Archives for posts with tag: NCAA Tournament

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Maryland may have the upcoming weekend off game-wise but they can’t escape what is beginning to settle in the world of college hoops: the dog days of the regular season where conference play is no longer new, yet the postseason feels a year away.  Under coach Mark Turgeon the Terps have been known for February fades: in his eight years at the helm, only the 2014-15 team posted a better record in the second half of conference play than the first (that wasn’t always the case as his last three teams at Texas A&M each had better marks in the second half of Big 12 play).  How does the coach plan to keep this team rested but not rusty?  “We’ll take a little more time off,” Turgeon said, “but when we get together we’ll practice hard.”  They could use a breather after a Big Ten schedule that gave them 10 games over a 31-day stretch between January 2nd and February 1st.  “We take care of our bodies–I think really do that on a high level,” sophomore forward Bruno Fernando said, “Even on our days off we’re coming in here trying to do recovery as much as we can.”

Things get lighter this month:  after Wednesday’s win at Nebraska, seven games remain over the final five weekends of the regular season.  “This is where teams fold or where teams get better,” said sophomore guard Darryl Morsell, “we don’t want to be the team that folds this year.”  Last year’s team lost seven of eight road games after the new year;  this year’s edition is 5-1 on the road since conference play resumed.  And they’ll have six days off before #15 Purdue comes to College Park next Tuesday.  “It gives us more time to watch film, which is what we really need,” Turgeon said, “and I think down the stretch we’ll probably do a little more with film than we will on the floor.”  After finishing the first half of Big Ten play 7-3, the Terps have won two of three.  They’ll have more time off, but after the Boilermakers come to Xfinity Center the Terps visit #7 Michigan and #20 Iowa.  One rough/ruff road, indeed.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange began Tuesday’s game with #22 Florida State by getting outscored 36-14, rallied to within one point of the Seminoles, and then was outscored 34-17 the rest of the way.  Suffice it to say this is one streaky team…and the Louisville-Duke-UNC gauntlet is a couple of weeks away.  Hopefully coach Jim Boeheim won’t be tossing his jacket Saturday when Boston College comes to the Carrier Dome.  Bring on the bubble once more…

 

Saturday’s Games:

Georgetown (15-8, 5-5 Big East) vs. Butler (13-10, 4-6), 12 p.m.,

The Hoyas are coming off of their first sweep of Providence since the conference realigned thanks to dominating the glass (a 50-33 rebounding advantage).  Road court advantage has held lately in this series:  the Hoyas have won three in a row at Hinkle Fieldhouse (where the rims remain ten feet above the court) while the Bulldogs have won three straight in DC.  Coach Patrick Ewing’s team shot 55% from three-point range in the two team’s meeting January 2nd–and that was a game they played minus Mac McClung.  Kamar Baldwin was the only Butler starter to score in double figures that night, and the junior lit up the Hoyas for 31 points the last time he came to Capital One Arena.  For the record, two years ago these two teams went to overtime in Washington–and last year’s game went to double-OT.  We politely ask that if you’re attending the game not to make an early dinner reservation.

#11 Virginia Tech (18-4, 7-3 ACC) at Clemson (14-8, 4-5) 12 p.m., ESPN2.  The Hokies come a home loss to Louisville where they allowed more points in the first 13 minutes than they did in 40 minutes at NC State.  Seriously, the Wolfpack sent the game back to the 19th century by shooting 9-for-54 and resembling teams playing the cartoon Harlem Globetrotters. The Tigers’ win over Georgia Tech Wednesday was its first on the road in league play and their third straight–but before you start looking at first and second round NCAA sites, remember the Yellowjackets are 3-7 in league play and the other two wins in the streak have come against Pitt and Wake Forest (a combined 4-16 in the ACC).

American (12-10, 6-5 Patriot League) at Army (11-13, 6-5), 2 p.m.  Two of the league’s three 6-5 teams get to this point from opposite directions:  AU has won four of five while the Black Knights have dropped three straight.  Despite having the conference’s best rebounder in Matt Wilson (8.6 boards per game), Army ranks seventh in the league on the glass.  The Eagles received a nice boost from Patriot League Freshman of the Week Jacob Boonyasith last week, only to see the guard experience growing pains (2 points on 1-6 shooting in the loss at Navy) this week.

