the quick door.  Even in the SEC, the first round is a bit of a drag because at this point 12 of the 14 schools are all focused on spring football anyways.  Actually, the day of dreck makes me yearn for spring football…

Alma Mater Update- so the Orange need a win over Miami to secure an NCAA Berth, right?  Just like they needed a victory over Pitt last March in DC?  I had SU out after a 19-13 campaign that included losses to Georgetown and St. John’s plus a finishing slide of five losses in six games, only to be proven wrong by the committee.  I still think they need a 19th win this year to get in.  We’ll find out as they tip off against the Hurricanes at noon Wednesday.

ACC Tournament (Barclays Center, Brooklyn)- you can’t get further away from the land of Bojangles than Brooklyn.  The top-heavy league has ten potential NCAA Tournament teams with the usual bluebloods (North Carolina and Duke) expecting their annual coronation.

Matchup I want to see:  Louisville-Duke in the Quarterfinals.  Two schools playing for high seeds in the big dance.  New ACC money against the old guard.  Pitino back in the Big Apple…and don’t forget Coach K played at Army and the Blue Devils previously made the Meadowlands their home away from Durham.  The winner likely faces North Carolina.

Bold Pick (which school will surprise the experts):  Wake Forest is playing in the opening round for the fourth straight year, but Danny Manning’s team boasts a big man extraordinaire in John Collins (3rd in ACC in scoring, 2nd in rebounds, 4th in blocked shots).  Potential second-round foe Virginia Tech ranks 15th in the conference in rebounding and the Deacons are playing for an at-large bid.

Fold Pick (which team will exit earlier than expected):  Virginia may have won three straight to finish the regular season, but the team lacks offensive consistency outside of London Perrantes and can be had inside.

Gold Pick (who cuts down the nets):  During a season where North Carolina’s talent, Duke’s discipline, Syracuse’s last-second shots, NC State’s implosion and Virginia Tech’s perspiring coach have hijacked the headlines nobody is talking about Florida State.  Same case with the second-longest tenured coach in the league Leonard Hamilton and sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon.  At a tournament played in New York’s “other” borough, shouldn’t an underdog shine?

 

Big Ten (Verizon Center, Washington D.C.)- at least they don’t begin their expanded tournament until Wednesday.  Fittingly Rutgers plays in one first round game while Penn State plays in the other…I think eventually their first-day presence may be mandated.

Matchup I want to see:  Maryland-Northwestern in the Quarterfinals.  Both schools have plenty to prove:  the Terps want to fare better than their last conference tournament in DC (a first round loss to Clemson) while the Wildcats look to cement their NCAA Tournament worthiness despite six losses in their last nine games.  Their journalism schools like to brag as well…

Bold: Iowa wrapped up the regular season with four straight wins…and they’re led by the conference’s leading scorer in Peter Jok.  The senior’s supporting cast is finally growing up (only two other scholarship upperclassmen dot the roster) and Fran McCaffery’s team

Fold:  Michigan State.  Tough to sell Tom Izzo short when he’s led the Spartans to the Big Ten title three times this decade, but the 5th seed is the school’s lowest this decade.  For whatever reason MSU didn’t benefit from it’s rough pre-conference schedule and turned into a bubble team that probably needs two wins to be secure in the field.

Gold: Purdue has long languished in the shadow of Indiana University (one can still hear the Hoosier faithful chant “Banners!”).  Not so this winter…and the one-two inside punch of Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas looks to be too formidable to stop.

 

Atlantic 10 (PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh)- somebody had to move to give the ACC their week in Brooklyn.  One benefit from conference realignment is the A-10 is no longer being looked down upon by only the Big East.

Matchups I want to see: VCU-George Mason and Richmond-George Washington in the Quarterfinals.  If the 6th seeded Colonials and #7 Patriots win as expected, we’d have a Friday doubleheader featuring the conference’s southern wing…heating up the Orange Line and I-95.

Bold: Rhode Island heads to Pittsburgh on a five-game winning streak and has lost its games to regular season champ Dayton by a combined three points.  Danny Hurley’s team doesn’t dazzle you, but the steak far outweighs the sizzle.

Fold: Even with two of the league’s top four scorers and #1 assist man in Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure will draw a less-than-ideal matchup in round two…as both UMass and Saint Joseph’s have played them to two-possession games this winter.

Gold:  VCU has dominated the Atlantic 10 Tournament since joining the league, playing for the championship each season.  JeQuan Lewis and company have unfinished business with regular season champ Dayton.

