Archives for posts with tag: MEAC

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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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By George, that was one rough opening night.  Which was more painful, George Mason’s 72-71 loss at home to Penn or George Washington wasting a 22-0 first half lead in their defeat to Stony Brook?  Never mind, as GW compounded it by losing to Siena Thursday evening.  The Patriots and Colonials will battle twice in Atlantic 10 play, with GW going to Fairfax January 26th and Mason heading to Foggy Bottom March 9th.  Meanwhile, DC houses two more Division I programs…and American visits Howard December 8th.  Both teams are rebuilding:  the Eagles are looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 while the Bison have a 26-year Big Dance drought.  Of the four, George Mason has the best chance of making waves this winter while the other three have hopes-for the moment.

 

George Mason- the Patriots enter coach Dave Paulsen’s fourth year at the helm, meaning every player in the program is someone brought to Fairfax by his efforts. “There’s just a comfort level that the kids have and a comfort level that I have with the kids,” Paulsen said, “What we’re starting to see when is when the players enforce the culture, when the players can help correct some things on the side.”

Mason has improved from 12th to 7th to 5th in the Atlantic 10 over the last three years;  this fall the Patriots return all five starters and have been picked to finish 4th in the A10’s Preseason Poll.  Paulsen returns all five starters and every significant bench player from last winter.  This is a team built to contend. “We talk a lot about playing two-tempo basketball:  being able to push it in transition but also be able to really execute on the offensive end.”

Leading the returnees is guard Otis Livingston II: the senior was named Preseason all-Atlantic 10.  While his 17 points per game paced the Patriots last winter, Livingston’s coach feels they’ve only scratched the surface.  Paulsen said, “We really challenged Otis to become a complete point guard in the truest sense.  To assert himself more defensively and pressure the ball…and continue to be aggressive scoring the basketball.”

Livingston will have plenty of options at his disposal:  Jaire Grayer led the team in threes while the 6-foot-5 guard was also the best player on the boards.  Six-foot-seven Minnesota mountain man Goanar Mar looks to build off of what was a productive freshman season in the post.  Paulsen said, “I do think we’ll have better balance–we pretty much lived and died on the perimeter last year and I think we’ll be able to throw the ball inside and get some easy buckets in there as well.”

That they’re picked 4th in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll is nice, but the coach expects a long winter with many twists and turns.  “There’s always a team that does very well and always a team that doesn’t perform as well as expected–but there’s no easy night”, Paulsen said.  The schedule has Mason playing defending A10 regular season champ Rhode Island once (on the road) and tournament winner Davidson at home.

 

George Washington- Maurice Joseph’s team was picked to finish 13th in the conference after losing their top three scorers off of last year’s 15-18 team.   Stepping into the vacuum of the graduating Yuta Watanabe and Patrick Steeves plus the transferring Jair Bolden (bound for South Carolina), 6-foot-8 forward Arnaldo Toro.  The junior from Puerto Rico led the Colonials in rebounding last winter and will be expected be the primary post presence moving forward.  Getting him the ball will be Baltimore product Terry Nolan Jr.:  the preseason Atlantic 10-All Defensive Team guard was fifth in the conference in steals as a freshman.  The season begins with a bang as GW faces top 25 teams Virginia and Michigan in November.

American- the Eagles were extremely young last year and it showed in a 6-24 finish (3-15 Patriot League).  But after taking those lumps coach Mike Brennan’s team returns a nucleus of Sa’eed Nelson (Preseason Player of the Year), senior Larry Motuzis (15 points and while leading the team in threes) and sophomore Sam Iorio (15 points while leading the team in rebounding).  Despite the experience, the Eagles are picked seventh in the conference…with everybody chasing Lehigh and Bucknell.  Games to watch include trips to George Mason (November 9th) and George Washington (December 27th).

Howard- forgive me for being shy about the Bison.  This program was THIS CLOSE to breaking through with James Daniel leading the nation in scoring and his teammates leading the country in untimely injuries.  Kevin Nickelberry has rebuilt the roster and has HU picked to finish fourth in the MEAC (keep in mind they have one winning conference record since 2002) and once again boast a high-powered backcourt.  Preseason MEAC Player of the Year RJ Cole looks to build on one incredible freshman season (his 24 points per game ranked 7th nationally) while junior Charles Williams (20 points per game last winter) can fill it as well.  Upper Marlboro, MD native Zion Cousins led the Bison with 7.1 rebounds per game as a freshman.  If he can develop a better offensive game, Howard might just finally find a way to turn from pretender to contender.

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January means more than resolutions, a new calendar and writing the wrong year on your checks (for the record, I’m still writing “2016”).  College basketball transitions from holiday/tropical tournaments, cupcake games and the random worth-watching showdown into conference play (I know, Maryland played two Big Ten games early last month and most everybody else got their first league games in over the final weekend of December)…which can be jarring for some schools that played super-easy non-conference schedules (Georgetown, anybody?).  Can the guy who scored 25 against Gardner-Webb do the same thing against other teams of similar skill level?  For the area schools the two-games-a-week rhythm starts against the usual suspects:  league foes.  The march to March begins in earnest…with more than a few roadblocks for schools in and around the beltway.

 

Maryland (13-4, 2-1 Big Ten)- the Terps played a pair of December conference games (the league is ending its regular season February 25 so they can play the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden the week before the Big East own MSG) and entered January ranked second in the league in rebounding margin.  That might not last as their frontcourt suffered two major setbacks over the last week, losing forwards Justin Jackson (labrum) and Ivan Bender (knee) for the season.  After surviving at home against Penn State, the Terps lost at #1 Michigan State 91-61.  The duo of Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan scored 42 points on 13-of-27 shooting while the rest of the team combined to hit 7-of-26 shots.  With Jackson done for the year, the firm of Huerter & Cowan badly need a new associate.

Bully on the Block:  #1 Michigan State.  The Spartans blew away the Terps while notching 30 assists on 32 field goals–it’s no surprise they lead the nation with 21.7 assists per game and their average margin of victory is 26 points.  They also come to College Park Sunday January 28th.