VCU (16-6, 7-2 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (9-13, 5-4), 2 p.m. CBSSN.  Double-digit wins over George Mason and George Washington put the Rams one game out of first place in the conference at the halfway mark;  unfortunately they won’t play league-leading Davidson again in the regular season (the Wildcats took the January matchup at Belk Arena).  The Bonnies have won three of four, but losing three players to graduation and three more to transfer have forced coach Mike Schmidt to lean on freshman Kyle Lofton big-time this winter (the guard’s 38 minutes per game leads the A-10).

Howard (10-13 4-4 MEAC) at Florida A&M (9-14, 6-2), 4 p.m.  The Bison take to the floor for the first time since blowing a 24-point lead to Norfolk State in an 80-78 loss that saw a postgame scuffle brew out of the handshake line.  Three players will be suspended: Princewill Anosike, Jalen Jones and Andre Toure-of which only Anosike averages over 15 minutes per game this season.  The Rattlers provide a metaphorical one-two punch in being the best three-point shooting team in the MEAC while also allowing the second-fewest points per game in the league.  They also beat Howard in DC by ten January 5th thanks in part to turning them over 20 times.

Navy (8-14, 5-6 Patriot League) at Lehigh (15-7, 8-3), 4:30 p.m.  Consecutive wins over Loyola (MD) and American take the Mids from flirting with last place to one game out of third in the conference.  The Mountain Hawks are coming off of a loss to Colgate where they turned the ball over 21 times.  Lehigh did take the January matchup in Annapolis as senior Lance Tejada hit five three-pointers en route to 22 points.  The Mids need to get Evan Wieck the ball more:  the junior leads the Patriot League in field goal percentage (.708) but takes under five shots per game.

#3 Virginia (20-1, 8-1 ACC) vs #2 Duke (20-2, 8-1), 6 p.m., ESPN.  The Cavaliers were done no favors when the league schedule their home game with the Blue Devils two days before a roadtrip to North Carolina.  The makeup call?  Seven days to prepare for Coach K’s crew.  The meeting in Durham saw the two teams combine to shoot 67% from inside the arc and 5-for-31 (16) from three-point range.  Can UVa find a way to contain Zion Williamson & RJ Barrett (the duo tallied 57 points on 21-of-35 shooting)?  And will point guard Ty Jerome’s back (he sat out the Miami win) be good enough for him to keep pace with the healthy Tre Jones (14 points and 5 assists per game since his return from injury)?

George Washington (7-15, 3-6 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (9-14, 3-7), 6 p.m.  Good news for those who enjoyed the A-10 Tournament at Capital One Arena last March- the league’s postseason tourney returns to DC in 2022.  Even with none of the local schools reaching the weekend it was a great five days, with just one blowout (naturally the late Friday 3-vs-6 Quarterfinal) and a thrilling Final (Davidson upsetting Rhode Island 58-57).  The January meeting between these two schools saw the Spiders win by 20.  While rebounding (Richmond held a 38-25 edge on the glass) was a major factor that day, the major mismatch between these schools is ball security:  GW ranks 12th in the league in turnover margin while the Spiders’ Jacob Gilyard leads the conference in steals.

Sunday’s Game:

George Mason (13-10, 7-3 Atlantic 10) vs La Salle (7-14, 5-4), 2 p.m.  The Explorers are attempting to be this year’s Richmond:  last winter the Spiders bounced back from a 2-10 non-conference mark to post a .500 record in league play and almost upset NCAA Tournament at large team St. Bonaventure in the Quarterfinals.  The Patriots are trying to avoid becoming this year’s VCU:  the Rams lost six of eight last February to finish without a winning record for the first time since they joined the A-10.  Mason’s coming off a disaster in Richmond where they turned the ball over 20 times and allowed 57% shooting.  La Salle has won four straight–but those victories have all come against the bottom four schools in the league.

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It takes a special team to win a National Championship in Men’s College Lacrosse.  Just ask Maryland.  The Terps advanced to 19 Final Fours in between its 1975 and 2017 only to be thwarted one way or another by the Syracuses and Johns Hopkins of the world.  Last year’s title squad won three of its four tournament games by three goals or fewer.  Come May the little things become big and the big things become huge.  It takes a special group to win four games over three weekends.

