Archives for posts with tag: Michigan

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Welcome to another new era of Maryland football.  For the third time this decade a new regime checks in with high hopes.  Following a season where redshirt freshman Jordan McNair died during an offseason conditioning drill and the entire football program/athletic department/university was placed under a microscope, a fresh start will be more than welcomed.  And taking the Terps into the future will be a figure from their past:  Head Coach Mike Locksley previously spent time in College Park as running backs coach under Ralph Friedgen and as Offensive Coordinator under Randy Edsall (before taking over as Interim Head Coach for six games in 2015) and has deep ties to the area, having played high school football at Washington DC’s Ballou before playing at Towson.

He’ll also be the fourth different head coach for some of the fifth-year players in the program.  “We’re all well aware of the things that have taken place here but again we’ve told our players that this team, this 2019 team will be defined in the present.” Locksley said, “Meaning whatever it is we do today that’s how we’re going to be defined by.”  This is also a chance for Locksley to redeem his earlier head coaching career, after he went 2-26 at New Mexico and 1-5 as the Terps’ interim coach.

Even in a new era, the quarterback question is once again a crucial one.  Last year the Terps passing offense ranked 13th in the Big Ten and they lost leading passer Kasim Hill to transfer (Tennessee) in the offseason.  Added to the mix of the oft-injured Tyrell Pigrome and 2017’s leading passer Max Bortenschlager is Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson:  the ex-Hokie threw 20 touchdown passes in 2017 before his 2018 was cut short with a broken fibula suffered against Old Dominion.  “Number one in a starting quarterback for me is a guy who does the best job taking care of the football on the offense side of the ball,” Locksley said, “The next the most important thing is who makes the players around them better. Who gives us the chance to allow all the different weapons we have in our program to be successful on the offensive side of the ball.”  I’m also going to add whoever stays healthy as Maryland’s quarterbacks have been cursed with injuries over the years.  Since 2003, only Sam Hollenbach in 2006 and C.J. Brown in 2014 have started every game for the Terps.

The Terps lost a major weapon when wide receiver Jeshawn Jones tore his ACL during summer workouts.  That means the returning leading receivers (senior D.J. Turner and sophomore Dontay Demus) tallied 13 catches apiece in 2018.  Thank goodness for graduate transfer tight end Tyler Mabry (27 catches last year for Buffalo).  And thank goodness for a running game that will feature sophomore Anthony McFarland, who rushed for 1034 yards last fall.  “I feel like the offense is good, it’s very explosive.” McFarland said, “His (coach Locksley) offense is getting the playmakers the ball in space-and not just me.  We got a lot of guys that are gonna get the ball in space and really show what we can do.” One such playmaker is junior Javon Leake, who averaged 9.1 yards per carry in 2018.  Junior center Johnny Jordan and senior guard Terrance Davis anchor an offensive line that generated 5.7 yards per carry (third best in the Big Ten) but allowed 30 sacks (fourth most in the conference) last year.

The defense returns five starters on a unit that allowed more than 30 points in half of their games last fall, but may be trending upward as for the first time since Maryland joined the Big Ten they allowed fewer than 400 yards per game.  Senior safety Antoine Brooks (68 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception last year) looks to help this unit make the next step, and knows he’ll have to be an active ingredient.  “We gotta play more together, try to talk more and be more into each other as a group on and off the field,” Brooks said.  They’ll get a boost from Ohio State transfer Keandre Jones.  How does the senior linebacker expect to contribute? “Fill in that leadership role, being a leader on and off the field, whether it’s in the film room or outside. Just making sure guys are doing the right thing,” Jones said.  He’ll also be expected to help a pass rush that has sagged the last two seasons (34 combined sacks in 2017 and 2018 after notching 37 in 2016).

The schedule begins with Howard August 31 in College Park.  The other non-conference foes are two teams that went to bowls last year in Syracuse (beat Maryland in their last College Park meeting six years ago) and Temple (routed the Terps by 21 points last year).  The Big Ten campaign kicks off on a Friday night against Penn State and this year’s crossover tilts will be against Purdue, Minnesota and Nebraska (the trio went 17-21 in 2018).  November could be chilly as the Terps face Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State: four schools that are each ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25.  The Big Ten East is once again a gauntlet, but the new coach is more than ready for the 2019 season to begin.  It’s excitement. It’s a lot like Christmas in August,” Locksley said. “We’ve got a lot of great pieces and presents here in our program and I just really want to see these guys go out and exceed where we are.”

 

Dream Scenario- the Terps come out of the gate with Jackson at quarterback and shock ranked foes Syracuse and Penn State in September before bouncing either Ohio State or Michigan in November.  They don’t win the Big Ten East, but the foundation is set for one incredible era.

Nightmare Situation- Josh Jackson catches the injury bug that has bedeviled every quarterback who’s taken a snap in College Park since Sam Hollenbach.  The receiving corps can’t recover from the loss of Jeshawn Jones and the one-dimensional Terps tumble early and often in Big Ten play to stadiums that are either white (Penn State) or blue (Michigan).  They get the benefit of the doubt when Nebraska’s red-wearing fans visit.

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Who’s ready for Opening Day!?!  In March???  It’s the price of doing business playing 162 reguarl season games with 3+ rounds of playoffs while not holding the World Series in November.  For better or worse.  I know-I get this feeling twice every year.  It happens in early November, when we’re halfway through the NFL season and just into college football’s closing month when suddenly we’re supposed to care about Maryland-Hofstra.  The men’s college basketball season concludes over the next few weeks, so it’s only fitting some of the NCAA Tournament thunder is robbed by baseball’s pomp and circumstance.  Usually opening week in baseball overlaps with the Final Four;  this year the Nationals will have played nine games (weather permitting) by the time the nets are cut down in Minneapolis.

