Archives for posts with tag: Mark Turgeon

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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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There’s no place like home for the holidays- or hope for the area men’s college basketball teams.  Each of the locals have played from 10 to 13 games…and while there’s plenty of optimism on each campus that 2019 will be a banner year, there’s a long way from December to Selection Sunday.  While everybody has at least one win to hang their hat on, every team with the exception of unbeaten Virginia has a loss that will certainly keep them up late–until the next heartbreaker.  There’s also no place like conference play– which will make November and December feel like years ago once league action begins in earnest.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange have been ranked as high as #10 by some voters, but SU looks like less than the sum of its parts in an 8-4 start.  Losses to Old Dominion and Buffalo (first time since 1962-63 season) have not been ideal and the fact that Buddy Boeheim’s name was misspelled on the back of his jersey only adds to the fun.  Bring on ACC play.

Maryland (9-3, 1-1 Big Ten)- the Terps have been on the cusp of the top 25 since winning their first six games of the season.  But before you start punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, remember they started 9-3 with a 1-1 conference mark last year.  And with the exception of the 2014-15 season, they’ve always had a worse record the second half of league play under coach Mark Turgeon.  Best Win:  the day after Thanksgiving the Terps roasted Marshall 104-67 while shooting 57% from the field and 56% from three-point range.  Worst Loss:  the 62-60 loss at Purdue saw the Terps shoot 1-for-9 with four turnovers over the final 4:20.  Player to Watch:  Jalen Smith has captured Big Ten Freshman of the Week multiple times as the forward is averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday another NCAA Team from 2018 (Radford) comes to College Park.

 

Georgetown (9-3)- the Hoyas entered their Christmas break with a 102-94 overtime win over Arkansas-Little Rock in a game where Mac McClung earned Big East and National Freshman of the Week honors by scoring 38 points.  Best Win: November 13th they beat Illinois 88-80 in Champaign despite 22 turnovers, precisely the kind of road game this team has had trouble winning in recent years.  Worst Loss: the 72-71 loss December 8th at Syracuse saw the Hoyas let a double-digit lead evaporate…and 24,002 orange-clad fans get the last laugh in the four-game series between former Big East archrivals.  Player to Watch:  yes, McClung is providing the sizzle and senior center Jessie Govan is the steak–but freshman guard James Akinjo (15 points and 5 assists per game) is the steady playmaker that every tournament team needs directing its offense.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday they wrap up pre-conference play by hosting Howard at noon.

 

Virginia (11-0)- the Cavaliers are ranked 4th by the writers and 1st by the coaches, boasting the best scoring defense in the nation and…haven’t we been here before?  Seriously.  Shouldn’t we wait until March?  Best Win:  November 24th in the Bahamas UVa held #25 Wisconsin to 18 first-half points in a 53-46 win.  Player to Watch:  sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter has bounced back from the broken wrist that kept him out of last year’s NCAA Tournament loss to UMBC, averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 44% from three-point range.  Ringing in the New Year:  New Year’s Eve coach Tony Bennett’s team hosts Marshall, a school that ranks 324th in scoring defense.

 

Virginia Tech (11-1)- the 10th ranked Hokies are one of six ACC schools currently in the top 25.  And while they’re not the defensive equal of best in the nation Virginia, Tech ranks second in the ACC in scoring and is third in turnover margin.  Could this be the year the Hokies enter the upper echelon of the conference?  Best Win:  an 89-83 November 19th triumph over then-#23 Purdue where the Hokies hit 55% of their shots.  Worst Loss:  their only defeat thus far was a 63-62 stumble at Penn State where the Nittany Lions hit 10-of-19 from three-point range.  Player to Watch:  sophomore guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker averages 19 points with 4 rebounds and 4 assists while making 47% of his three point shots.  Ringing in the New Year:  the Hokies begin ACC play by hosting Notre Dame January 1st.

 

George Mason (6-6)- the Patriots began the year 0-3 but appear to be hitting their stride with Atlantic 10 play just around the corner.  Best Wins:  victories over former CAA foes James Madison, Navy and William & Mary.  Worst Loss:  an season-opening 78-75 loss to American where Mason turned the ball over 15 times.  Player to Watch:  Otis Livingston II may be the team’s primary weapon, but Justin Kier (14 points with 5 rebounds per game) has filled the second-option role well.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday the Patriots visit a Kansas State team that’s began the year in the top 25 but has had its share of hiccups this month.

 

George Washington (3-9)- this was a far from ideal season before the Colonials lost their best rebounder for the season when Arnaldo Toro went down to injury, and that issue isn’t going away:  GW was outrebounded by 18 in a loss to Harvard.  Best Win:  a 70-64 handling of Howard where they held high-octane guard RJ Cole to 4-of-19 shooting.  Worst Loss:  a 69-53 stumble against Vermont (in the Mike Lonergan Classic) where they were outscored 21-5 over the last 7:53 of the second half.  Player to Watch:  Illinois transfer DJ Williams leads the team in scoring and is tops among active players in rebounding.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday the Colonials host American.