 

Big East (Madison Square Garden)- finally, a tournament location where the league’s fans won’t get lost finding the arena.  I’m still bummed they play Wednesday-Saturday as opposed to Thursday-Sunday, but I’ll take the tournament that only lasts three and a half days.

Matchup I want to see:  Villanova-Butler in the Finals.  Nobody has been as good this winter as the Wildcats…and nobody has their number like the Bulldogs.

Bold:  Seton Hall. Angel Delgado leads the nation in rebounding, and in the conference of Patrick Ewing, Derrick Coleman and Walter Berry that has to count for something-even in a perimeter oriented 21st century game.  The Pirates also beat Villanova last year at MSG.

Fold: Providence.  The Friars are facing a Creighton team that may have finally recovered from losing Maurice Watson, Jr to injury.  They are also coming off wins against DePaul and St. John’s-and that is no way to prepare a team for the tournament.

Gold: Villanova is the best team in the league for the second straight year…plus they’ll have the extra motivating having lost in the championship game last March.  And I don’t think this is a team that needs motivation.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

There was quite a bit of excitement when the Big Ten announced that their men’s basketball tournament would be held at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.  But instead of a conference that had four top ten teams entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament or even the 2016 batch that yielded four schools in the top 20, there’s Wisconsin at #11 (after losing to Northwestern) while Purdue is 16th.  And before you get involved in the whole “strength of schedule” thing, look at the “projected top 16 seeds” released by the Tournament Selection Committee:  NO BIG TEN TEAMS.  While I’ve compared this made-for-TV exercise to tasting cookie batter, there is still some validity to the process.  And that process points to the Big Ten and say they’re pretenders instead of contenders in a world where the teams to beat range from bluebloods (Kentucky and Duke) to upstarts (Gonzaga and Butler).

Blame the name schools having off-seasons:  Michigan State has yet to really recover from a rough non-conference slate and Indiana’s December loss to Nebraska was more of a trend than a hiccup.  Ohio State and Michigan are bubble afterthoughts.  It’s also tough for the national media to get their heads around Northwestern and Minnesota as contenders.  Add in a Maryland team that lost four starters while playing a less than ambitious non-conference record, and you have a below-the-radar season for a school used to being above-the-fold on the front page.  Who’s ready for a first round that features 14th place Rutgers?

Bracket Racket- now that we are less than one month away from Selection Sunday, we’ll be including the ESPN and CBS NCAA Tournament projections.  Remember that the field of 68 is fluid…and has the attention-span off a hummingbird.

Alma Mater Update- two straight close losses have the Orange slipping down the bubble at 8-6 in the conference.  Remaining games on the road to the NCAA’s have Duke at home and Louisville on the road…with a home-and-away series against fellow Bubble resident Georgia Tech.  SU hasn’t had a comfortable win in exactly one month…and one hopes they respond to the latest bump in the road.

#23 Maryland (21-4, 9-3 Big Ten)- Anthony Cowan stepped up Saturday in the Terps’ 86-77 win over Ohio State with 19 points after scoring 19 in the team’s previous three games (and shooting 2-15 during the two-game losing streak).  The bench also outscored the Buckeyes’ reserves 33-0.  But up next are two tough tests on the road against conference contenders Northwestern (yes, I know…try not to chuckle) and Wisconsin.  Both models have the Terrapins a #6 seed:   CBS tickets them to the South Region and a first round game against the Georgia Tech/Wake Forest winner while ESPN has them in the East bracket against Clemson or Marquette.

Georgetown (14-12, 5-8 Big East)- Now that was the Jessie Govan we thought we might see.  The six-foot-ten sophomore tallied 23 points and 8 rebounds in the 80-62 win over Marquette.  After their team defense was described as “lazy” by the Golden Eagles JuJuan Johnson in December, the Hoyas responded by holding Marquette to under 40% shooting for most of the game and 3-for-14 from three-point range.  Now the question is:  can this team get back to .500 in conference play and merit at-large consideration in March?  They still have Creighton and Villanova on their schedule…plus road games at St. John’s and Seton Hall.  ESPN has the Hoyas as the eighth team to miss the tournament.