That said, the calendar waits for no one. The Washington Nationals attempt to bounce back from an 82-80 season as well as the offseason loss of Bryce Harper.  But this team will be bolstered by offseason additions like Patrick Corbin as well as the catching duo of Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki.  The Nats were built to handle Harper’s departure as good as they could be, with prime prospect Victor Robles joining last year’s breakout rookie Juan Soto in the “future is now” category.  If only Adam Eaton can play 140 games in rightfield while leading off;  the veteran has been limited by injuries to just 118 games over the last two years.  Other questions involve the health of mainstays Ryan Zimmerman (85 games played last year) and Stephen Strasburg (22 starts).  Also, will manager Davey Martinez return for year two armed with lessons learned in 2018?  Unlike the NFL, baseball is not a snapshot season.  Over 162 games a team’s players and manager rise or fall to their actual level a lot more than pro football-or even the NHL and NBA.  Let’s get this season underway.

 

Regional Roundup: fourteen of the top sixteen seeds advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, with three glaring losses by David over the first weekend.  Thursday, Belmont was a tipped pass away from beating Maryland and New Mexico State missed two of three free throws against Auburn when three makes would have upset the Tigers and two would have forced overtime.  But both of those losses paled in comparison to UCF leading Duke late but being unable to hold off the overall number one seed in the final minute.  So instead of Cinderellas, we get a #5 seed Auburn and a #12 seed Oregon as the only Regional outliers.

 

Sweet Sixteen Showdowns–

South-

 #1 Virginia vs. #12 Oregon.  While the Cavaliers avenged last year’s First Round loss to UMBC by rallying past Gardner-Webb and moved past 2017’s Second Round loss to Florida, the “Ghosts of Regionals Past” are just as haunting.  UVa has won just one Regional Semifinal game this century…while the Ducks have reached the Final Four as recently as 2017.  They also boast the 12th ranked defense in Division I-UVa allowing the fewest points per game again this season.  Coach Dana Altman’s team is the only double-digit seed still in the tournament thanks to ten straight wins.

#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Purdue. Rick Barnes previously led Clemson and Texas to the Sweet Sixteen, and it’s no different with his third straight orange-clad school.  One would think that if things don’t work out longterm in Tallahassee, he’ll head to Illinois.  The Boilermakers were a Lucas Haas injury away from doing major damage last March;  guard Carsen Edwards led the Big Ten in scoring this past winter and is averaging 34 points a game in the NCAA Tournament.

 

West-

#1 Gonzaga vs. #4 Florida State. The Bulldogs have lost to ACC schools in four straight NCAA Tournaments, and the Seminoles are one of the more athletic teams in the bracket.  It’s also amazing how somehow FSU coach Leonard Hamilton looks younger than he did 20 years ago.

#2 Michigan vs. #3 Texas Tech.  Two of the top three defensive teams (UVa being #1) battle with the Wolverines looking to make a return trip to the Elite Eight.  The Red Raiders reached the Regional Final last year as well before falling to Villanova.

 

East-

#1 Duke vs. #4 Virginia Tech.  An ACC matchup takes place one round earlier than it should; I’m still flummoxed that the committee was cool with putting three Big Ten schools in the lower half of the East bracket.  The Hokies beat the Blue Devils when Zion Williamson was hurt, but so was VT guard Justin Robinson. Tech is 17-3 with the senior in the lineup; 7-5 without.

#2 Michigan State vs. #3 LSU.  One coach is being flogged for freaking out during a game, while the other is in the land of limbo. Will Wade hasn’t coached since the Tigers’ penultimatet regular season game…but LSU finds itself in DC along with Tom Izzo, who might be persuaded to drink more decaf this weekend.

 

Midwest-

#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Auburn. Another strong regional has the Tigers as an outlier–although coach Bruce Pearl’s team was in the top 25 for a big chunk of the season and they did win four games in four days at the SEC Tournament.  The Tar Heels are the best team nobody’s talking about, and senior Luke Maye feels like he’s in his 8th year at the school.  Both teams can score in bunches.

#2 Kentucky vs. Houston. They want Wildcats-Heels in the Regional Finals, right?  PJ Washington remains a question mark with his foot injury- and at best will play 15-20 minutes against a Cougars team that is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1984- when Akeem Olajuwon led the team to the Final Four and a loss to Georgetown in the National Championship game.

 

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

The NCAA Tournament begins Tuesday night with the First Four.  If you’ve filled out a sheet or two already you’re probably trying to figure out how to better your workplace rivals.  First things first–

1–Do not be the person who tells everyone what the standings are Thursday afternoon after each result.  Odds are they know–and if say they pick a Georgia Tech to go to the Final Four and they lose the first day of the tournament don’t want to to be told.  And if they didn’t, to be notified after every result is a water torture nobody wants to experience.

2–You don’t have to share your picks.  Honestly, win or lose.  You had Houston beating Michigan and the Wolverines hit a last-second shot?  Sorry to hear…as in I’m sorry you felt as though you had to tell someone.  Everybody’s pool takes hits with each upset–and we don’t want to know how you’d be winning the office pool if only Virginia had beaten UMBC.

3–“Almost picking” is not the same as picking. So if your Final Four picks flame out the first weekend, don’t tell us which schools you thought about taking but didn’t.

4–Don’t discuss your “other sheet”.  Oh yes, the famous “other sheet” that you filled at your other job or with other friends.  The sheet that has all of the winners, even though the sheet you’re playing with your friends has no Final Four teams remaining.  The “other sheet”.  Right…

 

It’s time for our Bold, Fold and Gold picks for 2019…

Bold- which sleepers might bust a bracket or two?

Fold- which teams are likely to make in early exit?

Gold- who advances to the Final Four?

 

East Regional- Duke is the team to beat after entering the NCAA Tournament ranked number one in the nation for the first time since…2006.  For all of their success this decade one would have thought they’d have been atop the rankings at least once. Perhaps they’re making up for lost time this winter.  I thought Michigan State should have gotten the last number one seed, but instead the Spartans are on the other side of the Blue Devils’ regional.