 

VCU (8-4)- the Rams own the best RPI (28th) in the Atlantic 10, and have already exacted sweet revenge on former coach Shaka Smart’s Texas team.  Best Win: a 70-54 victory December 22nd over Wichita State in a battle between onetime NCAA Cinderellas.  Worst Loss:  an 83-79 December 15th defeat to Charleston where VCU missed 11 free throws.  Player to Watch:  Rice transfer Marcus Evans leads the team in scoring, picking up where he left off when he averaged 20 points per game over two seasons under coach Mike Rhoades when they were both with the Owls.  Ringing in the New Year:  Sunday they host Rider.

 

Richmond (5-7)- hey, they could be 2-10 like they were last year at this time.  Best Win:  anytime you knock off an ACC team there’s cause for celebration, and the 84-74 victory over Wake Forest is the early-season highlight.  Worst Loss:  a 63-58 defeat to…Longwood?  Didn’t the Lancers used to be the Washington Generals of Mid-Atlantic hoops?  Player to Watch:  forward Grant Golden is averaging 19 points with 7 rebounds…and badly needs a supporting cast.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday the Spiders host South Alabama.

 

American (6-4)- the Eagles have already equalled last year’s win total and look to contend in the always topsy-turvy Patriot League.  Best Win:  a 78-75 overtime win over George Mason November 9th where AU silenced Doc Nix and the Green Machine.  Worst Loss:  a 56-55 loss December 18th to 1-9 Mount St. Mary’s.  Players to Watch:  Sa’eed Nelson is averaging 19 points with 5 assists…while sophomores Sam Iorio and Mark Gasperini give Nelson two solid scoring options.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday they visit George Washington.  Can coach Mike Brennan’s team make it 2-for-2 against the A-10 Georges?

 

Howard (6-7)- December is often difficult for the Bison, who usually go on the road for the bulk of the month.  But the six wins are the most of any MEAC team at this time.  Can coach Kevin Nickelberry guide the program to its first winning season since 2002?  Best Win:  a 68-63 win November 16th at UMass that made this team 4-0.  Worst Loss:  a December 22nd stumble to Hampton where they coughed up 57 points in the second half of an 89-82 defeat.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday at noon they visit Georgetown.  Good luck.

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“I like my team”.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said that last month on Media Day.  He also said those very words in the fall of 2014 when the Terps were coming off of a flurry of transfers and seemingly an eternity away from the NCAA Tournament.  When he was quizzed by a reporter how things turned awry after saying he liked his team last year, Turgeon responded “I don’t know if I said that.”  Regardless if he did or did not, what is a coach supposed to say in October?  Media Day is supposed to be an island of optimism in a sea of late night scouting sessions, long practices and longer road trips.  Should he offer up: “Things aren’t coming together- we will be lucky to win ten games this winter”?

Turgeon had every reason not to like his team last winter…as lofty preseason expectations dwindled into a 19-13 finish that saw the team struggle on the road, trail by 30 at halftime in the regular season home finale, and watch their Big Ten Tournament run end in with a loss in the final minute at Madison Square Garden.  After three straight years of making the NCAA Tournament last March was a bitter pill to swallow.  “We’ve done everything we can do to get back to the way we were the three years before that,” Turgeon said, “so our culture is back to where it needs to be-we’ve worked really hard.  All of our veteran guys have improved tremendously-not only on the floor but in their leadership skills and maturity.”

The main veteran leading the way this winter will be junior guard Anthony Cowan.  The Preseason All-Big Ten selection led the conference in minutes last season, and while freshman Eric Ayala is expected to spell him a bit at the point the Bowie, Maryland native is more than ready to take ownership in this team.  Cowan said, “I want that.  I want to be the person that everyone looks at when they need help on or off the court.”

While Cowan runs the offense, expect further growth for sophomore Bruno Fernando. “He’s worked really hard,” coach Turgeon said,” I think you’ll see a player that plays smarter defensively.  He’s become much more skilled, a much better low block scorer.”  Fernando led the team in blocks and was second in rebounds as a freshman.  He also led the Terps in unbridled energy–and coach Turgeon said his goal this fall was to make sure the Angolan stayed out of “fifth gear”.  Fernando’s new approach?  “Pacing myself a lot, sometimes I just try to go hard the whole time.  Sometimes I gotta slow down a little bit and see how the game is going and let it flow.”

Fernando will have plenty of help inside with the addition of five-star recruit Jalen Smith…and he’s already helped bring the freshman up to speed. “He’s a great guy, he pretty much took me under his wing since I came in here,” Smith said. “His energy just keeps the team going.”  The 6-foot-10 freshman from Mount St. Joseph’s High school is expected to make immediate impact, more with his deeds than words.  “For a McDonald’s All-American and a top ten player he’s very humble.”  Turgeon said, “And he’s very long.  I think once he puts up his first double double-which could happen the first night we play-the national attention will come.”

