Archives for posts with tag: Louisville

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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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When asked last Friday if his team was close to turning the corner, Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing replied, “We can’t make the same mistakes we’ve been making, but we’re still just right there. We need our best players to play better; we need to play with more energy and more effort. And if we do that, the wins will come.”  Easy to say, until you realize that entering February that your team is winless on the road in conference play.  And then you lose your top scorer on an already thin team (due to four players departing in December) to a foot injury?  Trailing by 17 in the second half at ninth place St. John’s, the Hoyas turned their first small corner by rallying to beat the Red Storm 73-72.  Georgetown is 3-6 halfway through Big East play, but there will be chances for this team to climb back into the race for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2015.  And while it won’t be getting any easier (two of their next three games are against ranked foes), they have a league road win.  And confidence that they’re on the right track.  We’ll find out throughout the month if there’s a train coming in their direction on that track.

Alma Mater Update:  the Orange had won five straight entering their game at Clemson, but forward Marek Dolazaj and Bourama Sidibe each picked up their fifth fouls before there were five minutes left in regulation and SU fell by one to the Tigers.  They followed that up with a tough loss at home to Duke.  Defensively they’ve yet to make the leap and have a whole week to prepare for Wake Forest.  The upcoming game won’t add anything to their profile should the Orange win; but a loss would be another body blow to their less than huge NCAA hopes.

Wow of the Week: George Washington (10-12, 4-5 Atlantic 10) may have lost at Richmond Saturday, but the Colonials won the week thanks to their 107-104 quadruple-overtime win over Davidson last Wednesday. Maceo Jack’s 35 points gave GW one heck of a win; and in the first year of head coach Jamion Christian this is exactly the type of victory one builds a program upon.

Player Spotlight: Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 19 of his career-high 31 points in Maryland’s 82-72 win over Iowa; an effort that helped the senior earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors.  He’s started all 120 games in his career thus far and is now climbing among the all-time greats: his 1,716 points just pushed the guard past Walt Williams for 12th most in program history while his 528 assists displaces John Lucas from the top five.  He’s bypassing All-ACC and All-American players, and most importantly for the Baltimore native he’s winning.

League Look:  the Big East has three teams ranked in the Top 20:  each lost last Saturday to unranked teams…at home.  While No. 10 Villanova and No. 12 Seton Hall remain in the top two spots of the standings, No. 19 Butler’s recent slide (four losses in six games) has the Bulldogs tied for fifth in the conference (they own the tiebreaker with Providence).  With surging Creighton (the No. 21 Bluejays have won four in a row) and Marquette also in position to play their way into the NCAA Tournament, one can see the tough task ahead of Georgetown in simply cracking the upper half.  One can’t wait for UConn to join the conference next year.

Ballot Battles: Last week I was listed as having the third-most “extreme ballot” by collegepolltracker.com (they factor in how varied each voter’s ballot is from the consensus).  This week?  Tied for the second-lowest rated (yes, the fans can vote on our voting).  But on the bright side, there were no such issues from Houston fans after the Cougars lost to Cincinnati.  The biggest variance on my ballot this week was having No. 9 Maryland 15th– Coach Mark Turgeon mentioned Monday that even he was surprised at how far his team had shot up both polls.  I did have five schools ranked that didn’t receive enough points to be in the Top 25: Northern Iowa, Rhode Island, Tulsa, Stephen F. Austin, and Bowling Green.  With the exception of URI who has to deal with a top ten team in Dayton, each is atop their respective conference at this time.

This Week’s Starting Five:

Tuesday- No. 9 Maryland vs. Rutgers.  The Scarlet Knights may have dipped out of the Top 25, but the Scarlet Knights have won more than 15 games for the first time since the 2005-06 season.  They bring a defense that ranks second in the Big Ten and boast a guard named Ron Harper Jr. who is doing for Rutgers what his father did for Miami (Ohio) in the 1980’s.

Wednesday- American at Navy.  The two schools are tied with Army for fourth place in the Patriot League, and the Midshipmen are the classic bad offense, good defense team:  they rank last in the league in scoring, field goal percentage as well as three-point shooting while leading the league in scoring defense, defending the three and rebounding margin. Come for the stats, stay for the guardplay:  AU’s Sa’eed Nelson (17.1 points per game) and USNA’s Cam Davis (17.0) are third and fourth in the conference in scoring.

Also Wednesday- Georgetown vs. No. 12 Seton Hall.  The first test for the suddenly rejuvenated Hoyas is a hurting Pirates team in more ways than one:  Hall lost for the first time since December 14 last Saturday to Xavier, and point guard Quincy McKnight is day to day with a knee injury suffered in that game.  But they still have the Big East’s second-leading scorer in Myles Powell.  And who knows if Mac McClung will be back from the foot injury that kept the Hoyas high-scoring guard out of Sunday’s game at St. John’s?

Friday- VCU vs. Davidson. The Rams are 0-3 against Atlantic 10-leading Dayton and second place Rhode Island, but have beaten everybody else since league play began by double-digits.  The Wildcats are just as hot, having surged up the standings with four double-digit wins in its last five games, the lone exception being last week’s marathon loss at George Washington.  But it’s not just VCU’s pressure defense (A-10 best in steals and turnover margin) they’ll have to worry about:  Nah’Shon Hyland leads the conference in three-point shooting (44.1% from outside the arc).