Bold- Minnesota boasts the Big Ten’s leading rebounder in Jordan Murphy, and the Golden Gophers play Louisville- who just happened to fire Rick Pitino two years ago.  Minnesota is coached by Richard Pitino, who happens to be Rick’s son.  They already have plenty of tape and a scouting report on the likely second round foe Michigan State.

Fold- LSU was in the top ten before coach Will Wade was served a subpeona by the federal government and a suspension by his school regarding the recent FBI investigation.  The Tigers then wilted in the SEC Tournament.  While they have the clear edge talent-wise over Yale, the circumstances surrounding the program aren’t the recipe for a deep tournament run.

Gold- Duke has the best player in Zion Williamson and the best coach in Mike Krzyzewski. They’ll find their way to Washington DC for a coronation next weekend after disposing of their alphabet soup (NCC, NDSU, VCU, UCF) in nearby Columbia, SC.  A likely avenging of a February loss (Virginia Tech) looms.  The question is, how did three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Maryland, Minnesota) wind up in the bottom half of that regional?  I thought the Selection Committee’s long lunches were put in place to prevent that.

 

South Regional- Virginia is a number one seed for the fourth time in six years.  We don’t need to discuss what happened last season.  Unfortunately March Brings Cinderellas to the forefront.  Condolences to Gardner-Webb.  Unless the Runnin’ Bulldogs somehow repeat the Terriers’ feat.  Then it’s going to be another summer of discontent in Charlottesville.

Bold- Cincinnati is fresh off beating Houston to win the AAC Tournament…and the Bearcats are also bound for Columbus, which happens to be the capital of the state that the city of Cincinnati resides.  Don’t be surprised to see the underseeded Bearcats make noise.

Fold- Villanova has been boom or bust recently, either advancing to the Final Four or saying adios the first weekend.  The Wildcats gritted their way to the Big East Tournament championship for a record third straight year, but wrapped up the regular season with five straight road losses.  Even though Hartford isn’t exactly San Jose, I’m feeling Jay Wright’s team has a short stay this March.

Gold- Virginia will be tested by a Tennessee that doesn’t have to travel far (Columbus & Louisville), but this year the Cavaliers have additional hitch to their giddy-up in an offense that might not be able to match their best in the nation defense (I think it’s Grandfathered in that UVa leads the nation in scoring D) but has the necessary firepower to pull away from foes. De’Andre Hunter’s wrist is intact, unlike last March, and so are the Cavaliers’ Final Four hopes.

 

Midwest Regional- North Carolina won neither the ACC regular season or tournament, but why recognize another league like the Big Ten or SEC at this time?  The Tar Heels head up the Blue Blood Bracket, with Kentucky and Kansas (sadly UCLA could not attend the NCAA Tournament this year) joined by a few schools who actually did win their conference tournaments in Auburn and Iowa State.

Bold– Seton Hall is fresh off losing the Big East Tournament championship and possesses the type of player (Myles Powell) who can make noise in the big dance.  They’ve also beaten Kentucky this season.

Fold- there’s always that one team that wins its league tournament that somehow feels like it spent a ton of energy doing so…and then can’t recreate the magic the following weekend.  Auburn took the SEC in an emotional day for Bruce Pearl, who lost an assistant coach not to another job but to prison (Chuck Person convicted in the FBI probe).  New Mexico State ranks 26th in the nation in scoring defense and won’t be a walkover.

Gold- why in the heaven am I taking another ACC team?  North Carolina has the talent, the experience, and the gosh-darnit-aw-shucks coach in Roy Williams on the sidelines to do just enough to infuriate the fan base that thinks the Heels should win every game by 50.  They won’t win every game by 50, and there’s going to be at least one win where UNC looks like they have no idea how to play basketball for 5-10 minutes but survive anyway.

 

West- Gonzaga is going to join the ACC as a provisional member so commissioner John Swofford can boast that for the first time all four seeds come from the same league.  Actually, if the Atlantic Coast Conference can have schools in Louisville and South Bend while the Big Ten can have 14 schools, this isn’t THAT much of a stretch.  The Bulldogs have been in the top five all season and begin another tournament run Thursday in Salt Lake City.

Bold- Syracuse plays that famed 2-3 zone and gets their best player back from injury in Tyus Battle.  The Orange lost late regular season games to North Carolina, Duke and Virginia after leading all three games at the half.  They won’t be star-struck by the Bulldogs, who have lost the last four years in the NCAA’s to an ACC school.

Fold- Marquette was once 23-4 and in conversations to not only win the Big East but secure a #2 seed.  But four losses to end the regular season plus a four-hour Big East Semifinal defeat to Seton Hall have exposed the Golden Eagles as another ordinary team.  Markus Howard is a dynamic point guard, but he won’t be enough to get this team out of its late-season skid.

Gold- or Maize.  Michigan began the year 18-0 and has lost just three times since Valentine’s Day-each loss coming to Michigan State who happens to be in a different region.  Coach John Beilein always gets the best out of his teams in March and this year won’t be an exception.  Ann Arbor’s not too far from South Bend…perhaps the ACC could reach out to the Wolverines.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

The NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament tips off tomorrow with the Infamous “First Four”.  Before you dismiss the dealings in Dayton, take note that in the eight years they’ve had the last four at-large teams face off a “First Four” team has won a First Round game every year.  Four times one of these schools has reached the Regional round and we will always have the initial First Four Graduate VCU’s Final Four run as an example.

 

East- the road to the Final Four goes through Washington, DC with overall number one seed Duke and Zion Williamson expected to find their way to Capital One Arena.  Their First Round matchup may very well be a Durham City Championship Game, as North Carolina Central faces North Dakota State in the First Four Wednesday.