The Terrapins head to Foxborough, Massachusetts for the Final Four on the strength of the best Special Teams combination in Division I:  Maryland ranks 2nd in Man-Up Offense (lacrosse’s equivalent of hockey’s power play) and 5th on Man-Down Defense (the lax version of the penalty kill).  Of the other three schools playing this weekend, only Duke has a specialty unit ranking in the top ten (6th on Man-Up Offense).  Coach John Tillman said, “We devote a lot of time to special teams–we feel like it’s a big part of any game. I do think it could be a big part this weekend.”

In charge of the two units are the Terrapin assistant coaches.  J.L. Reppert primarily works with the offense and has made the Man-Up Unit into a force that scores on 58% of its opportunities.  Coach Tillman said, “On the offensive end we have typically six really skilled kids out there– that group has great chemistry.  Coach Reppert’s done an awesome job putting the pieces together.”  Reppert’s grown into his role with the senior class.  Senior Midfielder Connor Kelly said, “I think we just have a group that’s really smart with and without the ball. With coach Reppert being in his fourth year he’s helped us out in preparation…and we’ve been thrown at us a bunch of different looks (by opponents).”

Sophomore attacker Jared Bernhardt leads the team with seven Man-Up goals, but Kelly (45 goals overall this year) receives a huge portion of the defense’s attention–much to the delight of the coaching staff. “When they take Connor away it takes the whole situation from a 6-on-5 to a 5-on-4,” Tillman said,”Connor’s presence is huge for that–and then it’s just having guys zip the ball around and have good spacing.and those guys are so unselfish.”  After losing championship games as a freshman and sophomore before last May’s title, the captain is more than happy to share the offensive wealth if results in a repeat of 2017.  Kelly said, “If we just keep moving it…any guy on that man-up unit is able to put the ball in the back of the net.”

Directing the Man-Down Defense that denies foes on 78% of opportunities is 2013 graduate Jesse Bernhardt.  The 2012 ACC Co-Defensive Player of the Year returned to College Park last summer after successful stints at Rutgers and Princeton, and has made an instant impact at his Alma Mater.  Senior goalie Dan Morris said, “He puts in a great scheme for us and gets us ready for every game.  We have guys who have good sticks who are really good on man-down.  Our unit’s a pretty close group and they do what they do well.”  Senior co-captain Bryce Young along with junior Curtis Corley anchor a Man-Down crew that is as stingy as the Man-Up is efficient.

How many times both units will be tested this weekend is anyone’s guess.  In two tournament games thus far the Terps have committed four penalties while being in the Man-Up just once (freshman phenom Bubba Fairman scored against Cornell).  Will we see the refs swallow their whistles in Foxborough?  “Historically the later you go the more they let you play, which i think most coaches would like,” coach Tillman said, “I think you’re talking about four teams that have gotten there for a reason and you’re getting the best officials.  My gut is it will be a more physical weekend.”  The Terps face former ACC foe Duke at 2:30 p.m on Saturday.

 

The other semifinal pits #2 Albany (16-2) against #3 Yale (15-3) at noon Saturday.  The Great Danes lead the nation in scoring and winning faceoffs while the Bulldogs rank fourth in goals per game.  Albany’s Achilles has been a man-down unit that is the most generous of teams playing this weekend (52nd in Division I).

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The Maryland Women’s Lacrosse team is in the Final Four–again.  Ten straight appearances in the national semifinals means that, bear with me here, that not only has every senior been on four straight Final Four teams- no senior has played with anyone who played with anyone at Maryland who was on a Terps team that didn’t make the Final Four.  No easy task.  Just like winning a second straight national title this weekend will be no easy task as they battle Boston College at 7:30 Friday in the Semifinals-one year after beating the Eagles in the National Championship Game.

The seeds to this year’s senior class were planted over ten years ago.  Senior attacker Megan Whittle says, “The coolest thing about my class–there’s seven of us now–is that we’re all from Maryland and four of us played on the same club team together.  Since we were eight or nine.” The addition of transfer Kathy Rudkin from Syracuse bolstered a defense that lost plenty of talent to graduation-and gives the Terps eight seniors who contribute on and off the field.  “I’m just fortunate and blessed to have a team full of amazing women,” coach Cathy Reese says, “they’re all just terrific people and that’s what it’s all about.  From Megan Whittle who leads the team with 83 goals to Emma Moss who saw action in just four games this year, Reese’s senior class and team is more than a collection of talent but a group of teammates.  “What Cathy’s been able to do is bring 37 girls together, get everybody on the same page and focused towards the same goal. And have everyone love every moment of it,” Whittle says, “And that is something that is very hard to do–especially with 37 girls of college age.”

