Archives for posts with tag: Jim Boeheim

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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.

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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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The final week of February brings two phrases back to the college basketball scene:  “seeding line” and “the bubble”.  Even with their 79-72 loss at Ohio State Sunday, Maryland is competing for a top-three seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament.  Why is three a magic number?  Because as a top-four seed they’d be protected and sent closer to the Terps natural region (likely New York City and Madison Square Garden for the East Regional), but they wouldn’t have to face the region’s top seed until the round of eight.  Right now the Terps (22-5, 12-4 Big Ten) are projected to be a No. 2 seed by the “Bracketologists”; with regions varying from South (ESPN), Midwest (CBS Sports), East (USA Today), and Midwest (NBC Sports).  But three of the four have Maryland going to Greensboro (USA Today the outlier with Tampa as their first weekend destination) to begin the tournament.  Virginia (19-7, 11-5 ACC) is a potential second-round foe for the Terps according to ESPN and CBS, as the Cavaliers are a No. 7 and No. 10 seed in those models (UVa is No. 9 seed according to USA Today and NBC).  On the other side of the seeding coin is the bubble:  right now Georgetown (15-12, 5-9 Big East) is squarely on the underbelly thanks to consecutive losses with USA Today listing the Hoyas as one of the “first four teams out” while ESPN and CBS have them in the “next four out”.  Richmond (20-7, 10-4 Atlantic 10) is also on the bubble, with CBS having the Spiders playing in the First Four while the other three models have them in the “first four out”.  Meaning Coach Chris Mooney’s team can ill afford another misstep between now and the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Alma Mater Update: SU rallied to beat Georgia Tech Saturday, which returns the Orange to 8-8 in a soft ACC and returns them to three games over .500 with four dates remaining.  Three are on the road and the fourth is against a North Carolina team that can’t be this bad…right?  Actually, all four schools are currently under .500 in league play so an 18-win campaign isn’t out of the realm of possibility.  Sound familiar?  Since Syracuse’s first winter in the ACC, they’ve finished the regular season with either 18 (twice) or 19 wins (three times).  Not ideal for a program that was accustomed to winning a lot over a long time.  Buddy Watch: the recent rough patch (38 points over his last four games) drops the sophomore’s average to 15.5 points per game, putting him on a pace of 481 for the regular season which would have this No. 35 at 698 for his career entering the ACC Tournament. Or 47 points shy of his father.

Wow of the Week: defending National Champion Virginia owns the longest winning streak in the ACC; four straight victories have moved the Cavaliers off of the bubble and into the NCAA field.  Coach Tony Bennett’s grinders actually enjoyed a breather when they beat Boston College; the 78-65 triumph was just their second double-digit win since January 1.  While offense can leave for the NBA early (Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome) but the rock that this program has been built upon is defense; and the Cavaliers lead the NCAA in scoring defense while ranking second in defensive field goal percentage.  But the schedule ratchets up over the final two weeks with a pair of road games along with home matchups against teams currently in the top ten.

Player Spotlight:  Maryland sophomore Aaron Wiggins led the Terps with 20 points in Sunday’s loss at Ohio State while making 6 of 13 from three-point range.  In his five other games this month, the guard is averaging seven points with four boards and two assists while shooting 36% and 5-23 from outside the arc.  For the Terrapins to shine in March and get to Saturday’s Semifinals in the Big Ten Tournament and the second week of the NCAA’s, they need more than Jalen Smith inside and Anthony Cowan outside.  With Eric Ayala (26% from three after making 41% as a freshman) still looking for his shot, that may fall to Wiggins in the coming weeks.

League Look:  the Big Ten has four schools ranked in the Top 25 with six others likely making the tournament field if today was Selection Sunday (and obviously it is not, but still…).  Two more are on the bubble, with Minnesota and Purdue needing to microwave their way down the stretch to get into the postseason conversation.  While Maryland owns a two game cushion with four to play, there’s a five way tie for second place at 10-6 and then one game separates seventh from tenth place.  Talk about fluid standings.

Ballot Battles:  Saturday saw three of the top four teams in the nation tumble; and that bled over to Sunday when then-No. 7 Maryland fell at Ohio State.  Kansas is the new No. 1 thanks to its victory at previously top-ranked Baylor.  Small school shout-outs this week welcome Liberty (26-3) to the party, with Stephen F. Austin, East Tennessee State, and Northern Iowa remaining in the mix.  Toughest decision was how far to drop the Terps–I slid them three spots after the defeat, behind Duke and San Diego State to the dismay of a few.  After last Monday when my Washington Post Sunday Magazine Crossword became twitter fodder, I’m happy to be roasted by fans from all offended schools this week.

 

Starting Five:

Wednesday- Virginia at Virginia Tech.  The Cavaliers took the January meeting by 26, and the Hokies have lost seven of eight to fall out of NCAA contention.  Freshman Landers Nolley II has officially hit the wall, also known as that time of the season when first-year players have logged more minutes and games than they did during their high school career.  The team’s leading scorer is averaging 9.3 points with 8 rebounds over his last three games while shooting 18% from the field and 1-for-17 from three point range.  He’s going to find scoring against the Cavaliers even more difficult.

