Archives for posts with tag: Md Womens hoops

Heading into Maryland’s National Semifinal game with UConn, one felt that it was possible for the Terps to beat the Huskies–but the path to victory resembled bringing Apollo 13 back from space.  We were talking about a 40-point checklist-and if one item was amiss, Tom Hanks was going to burn up in the atmosphere or float away into space (one would also have accepted a “Back to School” reference where Thornton Mellon faced a 1-question exam–in 29 parts).  The Terps actually took an 8-7 lead and were playing a one-possession game (down 22-19) against the Huskies with 9 minutes left in the first half…until the checklist began to toll against coach Brenda Frese’s team that resulted in an 81-58 loss.

Sunday’s Keys—

1-Keep Brionna Jones active inside and out of foul trouble– the sophomore sat most of the first half with two personal fouls.  Minus their low post meal ticket (she picked up foul #2 with 16:04 left and the score tied at 10), the Terps shot 6 of 14 and turned the ball over 5 times over the next 11 minutes.  UConn went on a 24-13 run to take the lead for good.

2-Rebounds and Turnovers– the Terps were outrebounded 35-28 and committed 13 turnovers (8 in the first half). One cannot give a team like UConn extra shots and/or possessions.  Breanna Stewart & Morgan Tuck outrebounded the Terps starting bigs 17-6.  Ouch…

3-Transition Team– the fast break never got in gear against a very quick UConn team that gave the Terps very few chances to run for easy baskets.  Facing a halfcourt Huskies defense, their size disadvantage was amplified.

4-Boost off the Bench– Brene Moseley shined in a reserve role…notching 12 points and 4 assists in 21 minutes.   Unfortunately, the Terps needed another monster effort or two from their subs– especially with Jones in foul trouble and the Huskies handcuffing senior Laurin Mincy (1-5 shooting, 6 turnovers).

 

Senior Sayonara– sad to see Mincy not have her best game on her final night playing for the Terps…but what a career for the guard from Newark, NJ.  Despite suffering two torn ACL’s (wiping out her senior year of high school and most of her junior season at Maryland), Laurin scored 1,379 career points and provided the necesary leadership with a very young team this past winter (3 starters were sophomores).  Best wishes to Laurin–as it’s been a pleasure and a privilege to cover her since she walked on Campus in 2010.

 

Next Year–  the bar has always been there.  It’s UConn (and Notre Dame to a lesser degreee).  How does an elite program like Maryland scale the “super-ultra-premium-elite” wall?  It’s tough for a program that’s made two straight Final Fours and just wrapped up an unbeaten conference season to say to itself in the mirror, “we need to get even better”.  It’s a challenge for a squad with three returning All-Big Ten players to the starting lineup to remark, “we have deficiencies that need to be addressed”.  To get to UConn’s level, the Terps need athletic size inside and more consistent shooting on the perimeter.  Can those needs be met with the players returning this fall?  Unless either of the 5-star recruits Kiah Gillespie and Brianna Fraser rock the world from day one on campus, it’ll have to be.  The road to Indianapolis begins today…

Despite the National Semifinal game pitting Maryland against UConn being a showdown of #1 seeds, the Huskies are the overwhelming favorite.  Can you blame conventional wisdom?  The two-time defending National Champions have won 35 straight games while posting victories in the NCAA Tournament by 56, 36, 51 and 21 points.  The Huskies are 3-0 against the Terps over the last three seasons–winning on home, neutral (as neutral as Bridgeport, CT can be) and road courts by an average of 18 points per game.  They boast a matchup nightmare in National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart (18 points and 8 rebounds per game leads the Huskies–and she’s second on the team in assists, blocks and steals).  Coach Geno Auriemma’s bench also boasts players who could start for most of the other teams in the tournament.  Prepare to pay Pat Riley the residuals for printing “Threepeat” paraphernalia.

Or–Maryland makes the miraculous happen.  They shock the world like Notre Dame did in 2011 when the Fighting Irish upended then 36-1 UConn.  They extend the season two more days like the 2006 Maryland team did when they beat a North Carolina squad that only three weeks previously topped the Terps for the ACC Championship.  They turn the college basketball world upside down– or given their status as one of the top four seeds, a few degrees off its normal true north.

 

How do the Terps go from the dream to a reality of an upset?

Start Strong– the Terps began last year’s Final Four game against Notre Dame slowly–and it cost them.  They fell behind early in NCAA games against Princeton and Tennessee before pulling away.  They can ill afford having to play catchup against the Huskies…who showed in their Regional Finals win over Dayton the ability to hit that next gear (going on a 15-3 run to start the second half after trailing 44-43 at the half).

 

Win the Battle of the Boards– Maryland ranks 8th in Division I in rebounding margin; UConn is #2 behind George Washington.  Limiting the Huskies (who shoot 54%) to just one shot is necessary for survival.

 

Get Brionna Jones Going-– the sophomore center’s hit 20 of 31 shots in the NCAA Tournament (64.5%).  Her success in the low post will in theory will open up shots for Lexie Brown and Laurin Mincy on the perimeter in the halfcourt offense.

 

Temper the Turnovers– the Huskies also rank second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.76).  Maryland’s 40th.  It’s tough enough trying to make shots against UConn, but if they can’t even get quality shots–it’ll be a long night.

 

Transition, Transition, Transition– Maryland can run better than most teams in the country…and against a team like UConn it’s imperative to get easy baskets whenever possible.

 

Defend the Undefendable– Breanna Stewart can kill opponents in so many ways.  The 6-foot-4 forward shoots 54% from the field and 32% from 3-point range while being able to pass out of switches and double-teams effectively (119 assists ranks second on team).  In theory, Malina Howard will be assigned the task of containing Stewart.  But the junior can put the ball on the floor effectively as well-meaning multiple Terps will draw the assignment of stopping this offensive monster.  Dayton had some success (Stewart shot 8 for 18) but that left the door open to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck (the two combined to score 50 against the Flyers).  A herculean defensive effort against Stewart and her teammates won’t assure victory, but not having one will guarantee defeat.

 

Backups must Stand Up– Brene Moseley, Tierney Pfirman, Kristen Confroy and Kiara Leslie have all contributed in reserve roles this winter–and each has had a standout moment or two during the tournament run.  At least three need to have outstanding efforts against the Huskies.  There can’t be a drop-off from starters to reserves–or UConn’s depth will prove to be the difference.

The road to the Final Four will be set sooner than you think.  Once again favorites will be tested and underdogs will capture the imagination of the public…and the mantra “it’s as much about matchups as ingredients”.  I’m not talking about the NCAA Tournament’s Selection Sunday– but the delivery of Girl Scout Cookies.  Every year the usual favorites (Thin Mints, Tagalongs, Samoas) have to deal with the upstarts (Toffee Tastic?).  Similar situations occur regarding the area college basketball teams–thank goodness I can tie both together.

 

Maryland (23-5, 11-4 Big Ten) has won 10+ conference games for the first time since the 2009-10 season.  That’s Greivis Vasquez Territory (pronounced Greevus and Grayvous in the same comment by Gary Williams);  in other words, this is one surreal season in a new league.  Forget the court-storming against Wisconsin after bouncing the Badgers–realize that freshman Melo Trimble is a special player (averaging 20 points while shooting 58% over the last four games).  Forget the “choreographed spontaneity” of the flashmob and senior Dez Wells (26 points against Wisconsin including 10 of 12 in one stretch) is taking ownership like no Terrapin since…well, Greivis Vasquez.  Saturday’s Senior Day brings underachieving Michigan to XFinity Center–and with trips to Nebraska and Rutgers (a combined 7-23 in Big Ten play) wrapping up the regular season there’s actually a chance this team could finish in a first place tie with Wisconsin (Badgers host Michigan State and visit Ohio State).  And the Terps own the tiebreaker.

 

Flavor #12– “Thanks A Lot”– shortbread and fudge.  Thanks for what?  Self esteem, gang.  We should be thanking you for having Girl Scout Cookies to begin with…makes me miss the now-defunct “Thank You Berry Much”.