Georgetown (11-3, 1-2 Big East)- the Hoyas began conference play by blowing a 20-point first half lead in an overtime loss to Butler.  Cue critics of their soft non-conference slate (five opponents outside of the top 320 in the RPI).  Naysayers during the 10-1 start also pointed to the Hoyas propensity to turn the ball over.  Cute 25 turnovers in their loss to Marquette.  That Patrick Ewing’s team was able to hold off multiple rallies by DePaul in a 90-81 win at the Blue Demons was a step in the right direction;  and over the next three weeks they’ll play DePaul again and face St. John’s twice.  Jessie Govan’s 25 points and 12 rebounds was a nice turnaround from the first two league games where he shot 9-of-25, turned the ball over 7 times and picked up 5 fouls.  But regardless of the competition and the outcome, the junior still rebounds well.  They’ll need that against Creighton Saturday as the Blue Jays lead the Big East in shooting.

Bully on the Block: #3 Villanova.  The Wildcats are the Hoyas’ nearest neighbor-but the two programs couldn’t be further apart this decade.  Since the new Big East was formed, Nova is 64-10 in conference play while Gtown has had just one season where they’ve lost fewer than 10 league games.  The snappily-dressed Jay Wright brings his team to DC January 17th.

 

#8 Virginia (13-1, 2-0 ACC)– the Cavaliers escaped upset by beating Boston College by one at home before crushing Virginia Tech 78-52 in Blacksburg.  Ty Jerome followed up a career-high 31 points against the Eagles with 13 points and 5 assists against the Hokies.  But the story as it usually is with UVa was stellar defense, one that held the conference’s best-shooting team to 36% from the field and 17% from three-point range.  Even big man enigma Jack Salt had more points than fouls (6 to 4).  There’s little time to celebrate because coach Tony Bennett’s team hosts a #12 North Carolina team that’s smarting from a one-point loss at Florida State.

Virginia Tech (11-4, 0-2 ACC)- the Hokies entered the new year with the highest scoring offense in the league…only to score a season-low 56 points in a loss at Syracuse before being held to another season-low at home against their in-state rivals (note how I don’t refer to the Hokies as the Cavs’ rival, they’re particular about such things in Charlottesville).  Two offensive nightmares to start conference play-and not a lot of time to sort things out with the 9 p.m. tipoff Wednesday and noon start Saturday.  At least both are at home–but after playing last-place Pitt this weekend they’re either on the road or facing a ranked team for the rest of the month.  Who put this schedule together?

Bully on the Block:  #2 Duke.  The Blue Devils may have lost to Boston College, but this winter’s edition features the most highly rated newcomer in Marvin Bagley III and the most hated veteran in Grayson Allen.  Bagley’s playing just well enough to make everybody forget Allen’s tripping history.  The Blue Devils face Virginia Tech twice (February 14th and 26th) while Virginia plays the conference and national favorites just once (January 27th).  Come to think of it, the Cavaliers also play #8 Miami, #12 North Carolina, #24 Florida State and #25 Clemson just once as well.  Seriously, who MAKES this schedule?

Alma Mater Update- as sharp as the Orange (12-3, 1-1) looked in their win over Virginia Tech, things came undone late in their 73-67 loss at Wake Forest.  The Demon Deacons hit 47% of their threes–many of which were open–and SU was also beaten on the boards for the first time all season.  But what’s most important was losing the chance to snare a road victory in the ACC-the inability to win on the road last year (2-8 in true road games) cost the Orange an NCAA Tournament berth.  Trips to #8 Virginia and 24th ranked Florida State loom next week.

 

George Washington (8-7, 1-1 Atlantic 10)- the Colonials missed a chance to start league play 2-0 for the first time since 2015, losing 69-52 at Duquesne Wednesday.  A two-possession game with 13:55 left turned sour as the Dukes held GW to three field goals over the next 11 minutes and went on a 19-5 run to seal the game.  The opportunity missed turns into one tough task at hand:  defending conference champ Rhode Island visits Foggy Bottom Saturday before GW plays four of its next five games on the road.

George Mason (7-8, 1-1 Atlantic 10)- the Patriots rallied to win at UMass in overtime despite blowing a 10-point lead in the second half and going scoreless for the final 1:02 of regulation.  Instead, senior Otis Livingston II scored 9 of his 33 points in the extra session (while notching a pair of steals) in Mason’s 80-72 victory.  Livingston and Jaire Grayer are the two lone upperclassmen in the rotation this year, although freshman Goanar Mar and sophomore Justin Kier have been pleasant surprises.  Sunday Davidson drops by Eagle Bank Arena in the first of three straight games at home the Patriots will play against schools currently with losing records.

VCU (9-6, 1-1 Atlantic 10)- the highest-scoring offense in the conference couldn’t outscore St. Joseph’s, falling in overtime 87-81.  The Rams were haunted by 20-20 vision:  they shot 20.7% from three-point range while also turning the ball over 20 times.  Justin Tillman tallied his fourth consecutive double-double (22 points and 12 rebounds), but his game-winning three that fell at the end of regulation was launched just after time ran out.  The Rams try to recover this weekend at LaSalle, one of ten teams to start 1-1 in A-10 play (there are 14 schools in the league).

Richmond (3-11, 1-1 Atlantic 10)- yes, it does feel like EVERYBODY is 1-1 in league play.  Even a Spiders team that struggled for much of the first two months of the season.  And shocker of all shockers, UR’s game at Fordham went into overtime before they lost 69-65.  Hope is not lost-as the team that ranked second to last or last in the A-10 in points allowed, opponents field goal percentage, defending the three and rebounding margin actually defended and rebounded well against the Rams and Davidson.  Some teams take longer to come together and that might be the case here.

Bully on the Block: Rhode Island.  The Rams’ top four scorers are seniors from last year’s 25-10 team that reached the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.  If they make their way back to the big dance, prepare to be shocked when the URI is “randomly” paired with Arizona State (and coach Dan Hurley’s brother Bobby).