Favorites- the Blue Devils have lost just once this season while playing at full-strength, and their run through the ACC Tournament now that Zion Williamson puts the rest of the nation on notice.  Intriguing potential first weekend showdowns include the Durham City Championship in the First Round if North Carolina Central wins its First Four game (remember, the First Four Success doesn’t transfer to No. 16 seeds), or an alumni reunion against ninth-seeded UCF coached by former Blue Devils All-American and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins.  Flying under the radar on the other side of the bracket is Big Ten regular season and tournament champion Michigan State.

Best Matchup- No. 10 seed Minnesota is coached by Richard Pitino.  The Golden Gophers draw No. 7 Louisville, who fired Pitino’s father Rick two years ago. Who said the Selection Committee doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Locals-

Maryland (22-10) is seeded sixth after its disappointing showing at the Big Ten Tournament.  In their last NCAA appearance the sixth-seeded Terps lost to Xavier by 11 in Melo Trimble’s final game.  Anthony Cowan Jr. shot 1-for-4 that night;  last week it was Bruno Fernando who shot 1-for-4 against the Cornhuskers.  The Terps need the sophomore big man to return to the form that made First Team All-Big Ten if they’re going to reach the weekend.  The Terps will face either Belmont or Temple Thursday–the Bruins are 0-7 all-time in the big dance and the Owls are 2-5 in the tourney under coach Fran Dunphy.

Virginia Tech (24-8) is seeded fourth as the Hokies make the NCAA’s for the third straight year (the first time that’s happened in program history).  The also get point guard Justin Robinson back in the lineup–since the senior went to the shelf with a foot injury the Hokies are 7-5, including a pair of overtime losses to red-hot Florida State.  They draw Atlantic Ten champ Saint Louis;  the Billikens won four games in four days while banishing Dayton and Davidson to the NIT.

VCU (25-7) is seeded eighth after their upset loss to Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals.  Thankfully URI is not in the tournament-as they’re the only team to have beaten the Rams since January 12.  Coach Mike Rhoades’ initial opponent is a UCF team that lost by 24 points in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament.

 

South- Virginia (29-3) gets a number one seed for the fourth time in six years…as the Cavaliers will not only face Gardner-Webb but will also confront the ghosts of last March.  UVa’s loss to UMBC in 2018 will be a scarlet L the program will wear for some time.  They’re a little older and a little wiser this year;  they’re also a lot healthier as De’Andre Hunter is 12 months removed from the broken wrist that hijacked his-and in effect the Cavaliers’-campaign last March.

Favorites- the Cavaliers’ toughest test may be Tennessee at the other end of the bracket, but the Volunteers have a potential Second Round showdown with AAC champ Cincinnati-in Columbus, Ohio.  Defending national champion Villanova is also in the region as the No. 6 seed, fresh from becoming the first school to win three straight Big East Tournaments.

Best Matchup- No. 12 seed Oregon has won eight straight, and they’ve done so minus 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol (son of the late Washington Bullets center Manute Bol), while Wisconsin is led by four-year starter Ethan Happ in the pivot.

Locals-

Virginia- the top seed enters the NCAA’s again with the best scoring defense in the nation, but this year’s team has a little more firepower with Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter providing scoring punch.  In addition to a Gardner-Webb team making its first-ever trip to the tournament, Ole Miss (five losses in seven games) and Oklahoma (a Big 12 Tournament loss to sub-500 West Virginia) stand in their way to the Regional in Louisville.  Break out the bourbon.

Old Dominion- former UVa and American University coach Jeff Jones is back in the NCAA Tournament after leading the 26-8 Monarchs to the Conference USA tournament championship.  ODU gets a No. 14 seed and plays Purdue;  the Boilermakers may be coming off of an upset loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Quarterfinals but have advanced to four regionals in ten appearances under coach Matt Painter and boast the Big Ten’s leading scorer in Carsen Edwards.  Jeff Jones’ team is led by B.J. Stith and his 16.9 points per game;  Stith is the son of Virginia’s all-time leading scorer Bryant Stith (who played his last two years at UVa under Jones).

 

Midwest- North Carolina gets the ACC’s third No. 1 seed- the first time one league has nabbed three top seeds since the Big East in 2009.  The Tar Heels head to nearby Columbia, SC where the local school refers to itself as “Carolina” and “USC” to the dismay of some and the amusement of others.  The Regional is in Kansas City-and if the seeds hold UNC will play Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen.  I’ve been told that Kansas City is somewhat near the state of Kansas.

Favorites- in addition to the Tar Heels and Jayhawks, the bracket boasts blue blood Kentucky as well as AAC regular season champ Houston–not to mention SEC Tournament winner Auburn and Big 12 tournament champ Iowa State.  Buckle up.

Best Matchup- Cinderella Wofford played its way to a national ranking as well as the Southern Conference championship, while Seton Hall scraped its way to within two points of the Big East Tournament title.  Seven-ten matchups

 

West- Gonzaga has been in the top five of the national rankings all season, and even their loss in the WCC finals couldn’t keep the Bulldogs out of the top seed.  They’ve also advanced to the second weekend four straight years, and this year’s obstacles include First Four winner Fairleigh Dickinson or Prairie View A&M plus potential Second Round foes Baylor and Syracuse.

Favorites- at the other end of the bracket is last year’s national championship runner-up Michigan.  The second-seeded Wolverines began this season 18-0 and have lost only three times since Valentine’s Day-all to Michigan State.  No. 4 seed Florida State is coming off of an impressive ACC Tournament run that included a double-digit win over Virginia.

Best Matchup- No. 6 seed Buffalo awaits the First Four winner of St. John’s-Arizona State;  while an Empire State showdown (we have to wait for Albany-Buffalo for our Erie Canal clash) would be exciting the Sun Devils are in their second season under former Bulls coach Bobby Hurley.  For the record, the Selection Committee does not go out of its way to generate specific matchups.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange play the late game Thursday evening against Baylor, another team that has issues offensively.  But they’ll have Tyus Battle back in the lineup.  And an ACC team has eliminated Gonzaga in each of the last four years.  So there’s that.  More important is the drumstick to flat ratios.