Flavor #11– “Savannah Smiles”– or “Dave Frowns”.  Powdered sugar makes this a messy treat–and it’s all in one bag.  Not in a sleeve or on a plastic grid, so every cookie is touched by everyone who puts their hand in the bag.

 

Georgetown (18-8, 10-5 Big East) pulled the curtain up on the same Hoya defense that choked Villanova last month in their 79-57 win over St. Johns, holding the Red Storm without a field goal for the final 8:45 of the first half while limiting the Big East’s 2nd leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison to 0-for-9 shooting.  Coach John Thompson III’s team then dominated the glass in a 68-63 win over DePaul (outrebounding the Blue Demons by 13).  Moving forward Mikael Hopkins out of the starting lineup gives the Hoyas a necessary spark off the bench on both ends of the court (the senior averaging 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals over the last two games).  Right now the Hoyas are a half game ahead of Butler for second place in the league–with a visit a week from Tuesday to the #23 Bulldogs.

 

Flavor #10– “Rah Rah Raisins”— really?  I like oatmeal and Greek Yogurt, but we’re rah-rahing?  Really?  I almost think they’re trying to do too much here– oatmeal-raisin or oatmeal-yogurt works–even yogurt-raisin.

Flavor #9– “Lemonades”— for years they had two lemon flavored cookies, cutting the rapidly shrinking yellow citrus market in half.  The exact opposite of “Rah Rah Raisins”, this one trick-cookie (albeit with icing) falls short in the cookie bracket first round.

 

Cruising the Commonwealth—

#2 Virginia (25-1, 13-1 ACC) grinds its way towards a second straight regular season title with Justin Anderson trying to heal his injured pinkie before Selection Sunday:  without the junior from Montross the Cavaliers are averaging 56 points a game (10 fewer than their season average).  Good thing the UVa D unleashes first half throat-punches like the one they did against Pitt:  handcuffing the Panthers to 15 points wasn’t as impressive as limiting Louisville to 13 points earlier in the  month, but it comes pretty darn close.  UVa followed that up by holding Florida State without a basket for the final 10:34 of the second half in Sunday’s 51-41 win over the Seminoles.  The schedulemakers were kind to the Cavaliers again this winter as they get bottom feeders Wake Forest and Virginia Tech over the next few days–but beware:  the Hokies came within 3 points of upsetting the Cavs in Blacksburg last month while the Demon Deacons came within one point of breaking hearts in Charlottesville on Valentine’s Day.

 

Flavor #8– “Cranberry Citrus”– Real Fruit!  Whole Grain!  Way too many exclamation points!  I anticipate its first round matchup with the Lemonades–just on pucker power alone.

Flavor #7– “Trios”– a new flavor that features peanut butter and oatmeal while remaining gluten-free.  Combining peanut butter and oatmeal is the cookie’s version of a 3-2 zone defense;  I’m sure its effective in the right hands but why complicate things needlessly?

 

Virginia Tech (10-17, 2-12 ACC)–  the Hokies aren’t simply in a different zip code or time zone than their instate counterparts but more like a separate continent.  Three straight double-digit defeats assures coach Buzz Williams’ bunch of playing in the Opening Round of the ACC Tournament–and who isn’t ready for “Tuesday in Greensboro” with the Hokies, Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech boasting a composite 10-47 record?  Blame bad work on the boards– the Hokies rank last in the ACC in rebounding margin.  Hold your breath for that third league win– #4 Duke and 2nd ranked Virginia are next on the slate.

 

Flavor #6– “Toffee Tastic”– serious sleight of hand:  rich buttery cookies with toffee…but NO GLUTEN?  After laying waste to Savannah Smiles in the first round this Gonzaga of flavors could pull an upset for the ages in the quarterfinals.

 

George Washington (17-10, 7-7 Atlantic 10) missed a major chance to defeat Davidson Wednesday– as a 3-pointer by Kethan Savage missed the mark with :01 on the clock in a 65-63 loss.  Unlike against Dayton, there would be no Colonial magic–and now GW has to deal with four straight losses as they came up empty at Richmond.  With six losses in seven games, Coach Mike Lonergan’s team has gone from playing for the league lead to being in a 3-way tie for seventh place.  Can they get the swagger lost at VCU when they shot 27% with 16 turnovers?  St. Bonaventure comes to Foggy Bottom Wednesday.

 

Flavor #5– “Trefoils”– the “Hoosiers” flavor… from four passes before each shot to picket fence inbounds plays.  But does it have Jimmy Chitwood pouring it in from outside?  Fundamentally sound shortbread cookie that knows its limitations–but plays to its strengths.  Is that good enough to get to the Final Four?

 

George Mason (8-18, 3-11 Atlantic 10) looks for bright spots in a season where they’ve lost three of their last four by double digits.  The 80-68 defeat to Fordham drops the Patriots to 13th place in the league as the young nucleus (just one senior and only one junior play more than 20 minutes per game) takes its lumps.  The finishing stretch doesn’t feel promising:  three of GMU’s last four are away with George Washington (easy commute for the Foggy Bottom Faithful) the only home game.  They have a chance to avoid the A-10 cellar by completing a season sweep of 14th place St Louis Saturday.

 

Flavor #4– “Do Si Do’s”– oatmeal and peanut butter.  Defense and rebounding.  Do not mess with this physical cookie–  I can’t see it getting pushed around by shortbread…but a tightly called game could put this treat in foul trouble.

 

#25 VCU (21-6, 11-3 Atlantic 10)– the Rams picked up a huge 78-72 home victory over UMass Saturday to stay atop the conference standings (they’re tied with Rhode Island and own the tiebreaker).  Just one game behind the Rams and Rams are Dayton and Davidson–and VCU plays both D’s over the next week and a half.  But first they travel to face Richmond–a team they lost to at home January 31st.  Since returning from injury, senior Treveon Graham is averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds.  This crosstown rivalry has a chance to blossom into one of the A-10’s best.

 

Flavor #3– “Samoas”–  complex caramel and coconut come together to form the motion offense of cookies– setting screens while driving defenses nuts.  Although there are no nuts in Samoas.  The big concern with Samoas is they’re not a binge cookie–these caramel delights are meant to be savored.  Can they play uptempo?

 

American (14-14, 7-9 Patriot League) had issues scoring against Boston University in their 61-53 loss to the Terriers last Wednesday…shooting just 24% in the first half.  For a team that ranks near the bottom of Division I in shots attempted-that can never be a good thing.  Sunday’s loss to Army means the Eagles have dropped 7 of 10– and are looking at playing in the opening round of the upcoming conference tournament.  Is too much on guard Pee Wee Gardner’s shoulders?  The senior is 12-37 from the field in the team’s last 4 losses– while making 5 of 6 shots in their lone win since February 4th.  AU hosts Navy and Bucknell to wrap up the regular season;  the Midshipmen and Bison each beat the Eagles by 10 this year away from Bender Arena.

 

Flavor #2– “Thin Mints”– if the Samoas are almost too complex for their own good,prepare to rebound and run.  No cookie gets you winded more than the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels of snackfood.  Entire sleeves of this treat have been vaporized.  This is also one of the few cookies that improves when frozen…

 

Howard (15-13, 8-5 MEAC) hasn’t clinched a non-losing season just yet (it would be their first since 2001-02) but the Bison’s 75-65 win at South Carolina State Monday night assured Kevin Nickelberry’s team of their first winning conference mark since ’02.  Seems to me the James (Daniel, Carlton, Miller) Gang was just too much once again– as Miller and Carlton each scored 13 second half points against the Bulldogs while Daniel added 16 points in the victory.  The bigger victory was last Saturday at Savannah State:  in recent times this was exactly the game that Howard lost.  Despite shooting 39%, tallying 21 turnovers and getting outrebounded by 17 the Bison somehow beat the Tigers for the first time ever.  Credit a defense that held Savannah State to 18 second half points and one basket in the last 8:55 of regulation.  Can Howard secure a first-round bye in the upcoming MEAC Tournament?  They host Hampton and Norfolk State this weekend– they lost close games at both schools earlier in the season.