 

American (3-10, 0-2 Patriot League)- the Eagles were within one point of Colgate at 58-57 with 4:47 left, but AU shot 1-for-7 with 6 turnovers to end the game and the Raiders pulled away to win at Bender Arena 72-63.  You think the weather has been rough this week?  It’s been one difficult winter for American- who rank 9th or 10th in the conference in just about every major category (exceptions include 3rd in defending the three-pointer and 8th in points allowed).  Sa’eed Nelson and company try to post a full 40 minutes Friday at Navy.

Navy (10-5, 1-1 Patriot League)- the Midshipmen bounced back from an opening day loss to top Lehigh 78-66 Tuesday.  On a night where leading scorer Shawn Anderson shot 3-for-12, George Kiernan scored a career-high 27 points that included 4-of-7 three-point shots against the Mountain Hawks.  He also grabbed a season-high 7 rebounds, and for a Mids team that leads the conference in rebounding a great effort on the glass can keep you on the floor longer than a shooting streak.  The schedule is set up for a strong start with six of the first nine league games taking place in Annapolis.  American comes to campus Friday.

Bully on the Block:  Bucknell.  The Bison were picked to win the league behind senior Zach Thomas who only came back better (23 points, 9 rebounds and 49% from three-point range).  Despite the home loss to Boston University and sub-500 record, they remain the league standard as they attempt to reach the postseason for the fourth straight season.  They visit Navy January 24th and wrap up the regular season at American February 24th (Bucknell opened league play with an 84-55 thumping of AU last Friday).

 

Howard (3-14, 0-1 MEAC)- the Bison began league play with an 84-76 loss at Florida A&M, a 15-loss team whose previous win this season was against non-Division I school Albany (GA) State.  Somehow I’m feeling I’m not going to be buying into the Bison this winter.  How do you spoil a 30-point effort by freshman phenom RJ Cole?  By coughing up 50 points in the second half to a foe that ranks 346th in the nation in scoring.  That said, the MEAC is a tough league to figure out in early January because most schools play a heavy diet of paycheck games, which results in all 13 schools owning losing records entering league play and nine teams with 10+ losses.  The Friday-Monday schedule has Howard at home this weekend against Bethune-Cookman and Hampton.

Bully on the Block:  Morgan State .  The Bears were picked to win the league and is 5-9 after edging Maryland-Eastern Shore in its conference opener.  They have sophomore Tiwian Kendley who’s 30.3 points per game would lead the nation if he had played enough games to qualify.  Despite being just up the road in Baltimore, Morgan State plays Howard just once this winter- February 5th in the Charm City.

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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.

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Welcome to one-bid land.  Where the schools know a December signature win means nothing because only the conference tournament champ will get to the big dance.  The three beltway one-bid schools have each enjoyed sporadic success to understand what the taste of the NCAA Tournament is like–but each knows the perfect storm necessary to be in position to have your name called Selection Sunday.

Howard has the longest of the three droughts, last reaching the NCAA Tournament in 1992.  The Bison have enjoyed just one winning season since, although it appeared they were poised to break through after a 16-16 season with coach Kevin Nickelberry in 2014-15.  But injuries torpedoed a good thing-James Miller missed most of the following season and James Daniel III after leading Division I in scoring played just a pair of games last winter.  Now Miller has graduated and Daniel is suiting up for Tennessee after transferring.  Nickelberry will build around swingman Charles Williams;  the sophomore scored 15.6 points per game while making the MEAC All-Freshman Team.  Williams and senior guard Dalique Mingo are the only returning players who saw more than ten minutes a game in 2016-17.  Expect plenty of growing pains–especially early when Howard goes on the road for 13 of its first 16 games (truth be told, the final MEAC tuneup is at Hawaii–try the poi).

Navy last reached the NCAA’s in 1998.  The Midshipmen attempt to bounce back from last year’s February fade that saw the Midshipmen lose their final four regular season games.  The good news for coach Ed DeChellis is the Mids return their top five scorers-including senior guard Shawn Anderson.  Backcourt mate Bryce Dulin is a solid defender and 6-foot-7 senior Tom Lacey provides presence in the post (his 7.7 rebounds per game finished second in the conference last season).  Last winter Navy led the Patriot League in rebounding margin and were second in turnover margin;  conversely they were the worst 3-point shooting team in the league and had the second-worst field goal percentage.  Defending champ Bucknell is the team to beat in the Patriot League once again, and Navy is 0-7 against the Bison over the last three seasons.

American’s most recent trip to the big dance is just four seasons ago, but the Eagles have gone from 20 to 17 to 12 to 8 wins in that span.  This year’s Eagles will be young-there are no seniors on the roster, coach Mike Brennan is bringing in seven freshmen and the top two returning scorers are sophomores Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini.  Both players adapted well to AU’s deliberate offensive style (the team attempted the third-least shots last winter) as first-year players and should be able to help bring along the newcomers.  The Eagles appear to subscribe to the Howard theory of pre-conference scheduling, playing eight of 11 non-league games on the road.  AU begins Patriot League play against three-time defending champ and preseason favorite Bucknell, a school they’re 2-6 against during coach Brennan’s tenure.

 

Your best bet from these three?  The Midshipmen are the only school picked in the top half of their conference’s preseason polls.  But last year Howard advanced to the MEAC Semifinals and AU has had a history of scoring upsets on opposing floors in the Patriot League Tourney.  Enjoy the journey…before the journey.

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How do you legislate spontaneity?  Court-storming is a tradition that rears its head every winter when teams pull upsets or last-second victories over ranked foes.  For instance, when American won its first ever Patriot League Tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, they stormed the court at Bender Arena.  In theory the court-storming emphasizes big moments.  Wednesday night at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse “upset” #10 Duke 78-75 on a last-second three-pointer by John Gillon.  Naturally the students rushed the floor to celebrate the victory, because that is evidently what you do in these situations.  But wait-aren’t the Orange less than a year removed from advancing to the Final Four?  Didn’t they also storm the court after wins over Florida State and Virginia–this season?  Showing restraint and not running onto the floor after a big game doesn’t prevent said game from becoming an “instant classic”.  It’s easy to say to 18-to-24 year old kids (I’m speaking to all students, even the six-year ones) to act like you’ve been there before.  Especially when many of them have.  In the last five minutes.  As an alum, it makes us look like we don’t belong on the sports’ greatest stage- and after two Final Fours this decade and a National Championship last decade, I think Syracuse does.  But that’s just comgin from a guy who left his seat in March 1990 for the floor when the Orangemen beat Georgetown in overtime to win the Big East regular season title.