Also Wednesday- No. 9 Maryland at Minnesota. Beware late February, Terrapin Nation.  How many times have we seen a highly-regarded Terps team go on the road and get shocked in Lincoln, State College, or Minneapolis?  The Golden Gophers may have lost five of seven and rank third-worst in the Big Ten in shooting, but still boast a big man to be reckoned with. Daniel Oturu’s 11.4 rebounds per game leads the conference and his 19.7 points per game is second-best behind Luka Garza. Jalen Smith, just a few days removed from dealing with Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson, will have his hands full once again.

Also Wednesday- American vs. Lafayette.  The Eagles own a one-game lead in the race for third place in the Patriot League, but the Leopards currently own the tiebreaker thanks to their 12-point win in Easton at the beginning of the month.  It was a day where AU shot 15% from three-point range and couldn’t contain Justin Jaworski (32 points on 11-17 shooting).  Sa’eed Nelson is two points away from becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer; he’ll need help from his supporting cast after they shot 14-42 (33%) in Sunday’s loss at Boston University.

Saturday- George Washington at VCU.  It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Rams, who have lost four straight and five of six to light a match to their at-large hopes.  The coveted double-bye is also almost gone for Mike Rhoades team.  GW has won two of three to position itself away from the A-10’s dreaded first round for the first time in three years.

Sunday- Georgetown vs Xavier. Schools with 8-10 conference records have made the NCAA Tournament before, but four games under .500 is almost the at-large kiss of death.  That’s where the Hoyas are on track to land, unless they get things in gear quickly.  The Musketeers are on the top half of most bubbles.  They also lead the Big East in rebounding margin and defending the three; the Hoyas lead the conference in crucial injuries with Mac McClung (eight minutes played this month due to a foot injury) and Omer Yurtseven (five points and eight rebounds in the loss at DePaul after missing the previous two games with a sprained ankle) question marks moving forward.

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Charlottesville and Blacksburg may not share in basketball success equally, but 2019 was a banner year for both schools.  Virginia won its first-ever National Championship while Virginia Tech earned a third straight NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in program history and advanced to the Hokies’ first Regional Semifinal since 1967.  But 2020 vision is far from ideal, with both schools still trying to find their way in February.  Defending National Champion Virginia (15-7, 7-5 ACC) finds itself squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble thanks to an offense that ranks in the bottom ten of Division I due to the early departures of the likes of Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome to the NBA.  The Cavaliers have shown signs of life lately with an upset of then-No. 5 Florida State, but came up short in an upset bid of current No. 5 Louisville.  On the bright side, they posted 70 points for the first time all season.

Virginia Tech (14-10, 5-7) has lost six in a row (two to BOSTON COLLEGE!?!) and hasn’t scored 70 points in regulation since January 15. Their only victory since was a double-overtime defeat of North Carolina, and the Tar Heels are in danger of their third losing season since the creation of the ACC.  New head coach Mike Young knew it wouldn’t be a turnkey operation, but it looks like the Hokies’ streak of NCAA berths will end at three.  UVa’s made the field every year since 2015, but missing the tournament the March after cutting the nets down wouldn’t be an aberration. Four defending champs in the last 13 years (Florida in 2008, North Carolina in 2010, Kentucky in 2013, and UConn in 2015) have failed to return to the big dance.

 

Alma Mater Update- somehow the Orange were able to beat Wake Forest on a late putback by freshman Brycen Goodine.  That’s where we are at this time as SU is off the Bracketology board despite a 7-5 ACC mark.  They host NC State before traveling to a pair of top ten teams in Florida State and Louisville in the final chances to notch signature wins this winter;  none of the team’s final five regular season foes own a winning ACC record.  On the Buddy Boeheim beat, the sophomore scored 23 points against the Demon Deacons to give him 381 for the year and 598 for his career.  At his current pace of 16.56 per game he’s likely to land at 513 for the season and 730 for his career, meaning Buddy would start the ACC Tournament 15 points behind his dad.

Wow of the Week- American swept the service academies last week to improve to 8-4 and third place in the Patriot League.  Defense was the difference in defeating Navy and Army as the Eagles held their foes to 24% shooting from three-point range.  While Sa’eed Nelson continues to shine (third in the conference in scoring, second in assists and first in steals) he’s getting major help from junior Stacy Beckton:  the 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 17 points with 7 rebounds over his last four games and ranks third in the league in blocked shots.  The school’s first winning season since 2015 is well within reach.

Player Spotlight- Georgetown somehow beat DePaul Saturday despite Mac McClung not dressing (foot injury), Omer Yurtseven not finishing (sprained ankle), and Jamorko Pickett fouling out late in the second half.  Thank goodness junior guard Jahvon Blair scored 30 points;  his second career high in three games.  The Hoyas hope seven days off will allow their top scorer and best rebounder to heal up before they play a season-defining stretch where they’ll play four of their final seven games against ranked foes.