 

Flavor #1– “Tagalongs”– why does this peanut butter patty finish first?  When you get to the Final Four it’s all about matchups– and Tagalongs can match halfcourt wits with the Samoas while keeping pace with the run and gun Thin Mints.  And they’re delicious…

One month (or so) from Selection Sunday.  College basketball’s “moving month” features five teams with legitimate NCAA dreams, one with a coach who can’t keep his clothes on and another which may end an infamous run.  The bracket watch is on as well…with experts putting together their tournament fields (sadly, they predict the seeds, regions and first weekend destinations but not the tipoff times and announcer teams) as they have all season.  The difference now–there’s a legitimate sample size (most leagues have played at least half of their conference schedule) so February provides teams with at least some knowledge of where they are and what they need to do to get to where they want to go.

 

#17 Maryland (19-4, 7-3 Big Ten) needed last weekend off after dropping two of three.  It seemed as though they needed another day as the Terps were somewhat sluggish against Penn State before putting away the Nittany Lions 64-58.  Another rough night for Melo Trimble (0-5 FG but with 8 assists), but it’s key to see this team respond when their best player isn’t playing well.  Coach Mark Turgeon has said he’d like to get better play from his big men…with Damonte Dodd consistently uneven (9 points and 10 rebounds over his last 5 games) and Slovakian center Michal Cekovsky remaining a work in progress the move might be using 6-foot-8 senior Jon Graham in that role more despite his lack of size.  At this point the Terrapins are in the 3 to 4 seed range…upcoming tests at Iowa and against Indiana will determine if the Terps remain above the Big Ten’s growing middle class bubble. 

 

#24 Georgetown (15-7, 7-4 Big East) wasted a 13 point second half lead against Providence, shooting 2 for 8 with 7 turnovers over the last 11:40 of the second half in a 74-71 loss to the Friars.  Offensive miscues have been an issue with the Hoyas when they haven’t played well…as the second best shooting team in the Big East commits the third most turnovers in the league.  Coach John Thompson III’s team benefits from playing Seton Hall and St. Johns over the last month of the season (the Pirates are 5-5 in conference play while the Red Storm is 3-6).  The Hoyas are currently projected to land in the 6 to 7 seed…Saturday they face a revenge-minded #7 Villanova (they beat the Wildcats by 20 in January).

 

Alma Mater Update– so I guess a February filled with residing on the NCAA bubble won’t happen.  Instead the Orange will play for pride as the school self-imposes a one-year ban from the NCAA, NIT, ACC and Big South Tournaments.  This is in response to an investigation which has been ongoing since 2007.  That is swift justice.  I guess now we can expect North Carolina to lose a home non-conference game sometime around 2022.

 

Cruising the Commonwealth–

#3 Virginia (20-1, 8-1 ACC) suffered but survived its Duke-UNC double-dip over the weekend…falling to the Blue Devils 69-63 at home as Coach K’s crew got hot late but bounced back in Chapel Hill to tame the Tar Heels 75-64.  What went wrong against Duke?  Four three-pointers allowed in the last 3:22.  What went right against UNC?  Holding the Tar Heels to 6-21 to start the second half.  Defense still rules the day in Charlottesville–and when the Cavaliers are executing there’s nothing like it in the ACC or the NCAA.  Most models have the Cavaliers as a #1 seed–but in a league with five teams ranked in the top 12 there’s more of a chance to slide.  Saturday they continue the ACC gauntlet by hosting #9 Louisville.

 

Virginia Tech (9-13, 1-8 ACC) snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at Syracuse– the Hokies led the Orange 66-57 before closing on a 4-15 run.  In the process coach Buzz Williams managed to take off his jacket, tie and vest.  Perhaps he needs a fedora and cane to push more crucial clothing further back in the order of disposal.  I dread a double overtime game.

 

George Washington (16-6, 6-3 A-10) is projected to miss the NCAA’s by ESPN while CBS has the Colonials in the First Four.  Coach Mike Lonergan’s team came undone at VCU last week in a 72-48 nightmare.  The Colonials aren’t as bad as a 24-point loss to the Rams would suggest, but they followed it up with a loss at Rhode Island (the other Rams in the A-10) where they turned the ball over 21 times.  GW trails both teams in the conference as well as Dayton–who drops by the Smith Center Friday night.  The Colonials own an 11-game home winning streak…and they’ll be tested by a Flyers team that just put up 101 points against St. Bonaventure.

 

George Mason (7-14, 2-7 A-10) follows up a season of heartbreak (9 games lost by 6 points or less) in the Atlantic 10-with a winter of blowouts (4 of 7 league losses coming by double-digits).  Freshman Shevon Thompson (13ppg, 12rpg) has played well despite running into the freshman wall (2-11 shooting the last two games).  The Patriots try to avoid Wednesday in the A-10 Tournament…they trail Saint Joseph’s by one game for 10th place and visit the Hawks Saturday.

 

#18 VCU (18-4, 8-1) suffered a tough loss against Richmond last weekend when sparkplug Briante Weber went down for the season with a knee injury.  They then lost leading scorer Treveon Graham with an ankle injury in their 72-60 win at George Mason. Melvin Johnson was able to step up against the Patriots…but how long can the Rams play well minus their best on-ball defender while their top offensive player is banged up?  They won’t have a breather for the next few weeks– as road tests at St. Bonaventure and George Washington sandwich a home date with LaSalle.  Also to be seen is how Weber’s injury will affect their seeding–most models have the Rams as a #4 seed.

 

American (13-10, 6-5 Patriot League) hopes their three game losing streak was just a midseason hiccup and not the beginning of a slide down the standings.  AU bounced back by shooting 51% in a win over Holy Cross and 60% in a victory over Loyola of Maryland.  However, the Crusaders and Greyhounds both reside in the conference underbelly.  Saturday’s trip to Colgate will be a better indicator.

 

Howard (12-10, 6-2 MEAC) continues to exceed expectations…owning a winning record after 22 games for the first time since the 2001-02 season.  The James Gang (Daniel leads the Bison in scoring and assists, Carlton leads the team in rebounding and Miller is the squad’s top 3-point shooter) has won four straight to move up to 3rd place in the conference…but can they actually contend against the likes of North Carolina Central and Norfolk State?  The Bison will find out if they’re for real over a six game conference roadtrip…seriously?  Who makes these schedules?  The Bison are two wins away from clinching a non-20 loss season–their first in over a decade.  They won’t be hanging a banner for this one…

 

Maryland Womens Update—new league, similar result.  The fifth ranked Terps (20-2, 11-0 Big Ten) remain the team to beat in their new conference, despite needing a rally from 10 points down at home to dispose of #20 Iowa 93-88.  Credit sophomore Brionna Jones with another monster game (scoring the Terps first 12 points of the second half) and a defense that denied the 3-pointer after intermission.  The Terrapin bench has also developed with Tierney Pfirman providing quality minutes in the paint, diminutive guard Brene Moseley giving  the Terps a change of pace point guard and freshman Kristen Confroy adding a three point threat off the pine.  The win was huge in the big picture because it gives the Terps a virtual three-game cushion in the standings over the Hawkeyes…and Coach Brenda Frese’s team can further cement its lock on the top spot when they host third place Rutgers Tuesday in College Park.  


George Washington Women–
 don’t look now, but the #24 Colonials (20-2, 9-0 Atlantic 10) haven’t lost since November 22nd (at home to Maryland).  Their conference run has been a series of double-digit beatdowns since a 69-66 victory over second place Dayton January 4th (average margin of victory over 18 points a game).  Multiple A-10 Player of the Week honoree Jonquel Jones (16 points and 12 rebounds per game) is helped by a rotation that includes Caira Washington inside (8 rebounds a game) as well as the point guard tandem of Chakecia Miller and Lauren Chase.  A Sunday showdown for first place with Dayton looms in Foggy Bottom.