Alma Mater Update- does storming the court multiple times in one winter render one ineligible for at-large consideration?  Hopefully not, as the Orange’ three-point win somehow counters the previous three-game losing streak.  During this improbable run they’ve won two games on last-second shots while needing a miraculous comeback to take the third.  A win Sunday at Louisville gets them that much further embedded in the NCAA Tournament bubble.  SU still probably needs to beat Georgia Tech the following weekend, because getting swept by the top-ten Cardinals isn’t nearly as bad as getting broomed by the bubble-bound Yellow Jackets.

Saturday-

12 p.m.

Georgetown (14-14, 5-10 Big East) at St. John’s (12-16, 6-9).  Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin this is not.  In a league that values defense and rebounding, the Red Storm allow the most points and are the worst on the glass.  They’re also last in the conference defending the three-point shot.  Yet somehow, the Hoyas after four losses in five games are looking up the standings at this team.  Georgetown won the previous game this winter after holding St. John’s to 5-of-25 shooting in the 2nd half and 28% for the night.  The scary number was that the listed attendance was 5,158 at Verizon Center.  Sleepy Floyd and Walter Berry this is not.

#18 Virginia (18-9, 8-7 ACC) at North Carolina State (15-14, 4-12).   The Cavaliers in the last two weeks have gone from playing for a share of the conference lead to in the mix for the dreaded first round of the ACC Tournament.  Yes, having 15 schools means there’s a 10 vs. 15 game unless somebody eats the poison pill and declares themselves ineligible for postseason play (like Louisville last year and Syracuse in 2015).  London Perrantes has shot 28% during the four-game losing streak…and he’s not assisted by a consistently uneven frontcourt.  The Wolfpack are coming off a 71-69 win against Georgia Tech that ended a seven-game losing streak; there’s the saying that even a dead cat bounces once.  While UVa is last in the ACC in scoring due largely to design (Tony Bennett’s deliberately precise pace focuses on quality instead of quantity), NC State allows the most points in the league and is 328th nationally due largely to ineffectiveness.

American (7-21, 4-13 Patriot League) at Loyola-Maryland (14-14, 8-9).  The Eagles can avoid last place with a victory plus a Lafayette loss at Colgate…while the Greyhounds are trying to turn around a stretch where they’ve lost four of five.  Loyola ranks last in the conference in shooting;  AU held Navy to 31% from the field and 18% from three-point range in a win on the road Wednesday.  Greyhound senior Jarred Jones netted 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 68-66 win in DC December 30th;  Eagles freshman Sa’eed Nelson scored 22 that night and is averaging 16 points per game this month.

Navy (15-14, 10-7 Patriot League) at Bucknell (22-8, 14-3).  What happened to the “hottest team in the area”?  The Midshipmen are taking major water with four losses in their last six games-including a Senior Night stumble to last-place American.  The conference-leading Bison are not the kind of team you get well against.  Especially in Lewisburg where they’re 24-5 against conference foes the last three seasons.  Causes for confidence?   Navy can rebound (1st in the Patriot League) and defend (they allow the second fewest points in the conference).  The Bison have four players who score in double figures; but the Mids held their leading scorer Zach Thomas to 5 points in the school’s first meeting.  Problem was, Kimbal Mackenzie scored 22 and the Bison escaped Annapolis with a four-point win that day.

2 p.m.

VCU (23-5, 13-2 Atlantic 10) at Rhode Island (18-9, 10-5).  This will be the only meeting between these Rams in the regular season-and for the record there was also only one game between both schools and the Fordham Rams.  Is that by design?  VCU has won nine straight, the last four by double digits.  Senior JeQuan Lewis is having the season you want from your offensive and defensive catalyst (among the A-10 leaders in points, assists and steals).  URI has won two straight to climb back into the mix for the coveted double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament after losing at home to Fordham.  There’s that Ram-on-Ram thing again…

2:30 p.m.

Richmond (16-11, 10-5 Atlantic 10) at Fordham (13-15, 7-8).  Despite following up a 5-0 league start by splitting five of its last ten games, the Spiders are in great position land the coveted double-bye in the A-10 Tournament as they wrap up their regular season with three straight games against foes with losing conference records.  Fordham may be under .500 on paper (or computer screen), but these Rams have won three in a row (each by double-digits) and lead the Atlantic 10 in steals per game.  The well-traveled Javontae Hawkins (previous stops at South Florida & Eastern Kentucky) is scoring 19 points during the three game winning streak…but was held to 10 points in a January 4th loss to the Spiders.  Richmond’s DeMonte Buckingham scored 22 that day…he may have hit the “freshman fade” as the guard is averaging 7 points on 36% shooting over his last five outings.

 

4 p.m.

Virginia Tech (19-8, 8-7 ACC) at Boston College (9-19, 2-13).  Could the Hokies get to 20 wins before Virginia?  Don’t tell anyone in Charlottesville.  Buzz Williams’ team won the matchup between these two schools in Blacksburg despite getting outrebounded by nine…that’s one of the few things the Eagles do well.  BC is 14th in the ACC in points allowed, shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio while ranking last in turnover margin and field goal defense.  I know what you’re thinking- they’re focusing too much on an offense that ranks 12th in the ACC in scoring.  Seth Allen is enjoying quite a senior sendoff with game-winning shots against Virginia and Clemson this month…they shouldn’t need to call on him here.

6 p.m.

