Archives for posts with tag: Liberty

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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.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

 

The second-to-last week of the regular season delivers another three local teams playing at the same time with Maryland-Nebraska, Navy-SMU, and Virginia Tech-Pitt each taking place in the 3:30 p.m. window.  Nationally we get a few showdowns that will decide divisions, from Ohio State-Penn State in the Big Ten East to San Diego State-Hawa’ii in the Mountain West West (not a typo; just like the ACC the MWC takes its division names from the league).  Also on the menu are Pac-12 rivalry matchups like USC-UCLA and Cal-Stanford that should be the final games of the regular season (thanks, Notre Dame) but aren’t.  In the mix is the traditional SEC weekend where they play lower-tier schools, from Alabama-Western Carolina and Auburn-Samford.  Vanderbilt’s no slouch in the November cupcake department (although at 2-8 you could make the argument that the Commodores are tremendous slouches) by hosting East Tennessee State, who’s lost to both Western Carolina and Samford.  But that’s not the issue I have with the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference by extension.

My beef is that despite each being a 14-school league they only play eight conference games.  Why does this matter?   The other conferences competing for spots in the College Football Playoff have played nine league games since 2005 (Pac-12), 2011 (Big 12), and 2016 (Big Ten).  That’s one more game against a school with similar budgets and facilities, one more chance to stumble in a world where one loss is near-deadly and two are all but fatal to College Football Playoff hopes.  By playing just eight conference games, the SEC and ACC artificially inflate its elites.  Under this format, Alabama doesn’t have to play Georgia and Florida ever in the same season.  Meanwhile, Penn State had to visit both Iowa and Minnesota this fall in crossover games (and went 1-1).  Oklahoma will likely have to beat Baylor twice to reach the playoff.  And the Oregon/Utah Pac-12 Championship Game winner (barring a pre-title tilt slide) will have to cross its fingers for inclusion in football’s final four.  All while a one-loss Alabama that didn’t win its division somehow is in the driver’s seat to another National Semifinal appearance-again.

It’s amazing how the NCAA that micromanages its athletes has very little influence in how its member conferences do their business.  If the SEC and ACC won’t go to a nine conference game schedule, I’m more than fine with the Pac-12, Big Ten, and Big 12 returning to eight games.  There’d be fewer good matchups and more non-conference schedule stuffers, but at least the Power Five Leagues would be on level playing fields.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are two wins away from a glorious return to the Pinstripe Bowl, with rebuilding Louisville in their path this week.  The road has not been kind to SU this fall as they’re averaging under 20 points per game away from the Dome, and the Cardinals aren’t your traditional rebuilding team after wins over Virginia and NC State while also putting 62 points on the board against then-unbeaten Wake Forest.  Thank goodness for basketball.

 

Virginia (7-3) vs. Liberty (6-4), noon (ACC Network Extra).

The Cavaliers attempt to mimic the SEC elites by having a non-conference game the week before their “rivalry game” (note that I’ve used “air quotes” because UVa has lost 15 straight in this series).  They chose a beaut as the Flames do not have a great track record against Power Five Conference schools this year;  they were shut out Labor Day weekend by a Syracuse defense that would cough up 104 points in its next two games, and would later allow 44 points in a loss to a Rutgers offense that had scored a total of 30 points in its previous six games. The Cavaliers’ defense that started strong but has surrendered an average of 29 points in its last three games will have its eyes on Liberty wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden:  the senior’s 1,244 receiving yards represent 41.4% of his team’s passing offense.

Kippy & Buffy have their eyes on a non-conference white wine.  And the season of possibilities would not be complete without a trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  And that means a bottle of Antiquum Farms’ 2018 Daisy Pinot Gris.  “Focused, precise, and all about refined texture, minerality and crisp acidity.”  They had my popped collared pals at refined texture. Vibrant citrus and floral components blend seamlessly with pomme fruit, lemon curd, pear,  river stone and metallic nuance.”

Presto’s Pick: nuances aside, the Cavaliers continue their season of possibilities with a 38-17 win.

 

Maryland (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) vs. Nebraska (4-6, 2-5), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network).

If you think the Terps are questioning the football impact of leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, think about the Cornhuskers.  Since bolting the Big 12 they haven’t finished in the Top 20 and have won just one division title–and that was during the Leaders & Legends era (it gets worse:  the 2012 Legends champs allowed 70 points in the Big Ten Championship Game to a third place Wisconsin team that advanced because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible).  Scott Frost is just 22 games into his tenure;  year one saw the Cornhuskers finish 4-2 after an 0-6 start while year two began 4-2 and before the current four-game losing streak.  Defense may take the day off in College Park; Nebraska’s allowed 35 points per game during their slide while Maryland’s coughing up an average of 47 points during their five game losing streak.

Presto’s Pick:  Terrapins tumble, 38-24.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC) vs. Pitt (7-3, 4-2), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2).

Doubt the Hokies at your own peril.  Just like it takes those smoked turkey legs at Lane Stadium quite a bit of time to cook properly (and quite a bit of time to consume as well), this year’s team was slow-roasting to success.  The switch from quarterback Ryan Willis to Hendon Hooker helped stop the avalanche of turnovers, and once the defense wasn’t given horrible field position the unit played like the Bud Foster defenses of old.  The school honored the soon-to-be-retiring Foster before the win over Wake Forest and then honored him during their shutout of Georgia Tech.  The Panthers bring a decent defense to Blacksburg, leading the ACC in stopping the run (only 2.8 yards per carry) and their 45 sacks are tops in the conference.  But they also bring an offense that has struggled to score (17 points against Delaware, 20 against Georgia Tech).

Presto’s Pick: Hokies set up a Coastal Divsion showdown with a 20-12 win.

 

Navy (7-2, 5-1 AAC) vs. SMU (9-1, 5-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

Contrasting styles take to the field as the Mids boast the best rushing offense (349 yards per game) squares off against the seventh best air attack (328 yards per game) in FBS. There’s a contrast in quarterbacks as well: Navy senior Malcolm Perry has 32 completions over nine games this fall while Shane Buechele completed 33 and 34 passes in his two games this month.  The Texas transfer has needed to air it out:  the Mustangs have allowed 54 and 51 points this month and rank 103rd in the nation in scoring defense. They’re last in the AAC and 124th nationally in stopping the pass.  And that’s where the preseason talk of Navy airing it out more comes into play;  so far the offense that’s averaged 9.68 passes per game since 2014 has thrown the ball 75 times in nine games (8.33) this fall.  And while Perry averages 6.4 yards per carry and 128.7 per game, stopping the run is the one of the few things the SMU defense actually does well.

Presto’s Pick:  Midshipmen can’t keep up in a 40-35 loss to the Mustangs.

 

Georgetown falls at Holy Cross, Howard loses at Morgan State, James Madison mauls Rhode Island, Richmond edges William & Mary, Towson tops Elon.

 

Last Week: 7-0. Overall: 77-30.