League Look- there’s a reason the MEAC flies under the radar locally and nationally. First, Howard is 2-24 with an RPI of 353 (there are 353 schools in Division I) which generates little local buzz.  Second, the Baltimore-area schools Coppin State (8-18, 331) and Morgan State (13-13, 303) don’t provide much relief.  But atop the standings there’s a pretty decent race as one game separates the top three schools. North Carolina Central has won five straight to move past Norfolk State and North Carolina A&T;  the Eagles and Aggies play twice over the final three weeks of the regular season.

Ballot Battles- a minor gaffe on my part this week.  I fully intended to move Pac-12 leading Colorado into the Top 25 (Buffaloes have won three straight) but somehow things got lost in the shuffle as I was moving schools up and down my ballot after another topsy-turvy week.  Small school shout-outs go to Wright State, East Tennessee State, and Stephen F. Austin.  Rhode Island and Northern Iowa don’t get small school shout-outs because they’ve been playing big for most of the season.  Maryland was the big mover from 15th to 10th after a pair of gritty wins.  The big sliders were Villanova (fourth two weeks ago to 15th) and Michigan State (off the ballot). Again, a mea culpa to my friends in Boulder–and if you ever visit make sure you check out JL Distillery.  Great spot.

 

Starting Five-all Saturday:

Georgetown at No. 19 Butler, noon (FOX).  The Bulldogs were once ranked fifth in the nation, but have lost five of eight-and their three wins have come by three, four, and five points.  The five-point win came at Georgetown two weeks ago;  Sean McDermott hit 7 of 10 three-pointers en route to 25 points-his highest output since netting 26 against IUPUI their season-opener.  The Hoyas need to get healthy (a major challenge), play solid defense (iffy given they’re last in the Big East in scoring D) and stay out of foul trouble.

No. 9 Maryland at Michigan State, 6 p.m. (ESPN).  The Spartans have slumped their way out of the Top 25 with three straight losses, but when they’ve been good coach Tom Izzo’s team has been on-point with seven of their eight Big Ten wins coming by double digits.  The Anthony Cowan-Cassius Winston matchup outside will only be rivaled by the Jalen Smith-Xavier Tillman duel inside.  Defense travels, which is good news for the Terps who’ve been guarding really well this winter.  It’s also good news for the Spartans who lead the Big Ten in blocked shots and defending the three while ranking second in rebounding margin and scoring defense.

VCU at Richmond, 4 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  The winner has the inside track to fourth place and the Atlantic 10 Tournament double-bye that comes with it.  The Rams took last month’s meeting by nineteen, but that was against a Spiders team that was minus leading scorer Blake Francis.  The guard has recovered from his sternum injury and score 18 points last weekend in the win over Fordham.  But his Spiders haven’t beaten their cross-town rivals since 2018 and are 5-13 against VCU since they joined the A-10.

George Washington at George Mason, 4:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network). They gave out tricorn hats when the two teams tangled in Foggy Bottom January 15, and GW’s 73-67 win began a stretch where the Colonials won four of five.  But just like the Patriots’ 11-1 start, that surge is but a memory:  GW has lost three in a row while Mason has dropped four straight.  From a fashion statement standpoint, Doc Nix’s colorful outfits > tricorn hats.

Virginia at North Carolina, 8 p.m. (ESPN). One of the few benefits of having the ACC Network not being carried by all cable providers in the DC metro area is the Wake Forest-Miami game won’t see the light of day.  But we knew the Demon Deacons-Hurricanes might not be ready for prime time, while most thought the Cavaliers and Tar Heels would be factors in the ACC race.  And even though UVa is on track for a double-bye in the ACC Tournament (tied for fourth with a bubble-bound Syracuse), they’re a far cry from the air occupying top ten schools Duke, Florida State and Louisville.  UNC?  They lost at home to Clemson for the first time ever last month.  It’s one of those rare winters in Chapel Hill.

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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.

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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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It was brought to my attention after I praised Northwestern’s run to the Big Ten West that their division is subpar, and that’s absolutely right.  The West is far from being the best this fall, as has been the custom since the conference put “Leaders & Legends” into the trash can where it belonged.  But the Big Ten’s Division discussion is far from unique, as each of the Power Five Conferences have long boasted a Darryl Hall as well as a John Oates. (Or, depending on your age and interest: Paul Simon/Art Garfunkel, George Michael/Andrew Ridgeley, Kix Brooks/Ronnie Dunn, Big Kenny/John Rich).  Even the ten-member Big 12 had that issue, as the South won 12 of 15 championship games.

At least the Big Ten West has a ranked team in the Wildcats.  That’s not the case in the ACC’s Coastal where a 4-loss Pitt  is all but headed to Charlotte for a showdown with unbeaten Clemson (that will certainly end well).  The Atlantic Division has won seven straight and is 9-4 in a league set up for Miami and Florida State to face off for the title (and they’ve yet do do so).  Despite the imagined edge, the Atlantic and Coastal have won an equal amount of inter-divisional games this fall.