Smith is one of six freshmen making their debuts this fall:  Aaron Wiggins scored 14 points while starting the exhibition against Lynn while Eric Ayala and Serrell Smith played major minutes off of the bench.  Ayala’s the intriguing piece to the puzzle;  if he can spell Cowan at the point while also being productive at the shooting guard position the 6-foot-5 combo guard from Wilmington, Delware can provide a major boost off the bench.  But he feels the whole class will make an impact.   “We’ve been working really hard,” Ayala said, “we’re eager to get out there and play and show that we’re capable at this level.”

This young team enters a new era of Big Ten competition- for the first time they’ll be playing 20 conference games.  Three schools- Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue- begin the year in the AP Top 25 while the Terps are one of four Big Ten teams receiving votes (Indiana, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are the others).  Pesky Penn State that always gives Maryland fits comes to College Park December 1st in the league opener.  November’s non-conference tests include the Veterans Classic November 9th at Navy and a home game against Virginia in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge November 28th.  But a rebuild roster and revamped approach has the coach confident.  “I think our guys understand what it takes to win because they’ve listened.” Turgeon said. “And just because we’re young doesn’t mean we’re not talented; I like the mix.”

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Is this really the most wonderful time of the year?  Most of us still have our football mindset with the NFL season entering its final few lengths and 40 (!) bowls on the menu.  Forgive us if college basketball is somewhat of an afterthought–like getting to the Barnes & Noble and Bath & Body Works for Christmas presents, I’ll get around to the hoop season.  Promise!  Unfortunately while there have been a few gifts in the pre-conference season (I know Maryland has begun Big Ten play and Duke lost its ACC opener to Boston College, but just work with me here), we’ve also been treated to some refugees from the Island of Misfit Toys.  And for the record, a gun that shoots jelly is pretty cool in the long run.  Here are early impressions of the local schools…who’s getting the Star Wars Death Star™ playset and who receives tube socks and a bathrobe this December?

 

Maryland (10-3, 1-1 Big Ten)– hold on.  They actually trailed Division III Catholic 20-18 in the first half?  Ugh.  What’s Nice:  Anthony Cowan has taken ownership (16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game) of this team while freshmen Bruno Fernando and Darrell Morsell have emerged as major contributors (not unlike last year’s trio of Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson).  What’s Naughty:  they lead the nation in turnovers per game and lack of an effective offense against zones is the nightmare that won’t go away.  Instead of a breakout year, Jackson while posting more rebounds and assists has regressed as a shooter (37% from the field and 25% from three after making 44% from both last winter).  Best Win:  December 3rd at Illinois.  The Illini may not be expected to do much in the Big Ten, but the Terps could ill-afford to start conference play 0-2.  A clutch free throw from Cowan with one second left gave the sophomore a career-high 27 points.  Worst Loss: a 63-61 stumble to St. Bonaventure saw 20 turnovers and 5-of-23 three-point shooting.  Yes, the Bonnies play zone.  Game to watch before conference play:  Friday December 29th UMBC comes to College Park.  The 7-5 Retrievers boast former VCU guard Jairus Lyles (20 ppg & 46% from three-point range) and the kid-brother mentality that Catholic brought to Xfinity Center, only they have more staying power.

 

Georgetown (8-0)– with four wins over MEAC foes, the Hoyas may actually be eligible for that league’s postseason tournament should things end early in the Big East.  Actually, the schedule involves three schools that have already lost eight games, 1-10 Howard and 0-11 Coppin State.  They couldn’t at least bring St. Leo to DC?  What’s Nice:  coach Patrick Ewing said a lot would be expected of Jessie Govan this winter, and the junior has delivered in averaging 23 points (on 63% shooting) and a Division I-best 13 rebounds per game.  The offense is tied for 11th in assists per game.  It’s not “Hoya Paranoia” yet, but they rank third in the Big East in scoring defense, second in defensive field goal percentage and first in stopping the three-pointer.  What’s Naughty:  the schedule gives means “Georgetown Cupcake” is now more than just a thriving business on the corner of 33rd and M (not that I’ve ever been there).  They’re last in the Big East in turnover margin…and that’s going against teams with a combined 21-63 record (with nine wins coming against non-Division I schools).  Best Win: an 82-76 win at Richmond (the Hoyas lone road trip before conference play).  Five in double-figures proves this is more than a one-man team.  Game to Watch before conference play:  the Hoyas host Syracuse Saturday at 12:30 p.m.  CBS will be there.  Even in the final days of John Thompson III, Georgetown was still able to beat its hated rival consecutive years.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are off to an 8-1 start that includes wins over Maryland and UConn that make one think they’re better than the team picked 10th in the ACC preseason poll…with a loss to Kansas reminding the faithful how much they still have to improve before becoming a contender instead of a pretender.  Saturday they play at Georgetown–an occasional win in this series would be nice.