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Conference Tournament week has the area schools scurrying to locations like Charlotte, Chicago, New York City, Brooklyn and Norfolk.  Even though conference expansion has changed these tourneys from tight three-day affairs to bloated five-day album cuts, the little dances before the Big Dance will provide plenty of thrills, chills, and spills leading up to Selection Sunday.

Tournaments with DC area schools:

ACC- Spectrum Center, Charlotte.  Sure the SEC had a tournament in the 1930’s and 40’s, but the Atlantic Coast Conference created the mold for league tourneys.  And sure, it’s a major hike to Blacksburg and Charlottesville–but there are plenty of alums who reside inside the beltway and either pop their collars or talk about turkey legs and a 15-year football streak.  Beware of the bluebloods:  Duke or North Carolina have won 13 of the 19 tournaments this century–and either the Blue Devils or the Tar Heels have played in the Finals every year since 1997 (the trivia answer would be Wake Forest-Georgia Tech).

#2 Virginia (28-2, 16-2 ACC)- the Cavaliers (10-3 in the ACC Tournament over the last five years) await the winner of Clemson-NC State in the #8 vs #9 game.  The Tigers-Wolfpack noon showdown will have the feel of an NCAA Play-in game, as both  schools are squarely on the bubble.  UVa routed Clemson 63-43 January 12th (holding the Tigers to 26% shooting and 3-19 from three-point range); they needed overtime to edge NC State 66-65 January 29th in their sloppiest game of the season (16 turnovers).  The Wolfpack beat the Tigers during their lone regular season matchup 69-67 and won three of five to wrap up the regular season;  but those three wins came against Boston College (2) and Wake Forest (1), who both lost in Tuesday’s bottom-of-barrel-scraping First Round.  UVa  meets the winner at noon Thursday.

#16 Virginia Tech (23-7, 12-6 ACC)- the Hokies (2-5 in the ACC Tournament over the last five years) face Miami at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Second Round, five days after beating the Hurricanes 84-70.  They also beat Miami 82-70 in their January meeting and in the sweep hit over 50% of their three-point shots against the Canes.  Primary offensive weapon Kerry Blackshear Jr. did not play well in either game: scoring 1 point in January, 8 last Friday, while shooting 4-for-20 over both games.  Hurricane to watch:  senior Anthony Lawrence II notched 20 points with 10 rebounds against Wake Forest and averaged a double-double against the Hokies this winter.  Achilles’ Heel to watch:  Miami ranked last in the ACC in rebounding margin.  A win sets up a rematch against #12 Florida State in the quarterfinals, a little over a week after blowing a double-digit lead in a loss at the Seminoles.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are a less than beautiful 19-12 after Saturday’s loss at Clemson…and even though most models have them “in” the NCAA Tournament, I won’t sleep unless they dispose of last-place Pitt in Wednesday’s Second Round.  A win means a third game this winter against Duke–and I’m not expecting any miracles.  Plus, coach Jim Boeheim is more of a Temptations fan than Smokey Robinson anyways.

 

Big Ten Tournament- United Center, Chicago.  After playing 2017 at Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center and 2018 at Madison Square Garden (a week early) in New York City, the league returns to its roots with a week in the Windy City.  Although to mix things up, this year for the first time the conference instituted a 20-game schedule (don’t worry, the ACC will follow suit next winter).  Sixth ranked Michigan State may enter as regular season champ, but #10 Michigan has won the last two Big Ten Tournaments and nobody is paying attention to #13 Purdue and the league’s leading scorer Carsen Edwards.

#21 Maryland (22-9, 13-7 Big Ten)- at 3 p.m Thursday the Terps (2-4 in the tournament since joining the conference) face the winner of  Rutgers and Nebraska (6:30 p.m Wednesday).  They beat both schools during the first week of January:  Jalen Smith’s last-second bucket gave Maryland a 74-72 win over the Cornhuskers in the kind of tight game they were getting the reputation of losing lately, and the road win at the Scarlet Knights (where they held Rutgers to 19 first-half points) showed that there would be no road woes this winter like last season.  Rutgers took the regular season matchup 76-69;  one game later Nebraska’s second-leading scorer and rebounder (and Georgetown transfer) Isaac Copeland Jr. went down with a torn ACL and the Huskers haven’t recovered. Rutgers remains Rutgers, however:  ranking 12th in the conference in points allowed, shooting and turnover margin; 13th in scoring and three-point shooting; and last in defending the three.  A Terps win Thursday would set up a rubber match with Wisconsin, the home team prevailing each time during the regular season.

 

Big East Tournament, Madison Square Garden, New York City.  The league nobody wants to win holds its postseason affair with plenty of possibilities.  Top seed Villanova lost its last five road games while Marquette dropped its last four games overall.  St. John’s moved from third to seventh place over the last week with three straight defeats.  Even Georgetown found a way to lose to DePaul by 32 (since the Blue Demons swept the Red Storm and bubble team Seton Hall along with that rout of the Hoyas, we’ve dropped the traditional “Lowly” prefix from their name).  Good luck figuring this one out.

Georgetown (19-12, 9-9 Big East)- the Hoyas play third seed Seton Hall Thursday in the last quarterfinal of the day, and while the schedule reads “9:30 p.m.”, both you and I know better (more like 9:45-9:50 start-if there’s no overtime).  Home court prevailed during the regular season, with the Pirates Myles Powell averaging 32.5 points against the Hoyas.  Jessie Govan scored 20 and 21 points against Seton Hall, but went scoreless in the first half at Capital One Arena before catching fire:  the senior scored all 11 Hoya points in double-overtime of the 77-71 win.  The freshman duo of Mac McClung and James Akinjo had rough nights in both games, shooting a combined 2-for-11 in the road loss and 9-for-28 in the home win.  The winner likely faces #23 Marquette in the semifinals, barring a continued collapse by the Golden Eagles (a distinct possibility).