#14 Virginia (18-6, 8-4 ACC)- It’s cloudy in Charlottesville after an 80-78 double-overtime loss to Virginia Tech.  Cassell Coliseum is a very difficult place to get a win…no matter how good you might be.  But blow a 14-point halftime lead?  When you’re one of the best defensive teams in the nation, let alone the ACC?  Their starting forwards shot 2-for-10 from the field against the Hokies…and UVa missed 10 of 24 free throws.  London Perrantes can continue to dazzle from the perimeter, but if he doesn’t have help inside the rough and tumble world of the best conference in the game can be a little unforgiving.  The latest models both have the Cavaliers as a #4 seed playing Akron in the round of 64;  ESPN has UVa in the East while CBS places them in the Midwest.

Virginia Tech (17-7, 6-7 ACC)- now THAT was a big program win.  How do you rally from 14 down against your in-state rival?  How do you come back from 17 turnovers?  Somehow they forced the Cavaliers into a 2-for-9 shooting funk over a six-minute stretch in the second half…and got a gift when London Perrantes’ last-minute layup died on the backboard rim, resulting in a jump ball that went the home team’s way.  Seth Allen’s 20 points off the bench were punctuated by his game-winning jumper in the lane with 3.2 seconds left.  Sophomores Justin Robinson (4 rebounds, 6 assists and a blocked shot) and Chris Clarke (7 boards and 3 assists) continue to do the little things that an NCAA Tournament team needs.  Up next?  Back to back road games against the likes of Pitt and #8 Louisville.  CBS has the Hokies a #9 seed in the Midwest, facing VCU…while ESPN has them seeded 9th in the West and a first-round game with USC.

George Mason (17-8, 7-5 Atlantic 10).  Saturday’s 73-67 victory over Fordham was one of those games the Patriots would have lost earlier this winter or last year:  somehow they survived going scoreless for over seven minutes in the second half.  Sophomore guard Otis Livingston II has turned it on as of late, scoring 18 points while playing 37 minutes per game during the three-game winning streak.  The current surge has coach Dave Paulsen’s team pushing for a double-bye…but in order to be the best, you have to beat the best.  And over the next month the Patriots play conference co-leaders Dayton and VCU plus third place Richmond and fourth place Rhode Island.  Buckle up…

George Washington (13-12, 5-7 Atlantic 10).  How do you bounce back from the heartbreak of a last-second loss to VCU?  Feed Tyler Cavanaugh the ball early and often, which is what GW did in their 76-70 triumph over St. Bonaventure.  They also locked up on the perimeter, holding the Bonnies to 22% shooting from three-point range.  Remember the double-bye I mentioned earlier?  There’s also the dreaded first round of the A-10 Tournament that matches up the bottom four schools…and the Colonials are one game ahead of Fordham and Saint Louis for tenth place.  They own the tiebreaker with the Billikens and visit the Rams March 1st…ending a stretch where they play four of five games against teams that are sub-500 in league play.

American (6-19, 3-11 Patriot League).  The Eagles can also avoid playing in the first round of their conference tournament, but they’ll need to win the rest of their regular season games while getting help.  And even then they’d be in a tiebreaker at 7-11.  Let’s just give AU a chance to enjoy their 61-58 win over Army where they turned over the Black Knights 21 times.  They go for a season sweep of Lafayette Wednesday.  If you can’t avoid the dreaded first round, you may as well try to host it.

Howard (6-20, 3-8 MEAC).  The offensively challenged (338th in shooting and 331st in assists) Bison didn’t go down quietly at Hampton…but still have a way to go before righting the ship.  Of course the ship would be sailing a lot better if the injured James Daniel III had played more than two games this winter.  Instead, fellow senior James Miller and a nucleus of unseasoned young talent tries to fly on one engine.  Thank goodness they got a Monday night win at Morgan State…Miller leading the way with 24 points and a crucial block in the final minute of a 70-67 win over the Bears.  They next face winless in the league North Carolina A&T.

 

At Indiana University, they look down their noses at in-state rival Purdue and chant “banners”.  Five times the Hoosiers have won the National Championship…and even though they haven’t won it all in 30 years, there are still lofty expectations for everyone who suits up in the red and white (often accompanied by striped warmups).  After reaching the regional semifinals last March, hopes were high in Bloomington as coach Tom Crean’s team was ranked 11th in the preseason.  Unfortunately, IU has been consistently uneven since dropping their Big Ten opener to Nebraska-and now they’ve lost guard OG Anunoby for the season when he tore his ACL against Penn State.  Juwan Morgan missed that game due to a bad ankle…and the Hoosiers’ depth will be tested against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan and Northwestern between now and the end of the month.  Where the talk was once “what seed will they get?”, now the whispers around Bloomington is becoming “could they somehow not be getting in?”.  They play Purdue twice in February, and if things continue to proceed the way they have then Boilermaker fans will no doubt be chanting “NIT!”.  Thank goodness the IU faithful can still cling to the “banners!” refrain.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are 3-3 one third of the way through the ACC season…with six of their remaining 12 regular season games coming against ranked opponents.  Today at noon they visit Notre Dame;  the #15 Fighting Irish are currently tied for first place in the conference.  If SU is going to somehow avoid coming to McDonough Arena for an NIT game, they’ve got to start winning some of these road games against ranked foes.  Much easier said than done.