Virginia (8-1)- reports of the Cavaliers’ demise after London Perrantes graduated and multiple players transferred were premature:  coach Tony Bennett has this team in the top 20 and eyeing a double-bye in the ACC Tournament.  What’s Nice:  Kyle Guy got rid of the famed man-bun and came back to campus even more productive-the sophomore is averaging 17 points per game while shooting 45% from outside the arc.  They lead the nation in scoring defense and almost caused basketballs worldwide to explode in their 49-37 water-drip win over Wisconsin.  What’s Naughty:  Jack Salt is back–and the center from New Zealand has only two more points than personal fouls through nine games (25-23).  Better big man production will be needed when the conference slate begins.  Best Win: the 76-67 victory at VCU.  Forget that the Rams have a first-year head coach.  It’s nice to stay the top dog in the Commonwealth.  Lone Loss: a 68-61 defeat at #18 West Virginia.  No shame in coming up short in Morgantown; the Mountaineers are a good team, even if their coach wears a track-suit.  Game to Watch pre-ACC:  Saturday always-dangerous Davidson drops by Charlottesville.

 

Virginia Tech (9-1)- introducing the high-flying Hokies:  #1 in Division I in shooting and scoring while ranking second in three-point shooting.  Forgive us if we’re getting adjusted to a coach Buzz Williams’ sportscar;  we’re accustomed to pickup trucks in Blacksburg (often with a faulty transmission).  What’s Nice:  Freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker is a sparkplug from the perimeter (14 points per game and 47% from three) while Chris Clarke’s recovery from a torn ACL is far enough along that the junior is shooting 60% from the field while averaging 6.8 rebounds per night.  What’s Naughty:  tough to find a smudge on this early season–but the Hokies do allow the fourth-most points per game in the ACC. Best Win: a 103-79 neutral-site victory over a Washington team that has since gone on to upset Kansas.  Nice to get a victory on the Madison Square Garden floor.  Lone Loss:  the night before VT fell to Saint Louis 77-71 after getting outrebounded by ten.  Last year rebounding was an issue…it couldn’t be again when they begin league play, could it?  Game to Watch before ACC play: Saturday the Hokies visit #8 Kentucky.  The tipoff is at 2 p.m–but this will go a long way to determining if they’re ready for prime time.

 

George Washington (5-5)- the Colonials have had quite an ambitious pre-Atlantic 10 slate, visiting the likes of Florida State and Penn State while playing holiday tournaments against #15 Xavier and Kansas State.  Sadly they’re 0-4 against those schools.  What’s Nice: sophomore Jair Bolden has emerged as a do-it-all floor general, leading the team in assists while developing into the team’s best three-point threat.   What’s Naughty:  they’re not the best at taking care of the basketball (12th in the conference in assist-to-turnover margin).  Against the VCU’s and better defensive teams in the league that will be a major issue.  Best Win: December 3rd they beat Temple 71-67.  The Owls used to run the A-10 like their private rec-club, so it’s nice to beat the school that won nine tournament titles over a 26-year span before bolting for the AAC.  Worst Loss: a home loss to Rider from the MAAC.  Not the MAC (Mid-American) or even the (Mid-Eastern Athletic) but the Metro Atlantic Athletic-ugh.  Game to watch before league play tips off:  Saturday they host #6 Miami at noon.  Really, does every good December game involving beltway schools have to be this Saturday?

 

George Mason (5-6)- one year after winning 20 games perhaps a year earlier than expected, coach Dave Paulsen’s team is one of nine Atlantic 10 schools that are within one game of .500.  What’s Nice:  Otis Livingston II came back for his junior year with a three-point shot (46% this season as opposed to 34% as a sophomore) while freshman Goanar Mar has produced since opening night for the Patriots.  What’s Naughty:  you think GW has issues with turnovers?  Mason has the most miscues in the A-10 by a wide margin.  Best Win: a 76-72 grand larceny November 29th at James Madison.  They trailed by four with seven seconds left but an Ian Boyd three began a furious finish.  Worst Loss: Tuesday’s 74-51 loss to Georgia Southern.  The Eagles may be 8-2 but shooting 29% and turning the ball over 21 times at home is no way to go through life.  Best pre-conference game remaining:  Sunday they host Penn State.  Beware the Green Machine.

 

VCU (5-5)- coach Mike Rhoades has a lot to live up to in his debut season:  his predecessor Will Wade won 25 games in his first season at the helm, Shaka Smart’s Rams went 27-9 in his first winter as head coach and Anthony Grant’s first team bounced Duke in the first round of the NCAA’s en route to a 28-7 mark.  So there’s obviously no pressure whatsoever.  What’s Nice:  all five losses are to legit programs, including Smart’s Texas team.  Senior Jonathan Williams leads the A-10 with 6.6 assists per game.  They’re also second best in the league at scoring as well as shooting from three-point range.  What’s Naughty:  something intangible feels like it’s missing this season…and it’s going to take a while for this program to come together under their new head coach.  Best Win: an 83-69 win in Maui against Cal.  Pass the poi.  Worst Loss: a 90-67 defeat at Seton Hall.  They turned the Pirates over just twelve times and allowed 55% shooting.  Game to Watch:  Saturday against Bucknell.  The Bison almost won at Maryland-and aren’t scared of anybody.