It’s not March Madness.  Not even February Fever.  But the area offers more than a few intriguing college hoop stories as the first full month of conference play winds down.  First a celebration of sorts with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reaching 1,000 career wins.  Did you know Coach K was so close to that milenium milestone?  Thusly we’ll be sprinkling K moments throughout:

#16 Maryland (18-3, 6-2 Big Ten)– the midseason slump seemed right on track for the Terrapins…who trailed Northwestern by 14 at the half before nipping the Wildcats 68-67 on a last-second tip-in by Dez Wells.  Instead, the Terps find themselves a half game behind #5 Wisconsin for first place in the league…and more wins than they posted in two of coach Mark Turgeon’s first three seasons in College Park.  The power trio of Wells, Jake Layman and Melo Trimble provide more than a few nightmares for opponents.  With five of their next seven games at home, could this team crack the top ten in both polls?  Coach K Moment:  Will anyone forget the four game heavyweight bout the two schools waged in 2000-01?  From “Gone in 60 seconds” to “Senior Day Smackdown” to a two-point game in the ACC’s and the Blue Devils comeback in the Final Four–key guideposts on the way to Coach K’s third National Championship.

#21 Georgetown (14-5, 6-2 Big East)– so they rushed the court.  Okay, so the kids who were born after Allen Iverson left campus got a little excited when their school beat a top 5 team…is that so wrong?  It should be.  The name Georgetown exudes Big Brother in the Big East status, not to mention the bully on the block you don’t mess around with.  The Hoyas played so well defensively in the first half of their dismemberment of the Wildcats, I thought Michael Graham was going to come out of the stands and punch a player.  Credit coach John Thompson III with bringing along a talented but raw freshman class;  he says that you can’t force it when “the clouds open up” for a first year player–and that’s what has happened lately for Isaac Copeland (consecutive 17 point efforts after hitting a game-winning 3 against Butler).  Before the Hoyas get too full of themselves, Xavier drops by the district.  Yes, the same Musketeers that handed Georgetown a 17-point loss December 31st.  Coach K Moment:  1989 the Hoyas led by freshman Alonzo Mourning and Big East MVP Charles Smith were the #1 seed in the East…only to fall to the 2nd seeded Duke in the Regional Finals.  This was the second of three straight years where the Blue Devils defeated the top seed (Temple in ’88 and UConn in ’90 being the others) to reach the Final Four…three years that cemented Krzyzewski’s place as an elite coach.

Alma Mater Update– so much for a 4-0 ACC start.  The Orange drop to 14-7 and 5-3 in the league…coming up short at North Carolina.  Just not enough weapons to deal with a top-heavy league this year…although SU had a chance until Tyler Roberson picked up his 5th personal foul.  Bad free throw shooting (8-19) cost the club Saturday in a four point loss to Miami.  Necessary wins are on deck against Pitt, BC and Virginia Tech (the 3 schools are a combined 4-15 in league play) before the February Firing Squad lines up:  Duke twice, Louisville, Notre Dame and Virginia over a six game span.  Bring me extra bleu cheese for my Warrick Wings at Front Page Ballston…

Cruising the Commonwealth– why does TNT stop showing “Law & Order” re-runs at 1pm ET on Sundays?  At least then they would’ve saved viewers from the 50-47 molasses match between the Cavaliers and Hokies.  I would have even been tempted by “Rules of Engagement”.  Or maybe not.

#2 Virginia (19-0, 7-0 ACC) rallied from 10 points down in the second half to stay unbeaten…Justin Anderson scoring 10 of the Cavs final 14 points over the last 7:05 of regulation.  Now opponents know that UVa can win even when they shoot 35%.  The nation’s top scoring defense (49.2ppg allowed) also turned Georgia Tech into a Kindergartener last week, holding the Yellowjackets to 28 (!!!) points.  Bring on #4 Duke, right?  The Blue Devils drop by John Paul Jones Arena Saturday.  Coach K Moment:  in the 1983 ACC Quarterfinals Ralph Sampson and Virginia routed Duke 109-66…after which one of his friends lifted a glass of water, toasting “here’s to a night let’s soon forget”.  Krzyzewski lifted his own glass and responded, “here’s to a night we will NEVER forget”.  The Blue Devils reached the ACC Finals the following year and didn’t lose to the Cavaliers again until the 1989-90 season (16 straight wins).

Virginia Tech (8-11, 0-6 ACC) saw another outstanding effort result in another disappointing defeat:  just four points scored in the final 10:41 of the second half.  Lack of rebounding (they rank last in the ACC and were dominated 33-21 on the glass by the Cavaliers) once again haunts coach Buzz Williams’ bunch:  they also rank 14th in steals.  There is good news, though:  five of the Hokies next six opponents have losing conference records.  Coach K Moment:  the Hokies upset defending National Champ Duke in February of 2011–after which Dick Vitale said that Seth Greenberg’s team punched its ticket to the big dance.  Until Virginia Tech lost its last two regular season games and needed to beat the Blue Devils in the ACC Semifinals to boost its at-large profile.  No dice this time–as Coach K’s club sent the Hokies to the NIT for a fourth straight year, 77-63.

A-10 Showdown–

George Washington (16-4, 6-1 Atlantic 10) enters its matchup with #16 VCU (16-3, 6-0 Atlantic 10) on a roll with four straight wins (three by double figures);  Patricio Garino continues to be a defensive dynamo ranking 3rd in the A-10 in steals but Danish center Kevin Larsen’s cooled off (averaging 7 points and 5 rebounds over the last three games).  The Rams recent run hasn’t been easy:  four of their last five wins have been two-possession affairs (a bad ankle kept leading scorer Treveon Graham out of the win over Duquesne).  Deliberation meets frenzy–can the Colonials keep a cool head against a manic D that ranks 3rd nationally in steals?  Coach K Moments:  one year apart the Colonials and Rams faced the Blue Devils in the NCAA’s:  in 2006 GW despite being ranked #14 in the nation received the 8th seed and was sent to Greensboro, NC where they lost to top seed Duke in the Second Round 74-61.  VCU punched coach Anthony Grant’s ticket to Alabama with a First Round upset of the 6th seeded Blue Devils in 2007.

A-10 Simply Down–

George Mason (6-12, 1-5 Atlantic 10) doesn’t own last place in the league…although with five straight conference losses it must feel that way.  Saturday the snakebit Patriots allowed a pair of Davidson threes in the final 21 seconds en route to an 80-73 overtime loss to the Wildcats.  While freshman Jamaican big man Shevon Thompson leads the conference in rebounding, he’s getting little help:  GMU ranks 11th in the league in shooting and is 14th in assist-to-turnover ratio.  The Patriots get relief in the form of consecutive opponents boasting 1-5 A-10 marks before they face VCU.

Maryland Womens Update– the Terps move up again in the rankings after a 20 point throttling of Indiana…at 17-2 and 8-0 in the Big Ten coach Brenda Frese’s team is now in the conversation for a potential top seed.  For opponents, it’s a case of pick your poison:  do you pay extra attention to Brionna Jones in the post (the sophomore averages 14 points and 11 rebounds in conference play) or make life uncomfortable for perimeter players Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (55% FG) and Laurin Mincy?  Sophomore point guard Lexie Brown must feel like it’s Christmas every day on the court.  Super Bowl Sunday brings a fight for first place to Xfinity Center–as #20 Iowa comes to College Park.  The perfect appetizer for the big game…next to my friend Doug’s wife’s “Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip”.

American (11-9, 4-4 Patriot League) finds itself with a two game losing streak after slipping at home to Army 68-66 Monday…even John Schoof’s 17 points unable to deliver victory.  AU led by five with 1:45 left before turning the ball over, missing a layup and the missing a three-pointer.  The Eagles lose despite shooting 55% from the fieldand missing the same amount of free throws (13-21 to Army’s 7-15) as their opponent.  One game away from the midpoint of the conference slate, Boston University and Colgate are tied for first (AU beat the Raiders while losing to the Bison) with the Eagles one of four 4-4 teams.  Cause for concern:  AU is 1-3 on the road in the conference and their next two games are away from Bender Arena.