 

Saturday’s games-

1:30 p.m.-

Navy (9-10, 4-3 Patriot League) at Army (8-11, 2-5), CBS Sports Network.  Somehow this matchup doesn’t have the oomph their football showdown does.  The Midshipmen have won four straight to suddenly become a factor in the conference race thanks to solid defense (2nd in the conference) and rebounding (tops in the league).  The Black Knights may be second in the Patriot League in scoring, but both of their conference wins have come when they’ve allowed feweer than 60 points.

2 p.m.-

#16 Virginia (14-3, 4-2 ACC) vs Georgia Tech (11-7, 3-3), ACC Network.  Easy nights are few and far between in a conference with six ranked teams.  That’s why the Cavaliers’ tip-to- buzzer dominance of Boston College was so huge.  What isn’t huge is the lack of production UVa is getting from big man Jack Salt:  the New Zealander has scored just 11 points TOTAL in ACC play.  The Yellowjackets boast a big man in Ben Lammers who’s averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds per game…but they’re also carrying the emotional baggage of a heartbreaking loss at Virginia Tech.  

 

4 p.m.-

Howard (4-14, 1-2 MEAC) at North Carolina A&T (1-17, 0-5).  If the preseason conference favorites fall again, they have no excuses.  The Aggies have lost 17 straight since beating Division III Greensboro College and average margin of defeat in league play is 12 points.  NC A&T ranks 351st in the nation in scoring (that would be last in Division I).  Coach Kevin Nickelberry’s team can’t worry about when /if James Daniel III returns to full strength.  Freshman Charles Williams is averaging 18 points per conference game this winter…they’ll need another big effort from the Richmond, Virginia product this weekend.

 

Sunday’s games-

1pm-

George Mason (12-6, 2-3 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (11-7, 5-1).  The Spiders are in a three-way tie for first place in the league with LaSalle and Dayton after losing to the Flyers Thursday.  ShawnDre’ Jones likely won’t be held to one point on 0-for-9 shooting over 38 minutes again anytime soon.  Will Marquise Moore and company at least be able to limit the senior?  Containing the offensive arsenal that is T.J. Cline (the senior leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists) will be a tougher task.

 

2pm-

Georgetown (10-9 , 1-5 Big East) at #22 Xavier (13-5, 3-3), CBS.  Could the season be slipping away for the Hoyas?  They play three of their next four away from DC…and their next three games are against teams in the top 25.  The Musketeers just went through that gauntlet; going 0-3 against Villanova, Creighton and Butler.  Edmond Sumner ripped the Hoyas for 28 points in their New Year’s Eve duel while Trevon Bluiett had an atypical 0-for-10 shooting day.  Will their five days off after a home loss to Providence rejuvenate coach John Thompson III’s team or will there be carryover from their flameout against the Friars?

VCU (14-5, 4-2 Atlantic 10) vs LaSalle (10-5, 5-1), NBC Sports Network.  This just in-the Rams are human.  The loss at league-leading Dayton wasn’t that much of a surprise…but the last-second defeat at sub-500 Fordham was the kind of stumble that butchers and at-large candidacy come Selection Sunday.  The Explorers come to the Commonwealth leading the A-10 in scoring with the one-two punch of guards B.J. Johnson and Jordan Price.  How well the league’s best assist-to-turnover team fares against the Rams havoc will go a long way towards determining if VCU stumbles further down the standings after its hot start.

6:30 pm-

Virginia Tech (14-4, 3-3 ACC) at Clemson (11-6, 1-5), ESPNU.  Hokies-Tigers is the natural pairing the league would air against the NFL Playoffs, right?  I’m looking forward to the old-school big man matchup of seniors Zach LeDay and Jaron Blossomgame.  While Buzz Williams’ team has been playing tag with the .500 mark in conference play, Clemson’s played well in losses to ranked foes North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia and actually led Louisville for the majority of the first half before getting blown out by the Cardinals.  Littlejohn Coliseum is not an easy place to visit…and with the season starting to slip away you can bet Brad Brownwell’s team will come out swinging.