 

Richmond (2-8)- the Spiders’ run of ten straight non-losing seasons is in danger of not going to eleven.  Triple-threat TJ Cline took Atlantic 10 MVP honors last winter–and this season you’re seeing how exactly valuable he was.  What’s Nice:  sophomore big man Grant Golden has stepped up from a role player to a primary contributor, netting 15 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this fall.  Freshman Jacob Gilyard has become a force on both ends of the floor, averaging 3.1 assists and 2.4 steals per contest.  What’s Naughty:  they’re the worst free-throw shooting team in the Atlantic 10 and have lost five games by double-digits.  Best Win:  the 74-71 win over James Madison snaps a six game slide…hopefully turning the pre-conference tide.  Worst Loss: an 82-76 home defeat to Georgetown.  You don’t often get the Hoyas on your home floor…and with Patrick Ewing’s rebuild this was a golden opportunity.  Game to Watch:  at Boston College Saturday December 23rd-I’m curious because this BC team beat Duke yet lost to Nebraska.  They could easily slip against the Spiders.

 

Navy (9-3)- this could be the Midshipman team that ends a near-two decade NCAA Tournament drought.  Ed DeChellis directed the program to its first winning conference season since 2009, and this fall they’re off to their best start of any team in the Patriot League.  November and December mean little in one-bid league’s come March, however.  What’s Nice:  the stifling defense allows the fewest points per game in the Patriot League and they’re the best rebounding team in the conference.  Senior Shawn Anderson leads the Mids in scoring, rebounding and assists while passing the 1,000 career points barrier last month.  What’s Naughty:  the Mids rank last in the Patriot League at defending the three…and in a conference of Davids it’s often the slingshot that causes the most damage.  Best Win: opening night against Pitt. Yes, the game was in Annapolis and the Panthers may be a mess under second-year coach Kevin Stallings, but they’re still an ACC opponent.  Worst Loss: falling to 8-4 Penn, 7-4 FGCU and #6 Miami is nothing to be ashamed about.  One cannot help but feel this Midshipmen team is something special.  Last game before league play:   Thursday December 21st against Lipscomb- the Bisons are off to a 6-4 start that includes losses at Alabama, Texas and #24 Tennessee.  Should be a good test.

 

American (3-6)- can the Eagles overcome a slow start to contend in a Patriot League that features not only a Navy program hitting its stride but the usual bully Bucknell that returns four double-digit scorers?  A young roster has turned the first two months of the regular season into a “getting to know you” process for coach Mike Brennan’s team.  What’s Nice: the one-two punch of Larry Motuzis and Sa’eed Nelson (each averages 19 points per game) has provided the bulk of the offense.  What’s Naughty: ninth in the conference in rebounding margin and defending the three, eighth in scoring and scoring defense as well as assist-to-turnover ratio.  Best win: 74-70 at New Hampshire November 21st.  When you play seven of your first eight away from DC, life can be rough on the road.  Sa-eed Nelson netted a season-high 26 points that night.  Worst Loss: a 100-89 loss to St. Francis (PA). Shoot 56% and still come up short?  At least this wasn’t against the 2-7 St. Francis (BKN) Terriers.  Game to see: they host Mt. St. Mary’s from the one-bid Northeast Conference.  Should be a truer test than trips to West Virginia and Marquette.

 

Howard (2-10)-  DO NOT accuse the Bison of stocking their schedule with non-conference W’s.  Just the opposite:  coach Kevin Nickelberry’s team has played 9 of 11 games on the road.  As the song plays, “they’ve been everywhere, man.”  Trouble?  They’ve had their share, man– from a 106-69 thumping at Gonzaga to an 81-67 loss at Georgetown.  Never paid their fair, man?  Well, these are buyout games.  What’s Nice:  freshman guard RJ Cole leads the team with 19 points and 6 assists per game-including 30 in their win over Washington Adventist.  He’s one of five players in the nine-man rotation in their first year with the program.  What’s Naughty:  it’s a shooter’s game and the Bison rank 341st in field goal percentage.  Gotta Watch:  no more home games in 2017–so if you can get a good rate there’s that game against Hawaii December 29th.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

The Melo Trimble Show is now only available on re-runs in College Park.  The point guard who helped lead the Terps to a 75-25 mark and three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament departed for the pros last spring.  But the cupboard is far from bare for coach Mark Turgeon:  “I’ve heard people say we have a young team.  I feel like we’re much more experienced than we were last year.  We’ve got eight of our top ten guys back–you know, the three freshmen become sophomores.”  Those three sophomores- Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan-made a combined 96 starts last year.  Jackson led the team in rebounding, Huerter made the most three-pointers on the roster, and Cowan actually had more assists and steals than Trimble.  The future isn’t just now for this team, it was here last winter as well.  “We relied on them a lot last year-quite a bit too.  I think (this year) they’re much more prepared,” Coach Turgeon added,”I do think every one of them has gotten a lot better.”