This year’s senior class leaves College Park with a 47-0 home record…setting the standard while also laying the groundwork for the 2019 and 2020 teams. “They mean the world (to me)”, says junior goalie Megan Taylor, “I’ve actually been playing with Megan Whittle since Rec (league)–and Taylor Hensh I grew up playing COBRA (travel lacrosse) with. Just being able to watch them grow and watch them become the leaders that they are, it’s really something special.”  But the mood around campus is not one of celebration this week–it’s one of focus.  “This senior class has had such an impressive ride and accomplishment, but it’s important that we don’t take anything for granted,” coach Cathy Reese says, “it took a lot of work to get here and there’s a lot of work still to be done going into this weekend.”  And that’s exactly where Megan Whittle wanted to be-and she gets to be there one more weekend in her playing career.  “When I was 15 years old and decided to commit to Maryland, that’s what I signed up for,” Whittle said, “And here it is, happening. My senior class had a very successful tradition of winning National Championships and Big Ten Championships–but the coolest part is that is isn’t over yet”.

 

In the other semifinal–

#2 North Carolina (17-3) faces #3 James Madison (20-1) at 5 p.m..  After a slow start the Tar Heels enter Memorial Day weekend on a 12-game winning streak that includes an ACC Championship.  The Dukes boast the fourth best defense in Division I and are led on offense by Kristen Gaudian (74 goals) and Katie Kerrigan (53 assists).  Gaudian and Elena Romesburg each scored 5 goals in the February meeting between the two schools that was won by JMU in overtime.

 

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For 40-plus years in College Park, the mantra was “wait until next year” as one Maryland men’s lacrosse team after another fell short of winning a National Championship.  Local rivals like Johns Hopkins and ACC foes like Virginia tallied titles while the Terps wondered what was necessary to get to the next level.  There were blowouts and there were heartbreaks, bad calls and worse mistakes over four decades…until last year became next year.  The Terps’ 9-6 win in the 2017 Championship Game over Ohio State brought generations of Maryland players and coaches together, and now next year is technically last year for the team that plays this year.  See how easy it is for defending champs to trip over themselves, even if only from a semantics standpoint?

The tone for the 2018 season was set early and often.  Senior goalie Dan Morris says “this year’s whole mantra is, we’re not the defending champs-we’re the attacking champs.  This is a whole different group of guys and a whole different scenario.”  It’s good to have Morris back;  after starting all 19 teams for the national champs the Dallas, Texas native finished second in the Big Ten in goals against average and saves per game.   All-Big Ten selection Curtis Corley is more than happy to have Dan between the pipes again this May.  Corley says, “he’s so talented in that he’s gonna make those stops that are routine. And he’s gonna make those stops that go–wow, that was a good one. Way to go Dan!”

A senior leads the attack as well:  Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Connor Kelly led the Terps with 40 goals and 33 assists. Kelly compliments his supporting cast: “we have a great group, athletic group, high-IQ group. We play as a unit and not 1-v-7,  that’s our biggest focus.”  The Terps rank 13th in goals per game and hit another gear when going man-up (lacrosse’s version of the power play):  only Lehigh was more effective than Maryland’s 57% success rate.

Despite falling to Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Terrapins enter the tournament as the #1 seed and get Robert Morris in the first round following the Colonials 12-6 win over Canisius.  The Northeast Conference champs rank 3rd nationally in scoring defense. “They just got some big defensemen,” Kelly says, “they’re like six-foot-five or above on some of them.  Got a lot of length-and obviously they’re a smart defense.”  The Terps will begin its NCAA Tournament run at home for the sixth straight May, and the defending national champs are looking forward to spending 60 more minutes on the Maryland Stadium Field.  Morris says, “We love our stadium. We’re gonna have a good group of fans there.  We’re just excited to have one more game together and one more game in our stadium.”  The first round’s faceoff is slated for noon Sunday.  This year.

Short Stick Spotlights:

Georgetown (12-4) qualified by winning the Big East Tournament.  The Hoyas are tied for sixth in scoring defense…with senior goalie Nick Marrocco logging 917 of the 960  minutes between the pipes.  They might be a year away from making noise in the tournament, as the offense is led by sophomore Jake Carraway (43 goals and 20 assists) and junior Daniel Bucaro (34 goals in 12 games).  The Hoyas visit #5 Johns Hopkins Sunday at 5 p.m.