Kent Benson has to be nervous.  Bobby Wilkerson must be shaking. Quinn Buckner’s glances at the latest Kentucky scores have to be a little more intriguing lately.  The 1976 Indiana team that went 32-0 en route to the last unbeaten National Championship in the mens game will be mentioned early and often if #1 Kentucky enters March perfect–as this year’s Wildcat edition presents the best collection of talent since…well, last year’s Kentucky team.  Or the 2012 edition that won it all with Anthony Davis.  Or perhaps the 1996 team that lost to fellow Final Four teams UMass and Mississippi State en route to Rick Pitino’s first title that featured Antoine Walker and Ron Artest.  Wow, it is really easy not to like the bluebloods of Lexington.  So every time a middling SEC school takes UK into OT…the meter moves.  Even though injuries have scrapped coach John Calipari’s two-platoon system, most Wildcat games represent an NBA pre-draft workout.  Sit tight, Bob Knight…unlike other unbeatens from mid-major leagues recently, this team can get it done.

 

Alma Mater Update–  there aren’t any awards for “most precarious 4-0 start in ACC history”, but if there were this winter’s edition of the Orange would have that honor sealed up.  From barely beating Virginia Tech to losing DeJuan Coleman and Chris McCullough to season ending injuries, this team has NIT written all over it.  But they’re currently tied for first in the conference with non-factors Clemson and Boston College on deck.  The ACC gauntlet of Duke, Louisville, Pitt, Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia is a month away.  Enjoy your “Warrick Wings” and “Boeheim Burgers” at Front Page Arlington while you can.  Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney, now is the time to pad your stats.

 

#14 Maryland (16-2, 4-1 Big 10) proved it could bounce back from slow starts– they trailed Rutgers 8-0 and allowed an 11-0 run to start the second half in Wednesday’s 73-65 win over the Scarlet Knights.  Those following this school over the last five to ten years wonder when the other shoe will drop…as it almost always does.  There’s no way this team can be this good, right?  Weren’t they exposed by Virginia?  Didn’t their offense prove offensive against Michigan State (14 first half points)?  Wouldn’t things turn bad when they started facing the rough and tumble physical Big 10 schools?  This is actually a great year to join the conference-only two other schools are in the top 40 of ESPN.COM’s RPI, and they’ve beaten Michigan State while Wisconsin’s proven they can be beaten (by Rutgers?!).  The great equalizer-team defense- is keeping the Terps near the top of the league:  Mark Turgeon’s team leads the Big Ten in defensive field goal percentage.  Causes for concern involve turnovers:  Maryland’s 11th in assist to turnover ratio and 13th in turnover margin.  Can they complete a regular season sweep of Michigan State?  

 

Georgetown (11-5, 3-2 Big East) snatched its first road conference win Tuesday at DePaul–as coach John Thompson III shortens his rotation (playing just 9–with only 6 players seeing more than 15 minutes) for what will be quite a grind.  Two games in three days will give further clarification of the Hoyas are pretenders or contenders in a Big East that boasts 7 teams in the top 40 of the RPI.  Saturday Butler visits Verizon-the Bulldogs have endured an odd journey already this year.  Coach Brandon Miller went on medical leave October 1st of last fall and interim coach Chris Holtmann turned what was a 14-17 squad from the year before into a top 20 team…leading to the school lifting the interim tag off Holtmann while Miller quietly goes away.  Fourteen turnovers factored into the Hoyas loss to Butler in the Bahamas Thanksgiving week–and bad turnovers remain Georgetown’s Achilles heel.  Monday night #5 Villanova drops by the district–the Wildcats have four double digit victories in conference play but fell on the road two weekends ago to Seton Hall in overtime.

 

Cruising the Commonwealth–

#2 Virginia (16-0, 4-0 ACC) has the Cavalier faithful thinking Final Four.  And why shouldn’t they? Coach Tony Bennett’s team sucks the life out of opponents defensively and is effective enough offensively (44th in the nation in field goal percentage and 40th in offensive rebounding).  Is it safe to say that Justin Anderson’s made the leap?  The junior’s hitting 53 percent of his shots (56% from 3 point range) while leading the Cavaliers in scoring.  Last year a lot was made about UVa’s “soft schedule” when they played Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina just once during the regular season.  This winter there are four other schools ranked in the top 25–and coach Tony Bennett’s team plays Duke, UNC and Louisville back-to-back-to-back over the span of eight days.  At least they get a break with two of those three being played in Charlottesville.  Saturday the Cavaliers visit winless in the ACC Boston College.