Justin Jackson almost wasn’t a part of the picture this season-as the forward from Ontario tested the NBA Draft waters last spring before deciding to return.  But he didn’t leave the draft workouts empty-handed.  “Going up against a lot of top guys-just proving to myself I can play on that level,” Jackson said, “it really helped the college game slow down for me, and I’m starting to make the right plays and make the right reads.”  The 6-foot-7 forward will play both forward positions this year for coach Turgeon: “he’s one of those guys now who is much more competitive and plays harder every day–has added to his game.”  Jackson actually led the team in three-point shooting (44%) as a freshman, and is focused on becoming more of a perimeter threat this season.  “I’ve been working on my ball-handling and making decisions,” Jackson said, “you got to know what you bring to the table and how you can help your team.”

If Jackson is able to shine at the small forward position-fellow sophomore Kevin Huerter can slide over to the shooting guard spot and provide major mismatches with his 6-foot-7 frame.  He’s tried to change his offensive approach after averaging 9.3 points per game as a freshman. “Coach Turgeon said he wanted me to get to the free throw line a little more…and that comes from not just shooting jumpshots.” Huerter said, “For me I’m trying to get into the paint–come to two foot stops and make plays off that.”  The Clifton, NY product also returns on a mission after the team melted in March: “We didn’t finish the way we wanted to last year…we lost first round Big Ten, first round NCAA’s.  I don’t think we stayed together as a team as well as we could have…and we definitely have to change that going into this year.”

Huerter may have played the most minutes of the trio and Jackson may have produced the most points and rebounds, but the catalyst on both ends of the floor will be Anthony Cowan.  Offensive possessions will more often than not begin with the ball in his hands.  “My message to Anthony is make the right decisions,” coach Turgeon said, “Read the situation–we have a read and react offense.  It’s about making the right decisions.  If Anthony does that we’re a much better offensive team.”  Cowan’s freshman year was a rollercoaster ride that saw the highs of 18 points against Richmond on a Friday night get followed up by an 0-for-3 shooting performance against Kansas State the next evening. Cowan said, “I just want to be a more consistent shooter.  The only way you can work on that I know is keep getting reps.”  Cowan scored 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the team’s exhibition victory over Randolph Macon.

There’s a foreign flavor in the frontcourt:  Slovakian center Michal Cekovsky is back after a fractured ankle ended his junior season.  Junior Ivan Bender (Bosnia-Herzegev) shot 75% from the field over his final six games last winter.  Graduate transfer Sean Obi (Nigeria) is healthy for the first time in two years.  Redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic (Canary Islands) is better prepared after sitting out last season.  And Angolan Bruno Fernando should see major minutes as a freshman.  “I guess he’s a 6-10 Dez Wells,” Turgeon says, “plays to exhaustion-the kid’s amazing. Shot blocker, great rebounder. Very vocal…and we really haven’t had one like him:  athletic…skilled.”  A high-ankle sprain kept Fernando out of the exhibition against Randolph Macon, but he expects to play opening night at Stony Brook.

The other freshman of note comes to College Park from a much shorter distance than Angola:  Baltimore native Darryl Morsell brings a six-foot-four frame and projects to play both backcourt positions.  “Coach Turgeon told me when he was recruiting me that I’d be playing a little bit of point guard–I knew it would be a big adjustment when I got here but he told me he’ll help me.  It’s been going well.”  When it comes to playing in the Big Ten, size is–for lack of a better word–is huge. “Darryl gives us a defender on the perimeter that we really needed.  He’s a guy that loves to compete,” Turgeon said.  Other guards expected to contribute are senior Jared Nickens and junior Dion Wiley.

The Big Ten is back.  After being much-maligned in the regular season (just one team finished in the top 20) and sneakily successful in the NCAA Tournament (three schools in the Sweet 16), the league puts four teams in the Top 25–with Michigan State swimming amongst the favorites to win it all at #2 in both polls.  Maryland is one of three schools in the league also receiving votes, and will play seven games against the four ranked schools during the conference season-starting with #20 Purdue December 1st.  It was a loss to the Boilermakers at home last February that began a 4-7 tailspin to end the season after the Terps carved out a school-best 20-2 start.  Will the roster be ready for the conference clashes this winter?  “We’ve added three physical guys.  We’re a little bit more physical last year–which is good,” coach Mark Turgeon said, “I think our system will look a lot the same. We’re doing some different things in our small four-guard lineup that’s going to be really good for us.”  Early-season tests include a November 15th game against Butler (Bulldogs also receiving votes in both preseason polls) and a trip to Syracuse in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge November 27th (I’m going to take a flyer and say it might be cold that day up there).  The regular season tips off Friday, November 10th at Stony Brook and the Terps host Maryland-Eastern Shore November 12th in their home opener.