The Pac 12 division of fortune is similar, with two ranked schools in the North and just one in the South (a #19 Utah that has three league losses).  The North has won six of seven Championship Games and this year looks like more of the same, with a 5-4 South champion an extreme possibility.  The North owns a two-game edge inter-divisonally, with everyone wondering when USC and UCLA will get their respective acts in gear.

You’d expect the SEC to have a marked difference, especially with the West winning seven of eight titles this decade (although it was 5-5 the previous decade and the East dominated the 90’s).  But the East has actually taken seven of 12 inter-division games.  Even Vanderbilt is getting into the act.  Of course, everybody-in the East and West-is and will be chasing Alabama now and for some time.  My only issue is that Missouri is west of the Mississippi River yet plays in the East Division.

Which brings us to the Big Ten.  This year there are three East Division teams in the top 14 with Northwestern repping the West at #22.  The East owns an 11-8 edge and enjoyed a 13-8 advantage last year, but the West won 11 of 21 games in 2016 and the two divisions were even the previous two years.  The East is 4-0 in the Championship Game, a small sample size to say the least.  And that span saw changes at formerly dominant programs Nebraska and Wisconsin.  How long the current divide will last between the divisions might just hinge on how long it takes for Scott Frost to get things going in Lincoln and how long it takes Paul Chryst to consolidate what he’s built in Madison.  Perhaps Urban Meyer (who’s resigned with health concerns before), Mike Dantonio (62 years old) and Jim Harbaugh (mentioned every year with NFL vacancies) won’t be on their current campuses forever.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was conference parity.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange haven’t started 9-2 since 1992, when Marvin Graves was at the peak of his powers.  SU heads to New York City to face #3 Notre Dame, and after the Fighting Irish won their first three games by single digits they’ve been on a roll.  The last time these two teams played, the Orange allowed 50 points.  While I’m hoping its not that bad, it can’t get worse than men’s basketball’s  loss to UConn at Madison Square Garden where somebody spelled a player’s name wrong on the back of their jersey.  Granted, it was only a freshman who played just six minutes.  But the kid’s name was-and is-Buddy Boeheim.  As in the son of the man who has been our head coach for the last 42 years–and has been on campus in one way or another since 1962.  I’m looking forward to buying a game replica Buddy Boheim jersey at Manny’s online.

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) vs. #9 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1), noon (ABC).  The Buckeyes happen to be the only team in the East Division the Terps haven’t beaten since joining the league, and it hasn’t been close:  the average score has been 56-17.  This year OSU owns the number one offense in the Big Ten thanks to the arm of Dwayne Haskins, who has 33 touchdown passes in ten games.  With Kasim Hill done for the year due to a torn ACL, the Terps will start redshirt sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome (who has thrown all of 31 passes this fall).  Expect Anthony McFarland (210 yards rushing against Indiana) to receive the lion’s share of attention, and while the Buckeyes aren’t as sharp on that side of the ball their defense is second-best at getting off of the field in the Big Ten.  Terrapins tumble, 44-14.

Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) vs. Miami (5-5, 2-4), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN).  The last two Coastal Division champs expected to be playing for another spot in the ACC Championship Game this weekend as recently as one month ago.  Instead, it’s a question of which team can salvage its sinking season. While the Hokies have dropped three in a row, the Hurricanes have lost four straight.  But not all slides into oblivion are created equally, as Miami has three one-possession losses in its tumble and Virginia Tech has dropped its three by an average of 20 points.  Tech’s slump can be traced to a defense that’s surrendered 30 or more points five times this fall;  the Cane’s decline can be traced to an offense that ranks 12th in the ACC in passing and a starting quarterback in N’Kosi Perry who hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in over a month.  Cover your eyes.  Hokies hurt a little more, 27-21.

Virginia (7-3, 4-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (6-4, 3-3), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Cavaliers can still win the Coastal Division, but only with two wins and two losses by Pitt.  The Yellowjackets may be out of the running for the division, but Coach Paul Johnson’s option offense will be running all afternoon- they lead the nation with 362 yards per game on the ground.  UVa just coughed up 205 yards rushing– to Liberty.  The home team has also prevailed in seven of eight meetings this decade.   Kippy & Buffy hit the road with a bottle of Cain Five.  The 2014 vintage is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot (remaining grapes used are split between Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot).  “The aromas are discrete: fruity—floral—herbal—spicy—and pure. On the palate, the wine has a certain density, but now the tannins have melted and this wine just flows.”  Cavaliers come up short, 33-26.

Navy (2-8, 1-5 AAC) vs. Tulsa (2-8, 1-5), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  For just the second time all season, the Mids will face a team with a losing record -their October 6th trip to 1-3 Air Force being the other time.  The Golden Hurricane have lost eight of nine (the one win coming against one-win UConn) and rank tenth in the AAC at stopping the run while allowing 5.0 yards per carry.  Now that Zach Abey is back at the controls of the option offense, one can expect more of the 21-point second half they had against UCF and less of the 3-point first half they scraped together against the Knights last week.  The defense has to put together a solid sixty minutes together against Tulsa offense that ranks 11th in passing, total offense and points per game while allowing the most sacks this fall.  Midshipmen celebrate Senior Day in Annapolis with a 31-19 victory.