Howard (10-10, 4-2 MEAC)– FIVE HUNDRED, BABY!  The Bison haven’t been at the break-even mark or better 20 games into the season since 2002.  Not only was that the last year they had a winning record–it was also the last time they didn’t lose 20 games in a season.  Monday’s 45-42 win over Bethune-Cookman made the Virginia-Virginia Tech game feel like the Lakers Showtime–two of the Bison’s starters went scoreless and James Daniel missed 10 of his 11 shots.  Thank goodness JC Carlton scored 27 points to lead all scorers…the junior is averaging 22 points over his last five games.  The Bison next face a Morgan State team that’s 4-16 while ranking 351st in the nation in shooting (that would be dead last in Division I).  After that things tighten up with five of their nine remaining league games against schools with winning conference records–followed by giant-killer NJIT in the season finale.  A winning record might not happen, but it’s very likely they lose less than 20 games this winter.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cruising the Commonwealth–

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

 

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

 

A-10 Trio–

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

March Madness grabs the fan by the throat and doesn’t let go until three weekends of thrill, chills and spills are complete…with the canned final call and Luther Vandross-voiced video montage providing the exclamation point.  The McDonald’s Shamrock Shake also takes the believers hostage for 2-3 weeks (depending on how much green dye your participating location has)…and it is one beautiful journey.  Minty Goodness along with a box of Tagalongs and a bracket?  Be still my heart.  For those who don’t know if your local McD’s offers this seasonal treat, check out “www.shamrockshake.com”.  You’ll thank me later…

Georgetown (17-13, 8-10 Big East)– the Hoyas missed a chance to finish .500 in the league while also scoring their second top five win in less than a week… turning the ball over 18 times (same amount as the earlier matchup) in a 77-59 loss to the Wildcats.  Just how good is Villanova?  This team sweeps both games from Gtown for just the second time (granted, there were some Big East years where they met just once)…had already wrapped up its second ever outright Big East Championship (1982) and tied the 2006 team (#1 seed that lost to eventual champ Florida in the Regional Finals) for second-most ever wins (the 2009 team that made the Final Four won 30).  The Hoyas find themselves on the bubble’s underbelly– projected the 4th team out by CBS and 8th team out by ESPN.  GOOD NEWS!– “bracketmatrix.com” has them as a #1 seed for the NIT.  As the 7th seed in the upcoming Big East Tournament– there’s a first round game with last place DePaul.  If you can’t beat the Blue Demons on a neutral floor– you don’t deserve to dance.  A win sets up a rematch with Creighton– a team they beat a week ago in DC.

Shamrock Shake Funfact I– started in 1970 as the “St. Patrick’s Day Green Milkshake”.  Thank goodness they renamed it…Shammy sounds so much better than “SPDG” or “St. Patty’s“.

Alma Mater Update–the Orange ended their final regular season in the Big East by scoring 37 points in a loss at Georgetown.  Beside myself, only a Shamrock Shake kept me from jumping on the Metro Rails as I headed home that dark day (little did I know there’d be a Final Four run).  The #11 Orange (27-4, 14-4 ACC) concluded their first winter in a new league by beating a signature-win-hungry Florida State 74-58.  Jerami Grant’s return to the lineup proved to be the band-aid that delivered the team’s first road win by more than one possession since January.  The victory gives them a 2nd seed in the ACC Tournament–in the sub-bracket of  #7 NC State, #10 Miami and #15 Virginia Tech)…and stops the slide from what one month ago was the Overall #1 seed in most bracket models ( they’re a #3 in ESPN and a #2 in CBS).   But despite a nice finish for first team All ACC forward CJ Fair (22 points and 7 rebounds)…the ugly monster called “lack of depth” (4 players saw 35+ minutes on the floor, only 7 played at all) could rear its ugly head in Greensboro.  At least for now I don’t have to answer questions from my Maryland friends like “What’s wrong with your boys?”.

Maryland (17-14, 9-9 ACC)–nothing was wrong at 2:30pm EDT in College Park…as the Terps vanquished a season of last-minute losses.  The 75-69 overtime win over then-#5 Virginia was the team’s first signature win in a year where the Terps had written their first name in cursive only to run out of ink.  Credit a defense that held the Cavaliers to 9-31 shooting after halftime.  Credit Dez Wells heating up after intermission (16 of his 18 points coming after the break).  And credit Seth Allen for being on fire to start the extra session (scoring the first 5 points in OT).  Unfortunately NC State’s win keeps the Terrapins in the 8-9 game (against Florida State) with the winner facing top seed Virginia in Friday’s quarterfinals.  The latest NIT talk has Maryland getting a #5 seed from bracketmatrix.com…and facing West Virginia in the first round (with a trip to top seed Georgetown for the winner).  Can Mark Turgeon’s team catch fire in Greensboro?

Shamrock Shake Funfact II–in 1974 Philadelphia Eagles owner Leonard Tose was in the process of getting the Ronald McDonald House (for cancer patient’s families) built…and proceeds from Shamrock Shake sales contributed to the charity getting off the ground.  Proving that Philly fans may throw snowballs at Santa, but they’re all about helping the kids and enjoying minty goodness three months later.

Cruising the Commonwealth–the Tale of Two Programs continues with the best of times being tempered somewhat at Virginia (25-6, 16-2 ACC) after the Cavaliers came up short in College Park.  Joe Harris shot under 30% or worse for the fourth time in five games…UVa was outrebounded and missed 8 free throws in the loss.  The loss may keep them from getting a #1 or #2 seed (both models have the Cavs as a #3 in the South) but it won’t alter their Greensboro schedule–as they’ll play the winner of Maryland-Florida State Friday.  By the time they do play Friday in the ACC Quarterfinals…Virginia will have suited up for just two games over a 16-day span.  Not exactly ideal if you’re trying to hit your stride.  Virginia hasn’t reached Saturday (aka the ACC Semis) or the Second Weekend (NCAA Regionals) since 1995…and this team looks poised to end that streak.  Virginia Tech (9-21, 2-16 ACC) is in the famed “10-15” First Round game Wednesday.  I’ve never been a fan of the double-bye bracket…but unless you trim the field to 12 schools that’s what you’ve got.  The Hokies lost their regular season finale 62-51 at Georgia Tech–missing 19 of their first 26 shots.  Jarell Eddie’s descent (27% shooting over his last 10 games) mirrored an offense that scraped to but even 50 points on the board.  The good news is they face Miami Wednesday–and the Hokies posted their only two league games against the Hurricanes this winter.

Shamrock Shake Funfact III–in an era when McDonald’s commercials featured such characters like “The Hamburgler” and “Mayor McCheese”…the fuzzy purple “Grimace” was the milkshake specialist.  Thus it makes perfect sense the green-furred “Uncle O’Grimacey” would become the patron saint of an ad campaign–and a hero to kids worldwide. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu6q8HzmQ7Q)

George Washington (23-7, 11-5 Atlantic 10)–the Colonials continue to be in the at-large middle class…listed by CBS as a #8 seed (in Arizona’s regional) and a #9 (in Florida’s bracket) by ESPN.  Atlantic 10 Player of the Week Maurice Creek notched 24 points and 7 rebounds in the 70-67 win at Fordham (the Rams made this one close thanks to outrebounding GW 45-28) to assure the Colonials of the #3 seed in the upcoming conference tournament–where they await the winner of UMass and Rhode Island.  They beat the Rams in January (17 points and 7 rebounds for Kevin Larsen) and lost to the Minutemen in February (shooting 37% from the field…turning the ball over 14 times and getting outrebounded by 4).  Help is on the way…in the form of second-leading scorer Kethan Savage as the guard returns after missing 12 games with a broken foot–albeit in limited minutes.