 

Atlantic 10 Tournament, Barclays Center, Brooklyn.  I actually enjoyed having the A-10 in DC last March, and can’t wait for it to return in 2022.  It was a shame all four area schools had down years in 2018:  VCU, George Mason and Richmond each finished 9-9 in league play while George Washington played on the first day of the tournament.  This year, the Rams are on a roll with 12 straight wins and the Patriots are enjoying their best-ever conference season since leaving the CAA.  The Spiders and Colonials…not so much.

George Washington (8-23, 4-14 Atlantic 10)- the Colonials (5-5 since re-alignment in 2014)  play UMass in the first game of the tournament Wednesday at 1 p.m. GW took the regular season matchup 79-67 on February 20 as Maceo Jack scored 20 points;  that’s their only win since January.  The current five game losing streak involves four double-digit defeats.  UMass may have two wins in their last five games, but are winless away from Amherst against A-10 competition this winter.  They also have a hobbled leading scorer as Luwane Pipkins has played in just three of the team’s last nine games due to a hamstring injury.

George Mason (17-14, 11-7 Atlantic 10)- the Patriots (2-5 in the tournament over the last five years) play the winner of George Washington and UMass in Thursday’s Second Round (2:30 p.m.);  somehow this Patriots-Colonials-Minutemen sub-bracket is kind of amusing for history majors (though not as cool as the potential VCU-Rhode Island-Fordham Rams Regional would be).  Mason swept both teams during the regular season, with their  January 16 win at UMass (an 18-9 finish over the last 6:40 delivering a five-point margin) setting the tone for a 7-2 start in league play.  Freshman Jordan Miller could be an X-factor this week:  the Middleburg, VA native averaged 14 points (on 58% shooting) with 9.5 rebounds over his last four games.  The winner takes on St. Bonaventure in Friday’s Quarterfinals (2:30 p.m).

Richmond (12-19, 6-12 Atlantic 10)- the Spiders (4-5 with one tournament finals appearance since 2014) face Fordham in Wednesday’s other First Round game (3:30 p.m.).  It’s been a rough finish for both teams:  Richmond has lost four straight while the Rams have dropped five of six.  The Spiders took the lone regular season meeting 72-69 February 20;  Grant Golden scored 16 points, including the go-ahead jumper with 20 seconds left.  Freshman Nick Honor paced the Rams with 23 points that day—a sign that the future is bright.  The present is another matter for the league’s last-place team.

VCU (25-6, 16-2 Atlantic 10)- the Rams are 13-5 in the A-10 Tournament since leaving the CAA, and with the exception of last March have advanced to the Finals every year.  Their run this year begins in the Quarterfinals Friday at noon against the winner or Rhode Island and La Salle.  While the Rams beat the Explorers 69-63 in early January, they fell 71-65 to Rhode Island on a night where they coughed up 50 second-half points, turned the ball over 18 times and shot 17% from three-point range.  Coach Mike Rhoades’ team hasn’t lost since.  URI beat La Salle in the regular season 78-67 thanks to 20 points from Fatts Russell.  Let the record show the A-10 has some sweet names this year, from the Explorers’ Pookie Powell to my favorite:  Duquesne guard Sincere Carry-who naturally just happens to lead the conference in assists.

 

MEAC Tournament, Norfolk Scope, Norfolk.  This league runs its men’s and women’s tournaments concurrently, meaning Monday’s First Round winners often next play Wednesday or Thursday.  While the #1 seed has won five titles in the last ten years, there have been upsets like last March when #6 seed North Carolina Central beat regular season champ Hampton in the Finals.

Howard (16-15, 10-6 MEAC) reached the Semifinals as a #11 seed two years ago;  the Bison have just two other wins in the tournament this decade.  The lead the league in scoring but play a defensive style that can sometimes be referred to as “matadorish”; but when you have the conference’s top two point producers in R.J. Cole and Charles Williams you take your chances.  Coach Kevin Nickelberry’s team is also riding a ridiculous 8-0 road record in conference play to Norfolk-where they wrapped up the regular season by beating top seed Norfolk State.  The #4 seed Bison battle Bethune-Cookman Thursday in the Quarterfinals at 8 p.m.;  the Wildcats boast the league’s best big man in Cletrell Pope (#1 in rebounding, #2 in shooting percentage and #3 in blocked shots).   The winner likely gets an angry Norfolk State in the Semifinals Friday.

 

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College football will have more games with higher stakes, from the conference championship games on tap next weekend to the College Football Playoff in early January.  But it almost feels anticlimactic after the weekend that was.  High scoring affairs included a 74-72 seven-overtime (septuple-OT for those grading at home) game between Texas A&M and LSU as well as a 59-56 regulation runaway between Oklahoma and West Virginia (or, just another night in the Big 12).  Rivalries with ill feelings included fights during the Ole Miss-Mississippi State (they’ll have their eggs over easy for the next year) and North Carolina-North Carolina State (goodbye Raycom Sports) games.

Once again, and with apologies to Alabama-Auburn and Washington-Washington State, the centerpiece to the weekend began at high noon Saturday in the Big Ten.  And once again, Ohio State was the effective roadblock standing between Michigan and a shot at a Big Ten (as well as a potential national) championship.  Just like the Wolverines kept John Cooper’s title-contending teams out of the Rose Bowl in the 90’s, the current Buckeyes appear to be the bane of Jim Harbaugh’s team this decade.  And this time is was even more painful for the school up north:  a 62-39 thumping that turned the maize and blue red-faced.  That makes the man in khakis 0-4 against Urban Meyer, whose school is suddenly back in the playoff conversation.  Winter never seemed so cold in Ann Arbor.