Saturday- Virginia at No. 5 Louisville.  The Cavaliers are on the fringe of NCAA contention thanks to an elite defense (the 50.7 points per game allowed the lowest in Division I) and a sub-par offense (the 56.3 points per game ranks 350th out of 353 schools).  The Cardinals will either be red-hot thanks to an eight game winning streak or red-hot after a loss to Wake Forest. Either way, this is UVa’s chance for a signature win win and a corresponding move up the ACC standings while inching closer to a berth in the Big Dance.

 

 

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Miami and Notre Dame.  The series originally began as a way to give the Fighting Irish fans a warm-weather November destination on the odd-numbered years when they weren’t visiting USC.  And then to everyone’s surprise, the intersectional rivalry heated up in the 1980’s with “Catholics vs Convicts” T-shirts, Jimmy Johnson running up the score and the two schools swapping national title runs. From 1987 to 1990 the two schools went a combined 85-12, each playing in New Year’s Day bowl games every season.  And then–they stopped playing.  While the Lou Holtz era is a distant memory and the Hurricanes have dealt with multiple crippling probations since the 80’s, this matchup still raises one’s eyebrows.  Notre Dame fans still look at Miami as obnoxious “new money”, while the Hurricane faithful view the Fighting Irish as “holier than thou” front-runners.  Add into the equation that there are a lot of people who hate both schools for precisely those reasons, and you have two teams that need to play more often.  Now that the Irish are a semi-member (actually a full member in every sport but the one you’d want them to be) of the ACC, this will happen a lot more often.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange need to win two of their final three games to have any hope at reaching the Pinstripe Bowl.  The good news is that neither Wake Forest, Louisville nor Boston College have winning conference records.  Today they take on a Demon Deacons team that’s dropped four of five and has allowed an average of 39 points over its last three games.  Eric Dungey’s health will be a question.  Hopefully the team will move beyond a pair of one-possession losses in the Sunshine state that would have been sweet upsets.

 

#17 Virginia Tech (7-2, 3-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (4-4, 3-3), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network).  What is it with this new “12:20” window?  Can’t the ACC Network begin its early games at noon like the rest of us?  If the Big Ten can start games at 11 a.m. local time in Madison and Minneapolis, what’s the delay?  Makes me yearn for the good old days on Jefferson-Pilot.  Despite last week’s loss to unbeaten Miami, the Hokies defense leads the conference against the run and overall while allowing the fewest points per game.  The Yellowjackets lead the ACC in rushing offense and commit the fewest penalties in the league, but have trouble rushing the passer (13th in the league) and are 109th nationally in turnover margin.  Sounds like Annapolis South.  Hokies handle things, 27-13.

 

Maryland (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) vs #21 Michigan (7-2, 4-2), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network).  Terps quarterback Max Bortenschlager may have a concussion or a shoulder injury–when asked which it was coach DJ Durkin said, “it was a third down- he was trying to get the first down and took a pretty good hit right there” and “I think he was just competing trying to get the first down-he took a hit there”.  So much for clarity.  If Max can’t go, walk-on Ryan Brand will be the fourth starting quarterback of the 2017 season…and he’ll face a Wolverine defense whose 32 sacks lead the Big Ten.  Michigan runningback Karan Higdon has rushed for 200 yards twice in league play…bad news for a Terps defense that allows the most yards and points in the conference:  Terrapins tumble, 31-16.

 

Navy (5-3, 3-3 AAC) vs SMU (6-3, 3-2), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  The Midshipmen are free-falling after three straight conference losses.  They’ve gone from the “can they contend for a West Division title?” to the “they’re going to qualify for a bowl, right?” conversation thanks to a turnover-prone offense and a soft pass rush.  The Pony Express isn’t walking through that door for the Mustangs, but they do boast the AAC’s leading receiver in Trey Quinn (90 catches for 921 yards and 7 TD).  They’re also more of a match defensively for the option offense, lead the AAC in red zone defense and own a +12 turnover margin.  Midshipmen fall, 31-24.

 

Virginia (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at Louisville (5-4, 2-4), 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU).  Expect plenty of points as the Cardinals lead the conference in passing, total yardage and scoring.  They’re also near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories and have coughed up 28 or more points in four straight games.  Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have reverted to last fall’s “break but don’t bend” defense that coughed up big plays, allowing 30+ points the last three Saturdays.  Defending Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson might not be on track to claim another statue, but the junior is completing passes at a higher rate and gaining more yards per carry this fall.  UVa is also coming off its sixth win of the year, and might just be exhaling now that they’ve clinched bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011.  Kippy & Buffy plan on exhaling at the tailgate with a bottle of Carlisle Winery 2011 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel:  “drop-dead gorgeous aromas of cherry, herbs, and spice box spill from the glass. Full bodied with an explosion of red cherry fruit. Suave tannins build through the long finish.”  Unfortunately one does not see a happy finish at Papa John’s Stadium.  Cavaliers come up short, 43-31.

 

Howard beats Norfolk State, Georgetown falls at Bucknell, Towson tops William & Mary, James Madison tops Richmond.

Last Week: 5-4.

Overall: 58-21.

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.