Shamrock Shake Funfact IV–the was briefly a “Shamrock Sundae” in 1980…that for some reason didn’t stick.  I’m thinking it was the lack of Uncle O’Grimacey in the marketing efforts… (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOb7T1pqj08)

George Mason (11-19, 4-12) couldn’t escape the dreaded 12-13 game at the beginning of the Atlantic 10 Tournament as an 81-69 loss to Duquesne proves costly.  The Dukes hit 11 of 21 three-pointers and shot 53% for the game…as the Patriots regroup to face Fordham.  The Rams won only twice in league play–but one of those victories was against GMU as Branden Frazier scored all 22 of his points after halftime in a January 22nd 76-70 triumph.  Can Mason extend their inaugural conference campaign?

Maryland Womens Window– unfortunately the stay in Greensboro was brief for the #11 Terps (24-6,  12-4 ACC) as they couldn’t contain North Carolina during crucial stretches of a 73-70 loss to the Tar Heels despite 24 points and 11 rebounds for Alyssa Thomas.  The loss drops Maryland to a potential 4th seed (in Tennessee’s bracket with a potential second round matchup against 5th seeded Michigan State).  The good news is they’ll begin their NCAA Tournament run at Comcast Center.  The bad news is Alyssa Thomas is one year too old to benefit from a fantastic recruiting class that needs one more winter to transform freshmen Lexie Brown, Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough into major contributors that can carry a team in March.

Shamrock Shake Funfact V–the recipe now calls for whipped cream and a cherry.  Don’t be a fool…enjoy the beverage as nature intended.  When they changed to a clear cup I was at first taken aback.  There are certain things where less transparency is more…

American (19-12, 13-5 Patriot League)— the Eagles battle regular season champion Boston University Wednesday for the automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.. they torched the Terriers by 30 at Bender Arena (shooting 71%) but lost by nine in Beantown (getting outrebounded by 16 while committing 13 turnovers).  Tony Wroblicky got into foul trouble in the second game–something AU can ill afford again.  The Eagle D has carried them to the finals as they’ve held Colgate to 39% shooting and Holy Cross to 38% from the field.  A win Wednesday would cap a miraculous run for the team in coach Mike Brennan’s first season at the helm.

Howard (7-24, 5-11 MEAC) somehow emerges from a 5-way tie to claim the #8 seed.  I don’t know which tiebreaker put them over the top.  The Bison battle North Carolina A&T Tuesday– a team they beat in February by eight thanks to 23 points from James Daniel.  While Morgan State handcuffed the freshman to 4-16 shooting in a 68-66 overtime loss… that’s the only time the guard’s been held under 20 points since February 3rd.  The winner gets regular season titlist North Carolina Central in the quarterfinals…

Shamrock Shake Funfact VI–I reportedly consumed 61 Shammy Shakes in 1996…which I thought was the record (by one).  Sadly, due to the leap year there was an extra day of Shamrock Shake sales that year…that is why my ’96 total gets an asterisk (actually they list both records– there was never actually an asterisk).

The first week of March means three things in particular:  McDonald’s (in select areas) begins offering the Shamrock Shake, Girl Scout Cookies get delivered (and consumed), and college hoops enters its “Show Me Month”.  Bubbles burst and brackets are busted.  Top seeds are lost and January certainties turn into utter confusion.  At least we have the minty goodness of the Shammy and a wide variety of cookies to keep us sane.

The tradition continues of ranking the flavors–as always there is a little subjectivity intermingled with absolutes…just like the NCAA Tournament selection process.  Can one break down the field and the flavors at the same time?

12–Thank U Berry Munch–yes, you read that right.  Is this a pun on bad spelling or bad spelling on a pun? “Premium cranberries provide these hearty, white-fudge chipped cookies with a touch of tartness.”  And a lot of “Why am I thanking anyone for purchasing this too-busy cookie?”  Nebraska for some reason has never won an NCAA Tournament game and has only made it to the Big Dance a handful of times.  Northwestern has never made the field.  Both schools have made coaching change after coaching change…only to find themselves looking at a batter filled with white fudge and cranberries that somehow don’t mix–topped with bad spelling amidst worse puns.  I don’t want to see it in March.

Georgetown (16-12, 7-9 Big East) remains on the fringe (7th team out of Joe Lunardi’s field) with two games coming up that can get them back into consideration:  at #13 Creighton followed by a home game with #6 Villanova.  Two potential signature wins–or two crashing-to-earth losses.  Markel Starks has scored 22 and 24 points in his last two games…and this Hoya team will follow his lead to the field of 68 or the bracket of 32.

11–Savannah Smiles–these “zesty, lemon-flavored cookies” need to be eaten with tea while one watches “As the World Turns” or “The Secret Storm”.  Sadly daytime drama’s taken a hit like a once-proud program in decline.  NC State used to be a major player in March–and not just under Jim Valvano:  the Wolfpack won ACC titles with Everett Case, Press Maravich and Norm Sloan on the sidelines…but have been stuck at 10 tournament championships since 1987.

Alma Mater Update– this is exactly what every Orange fan fears in February.  Unwarranted confidence after a strong start undercut by poor play and  SU (26-3, 13-3 ACC) lurches into early March and the land of one-and-done.  Only this year the names have changed:  instead of a tough loss to UConn, it’s a coronation at Virginia.  Instead of a squeaker against Seton Hall, it’s a less than awesome win at Maryland.  Instead of a punch yourself in the face loss to Boston College, it’s…a loss to those same damn Eagles.  And a trip to Florida State Sunday against a bubblicious Seminole squad doesn’t provide one confidence.

10–Thanks A Lot–didn’t we already thank somebody for a cookie?  And it’s really not “a lot”–it’s merelyshortbread with fudge”.  Did you know that Clemson has never won in Chapel Hill?  And although they no longer have the home-and-home with UNC because of ACC expansion…they played there once a year for a long time.  Thanks A Lot?  Never winning in Carmichael…the DeanDome…or wherever.

Maryland (15-14, 7-9 ACC)– the Terps lost a potential bubble game at Clemson…an NIT bubble game.  Another tough loss in what’s become a rough season (double-overtime this time).  Another day when the whole was somehow less than the sum of its parts.  And depending on what happens above them in the standings (Florida State’s on the bubble while NC State and Clemson are likely out), they could be looking at the CBI Tournament, the CIT or simply SOL.  At least the Terps are done hearing “ACC” chants in opposing gyms–as they have Comcast Center games with Virginia Tech and Virginia.  And we all know they’ll get sweet southern hospitality at the ACC Tournament.

9–Cranberry Citrus Crisps— another cranberry-infused cookie.  Did we need that? “Made with whole grain, full of tangy cranberry bits and zesty citrus flavor”.  Not to mention NINE grams (!) of whole grain…much like when Harvard meets Vanderbilt the announcers fawn over how great their GPA’s are.  I like the effort and being able to spell a cookie’s name without trying to be cute…but the zesty citrus means no Sweet Sixteen appearance for me.

Cruising the Commonwealth I– crown them champs.  Virginia thoroughly dismantled #4 Syracuse last Saturday in a game that previous administrations (Gillen, Leitao) seemed to lose with numbing regularity.  Malcolm Brogdon (19 points against the Orange) was a beast again…and the Cavs’ D held SU to 36% shooting while using their patented finishing kick to turn another close game into a runaway.  Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC) is looking at anywhere from a 2 to a 4 seed…and coach Tony Bennett says they’re not taking their foot off the accelerator.  Bad news when the Cavaliers’ one game over the span of 14 days is at Maryland. 

8–Lemonades– Did we need another lemon cookie?  Although “tangy lemon-icing-topped shortbread cookies” absolutely crushes Savannah Smiles.  It’s not even close.  But who else do they match up well against?  There are more than a few schools with decent profiles on the surface that lack quality wins and find themselves on the outside looking in.  Or like Lemonades, on the outside looking out.

Cruising the Commonwealth II– When does football season begin?  Virginia Tech (9-19, 2-14 ACC) needs wins at Maryland and Georgia Tech to avoid last place in the conference–providing the Yellowjackets don’t pull a BC and win at Syracuse.  Senior Day in Blacksburg saw the Hokies fall 60-56 to #19 North Carolina…despite 18 points from Jarell Eddie and more than enough basketball ADD from UNC.  The senior doesn’t leave as the next Erick Green…but was the team’s only option for much of the season.  Hopefully the rebuilding can continue at Cassell Coliseum.