 

Virginia Tech (8-8, 0-3 ACC) wonders when its first league victory will arrive–as their January gauntlet of ACC elite continues with consecutive games against North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia.  The Hokies entered conference play as one of the better shooting teams in the nation (they currently rank 45th) but then were held to 39% by Syracuse, 41% by Florida State and 36% by Louisville.  A lot will be on the shoulders of  Adam Smith (15-31 against the Seminoles and Cardinals) as other options offensively haven’t panned out.  Sunday the Hokies visit #15 North Carolina.

 

A-10 Trio–

George Washington (13-4, 3-1 Atlantic 10) bounced back from their least inspirational effort of the season to edge Richmond in double overtime 73-70.  The big difference was the Big Dane– five days after going scoreless and missing both shots at LaSalle, 6 foot 10 center Kevin Larsen tallied 22 points and 11 rebounds.  If the Colonials can get that production consistently, watch out.  The problem is, once every 5 or 6 games the Copenhagen, Denmark product offers up a 1-for-7 entrée with side dishes of foul trouble and multiple turnovers.  For the moment there’s a bit of a breather before they face #17 VCU January 27th:  the next three GW opponents are a combined 2-10 in league play.  Saturday they face a fading George Mason.

 

George Mason (6-10, 1-3 Atlantic 10)-  the season isn’t ugly–yet.  But the Patriots after winning their conference opener have fallen on tough times, despite inspired play from freshman center Shevon Thompson (the Jamaican averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds in league play).  The loss that has to haunt coach Paul Hewitt is the team’s 66-62 defeat against UMass where they made just one shot in the final 6:27.  Saturday they deal with the Colonial Army at George Washington.

 

#17 VCU (14-3, 4-0 Atlantic 10) is viewed as a potential #4 seed in most NCAA Tournament brackets…and while there’s a lot of hoops to be played between now and Selection Sunday the Rams are definitely on a roll.  Their three losses have come to teams that have been ranked this winter:  Virginia and Villanova have been top ten fixtures while Old Dominion reached the top 25 for the first time ever earlier this month (props to Jeff Jones for getting the Monarchs on track).  Shaka Smart’s pesky defense (3rd in the nation in steals) is providing the usual havoc while senior Treveon Graham provides a matchup nightmare on offense:  the 6-foot-6 swingman can rebound better than most forwards (6.9 boards per game) while destroying opponents from the perimeter (46% from 3 point range).  With road games at Duquesne and St Louis (combined 15-17 and 2-6 in conference play), the Rams could very well still be unbeaten in conference play January 27th when they host George Washington.

 

American (10-7, 3-2 Patriot League) is deep into the rugby scrum that is the Patriot League.  Pee Wee Gardner’s three helped the Eagles edge Lehigh 62-59…and although he’s averaging an assist less per game and shooting five percentage points lower than last year, the diminutive one remains the sparkplug for AU’s offense.  While it’s nice to know the Eagles have handed conference-leading Colgate their only league loss, the team has yet to win on the road in Patriot League play and goes on the road for four of their next five games.  Saturday they visit one of the four other 3-2 teams in the Patriot League, Lafayette.

 

Howard (8-10, 2-2 MEAC)- gets a rare midseason siesta:  the Bison enjoy 12 days off between their loss to Delaware State and their trip to Florida A&M.  The Rattlers are the ideal team to come off a layoff against–as they’re currently 0-16 (0-3 in the league).  In fact, the Bison’s monthly transition couldn’t be sharper:  their three opponents to end January are a combined 1-9 in league play while their first three foes of February are a combined 10-1.  Gulp.

 

Maryland Womens Update– new league, similar results.  The 8th ranked Terps are off to a 5-0 start in the Big Ten with signature wins at then #12 Nebraska, #23 Minnesota and #24 Rutgers.  Laurin Mincy enjoyed her recent return to the Garden State, scoring 24 points in the win over the Scarlet Knights.  The team’s lone senior leads the team in scoring and assists.  Two emerging factors off the bench are junior forward Tierney Pfirman and freshman guard Kristen Confroy.  Can this team enter the conversation for a potential #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament?  Five of the Terrapins’ next eight games are in College Park.