5th seeded Johns Hopkins (11-4) won the Big Ten Tournament by beating Maryland one week after losing to the Terps in triple-overtime.  The Blue Jays rebounded from an early 1-2 start under the steady hand of senior triggermen Joel Tinney (18 goals and 30 assists) and Shack Stanwick (17 goals, 29 assists and the best name on the team).  Causes for concern could be special teams:  Hopkins ranked 34th (out of 63 schools) on man-up offense (lacrosse’s version of the power play) and 35th on man-down (aka the penalty kill).  The Blue Jays host Georgetown Sunday at 5 p.m.

6th seeded Loyola Maryland (12-3) hasn’t lost since March 24 and is the Patriot League Champ.  The Greyhounds made the Final Four two years ago and return their leading scorer from that team in junior attacker Pat Spencer (31 goals and 55 assists);  the difference is this year senior Jay Drapeau has blossomed (39 goals) into a major threat as well.  Loyola uses its defense to fuel its attack, ranking second in the nation in turnovers caused per game.  Their road to Foxborough begins at home Saturday against Virginia.

Virginia (12-5)  went 1-3 in the ACC but brings the 7th best offense into the tournament;  youth has been served with sophomores Michael Kraus (43 goals with 37 assists-good enough for 7th in the nation) and Dox Aitken (35 goals–and named after his Uncle Cider no doubt) plus freshman Ian Laviano (35 goals in his rookie campaign).  The Cavaliers are also one of the better faceoff teams in the tournament (13th nationally), which takes more of a priority in a possession minded postseason.  Saturday’s game at Loyola Maryland starts at 7:15 p.m.

Richmond (11-5) rides a six-game winning streak into the Tournament that includes winning the Southern Conference in overtime against Jacksonville;  the 12th best man-up offense in the nation is led by the one-two punch of junior Teddy Hatfield and freshman Ryan Lanchbury (sadly there are no McCoys on the Richmond roster).  Problem is…the first round opponent (#2 Albany) leads the nation in scoring and ranks #1 on faceoffs.  The Spiders on faceoffs?  A less than ideal 57th.  They visit the Great Danes at 5 p.m. Saturday.

 

 

 

So… how IS your bracket faring?  Did you have Virginia playing Purdue in the championship game like I did only to put Arizona in the Final Four when you learned that De’Andre Hunter was done for the year?  Did you bet on the wrong blue-bloods to advance?  Did you out-think the system?  Welcome aboard, friends.  Far from chalk- the NCAA Regionals resemble more survive than advance.

History has a strange way of coming back to bite you.- Virginia was #1 this winter for the first time since 1982 when the top-ranked Cavaliers lost to Chaminade.  Ryan Odom (son of then-assistant and future Wake Forest coach Dave Odom) was a ball-boy for that team.  Fast-forward 35 years and Odom the younger leads UMBC over UVa in not only an upset of the ages, but a smackdown to remember.  This wasn’t just a last-second shot or an errant pass, but a 20-point beatdown.  The Cavaliers go home knowing everybody knows they’re the first number one seed to lose to a #16 (and truth be told, if we still had the old 64-school bracket UMBC would have been a #15 and the Cavaliers would have face 15-19 Texas Southern).  I attended Syracuse and we got grief for 15 years about the Orange being the first #2 seed to lose to a #15…even after other schools had followed suit.  Even after SU had finally won a National Championship.  Tony Bennett will take a long look at himself and his coaching style.  And then he’ll come out of the summer of his discontent focused and ready to lead another Virginia team to 15+ wins in the ACC and threaten again next March.

One Sorry City- so much for Skyline Chili owning the month.  Xavier and Cincinnati both blew late leads in Second Round losses.  There’s nothing the fan bases of either school enjoys more than taking delight in their inner-city rival’s misery.  This winter it goes both ways.

Conference Call- the Big 12 and ACC each have four schools remaining, while the Big Ten and SEC have two teams left in the bracket.  The Pac-12?  Gone midway through the first round.  Mad props to the Summit, Mountain West and West Coast Conferences for having a school still in the field.  Rumor was the Big East was thinking about taking credit for Syracuse and West Virginia, but it would also mean they’d be saddled with Pitt.