#24 Maryland (22-6, 10-5 Big Ten) vs Iowa (15-13, 7-8).  Beware the February fade.  Last season the Terps fell from #2 in the nation to a 5th seed in the South Regional; this year the team’s lost four of six to find itself no longer in control of the Big Ten race (and don’t tell the Terps faithful they’re also in danger of losing the coveted double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament).  Last month’s 84-76 win in Iowa City saw plenty of good (57% shooting and 23 assists on 30 made baskets) while plenty to be worried about (21 turnovers, -3 in the rebounding column).  The Hawkeyes’ Peter Jok hit just 4 of 12 shots in that game, but the Big Ten’s leading scorer was troubled by a back injury.  Not that there is added pressure, but the 2001 Final Four and 2002 National Championship teams will be on hand…making Danny Miller likely the most awkward person in the building.

6:30 p.m.

Howard (7-21, 4-9 MEAC) at Norfolk State (14-14, 11-3).  A second-half rally came up short against league-leading North Carolina Central Monday, and the Bison’s reward was a trip to face the second-place Spartans.  Not just any Norfolk State team that had won ten of eleven, but a team that saw its ten-game winning streak snapped by a sub-par Bethune-Cookman team.  They’ll have their hands full with Jonathan Wade, who scores just under 20 points per game.

Sunday-

2 p.m.

George Mason (18-10, 8-7 Atlantic 10) at George Washington (15-13, 7-8).  Sometimes neighbors aren’t that welcoming.  Since the Patriots joined the Atlantic 10, the Colonials are 7-0 against their friends in Fairfax.  Even with this winter’s resurgence, Mason lost by 19 at home to GW–and the game wasn’t that close.  Perimeter production was a pivot point in that showdown:  the Colonials hit 11-of-19 from outside the arc while the Patriots were 1-for-8 from downtown.  Tyler Cavanaugh led GW with 20 points and 7 rebounds that night, while Marquise Moore notched 15 points and 10 rebounds for GMU.  Don’t be surprised if the seniors shine one more time Sunday.

North Carolina State fired its coach Mark Gottfried last week…yet the Wolfpack will continue to be guided by Gottfried for the rest of the current season.  Perhaps his office is really messy and he needs an entire month to box up his keepsakes?  There was once a time when NC State wasn’t just a player in the ACC, but royalty in Raleigh where the conference tournament was held for the first 13 years.  The Wolfpack won with Everett Case as their head coach and cut down the nets with Press Maravich in charge, before winning it all under Norman Sloan and Jim Valvano.  Perhaps they used up too much mojo during the 1983 National Championship run.  Perhaps they used even more karma in their improbable ACC Tournament run as a #6 seed in 1987.  That was their tenth title in 34 years-tying the Wolfpack with North Carolina.  In the last thirty years NC State has as many ACC Championships as Clemson.  Or Boston College.  Or UCLA.  That makes the natives restless and thus makes the seat as hot as their fire-engine red uniforms.

Gottfried guided NC State to a pair of Sweet Sixteens and four straight NCAA Tournament appearances before last winter’s 16-17 stumble.  This winter has been even more bitter with losses that include a 51-point drubbing in Chapel Hill and a come-from-ahead collapse against Syracuse.  But the endgame was a messy one in Raleigh…and now the school scrambles to find someone willing to compete in the shadows of the Smith Center and Cameron Indoor.  Who will be willing to put their career in the hands of an athletic department that pulled the rip-chord on a mostly successful regime?  North Carolina and Duke snicker at their poor country cousin.

Alma Mater Update- it’s NC State’s 30 years in the wilderness that makes other schools nervous.  Schools who have only had one great head coach in the history of the program.  Schools that have said coach nearing the final years of his career.  That admitted, the 2017 Orange are perhaps paying up on a market correction from last March’s run.  Three straight losses have SU on the back end of the bubble…likely needing to win two of three to finish the season.  That means a win against Duke or at Louisville.  When does lacrosse begin?

#24 Maryland (22-5, 10-4 Big Ten)- the Terps learned Monday that they’d be without the services of Michal Cekovsky for the rest of the year after the junior forward fractured his ankle in Sunday’s loss at #11 Wisconsin.  Bad news for a team that ranks ninth in the Big Ten in rebounding.  They’re one game behind the Badgers and Purdue…and in recent losses to each came up short on the boards.  The good news is Maryland isn’t completely unfamiliar with Ceko on the shelf:  the seven-footer had missed 10 of the team’s first 19 games this season.  This week they host streaking Minnesota (five straight wins) and slumping Iowa (three straight losses).  ESPN’s Joe Lunardi tickets the Terps to the Midwest Region as a #6 seed with a first round game against Middle Tennessee, while CBS’s Jerry Palm has the Terrapins a #6 in the West drawing Arkansas.

Georgetown (14-13, 5-9 Big East)- barring a run through conference tournament, Sunday’s loss at #20 Creighton likely seals the Hoyas’ NCAA tournament hopes.  Since five  14-loss schools made the field of 68 as at-large teams in 2011, nobody with 14 losses on Selection Sunday has had their shoulder tapped.  Three-point shooting has been an issue since league play began (they’re 9th in the Big East from outside the arc) and against the Bluejays poor perimeter production reared its ugly head again as they shot 3-for-22 from downtown.  There is hope as John Thompson III’s team plays its next three games against schools that are currently sub-500 in the league…before wrapping up the regular season with #2 in the nation Villanova.

#18 Virginia (18-9, 8-7 ACC)- four straight losses?  Back to back sub-50 scoring efforts for the first time since 1969?  Trouble in Charlottesville as the the Cavaliers careen down the conference standings.  If they had held on to that 14-point second half lead at Virginia Tech they would have moved into a first place tie;  instead four losses later UVa is tied for seventh.  They have to get London Perrantes on the right track-the senior is shooting 28% during the current slide (Monday’s 2-for-15 performance against Miami the exclamation point).  Moving forward, they could also use some frontcourt production as Isaiah Wilkins has just six double-digit scoring efforts in league play.  Center Jack Salt may be shooting 50% during the current skid, but the New Zealander has taken just six shots over 63 minutes.  ESPN has UVa a #5 seed in the Midwest with a first round game against UT-Arlington, while CBS has the Cavaliers seeded sixth in the south and Middle Tennessee State as their first round foe.  Both projections were released before Monday’s loss.