Penthouse Prediction:  the three sophomores click and freshman Bruno Fernando doesn’t disappoint.  The added physicality actually prevents the team from a the February fade they suffered the last two winters in league play.  The Terps don’t win the Big Ten but get to the tournament championship game.  A Sweet Sixteen trip in the Big Dance follows.

Worst Case Scenario:  Butler comes to College Park November 15th and exposes a young team that has yet to gel.  They aren’t ready for the early-December Big Ten games and instead of worrying about a February fade find themselves battling uphill all winter.  Their stay at Madison Square Garden is brief as they’re bounced in the second round…and the not-ready-for-prime-time players find their way into the NIT,

 

PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Sometimes forty minutes can make all the difference.  A win over a ranked team in November can sometimes give a school the needed push to get into the field…while a conference loss on the road in February often downgrades their NCAA Tournament seeding by a few lines—or worse.  The Maryland Men’s Basketball team plays 31 games this winter…but coach Mark Turgeon already has one winning evening to look back at.  It came early in the offseason when he knew he was losing Jake Layman, Rasheed Sulaimon, Diamond Stone and Robert Carter, Jr. to the pros.  After winning 55 games over the last two years, the question was could Turgeon build off that momentum. “Justin Jackson (a four-star recruit) committed to me about 8:30—and Melo called (to say he was staying) about 9,” Turgeon said, ”that was a pretty good half an hour right there. My staff did some amazing things—late (in the recruiting process). It was exhausting to say the least-the late signings-but we did some amazing things that will give us a chance to be a good team this year.”

Melo Trimble’s return to campus for his junior season certainly changes the mindset of this winter from one of rebuilding (he would have been the fifth starter to depart) to one of reloading (21st in the coaches poll and 25th in the writers’ rankings).  And while you could have made the case over his first two years with the Terps that Trimble was the best player on his team, this season he’s not just the best player but this is undoubtably his team. Coach Turgeon explains, “He’s done a lot of the little things that have really helped him become a better leader…he’s getting more comfortable. To be a good leader you’ve got to have guys that listen to you too…and I think guys have bought into Melo’s leadership which is helping him.”  The junior from Upper Marlboro, Maryland averaged a team-high 15 points and 5 assists per game last winter while also leading the team in steals.   Junior Jared Nickens and senior Demonte Dodd also played more than 15 minutes per game last winter…while redshirt sophomore Dion Wiley comes back after missing all of 2015-16 with a knee injury.

It’s not always easy to see the forest from the trees…and one of the byproducts of last year’s  productive post game (Diamond Stone and Robert Carter each had ridiculous nights) was the clogging up of the lane in the perimeter player’s paths to the basket.  Not so this year- as Trimble is excited about playing small-ball. “I feel great about that…we can actually run, get into the paint, create driving lanes and kick out for threes,” Melo says with a smile, “Last year we wasn’t able to do that because we had really good post presence with Diamond and Rob…but this year we’re very fast and we can shoot so I think we’re gonna have a lot of fun with that.”  Expect Trimble, Nickens and Wiley to unload early and often from outside.

 

Demonte Dodd leads the big men this winter…as the senior has been a solid contributor while averaging 15 minutes a game the last two seasons. “We’ll be by committee on the low post…I got some things up my sleeve that I might try as the year goes on,” Coach Mark Turgeon said, “I think Demonte’s growing…L.G. Gill’s growing down there. Hopefully Ceko (Slovakian center Michal Cekovsky) going to be able to give us some stuff down there.”  Gill comes to Maryland as a graduate transfer after starting at Duquesne where he led the Dukes in rebounding last winter.  Despite last year’s vaunted size, the Terps were in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten in rebounding margin.  Perhaps it takes a village after all…

 

In addition to Gill, contributions will be expected from the five freshmen on this year’s roster. “I think the guys we’ve brought in this year really have a great feel of when to shoot and when to pass…and a great feel defensively,” Turgeon says, “That’s exciting.  I think the smarter your players are the better coach you are.”  New York’s “Mr. Basketball” Kevin Huerter has international experience after playing in the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championships…and his lanky frame and reliable shot already have him compared to ex-Terp Jake Layman (facial hair will have to come later).  Anthony Cowan’s a four-star recruit from nearby Bowie and St. John’s College HS…while Justin Jackson is your stereotypical Canadian forward who is 6-foot-7 but boasts a 7-foot-3 wingspan.  Micah Thomas and Joshua Tomaic (from the Canary Islands) add frontcourt depth.

The season begins with a local flavor as the Terps will have non-conference dates against American, Howard, Towson and Georgetown.  After last year’s 75-71 thriller in College Park, Melo Trimble and company play the Hoyas this year in the District.  “I’m very excited…I’ve never had the chance to play at Verizon Center,” Trimble said, “In high school I had the opportunity to play there but once we (Bishop O’Connell) won they took the championship game out of there.  Whenever you play at a site like that…it’s fun.”  He’s not alone. “It’s great for this area,” coach Mark Turgeon said, “and of course both games (in the current series) have been nationally televised. I think Georgetown’s probably a little further along than we are this year-a little more experience than we have. Should be a heck of a game.”