7–Dulce de Leche– who’s ready for “sweet, bite-sized treats are packed milk caramel chips”?  No chocolate OR cranberry OR lemon–who’s getting creative at the home office now?  As much as we enjoy the dynasties in college hoops (it’s amazing how bluebloods UNC, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA actually WEAR blue–somehow Indiana must not have gotten the memo)– the occasional VCU and Wichita State provide a nice departure from the norm.  The Shockers likely need to win the MVC Tournament to lock up a #1 seed–it’s a shame they didn’t have Creighton in their league this year to match wits with.  San Diego State’s another outlier…as is Saint Louis.  Can Dulce make a run to the Final Four?  Being bite-size…only if it gets the right matchup that doesn’t exploit its lack of size and somebody gets into foul trouble.

George Washington (21-7, 9-5 Atlantic 10) finds itself an 8 or a 9 seed in most Bracket models after a 66-58 win over George Mason…Maurice Creek leading the way with 22 points while Isaiah Armwood adds 11 points and 14 rebounds.  Coach Mike Lonergan didn’t really lean on his reserves as much Sunday–as his bench notched 5 points over 21 minutes on the floor.  Cause for concern ?  A major home test against St Joes–the Hawks are currently two games ahead of GW in the A-10–followed by a trip to last-place Fordham give the Colonials a window of opportunity towards a quarterfinal bye at the upcoming conference tournament.

6–Chocolate Chip Shortbread–  nothing like a new twist to an old favorite.  Sometimes all Malibu Stacy needs is a new hat.  And sometimes all an efficient offense needs is one tweak to become ridiculously effective.   “Chocolate Chips nestled in a bite-size, gluten-free shortbread cookie”.  Gluten Free is a game-changer like the 3-point shot was in the late 80’s–the schools that refused to make it a part of their game suffered.  Teams began to recruit players to exploit and defend the 3–and some went over the top in becoming launching pads.  The Girl Scouts of America knows that while the “gluten-free” can win you games…it can’t survive long-term without the standby of inside play (chocolate chips).

George Mason (10-18 3-11 Atlantic 10)– a tough first season in a new league will have the Patriots on the road for the first round of the A-10 tournament… but with a chance at 9th place if they beat LaSalle and Duquesne and if Rhode Island loses to last-place Fordham.  It’s not the ending seniors Bryon Allen and Sherrod Wright envisioned when they beat Villanova in the NCAA Tournament as freshmen.

5–Trefoils– tradition still sells.  Indiana’s uniforms are basically what they’ve been for the last 40 years.  Nothing too flashy…just enough to remind you that sometimes less is more.  Except in the cookie tournament.  Shortbread plays a solid half-court D and doesn’t beat itself in the offensive end…but the lack of flexibility keeps this cookie one step shy of my Full Four.

Maryland Womens Window–off to Greensboro!  The Terps (24-5, 12-4 ACC) wrapped up the regular season with four straight double digit wins…Alyssa Thomas’ #25 getting raised to the rafters…and Sequoia Austin stopping the show by dancing during the pre-game introductions with the Terrapin Cheerleaders.  Getting the #3 seed means they’d meet the winner of North Carolina–Wake Forest/Pitt.  It looks like the double-bye makes its way to the ACC…I wonder if they’ll tack on an extra day in the Big Ten next year as well.  Maryland won at UNC while beating Wake Forest and Pitt at home.  A victory sets up a potential semifinal showdown against Duke–provided the injury-riddled Blue Devils get past their quarterfinal matchup.  Right now the #8 Terps are in that “low-2, high-3” seed territory.  With two games at College Park in the Big Dance.

4–Do Si Dos– now that we’ve cleared the pretenders…lets get down to business.  “These sandwich cookies give you crisp and crunchy oatmeal on the outside and creamy peanut butter inside”.  Do they ever.  Defense and rebounding.  Peanut butter and oatmeal.  My mother once reportedly said “defense does not end until you get the rebound”…she also may have added “don’t drink milk out of the carton”.  I might break that rule after having a few of these…necessary eating for anyone moving on to the Big Ten.

American (17-12, 13-5 Patriot League) lost its regular season finale to Bucknell 56-51…a game where bad shooting (33%) and worse rebounding (beaten 45-26 on the boards by the Bison) collided to end AU’s bid for a share of the conference crown (all moot as Boston University won at Holy Cross).  The scene shifts to the conference quarterfinals and a matchup with Colgate…a team that came in to Bender Arena February 8th and beat the Eagles by three.  Murphy Burnatowski leads the Raiders in scoring– but it was Austin Tillotson who scored 17 against AU last month.  Colgate’s also entering Wednesday’s game on a roll…having won four straight (although all four wins came against schools with losing league records).  Unfortunately the McDonald’s across from Bender Arena no longer exists so the student dream of a post-game Shamrock Shake will not happen Wednesday.

3–Samoas– or as some distributors are saying “Caramel de Lites”.  WRONG. “Caramel and toasted coconut-covered cookies” are the perfect motion offense treat set with screens and curls…constant cutting and recovery.  But a treat to be savored…while one wonders about the thousands of girls who grow up incorrectly spelling the world “delight”.  It’s a championship cookie with somebody calling a time-out they didn’t have.

Howard (7-23, 5-10 MEAC) split its final weekend of the season by beating Delaware State before slipping at Coppin State.  James Daniel continues to produce (averaging 27ppg over his last five outings)…and the 5-11 guard is just one beacon for coach Kevin Nickelberry.  Five of his top six scorers this year are freshmen– meaning there’s hope for next winter.

2–Thin Mints–although they aren’t the original…the “mint-flavored cookies with a delicious chocolaty coating” is the original one kids actually wanted to devour by the sleeve.  There’s no better cookie at getting down the floor–they absolutely kill you in transition.  But can they play the halfcourt game?  Can you eat one and savor it like the Samoas?

1–Tagalongs–the classic “rock-paper-scissors” argument–only in green, red and purple rectangular boxes.  And although Thin Mints are straightforward awesomeness and Samoas provide a mystery wrapped inside the riddle of an enigma…”the layer of peanut butter with a rich chocolaty coating” can play chess with the Samoas while still being able to keep up with the Thin Mints.  Frozen or Room Temperature…we have our One Dining Moment.

Three more weekends before Selection Sunday determines who plays on and who stays home.  Fewer chances to improve one’s profile…and fewer opportunities to wash away a bad loss to one’s resume.

IDLE–

Georgetown (16-12, 7-9 Big East) after a tough loss to Marquette has to wait until Tuesday to begin its back-to-back battle against the conference elite:  hosting  #9 Creighton on Tuesday before finishing up with #8 Villanova.  This just a few weeks after playing an 11:30am game on a Saturday.  Really, are the Hoyas headed to the Big Ten or something?  Two wins puts this team right back in the bubble conversation… two losses probably sends this squad headed to the NIT.

SATURDAY–

2PM–American (17-11, 13-4 Patriot League) hosts Bucknell (15-13, 10-7)– AU beat the Bison by ten to tip off the conference campaign January 2nd…getting 24 points and 12 rebounds from Tony Wroblicky (first of six double doubles in league play for the center).  An Eagles victory plus a Boston University loss at third place Holy Cross should deliver the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament.  Unlike most other Division I leagues that means home court advantage.

2:30PM–Virginia Tech (9-18, 2-13 ACC) entertains #19 North Carolina (21-7, 11-4)…despite being behind Virginia, Syracuse and Duke in the conference standings, the Tar Heels have probably been playing the best basketball since February 1st.  The Hokies haven’t been able to beat anyone not named Miami in league play.  At least they don’t have to watch their game side-by-side with another chapter of UVa’s incredible season.