Howard beats Bryant, Georgetown gets by Holy Cross, James Madison tops Towson, William & Mary beats Richmond to send Jimmye Laycock out a winner.

Last Week: 6-4.

Overall: 56-36.

What did Benjamin Franklin say?  “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards”?  As somebody who’s been a fan of college football and basketball most of my life, one is not unfamiliar with programs playing loose with the rules.  Back in the day the joke was that the SEC stood for “So Everyone Cheats”-and wasn’t completely inaccurate.  Conference winners occasionally didn’t play in bowl games because of probation and one year the Pac-10 was reduced to five eligible schools because of shenanigans.  A whole league once imploded because of cheating (RIP, Southwest Conference) and SMU is still recovering from receiving the “Death Penalty” in 1987.

Which is why this week’s FBI investigation into bribery and corruption isn’t just a men’s college basketball story:  it’s one that bleeds into the football world as well because every time a non-blue blood improves beyond expectations there are whispers.  Anytime a hot recruit spurns the local powerhouse to attend the league’s black sheep, there are double-takes.  Whenever a school is associated with a shoe company (Oregon-Nike) there is head-scratching when the vast majority of their recruits are from outside what should be their primary recruiting area.  And anytime a school that has been flagged for violations in one sport, it almost makes sense that there could have been corner-cutting in the school’s other revenue sport.

Four schools were named in the federal investigation…and they’re all name schools:  USC, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Arizona have had varying success over the years on the court while each has run afoul of the NCAA on the football field.  The first head coach to lose his job (even though he technically is on “unpaid leave”) is with a school that was in the report but not even named–and barring something going down at Duke, Rick Pitino will be the biggest fish caught in this net.  As a graduate of a school that has been popped more than once for coloring outside the lines (Syracuse), I’m uneasily nervous.  And as someone who has enjoyed covering college football and basketball for the majority of my life, I’m sickened.

One of my favorite stories as a kid was about “Harry the Dirty Dog”…where a white dog with black spots rolls around in coal and becomes a black dog with white spots.  I always knew college athletics this game was one that didn’t bathe all the time.  This week’s revelations lead one to believe that it’s going to be some time before this animal we’ve all grown to love will be clean again.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange kick off ACC play with a trip to Raleigh and a showdown with NC State.  This is a Wolfpack team that is fresh from beating Florida State- and boast a quaterback named Ryan Finley who has yet to throw an interception this year.  Pardon me if I’m not a little distracted from the football Cuse as one of Jim Boeheim’s original assistant coaches (Pitino) goes down in flames.  These two men grew up in the game and in life together–to the point where Rick’s wife called Jim and his on their honeymoon at 5am to get back at Boeheim for hiring Pitino right after his wedding and sending him recruiting instead of his honeymoon.  Boeheim beat Rick’s Providence Friars to reach his first NCAA Final in 1987…and Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats edged the Orange in the 1996 title tilt.  They were competing against each other and the ACC bluebloods until each ran afoul of the NCAA IN recent years.  And now I’m hoping the other shoe that drops isn’t a Nike.  Okay–now back to football.

Maryland (2-1) at Minnesota (3-0), 12 noon, Fox Sports 1.  The Terps will be using their third different starting quarterback in four games…and unlike the transition from dual threat Tyrrell Pigrome to Kasim Hill the move from Hill to Max Bortenschlager will be a little more marked.  As in Max is not nearly as nimble on his feet.  Not ideal when you’re facing a Golden Gophers defense that leads the Big Ten in stopping the run.  Max needs more than DJ Moore to throw to (the WR has over 50% of the team’s catches, 57% of the receiving yards and 80% of the TD receptions this fall) while also needing to stay upright (5 sacks allowed by the Terps against UCF).  Minnesota’s main threat offensively is runningback Rodney Smith:  the junior is coming off his first 100-yard effort of the season and ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns last year against the Terps.  Terrapins tumble, 24-17.

Navy (3-0, 2-0 AAC) at Tulsa (1-3), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU.  Expect the turf of Skelly Field at H. A. Chapman Stadium to get a major workout:  the Mids rank 2nd in the nation running the football while the Golden Hurricane are 4th in Division I FBS.  But while Navy allows fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground, Tulsa coughs up 294.5 per game and 6.9 yards per carry.  The Golden Hurricane have also lost games to the likes of Toledo (a 54-51 shootout) and New Mexico (a 16-13 defensive duel).  In addition, the two quarterbacks they’ve used this year are named “Chad President” and “Luke Skipper”.  Leadership is never too important…no word on if Tulsa is also recruiting prospects “Greg Governor” or “Pete Pilot”.  Midshipmen win despite the customary ill-timed fumble and missed field goal, 35-26.