 

The Big Ten Tournament will also be held at Verizon Center this season…and the league looks just as loaded as it was last season when four teams finished in the top 25 and seven schools made the NCAA Tournament.  Wisconsin returns conference preseason player of the year Nigel Hayes…while Michigan State brings back Tom Izzo and the Spartan culture. Indiana and Purdue look to build on strong showings from last winter (Hoosier fans shouting “BANNERS!” the entire time at their Boilermaker booster counterparts).  Maryland, Michigan and Ohio State are each within shouting distance of the top 20.  As fans who saw the top-ten Terps fall at winless in the league Minnesota last winter, there are no off nights.  Anywhere.

 

 

 

Coach Mark Turgeon enters his sixth season…through another different door at Xfinity Center.  In 2014 the question was, “could you lead this team to the NCAA’s?” and last fall the question was, “can this team win it all?”.  This year the question is about sustaining a program that has won 55 games over the last two winters…and will Mark Turgeon’s program be one that rebuilds or one that reloads.  He’s already re-upped:  last month the coach signed a four-year contract extension that runs through the 2022-23 campaign.  During media day I asked him if there was anything the Mark Turgeon of 2016 would tell the Mark Turgeon that took over the Terps in 2011.  “Oh, I don’t know. Just stay the course…believe in the process,” Turgeon replied, “I’m really proud of what we’ve done-it hasn’t been easy-and where we are today. I’m looking forward to a lot of great years in a row.”

 

 

Previously appearing on WTOP.COM–

What a difference one year can make in mens college basketball.  Last October, Mark Turgeon was dealing with massive defections (five players transferring in the spring) and there were questions if he would be the coach to lead this program back to the NCAA Tournament after a four year hiatus.   This fall the question is if this team is Final Four material…with Turgeon now dealing with impressive additions to an already talented roster.  Happy times are here again in College Park. 

The most important addition to the roster is the player who chose not to enter the NBA Draft.   Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Melo Trimble was the offensive catalyst for this team last winter—and coach Turgeon expects the sophomore guard to improve defensively:  “he has it in him.  I didn’t ask him to a lot of that last year because he couldn’t foul…if he picked up two fouls I’d get pretty nervous.”  Turgeon adds that he thinks Trimble’s assists will increase with the better offensive options at his disposal this year.

Options?  Former All-Freshman ACC guard Rasheed Sulaimon arrives as a graduate transfer after being dismissed from the Duke program last January.  The Houston native was actually recruited by Turgeon when he was coaching at Texas A&M.  “He’s a great competitor,” says senior Jake Layman, “he’s intense—especially on defense.  One of his goals this year is to be one of the best defenders in the country.”  Will the Terps get the player who oozed potential averaging 12 pts a game, or the one who was a non-factor at the end of his tenure in Durham?

Sulaimon’s not the only transfer joining the Terps.  Junior Robert Carter averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds a game his final season with Georgia Tech…and will provide some of the size and skill inside that last year’s team lacked on both ends of the floor.  He’ll also mentor five-star recruit Diamond Stone, a 6-foot-11 center whose skill set is more than apparent to coach Mark Turgeon:  “he’s terrific on the offensive end…great left hand/right hand around the basket, great feel–can shoot it.  It’s the other end that has to come the furthest-the defensive end. So he’s really working hard, watching a lot of film.”

While it’s nice to have talent coming into the program…one wonders how the minutes and rotation will shape up as coach Mark Turgeon has plenty of talent coming back:  Jared Nickens, Dion Wiley and Demonte Dodd each started games last year—averaging 13+ minutes a game.  Coach Turgeon likes the “problem”, saying “what a great position I’m in…to have these kind of players?  I’ve made the comment that I think we have eight starters.  A couple of the starters aren’t playing well…different guys are gonna play that night.”

With the infusion of talent, it’s rather easy to forget that forward Jake Layman was voted Preseason All-Big Ten.  The slow and steady senior has already passed the 1,000 point milestone and should reach 100 career starts by the end of his career.  Along with Carter, Layman’s expected to take the leadership reins left when Dez Wells graduated.

The Terps are one of four Big Ten teams in the Coaches Preseason Top 25:  Michigan State is 13th, Indiana ranks 15th and Purdue is tied for 24th.  Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State also receive votes…setting the table for what should be another competitive conference season.  Nobody expected Maryland to go 14-4 in league play last winter (most league wins since the 2002 National Title team),  and this year there will be no surprise factor whatsoever.

The non-conference schedule includes a November 17th showdown with Georgetown (first regular season game with the Hoyas since 1993) and a December 1st duel with preseason #2 North Carolina.  How does the weight of a top five ranking compare to the pressure of last October?  Coach Turgeon:  “I really didn’t feel any last year and I don’t really feel any this year.  I think as a coach you have peace of mind with what you do; and I believe in the people around me—players and coaches.  We know we have a good team”.  The regular season tips off November 13th against Mount St. Mary’s.