Virginia Tech (19-8, 8-7 ACC)- how does Buzz Williams not have a dry-cleaning sponsorship deal?  The guy makes Jimmy Patsos and Sean Miller seem absolutely arid by comparison.  Unfortunately, after sweating through his dress shirt against Louisville Williams had to put an orange t-shirt on, leading kids watching the Saturday afternoon game to believe that Charlie Brown on the Hokies’ sideline.  A drier Williams watched his team top Clemson 71-70 Tuesday thanks to Seth Allen’s three-pointer with three seconds left. Last year’s team exceeded expectations en route to the NIT.  This year?  I would not be shocked to see the Hokies playing not just in the NCAA’s, but advance to the second weekend.  Before Tuesday’s tilt, ESPN had the Hokies seeded 10th in the Midwest with a first round game against Oklahoma State while CBS has them facing VCU in the 8-9 game of the Midwest Regional.

George Mason (18-10, 8-7 Atlantic 10)- no shame in losing to conference-leading Dayton; what bothers coach Dave Paulsen was the team’s sluggish start in their loss to Rhode Island.  The road to the double-bye gets tougher, as they always have trouble with George Washington and everybody’s having trouble this year with VCU.

George Washington (14-13 , 6-8  Atlantic 10)- the Colonials might not be in contention for the coveted double-bye…but Sunday’s win over Duquesne does lift GW further away from the dreaded opening round.  A 2-2 finish is not out of the realm of possibility, and after an offseason of upheaval a 16-15 mark entering the conference tournament should be viewed as a success.

Howard (7-21, 4-9 MEAC)- after winning consecutive conference games for the first time all season, the Bison came back to earth in a 66-59 loss to North Carolina Central.  While shooting 33% from the field and 4-23 from three-point range is not ideal, there’s no shame in coming up short against the conference leaders.  The Eagles have won 12 straight to surge up the standings past Norfolk State. Gulp– that’s who the Bison have next.

American (6-21, 3-13 Patriot League)- the Eagles came up short on Senior Day to Holy Cross 69-54…which is not ideal but almost makes sense as the strength of this team is coach Mike Brennan’s underclassmen.  The top two scorers are freshman Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini…while sophomores Delante Jones and Lonnie Rivera have also made contributions.  AU is assured of playing in the first round;  they need two wins plus two losses by Army and Lafayette to have any hope of hosting their first round game.  Navy and Loyola, brace yourselves.

Rivalries are organic.  They can’t be mandated- that’s why the Maryland-Rutgers football fight remains a shrug even though the Big Ten’s two newest schools would be a natural fit. Just ask UConn how their “rivalry” with Central Florida is going.  In the area there was Georgetown-Syracuse and there still is George Washington-George Mason…and while we’ll always have Virginia-Virginia Tech (see last Sunday) the best basketball rivalry remains in the Commonwealth’s capital city.

Virginia Commonwealth University is a public research university boasting 24,000+ undergrads.  The University of Richmond is a private, non-sectarian liberal arts college with under 5,000 undergrad and graduate students combined (less than VCU’s grad student total).  One school is a part of the downtown fabric of the city…while the other, despite sharing the name with said city is lodged on the outskirts.  You even have to drive past the “Country Club of Virginia” to get there.

VCU has been the popular Cinderella over the last decade, with more than a few upsets under their belts before we even get into their run from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011.  Richmond?  Been there, done that.  The Spiders were the first #15 seed to win in the tournament (sorry, Syracuse) and they also bounced big-name favorites like Indiana, Auburn and Vanderbilt in the dance.

The Rams joined the Colonial Athletic Association in 1995, only to have Richmond leave for the Atlantic 10 two seasons later.  The two schools still played annually, comparing the apples of one league to the oranges of the other.  Until 2012 when Shaka Smart brought his havoc defense to the A-10 and promptly took his program to the Tournament finals.  VCU has appeared in the title tilt every year it’s been in the league…while Richmond hasn’t advanced to the league semifinals since 2011.  To make things more interesting the Spiders have lost to the Rams in the quarterfinals two of the last three years.

Rival up.

Last Night-

VCU (22-5, 12-2 Atlantic 10) beat Richmond (15-11, 9-5) 84-73 to complete a season-sweep of the Spiders.  The Rams hit 58% of their shots while sinking 7 of 14 three-pointers…and used a mid-game 15-0 run to take control.  JeQuan Lewis nets 16 points with 7 rebounds and 5 assists to lead the way while VCU holds T.J. Cline to 4-of-12 shooting.  The victory gives VCU a half-game lead in the A-10 (Dayton plays St. Bonaventure Saturday at 2) while the Spiders are in danger of dropping into a three-way tie for third (and they don’t own the tiebreaker with George Mason).

Alma Mater Update- so much for major momentum.  The Orange are saddled with a two-game losing streak and the distinct possibility of going to McDonough Arena for the NIT.  Over the final three weeks of the regular season they’ll face Georgia Tech twice (can’t escape that red-hot rivalry), host Duke and visit Louisville.  One thinks a 3-1 performance will keep them safely in Bubbleland.

Saturday-

1 p.m.

Virginia Tech (18-7, 7-6 ACC) at #8 Louisville (21-5, 9-4), ACC Network.  The Hokies followed up their improbably rally against Virginia with a gritty road victory at Pitt.  Up next?  Only the best defensive team in the conference:  the Cardinals rank second in points allowed and turnover margin while ranking third in rebounding margin.  Did I mention they’re tops at defending the three?  Tech has to deal with the season-ending injury to Chris Clarke;  the sophomore was arguably their best all-around player and contributed greatly in multiple areas of the game.  Buzz Williams’ bunch has their work cut out for them.

1:30 p.m.

Navy (15-12, 10-5 Patriot League) vs Army West Point (9-17, 3-11), CBS Sports Network.  The last time these two teams met?  How about a 96-80 overtime thriller where Shawn Anderson poured in 30 points for the Midshipmen.  Kennedy Edwards tallied a season-high 20 points for the Black Knights in that loss; Jordan Fox scored 17 to lead Army past Holy Cross in their most recent game.  The Midshipmen have lost two of three but are in the driver’s seat to host at least their conference quarterfinal game (the Patriot League uses a home-court system for its tournament).  The Black Knights are in position to also host a tournament game, but one in the dreaded first round as a #7 or #8 seed.