 

Alma Mater Update- it was also on the cold side in Chesnut Hill Saturday- but the Orange left alumni and faithful headed home warm after a 42-21 win at Boston College.  For me, it was a great day to meet up with my roommate from freshman year as well as friends from high school the night before in a class reunion.  For SU, it’s the best regular season since 2001 and a second-place finish in the ACC Atlantic Division.  The two league losses have come against the two division winners, while the third is against unbeaten Notre Dame.  It’s off to Orlando.  Or El Paso.  I’m just happy there’s no Pinstripe Bowl Banner in this team’s future.

 

Virginia Tech (5-6, 4-4) somehow salvaged what could have been its worst season since 1992 with a 34-31 overtime win over Virginia (7-5, 4-4).  The Cavaliers rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to take a seven point lead with under three minutes left in the fourth quarter.  But just like the Hokies have had a hex on their instate foes since joining the ACC, wouldn’t you know Ryan Willis would find Dalton Keene for a 45-yard hookup on third and 10?  And wouldn’t you know that Tech would fumble later in the drive only to have Hezekiah Grimsley recover the ball in the end zone for a game-tying touchdown?  And doesn’t it make sense somehow that Bryce Perkins—who had put the Cavaliers on his shoulders all afternoon and all season—would fumble in OT?  Now Virginia Tech has beaten Virginia 15 straight seasons.  That means that no fifth year player on the Cavaliers’ roster was on the same team as anyone who played alongside anyone who beat the Hokies.  Staggering.  Hokie Highlights: senior Steven Peoples went out in style, rushing for 96 yards as Tech tallied 254 on the ground.  The defense held the Cavaliers scoreless in the first half.  Special teams returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.  Hokie Humblings: Ryan Willis threw a pair of interceptions and the offense converted just 6-of-18 third downs.  The defense allowed touchdowns the first four times UVa had the ball in the second half.  Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns while running for 112 more.  Joe Reed caught four passes for 119 yards and two TD’s.  Juan Thornhill tallied 14 tackles while Jordan Mack made 10 stops while recording an interception.  Lester Coleman averaged 44.8 yards per punt.  Cavalier Concerns: in addition to his defeat-sealing fumble in OT, Perkins lost a ball at the Hokie 12-yard line on their deepest drive in the first half.  Next:  for Virginia Tech, a December first duel with Marshall at noon to see if they can become bowl eligible.  For Virginia, a long winter of discontent–until men’s basketball begins ACC play.

 

Navy (3-9, 2-6 AAC) fell behind Tulane 21-3 before rallying to take a fourth quarter lead over the Green Wave.  Unfortunately, the Mids’ defense allowed the Green Wave to drive 71 yards on seven plays to retake the lead for good in a 29-28 Navy loss.  Midshipman Medals: Zach Abey threw for 167 yards and a touchdown.  Taylor Heflin led the defense with nine tackles.  Owen White averaged 51 yards per punt.  Midshipman Miscues:  the offense went three and out in four of six first half possessions and finished 2-for-15 on third down.  The defense was gashed early and then couldn’t stop the Green Wave when it counted in the fourth quarter.  Next:  December 8th against 9-2 Army.

 

Maryland (5-7, 3-6 Big Ten) after losing by two points two weeks ago and then falling by one last Saturday were never close in a 38-3 loss at #15 Penn State.  A season that showed plenty of promise amidst plenty of tragedy comes to a close with questions surrounding the future of the current coaching staff and the athletic program in general.  Terrapin Triumphs: Tyrrell Pigrome threw for a career-high 185 yards on a day the run was bottled up.  Isaiah Davis paced the defense with nine tackles while graduate transfer Tre Watson closed out his Terps career with four stops to finish the season leading as the Big Ten leader.  Wade Lees booted a 50-yard punt and placed five of eight kicks inside the Penn State 20.  Terrapin Troubles: the running game never got in gear, with the tailback triumvirate being held to 53 yards on 19 carries with a long of seven.  The offensive line also allowed five sacks.  The defense coughed up 310 yards rushing (7.0 yards per carry).  Next:  August 31, 2019 at home against Howard.  After the offseason press conference that wraps up a third coaching search in eight years.

 

James Madison (9-3) was one of five CAA schools to see action in the first round of the FCS Playoffs, and the only one to advance.  The 20-6 win over Delaware sends coach Mike Houston’s team to the round of 16 for the third straight December.  Duke Do’s: Ben DiNucci threw for 223 yards and a touchdown while the offense held the ball for over 37 minutes.  The defense held the Blue Hens to 2-of-14 on third down and kept the Blue Hens out of the endzone.  Duke Don’ts: the running game had issues, generating just two yards per carry.  Eleven penalties cost JMU nearly an entire football field.  Next: Saturday at 1 p.m. against 9-1 Colgate.

 

Towson (7-5) took a 10-3 halftime lead over Duquesne in its first playoff appearance since the 2013 FCS Championship game, but the Dukes dominated the second half as the Tigers tumbled 31-10.  But coach Rob Ambrose gets quarterback Tom Flacco back for his senior season, and a program on the right track.  Tiger Takeaways: the tailback tandem of Shane Simpson and Kobe Young averaged almost six yards a carry while the team gained 230 yards on the day.  Simpson also caught a pair of passes.  The defense held the Dukes to 5-of-14 on third down.  Tiger Takedowns: Tom Flacco completed just 10-of-33 passes as the offense went scoreless after intermission.  The defense allowed 282 yards rushing.  Next: August 31, 2019 at the Citadel.

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Thanksgiving weekend gives college football the crescendo of arch-rivals clashing across the country.  In-state matchups like Alabama-Auburn and Clemson-South Carolina have playoff ramifications, while Michigan and Ohio State play for more than just a Big Ten East title and the usual bragging rights.  USC has spoiled Notre Dame’s National Championship hopes in the past;  this year the Trojans are fighting not just the Irish but for bowl eligibility (and relevance).  The second-tier affairs range from something tangible (Washington-Washington State is for the Pac-12 North) to something else (Ole Miss-Mississippi State I believe decides if eggs in the Magnolia State will be poached or scrambled over the next calendar year) to nothing at all (let’s not kid ourselves, Indiana and Purdue are fully focused on hoops).  But regardless of the stakes, college football’s rivalries deliver dislike and begrudging respect.