#12 Virginia Tech (4-0) vs Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC), 8 p.m., ABC.  Not only is this a rematch of last year’s conference title game, it’s also a showdown of the league’s two highest ranked teams.  Kelly Bryant isn’t necessarily making people forget DeShaun Watson, but the junior is completing 68% of his passes while rushing for over 60 yards per game.  Despite ranking 7th in the ACC against the run and the pass, the Hokies defense has pitched a pair of shutouts and allows just over 10 points per game.  Josh Jackson isn’t playing like a redshirt freshman (leading the ACC in passing efficiency), but he’s yet to face a defense like the Tigers one that is the stingiest in the conference against the pass and overall.  As much as I wish there was a blocked punt or a kickoff return for a score to spring the home team Saturday night, one has the feel the smoked turkey legs won’t be as tasty.  Hokies come up short, 21-16.

Virginia (3-1) has the week off…and that means Kippy & Buffy are in the Outer Banks to shut down the cottage for the winter.  Just like it’s not a tailgate at Scott Stadium without the best wines, cheeses and crackers…it’s not technically champagne unless the bubbly comes from the Champagne region of France.  That’s why the Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label is on ice.  “Offering smoky pear and nectarine flavors and a hint of honey…finishes on a gently spicy note, with very good cling and a touch of bitter lemon pith. ”  Where’s the tin of D’artagnan caviar?

 

Georgetown loses to Harvard at RFK Stadium,  William & Mary gets by Stony Brook, Towson tumbles to Villanova, James Madison defeats Delaware.

Last Week: 5-3.   Overall: 23-8.

 

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Some Marches become memorable because your school steals a game it had no business winning…while others are made by incredible tournament runs that keep the season alive for another weekend.  The select few seasons end with your team playing for it all during the first weekend of April…with the chance to bring home hardware.  This was not one of those years for the area schools…as even George Washington fell Monday night in the College Basketball Invitational (also known as CBI) to UIC (previously known as Illinois-Chicago) in the Quarterfinals (I feel like I should continue the trend and call it the QF).

As the dust clears from a wild weekend–what happened?  If you went into the tournament recognizing Mount St. Mary’s would be overmatched with Villanova, each of the other locals (Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and VCU) had potential red flags.  And each red flag was flown high.  And while the answer opening weekend was less than ideal for each school, as the offseasons begin there will only be more questions until next October 15th.

Maryland (24-9) had issues beginning with its January 1st loss to Nebraska where they did not score for the final six minutes of regulation.  Minus a proven post presence the Terps were reduced to a jump-shooting/drive-and-kick team this winter…and when they were hitting it was great.  But they had too many stretches of wandering in the offensive wilderness-against Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern-and losing Michal Cekovsky to injury limited their options inside further.  The Terps’ 76-65 loss to Xavier saw another one of those extended scoreless stretches (six minutes in the second half)…along with getting hammered on the boards by ten.  As Damonte Dodd graduates and L.G. Gill wraps up his one year with the program as a graduate transfer, all eyes are on Melo Trimble.  Will the 22-year old now projected to land in the middle of the second round by nbadraft.net return for his senior season?  Even if the junior departs, there’s a solid base in College Park with the freshman trio of Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson.  Not to mention redshirt Micah Thomas. Will six-foot-ten center Bruno Fernando be the inside answer?  Come back next winter.  

I didn’t know the Musketeers were that loaded- Xavier is the only double-digit team to survive the first weekend, and Chris Mack’s team did so after entering the tournament on a 4-7 lurch where three of those wins came against lowly DePaul (I have yet to check with the NCAA office, but I believe until further review one has to refer to the Blue Demons as “lowly DePaul”).  They hadn’t been the same since losing point guard Edmond Sumner and the NCAA Tournament is a guard’s game, right?  While the victory over Maryland wasn’t a complete shock their dismembering (91-66) of #3 Florida State was.  Along with fellow Big East newbie, Xavier is flying the conference banner in the regional round.

Virginia (23-11) gained the reputation as “London Perrantes plus four guys from the Y” during a stretch where they lost six of eight…and had trouble shaking that status no matter how many good games Kyle Guy and Marial Shayok produced.  Perrantes was the only Cavalier on the roster in March averaging in double figures (transfer Austin Nichols was dismissed in November after scoring 11 points in his only game for UVa)…and Saturday in the 65-39 loss to Florida the rest of the team shot 14 of 42 (33%).  Perrantes leaves Charlottesville having been the pulse of the team that averaged 28 wins and brought home the school’s second-ever ACC Tournament title.  He leaves a roster of players who need to develop over the next offseason…from Shayok and Guy to Jack Salt (the New Zealander had a season-high 10 rebounds against the Gators) and Isaiah Wilkins (limited by illness in the NCAA’s).  The only commit so far is shooting guard Marco Anthony, so the next floor general will have to come from within the ranks.  Darius Thompson, we presume?