4 p.m.

George Mason (18-8, 8-5 Atlantic 10) vs Rhode Island (16-9, 8-5).  Could coach Dave Paulsen’s program be a year ahead of schedule?  One winter after going 5-13 in league play, the Patriots are pushing for a double-bye in the A-10 Tournament…and are fresh from beating Richmond by 23.  Senior Marquise Moore is making his candidacy for conference Player of the Year, averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds per game.  The Rams have lost two straight, including a perplexing defeat to Fordham where they shot just 30% while scoring 43 points (full disclosure:  Fordham is also the Rams so perhaps that led to confusion).  Doc Nix and the Green Machine will be waiting at Eagle Bank Arena.

6 p.m.

Howard (6-20, 3-8 MEAC) vs North Carolina A&T, (2-24, 0-11).  The Bison ended their slide at six straight losses by beating Morgan State (despite 21 turnovers).  The Aggies also won  recently, but their victim was NAIA-Division II Allen.  The closest A&T has come to a win in the league was a two point loss at Coppin State.  Charles Williams scored 30 points in the previous meeting this season (a 15-point Bison win);  the freshman has continued to play well in leading the team in scoring this winter.  James Miller scored 26 in that win-and the senior is going out in style, averaging 19 points per game this month.

8:15 p.m.

#14 Virginia (18-7, 8-5 ACC) at #10 North Carolina (22-5, 10-3).  These two schools tangled on a Saturday night in March last year in the ACC Tournament Final;  this game would be for first place if it weren’t for a two-game slide that saw the Cavaliers cough up a 14-point second half lead at Virginia Tech…followed by a tough loss at home to Duke.  The Tar Heels lead the conference in scoring while UVa allows the fewest points per game.  To the surprise of nobody on the planet, coach Roy Williams team is super-talented yet has multiple lapses over a 40-minute stretch.  Justin Jackson (6th in the ACC in scoring), Kennedy Meeks (4th in rebounding) and Joel Berry II (4 assists per game directing the offense) will provide the latest test for Tony Bennett’s top-notch defense.  The question again though-as has been the case all winter-is will London Perrantes get any help from an underperforming frontcourt?

Sunday-

12 p.m.

American (6-20, 3-12 Patriot League) vs Holy Cross (13-15, 7-8).  Wednesday’s loss at Lafayette dropped the Eagles from 8th to 10th in the conference…while the Crusaders are also cooling off.  Five losses in seven games has a one-time contender in the role of Patriot League pretender…but don’t tell that to coach Bill Carmody.  All he did after they finished 5-13 and in 9th place last March was win four games en route to the NCAA Tournament.  AU turned the ball over 23 times en route to a 63-55 loss the last time these two teams tangled.

George Washington (13-13, 5-8) at Duquesne (10-16, 3-10), NBC Sports Network.  The Colonials won the previous meeting this winter 65-63 thanks to shutting down the Dukes’ perimeter attack (4-of-21 from three-point range) while Tyler Cavanaugh tallied 11 points and 10 rebounds.  The senior’s heated up lately, posting three double-doubles in his last four games.  The road has been rough for GW during conference season:  the team’s lone win in seven games away from Smith Center was in nearby Fairfax against George Mason.

1 p.m.

#23 Maryland (22-4, 10-3 Big Ten) at #11 Wisconsin (21-5, 10-3), CBS.  Depending what happens with Purdue (also 10-3 in the conference) at Michigan State Saturday, this very well could be for first place (Boilermakers own tiebreakers with both teams).  Coach Mark Turgeon’s team is at its best when it’s defending well…while the Badgers allow the fewest points per game in the league.  Nigel Hayes was the Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year, but its actually Ethan Happ who’s making the difference this season.  The six-foot-ten sophomore is second in the conference in shooting percentage as well as steals, while ranking third in rebounding and tenth in blocks.  Happ leads Wisconsin in those categories as well as scoring and assists.  The Terrapin big men will have their hands full inside…while the Badgers’ guards will be tested by Melo Trimble (32 points against Northwestern) outside.  And the winner still might be chasing Purdue…

Georgetown (14-12, 5-8 Big East) at #20 Creighton (21-5, 8-5), Fox Sports 1.  Much like a candidate trying to work out Electoral College math to get to 270, the Hoyas faithful are trying to figure out what it would take-barring the automatic berth from winning the Big East Tournament-to get this team into the NCAA’s.  Conventional wisdom would say four wins in five regular season games (with no bad losses) followed by two more wins at Madison Square Garden to have even a prayer.  The Bluejays have been losing altitude since Maurice Watson Jr. went down for the season with a knee injury;  they’ve dropped four of seven while slipping from 7th in the nation to one bad loss away from being unranked.  The Hoyas held Creighton to 34% shooting and 1-for-18 from three-point range in a 20-point win last month;  they’ll have over a week to prepare for the Bluejays this time.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

There was quite a bit of excitement when the Big Ten announced that their men’s basketball tournament would be held at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.  But instead of a conference that had four top ten teams entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament or even the 2016 batch that yielded four schools in the top 20, there’s Wisconsin at #11 (after losing to Northwestern) while Purdue is 16th.  And before you get involved in the whole “strength of schedule” thing, look at the “projected top 16 seeds” released by the Tournament Selection Committee:  NO BIG TEN TEAMS.  While I’ve compared this made-for-TV exercise to tasting cookie batter, there is still some validity to the process.  And that process points to the Big Ten and say they’re pretenders instead of contenders in a world where the teams to beat range from bluebloods (Kentucky and Duke) to upstarts (Gonzaga and Butler).