Which brings us to Maryland’s situation as a dancer without a true partner.  For years the Terps thought of themselves as Virginia’s ACC rival, and the Cavaliers thumbed their nose north by saying their true football foe was North Carolina (dubbed “the South’s Oldest Rivalry”) even though the Tar Heels laughed every time that was uttered.  Virginia Tech supplanted the Terrapins as the ACC’s northernmost rivalry before they left the league.  Which brings us to the Big Ten:  there are two schools in decent proximity of College Park. Penn State will have nothing to do with a rivalry with anyone–let alone Maryland.  And given how Rutgers has been either a dumpster or tire fire since joining the Big Ten, do you really want to use the Scarlet Knights as a measuring stick or focal point for your program?  One of the cases for lagging attendance at Maryland has been the fact that the must-win games like West Virginia, Virginia or even Clemson have disappeared off the slate.  Until they find a worthy partner, the Terps will be dancing with themselves when it matters most.

Alma Mater Update- a tradition continues on Chesnut Hill. No, I’m not trying to palm off the Syracuse-Boston College game as anything but a season-ending battle to see who gets to avoid the Pinstripe Bowl…even though banners from said bowl actually hang in the Carrier Dome to my dismay.  But for years I would travel to watch the Orange play on the road with my roommate from freshman year.  Since we left SU, we each have moved across the country and back.  We’ve carved out careers and have lived lives neither of us fully expected when we shared room #220 in Shaw.  So Saturday if you happen to stumble anywhere near Alumni Stadium, watch out for the two guys wearing orange hats and giving each other high fives when SU scores its lone touchdown against BC.  Go Orange…

Friday’s Game-

Virginia (7-4, 4-3 ACC) at Virginia Tech (4-6, 3-4), 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

You may have heard that the Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Hokies since Tech joined the ACC in 2004.  In the fourteen game losing streak, four of the games have been one-possession affairs.  Two of those losses prevented the UVa from reaching a bowl, so as they face the weakest Virginia Tech team in over 25 years there’s a chance for sweet revenge.  These Hokies rank 11th in the ACC in scoring and in points allowed.  If a bowl-bound Virginia led by dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins doesn’t beat Virginia Tech this year, when will they?  Ending a sorry streak is always a tough task, but Kippy & Buffy plan to do their part by breaking out a bottle of Chateau O’Brien 2013 Mourvèdre.  “The smell of Mourvèdre is an explosion of dark fruit, flowers like violet and herbaceous aromas of black pepper, thyme, and red meat.  The variety can be a difficult grape to grow, preferring “its face in the hot sun and its feet in the water.”

Cavaliers finally get to have their faces in the hot sun, 27-16.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Navy (3-8, 2-5 AAC) at Tulane (5-6, 4-3), noon (ESPNU).

The Midshipmen’s tour of colored singular foes continues, but they’ll find the Green Wave a little tougher than the Tulsa Golden Hurricane:  Tulane has won three of four behind backup quarterback Justin McMillan.  Zach Abey is coming off of his best day (128 yards and two touchdowns rushing) since suffering a shoulder injury last season, but the Green Wave are one of the better teams at stopping the run in the conference.  Their 33 sacks are also tied for the AAC lead, but that won’t help much against the Navy option.  At the other end of the pass rush spectrum are the Mids, who are tied for last with just eight sacks on the season.  That will hurt.

Midshipmen stumble, 35-30. 

 

Maryland (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) at #15 Penn State (8-3, 5-3), 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

One week after losing to Ohio State by one and two weeks after losing by two at Indiana, the Terps have a final shot at bowl eligibility.  The Nittany Lions are coming off an underwhelming win over Rutgers, and three of their other seven wins are one-possession affairs.  Senior quarterback Trace McSorley is having his best year as a runner and his worst season as a passer.  The Nittany Lions don’t have Saquon Barkley in their backfield this year, but junior Miles Sanders is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.  Expect freshman Anthony McFarland to continue his November to remember (525 yards rushing over three games this month) against the 10th rated defense against the run in the Big Ten, but the lack of a consistent passing game will once again torment the Terps on chilly afternoon.

Terrapins tumble, 34-22.

 

FCS Playoffs:

Towson (7-4) vs. Duquesne (8-3), 2 p.m. (ESPN3).  The Tigers make the tournament for the first time since they reached the 2013 championship game.  The team’s turnaround this fall can be traced to transfer Tom Flacco (younger brother of Ravens QB Joe) who has helped the school lead the CAA in passing yards, total offense and scoring.  Problem is, Rob Ambrose’s defense is at near the bottom of every defensive category in the conference–except against the run where they lead the league.  Good thing these Dukes bear little resemblance to their James Madison namesakes:  five of their eight wins were one-possession affairs.  It’s an early exit for the automatic-qualifying Northeast Conference champs.

Towson triumphs, 33-25.

James Madison (8-3) vs. Delaware (7-4), 3 p.m. (ESPN3).  A rare first round game between fellow conference members was made possible because the Dukes and Blue Hens did not play during the regular season;  if we go by the old NFL tiebreaker of “common opponents” JMU has the 5-2 to 4-3 edge.  They also have the edge on third down:  coach Mike Houston’s team ranks first in the CAA at moving the chains while his defense is fourth best at getting off the field on the money down.  Delaware-not so much.  Although we’ve seen Danny Rocco-coached teams come out of Harrisonburg with upsets in the past,  the Blue Hens enter this postseason with two straight losses.  The Dukes will likely make it three.

Dukes defeat Delaware, 31-16.

 

Last Week: 5-3.

Overall: 61-39.