ACC stands for Annoying Conference Collapse- nine schools made the field of 68…and one by one each went down over the weekend.  While nobody had Wake Forest or Miami making the Final Four, Louisville and Notre Dame had each been in the top ten during the regular season.  And both were gone by the end of the weekend.  Same with Florida State and…Duke?  Granted-they lost to South Carolina in Greenville, SC-but the way the Blue Devils had been playing down the stretch their faithful were confident in (and their detractors were fearful of) a Final Four run.  Only North Carolina somehow pulling victory not only out of the jaws but out of the esophagus of defeat against Arkansas kept the league from going 100% sour before the Sweet Sixteen.

Virginia Tech (22-11) ranked last in the ACC in rebounding…and that was before losing top rebounder Chris Clarke to a season-ending ACL injury.  So it was no surprise that the Hokies got crushed on the glass in their 84-74 defeat against Wisconsin…especially when the Badgers blew up everyone’s bracket by bouncing defending national champ Villanova two days later.  But let’s sit back for a second…Virginia Tech made the tournament for the first time in ten years.  And despite a rapidly thinning bench, coach Buzz Williams’ team entered selection Sunday having won six of nine.  While Zach LeDay and Seth Allen have played their final games in maroon and orange, there’s a solid nucleus that has plenty of starting experience (truth be told, LeDay and Allen were coming off the bench by the end of the season).  Another recruiting class for the energetic Williams comes to Blacksburg…and next winter they try to post the school’s third straight winning conference record for the firs time since 1986 (three moves ago, or when they called the Metro home).  Even with a loss to the Badgers, the Hokies’ glass is more than half-full.

From Much-Maligned to Sweet Revenge- the Big Ten was undervalued early and often this winter, culminating with a Selection Sunday slap in the face to multiple teams.  How’d they respond?  Purdue fought back the ghosts of brackets past with two solid wins (including a great punch-counterpunch victory over Iowa State) and their first Regional trip since 2010.  Michigan continued its great play that started well before its 4-0 sweep through the Big Ten Tournament (6-2 in final eight regular season games)…and bounced Oklahoma State before upsetting Louisville.  Wisconsin?  The conference runnerup after being given a #8 seed found a way to eliminate defending champ and overall number one seed Villanova.  Instead of misery this March is filled with magic for the Big Ten-as the league’s three teams alive are tied with the Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.  Maybe it was because their tournament was held in DC…

VCU (26-9) had issues shooting the three all season…tying for 248th in Division I.  Against an underseeded St. Mary’s (the Gaels were a #7 despite finishing the regular season 22nd in the writer’s rankings) in Salt Lake City the Rams were held to 2-of-13 from outside the arc in an 85-77 loss.  One wonders what sort of seed they would have received if VCU had managed to hold off Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Tournament finals.  One doesn’t wonder about the force of nature that was JeQuan Lewis:  the senior went down shooting in his final game, leading the Rams with 30 points.  While the Rams return juniors Justin Tillman (2nd in the A-10 in rebounding) and Jonathan Williams (2nd on the team in assists), coach Will Wade won’t as the 34-year old wunderkind gets swept away to rebuild LSU.  Caveat Emptor:  the power conferences are littered with former VCU coaches, from Anthony Grant at Alabama to Jeff Capel at Oklahoma.  And Shaka Smart just went through an 11-22 campaign at Texas.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange finished the season 19-15 much like their inconsistent play mandated:  tipping off an 11am Saturday NIT game.  While Tyler Lydon is off to the NBA, longtime #1 assistant and “coach in waiting” Mike Hopkins is headed to Washington as the Huskies’ head coach.  This allows Jim Boeheim to stay after the 2017-18 season that was originally agreed upon as his retirement date (you know, after the probation that stripped the school of over 100 wins and 2 Big East Tournament titles).  Betty White applauds…

Bracket Busted- my CBSSports.com bracket did not lose a game the first weekend–because the computer site froze between 11:30am and 12:30pm. Epic fail, kids…but let that be a lesson to procrastinators worldwide. Get it done early…and watch suckers like me freak out at the last moment.

Conference Carousel- the ACC’s flameout (especially after last year’s incredible success) in the Big Dance this year reminds me of the Big East in the 1980’s.  1985 saw the league send three schools to the Final Four and post an 18-5 record, before going 4-4 the following March while getting shut out in the Sweet Sixteen.  The Big East bounced back in 1987 with a 14-5 record, two Final Four teams and a third that reached Regional Final.  So  2018 is on notice…

Sunday Night Special- I understand that TNT, TBS and TRU own the first Sunday of the tournament and thus are putting their games on at night for the biggest audience.  But could we move the 9:40 game to 4:40?  The 8:40 game (Duke-South Carolina) was the perfect cherry on Sunday’s games–making UCLA-Cincinnati seem like the cherry’s stem. It’s there but you don’t want to look at it…especially for those of us who have consumed 47 games over 48 hours of watching over four days.