Blame the name schools having off-seasons:  Michigan State has yet to really recover from a rough non-conference slate and Indiana’s December loss to Nebraska was more of a trend than a hiccup.  Ohio State and Michigan are bubble afterthoughts.  It’s also tough for the national media to get their heads around Northwestern and Minnesota as contenders.  Add in a Maryland team that lost four starters while playing a less than ambitious non-conference record, and you have a below-the-radar season for a school used to being above-the-fold on the front page.  Who’s ready for a first round that features 14th place Rutgers?

Bracket Racket- now that we are less than one month away from Selection Sunday, we’ll be including the ESPN and CBS NCAA Tournament projections.  Remember that the field of 68 is fluid…and has the attention-span off a hummingbird.

Alma Mater Update- two straight close losses have the Orange slipping down the bubble at 8-6 in the conference.  Remaining games on the road to the NCAA’s have Duke at home and Louisville on the road…with a home-and-away series against fellow Bubble resident Georgia Tech.  SU hasn’t had a comfortable win in exactly one month…and one hopes they respond to the latest bump in the road.

#23 Maryland (21-4, 9-3 Big Ten)- Anthony Cowan stepped up Saturday in the Terps’ 86-77 win over Ohio State with 19 points after scoring 19 in the team’s previous three games (and shooting 2-15 during the two-game losing streak).  The bench also outscored the Buckeyes’ reserves 33-0.  But up next are two tough tests on the road against conference contenders Northwestern (yes, I know…try not to chuckle) and Wisconsin.  Both models have the Terrapins a #6 seed:   CBS tickets them to the South Region and a first round game against the Georgia Tech/Wake Forest winner while ESPN has them in the East bracket against Clemson or Marquette.

Georgetown (14-12, 5-8 Big East)- Now that was the Jessie Govan we thought we might see.  The six-foot-ten sophomore tallied 23 points and 8 rebounds in the 80-62 win over Marquette.  After their team defense was described as “lazy” by the Golden Eagles JuJuan Johnson in December, the Hoyas responded by holding Marquette to under 40% shooting for most of the game and 3-for-14 from three-point range.  Now the question is:  can this team get back to .500 in conference play and merit at-large consideration in March?  They still have Creighton and Villanova on their schedule…plus road games at St. John’s and Seton Hall.  ESPN has the Hoyas as the eighth team to miss the tournament.

#14 Virginia (18-6, 8-4 ACC)- It’s cloudy in Charlottesville after an 80-78 double-overtime loss to Virginia Tech.  Cassell Coliseum is a very difficult place to get a win…no matter how good you might be.  But blow a 14-point halftime lead?  When you’re one of the best defensive teams in the nation, let alone the ACC?  Their starting forwards shot 2-for-10 from the field against the Hokies…and UVa missed 10 of 24 free throws.  London Perrantes can continue to dazzle from the perimeter, but if he doesn’t have help inside the rough and tumble world of the best conference in the game can be a little unforgiving.  The latest models both have the Cavaliers as a #4 seed playing Akron in the round of 64;  ESPN has UVa in the East while CBS places them in the Midwest.

Virginia Tech (17-7, 6-7 ACC)- now THAT was a big program win.  How do you rally from 14 down against your in-state rival?  How do you come back from 17 turnovers?  Somehow they forced the Cavaliers into a 2-for-9 shooting funk over a six-minute stretch in the second half…and got a gift when London Perrantes’ last-minute layup died on the backboard rim, resulting in a jump ball that went the home team’s way.  Seth Allen’s 20 points off the bench were punctuated by his game-winning jumper in the lane with 3.2 seconds left.  Sophomores Justin Robinson (4 rebounds, 6 assists and a blocked shot) and Chris Clarke (7 boards and 3 assists) continue to do the little things that an NCAA Tournament team needs.  Up next?  Back to back road games against the likes of Pitt and #8 Louisville.  CBS has the Hokies a #9 seed in the Midwest, facing VCU…while ESPN has them seeded 9th in the West and a first-round game with USC.

George Mason (17-8, 7-5 Atlantic 10).  Saturday’s 73-67 victory over Fordham was one of those games the Patriots would have lost earlier this winter or last year:  somehow they survived going scoreless for over seven minutes in the second half.  Sophomore guard Otis Livingston II has turned it on as of late, scoring 18 points while playing 37 minutes per game during the three-game winning streak.  The current surge has coach Dave Paulsen’s team pushing for a double-bye…but in order to be the best, you have to beat the best.  And over the next month the Patriots play conference co-leaders Dayton and VCU plus third place Richmond and fourth place Rhode Island.  Buckle up…

George Washington (13-12, 5-7 Atlantic 10).  How do you bounce back from the heartbreak of a last-second loss to VCU?  Feed Tyler Cavanaugh the ball early and often, which is what GW did in their 76-70 triumph over St. Bonaventure.  They also locked up on the perimeter, holding the Bonnies to 22% shooting from three-point range.  Remember the double-bye I mentioned earlier?  There’s also the dreaded first round of the A-10 Tournament that matches up the bottom four schools…and the Colonials are one game ahead of Fordham and Saint Louis for tenth place.  They own the tiebreaker with the Billikens and visit the Rams March 1st…ending a stretch where they play four of five games against teams that are sub-500 in league play.

American (6-19, 3-11 Patriot League).  The Eagles can also avoid playing in the first round of their conference tournament, but they’ll need to win the rest of their regular season games while getting help.  And even then they’d be in a tiebreaker at 7-11.  Let’s just give AU a chance to enjoy their 61-58 win over Army where they turned over the Black Knights 21 times.  They go for a season sweep of Lafayette Wednesday.  If you can’t avoid the dreaded first round, you may as well try to host it.

Howard (6-20, 3-8 MEAC).  The offensively challenged (338th in shooting and 331st in assists) Bison didn’t go down quietly at Hampton…but still have a way to go before righting the ship.  Of course the ship would be sailing a lot better if the injured James Daniel III had played more than two games this winter.  Instead, fellow senior James Miller and a nucleus of unseasoned young talent tries to fly on one engine.  Thank goodness they got a Monday night win at Morgan State…Miller leading the way with 24 points and a crucial block in the final minute of a 70-67 win over the Bears.  They next face winless in the league North Carolina A&T.