4PM– #12 Virginia (24-5, 15-1 ACC) hosts #4 Syracuse (26-2, 13-2) with the conference’s regular season championship up for grabs.  Once again we revisit 1981…when Jeff Lamp, Jeff Jones and Ralph Sampson guided the Cavaliers to the program’s first Final Four.  Jim Boeheim was in his fifth season at Syracuse that winter…eventually leading the Orangemen to a Big East Championship and the NIT Championship game (this was in the second year of the league and it didn’t have an automatic berth yet).  The Orange are a miracle 3, fortuitous steal and questionable call away from taking a 5-game losing streak into Charlottesville…while the Cavaliers have shown a finishing kick in every one of their games (even the loss to Duke).  It could get interesting with the two schools’ lacrosse teams playing tomorrow night.  I hope SU has a faceoff guy this year.

4PM–Howard (6-22, 4-9 MEAC) visits Delaware State (9-18, 5-9)…the Bison beat the Hornets in overtime December 15th without James Daniel in the lineup.  So that appears to be good news…now for the bad.  Despite their close proximity in the standings…these are two teams headed in completely different directions:  Howard’s lost five straight while Delaware State’s won five of six. 

SUNDAY–

1PM–Maryland (15-13, 7-8 ACC) at Clemson (17-10, 8-7)– Nothing gets one excited about going to the Big Ten more than one last trip to Clemson.  There is no convenient way to get there…in fact, there isn’t even an inconvenient way to get there.  This is potentially a bubble-bursting game…and not for the NCAA Tournament but for the NIT.  Both the Tigers and Terps are so far out of Big Dance contention they aren’t even mentioned in Bubble talk.  The Terps are 2-6 on the road in the ACC– with wins coming over cellar-dwellers Boston College and Virginia Tech.  Bring on that trip to Lincoln…

1PM–George Mason (10-17, 3-10 Atlantic 10) at George Washington (20-7, 8-5)– the Colonials look to sweep the Orange Line Series and further cement their at-large NCAA status (GW an 8th or 9th seed in most projection models).  A win would also keep them in contention for a first round bye in the A-10 Tournament…right now they’re in 5th place (one half game behind UMass and VCU).  The Patriots led by one at the half in the January matchup between the two schools before falling 75-69…and GMU actually has a better conference record on the road than at home.

2PM– Maryland Women (23-5, 11-4 ACC) host Virginia Tech (14-14, 4-11)  the Terps locked up a bye into the Conference Tournament by blasting Boston College 92-66 Thursday evening.  The Hokies also played well in their second to last regular season game– crushing Clemson 74-48.  Senior Day celebrates the wide spectrum of the program:  Alyssa Thomas’ #25 will be raised to the rafters, Alicia DeVaughn’s career as a three-year starter will be appreciated and Katie Rutan (after beginning her college days at Xavier) leaves with the Terp faithful finding it difficult to imagine she ever wore another school’s uniform.  But there are other players who make the difference even though they don’t play major minutes;  Essence Townsend and Sequoia Austin will get their due as well.  A win plus a North Carolina State loss to Notre Dame wraps up the #3 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament–putting them away from the unbeaten Fighting Irish’s path to the title game.

 

 

Since the NCAA started inviting at-large teams to its tournament in 1975…there’s always been talk about “the bubble”.  When 32 teams were in the field, team #33 would get mad.  Same case with team #65 from 1985-2000…and now team #69 feels they got hosed.  A few area teams find themselves on the wrong side of the cut line–Maryland’s last big chance to jumpstart a season saving run may have passed–and a few are checking every day to see where they stand.  For the moment.

Georgetown (16-11, 7-8 Big East) is right on the bubble– or at least they were Monday.  The Hoyas are currently a 12th seed on CBSSportsline.com…while being the sixth school out on ESPN.COM.  The Hoyas have three potential profile raising games before the conference tournament– first at Marquette (8-6 in the league) and consecutive tests against top-10 Creighton and Villanova.  March will be fun on the hilltop…

Alma Mater Update– let’s just say this has been a rough month.  Syracuse (26-2, 13-2 ACC) lost at home to Boston College…hands down one of the worst teams in a major conference this winter.  The Orange then lost a heartbreaker at #5 Duke–in a game sealed by coach Jim Boehein getting ejected for the first time in his career.  To top things off– SU barely won at Maryland Monday night despite turning the Terps over 18 times.  This team’s destiny is in games decided by one or two possessions in the 50’s… maybe the 60’s if you get to overtime.  Who’s ready for Virginia?

Maryland (15-13, 7-8 ACC) continued its season of “not quite” in their 57-55 loss to #4 Syracuse.  At least the numerous Syracuse fans that were at Comcast weren’t chanting “ACC…” after the two point heartbreaker.  The missed foul call stings…but so should the 18 turnovers and not being able to contain Tyler Ennis for most of the game.  Instead of a signature win the Terps come up short again– like they did at Duke and at home to Pitt.  Now one tries to figure out if they can get a run towards the NIT together…they visit Clemson Saturday before games against Virginia Tech and Virginia.

Cruising through the Commonwealth– must the ACC schedule Cavalier and Hokie games at the same time? Virginia (23-5, 14-1 ACC) officially puts the Ralph Sampson era to bed…as the Cavaliers improve to 14-1 in the ACC (granted, they only played 14 league games back in ’81…but still) by another strong finishing kick.  UVa went on a 25-0 run to put away Notre Dame… the Irish missing 10 straight shots in that span.  A top four seed (#3-ESPN, #4-CBS) is projected by the experts…and at 14-1 the team owns a one and a half game lead for the ACC Regular Season title.   Virginia Tech (9-18, 2-13 ACC) wishes they had Miami on their schedule one more time as the only team they’ve been able to beat in conference play has been the Hurricanes.  Another Saturday, another tough conference loss in which they play well but not well enough (71-64 to NC State).  Another day where if you were channel-surfing, you got to see a Virginia rout while your team went down the tubes despite a late rally.  Clearly best of times…worst of times.

George Washington (20-7, 8-5 Atlantic 10) had a chance to upset #10 Saint Louis in their building Saturday…but went 0-4 from the field over the last minute of a 66-59 loss to the Billikens.  Shooting 32% ruined an evening where GW won the battle of the boards and was able to turn Saint Louis over 14 times.  The loss bumps the Colonials down to sixth place in the conference (one-half game behind  UMass, VCU and Richmond) with a game against George Mason on the horizon.  Of those four teams… GW is the only one that has to face just one school with a winning league record over the remainder of the regular season.  The current seed…:  8 by CBS and ESPN.

George Mason (9-17, 2-10 Atlantic 10) feels the brunt of the jockeying for third place in the conference with games against Richmond and George Washington coming up Richmond Wednesday.  The Patriots try to avoid last place…they currently own the tiebreaker with Duquesne and host the Dukes to wrap up the regular season.  We’re #11…

Maryland Womens Window– The final stretch is here for the Terps (22-5, 10-4 ACC) who won games against NCAA contenders Florida State and Georgia Tech…With games remaining against Boston College and Virginia Tech (both boast 3-11 ACC records) a 12-4 conference mark is highly likely.  That means a likely top-4 seed in the ACC Tournament:  an NC State loss to unbeaten Notre Dame would give the Terps the 3rd seed– and set them on a likely course with Duke for the ACC Semifinals.

American (16-11, 12-4 Patriot League) bounced back from a tough loss at Boston University…edging Army 58-54 in a game where Jesse Reed nets 21 points and 7 rebounds.  Can they catch Boston University?  AU faces  Navy Wednesday and Bucknell over the weekend…and while the Midshipmen aren’t having a great year the Bison just upset league-leading BU.  The Terriers (one game up in the standings) visit Army and Holy Cross- both teams boasting winning conference records.

Howard (6-22, 4-9 MEAC) tries to end a five game losing streak…as the freefall continues with a 66-60 loss to Norfolk State that came in part thanks to getting outrebounded by the Spartans.  Can they make a dent in their final Saturday-Monday roadswing of the season at Delaware State and Coppin State?   One home game remains–against a Morgan State team that’s 11-3 so far in league play.