I hate to be the old guy on the porch yelling at kids to get off of his lawn.  I try to embrace change…from the 12-game regular season in college football (that was really tough because 11 is divisible by–never mind) to NFL’s playoff expansion that robbed the 3rd best division winner of a first round bye in 1990 (some habits die hard).  I’m not supportive but at least understanding of the multitude of helmets and uniforms a school wears…up to and including North Carolina’s “reflective heel” the other night against Duke.  But–I wish teams would wait just one week to tip off the college hoop season.  I’ve still got my football fever going– and all of a sudden Maryland’s played three games, Georgetown plays its third today and Virginia’s already 4-0.  What’s notable about the Cavaliers’ start is that I actually would have wanted to see their game against George Washington– a matchup of NCAA Tournament teams from the previous season.  Sadly, that’s the exception instead of the rule.  It’d be one thing if the early season smorgasborg brought quality opponents to Verizon or XFinity– but Fordham, Wagner and St. Miscellaneous just don’t cut it.  It’s the equivalent of getting filled up on bread before your Bloomin’ Onion arrives.  I wouldn’t mind if it were just one game pre-Thanksgiving to whet one’s appetite…but instead we’re being force-fed steak tacos as an appetizer.  I don’t want more than one order–please!  Either reduce the number of pre-Thanksgiving games or delay the opener to the Friday before Turkey Day–and please get off my lawn.

 

I will admit the NCAA gets a lot of grief.  Justifiably so.  The unwieldy organization chooses to act like a powerless confederation when schools jump leagues yet brings the hammer if a 19-year old gets a free sandwich.  An organization that is ridiculously behind the times on athlete compensation…but won’t let you take a non-sponsored cup to press row at the NCAA Tournament.  But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel…for years the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament has had what is in effect an opening/play-in round.  They’ve titled it the “First Four” and the record books treats those games in Dayton like “First Round” Games…causing confusion when the round of 64 is now the second round and so on.  I feel uncomfortable with the second/third round labeling of the first weekend games–and just refer to them as “round of 64” or “round of 32”.  Somehow the NCAA finally woke up and announced they will call the round of 64 the First Round…starting in 2016 (hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day).  Sanity at long last!  I‘m not saying they’re going to get major issues right all of a sudden…but that’s a start.

 

Alma Mater Update– Syracuse-Pitt isn’t Penn State and it’s not West Virginia.  But as long as the Nittany Lions are in the Big 14 and the Mountaineers are in the Actual 10…next to BC the Panthers are the Orange’s big rival.  Sadly the Orange are reduced to the spoiler role as a 3-7 start prevents them from the glory that is a Pinstripe Bowl appearance.  Pitt is 4-6 and on the precipice of postseason elimination (they have to sweep SU and Miami to become eligible)… I think I’ll be reading Jim Boeheim’s autobiography “Bleeding Orange” and wondering where the offense is going to come from after their loss to Cal and near defeat to Iowa at MSG.I

 

Maryland at Michigan– Welcome to THE BIG HOUSE.  Michigan Stadium seats over 109,000 fans…unfortunately for the UM faithful the team hasn’t given them much to cheer about this fall.  A 5-5 start with home losses to Utah and Minnesota.  A coach under fire…and an Athletic Director shown the door.  The Wolverines have won 3 of 4 thanks to improved defense (-9 rushing yards allowed against Northwestern)… but QB Devin Gardner is a shell of his 2013 performance (21 TD’s passing with 11 rushing last year–8 and 3 this fall).  Speaking of seniors slipping, CJ Brown tries to turn around what’s been a disappointing fall as well (5 TD’s and 6 INT in Big Ten play).  If only Maryland had a ground game…Terps tumble, 26-14.

 

Virginia hosts Miami– can the Cavaliers end a four game losing streak and keep its bowl hopes alive?  Will runningback Kevin Parks shake off the November frost (56 yards on 20 carries this month)?  Is Greyson Lambert’s play forcing Mike London to junk the Magic Eight Ball once and for all? “Better not tell you now” is the reply.  The Eight Ball would have a field day with the Hurricanes–since joining the ACC, they’ve represented fool’s gold more often than not.  Nobody follows up a “turning the corner win” better with a loss than this program over the last decade.  After their incredible effort that just came up short against #1 Florida State–this is just the type of game the U loses.  And who doesn’t want the Charlottesville faithful to have a faint hope of the postseason leading up to their annual smackdown by Virginia Tech?  Cavaliers come up huge, 33-27.

 

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest– I certainly didn’t see the Hokies bouncing back to beat Coastal Divsion leading Duke.  That win puts Frank Beamer’s team one victory away from becoming bowl eligible…begging the question- do you want to see this team play a 13th game?  Michael Brewer makes too many mistakes…the running game remains dormant…and special teams is a myth.  Still, this team is only a pair of field goals and a touchdown away from playing for an ACC championship.  Wake Forest is one field goal away from going winless against FBS competition.  Hokies destroy the Demon Deacons, 44-13.

 

Howard handles Hampton, Georgetown loses to Holy Cross, James Madison rips Elon, Towson tops Rhode Island, William & Mary edges Richmond, Morgan State beats Delaware State.

 

Last Week: 4-4.  What can you say– Shelly took the leads…

Overall: 78-32.