Planting Seeds- they say figures do not lie but liars do figure.  While we’ve lost a pair of #1’s and two more #2’s, seven of the top 16 schools are still in the field.  And if you go one step further, there are three #5’s–meaning 10 of the top 20 schools are still around and as the difference between a #4 and a #5 is often microscopic you could make the case that 10 of the top 16 teams are still around.  While Loyola (Chicago) is a true Cinderella as a #11 (and needed a couple of miracle plays thanks to their 90-something year old Chaplain), Syracuse is far from an upstart despite their place as “the last at-large team in the bracket”.  Just like two years ago when they made the Final Four as a #10 seed, this is a case of a school that is peaking at the right time after a less than awesome regular season.

Different Paths- Kentucky may have been upset at their #5 seed with Virginia, Cincinnati and Arizona in their region one week ago.  Today those three schools have all been eliminated and the talented-but-young Wildcats are the favorites to win the South.  If you go by seeding numbers (5+7+9+11) of the survivors the South has a Madness rating of 32, highest of the bunch (for comparison, the West has a M rating of 23 while the Midwest owns a 19–and the East is one over chalk at 11).  Michigan looks to continue its incredible run (11 straight wins) in a West that has the tournament darlings-Loyola-as well as the gold standard of Cinderellas:  Gonzaga.  But this Bulldogs team is one that knows how to get to a Final Four (see last year).  Kansas is playing in Omaha–but is in ACC country with Duke, Clemson and Syracuse rounding out the regional–and has memories of being upset in tournament games close to home (Kansas City last year, Omaha in 2015, St Louis in 2014, Oklahoma City in 2010).  Villanova has the roughest road with West Virginia looming in a true contrast of styles–and I’m only referring to Jay Wright’s Italian suits against Bob Huggins’ tents and khakis.

Sunday Night Hoops- I still wish they got rid of the late Sunday game.  Did we need to see West Virginia meet Marshall at 9:40 p.m. on a Sunday?  After four days of great hoops, couldn’t we have ended after the 8:40 tilt?  All one has to do is shuffle the times and move the 7:10-9:40 doubleheader to 2:10-4:40.  It would give fans more hoops in the afternoon (especially if one of the early stand-alone games becomes a dog like Saturday) and put a nice bow on the weekend.

Maryland Women’s Season- the Terps ended the 2017-18 campaign with a 74-60 loss at North Carolina State in the Second Round this past Sunday.  This was hardly an ideal campaign:  not only did coach Brenda Frese have to compensate for losing two All-Americans to graduation, but the Terrapins also lost their best returning player to transfer (Destiny Slocum) while three others left the program.  Of those departures, one came back to haunt the Terps:  Kiara Leslie after graduating in three years at Maryland wanted to finish her career near her hometown of Holly Springs, NC.  She finished second in scoring this season for NC State before scoring 21 points against her former team.  Leslie sat out last season with an injury and had already made plans to transfer when Slocum, Kiah Gillespie and Jenna Staiti decided to go elsewhere.  If Leslie had stayed she would have been a big piece on a shorthanded team that lost Blair Watson to injury in January, but that’s why hindsight remains 20-20.  The Terps have another great recruiting class (#3, #32 and #33 prospects are headed to College Park) coming in and if Watson returns healthy this crew will challenge for the Big Ten title again next winter.

 

 

Who’s enjoying the First Four?  Me neither, even though my alma mater is playing in one of the “games that are not play-in games but have the lowest ranked automatic qualifiers and at-large teams”.  All eyes are on the brackets as one tries to figure out which teams will surprise, which ones will underwhelm and which schools will reach the final weekend of the month.  Yes, we’re back to the “Bold, Fold & Gold Picks”.  The “Bold” picks a team that advances far beyond its seed while the “Fold” selects a school that underwhelms.  Gold naturally is the pick to win the regional.

 

SOUTH- Leave it to #1 overall seed Virginia to suffer the injury bug again this March.  The ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year, De’Andre Hunter, is out for the rest of the season with a broken wrist.  The freshman averaged 10 points and 4 rebounds during the ACC Tournament.  Before the injury I had the Cavaliers going all the way to the championship game.  Now…not so much.

Bold-  Loyola (Illinois) finished third in the nation in shooting percentage (50.7%) and they’re facing a Hurricanes team that’s minus senior guard Bruce Brown Jr.  Be wary of the Ramblers.

Fold- Virginia should have no problem with UMBC in the First Round (although it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Cavaliers trailing at the half).  But minus their top reserve who provides energy at both ends of the floor for an extended run?  My original National Runnerup might not make it out of the first weekend…and will definitely have its hands full with Kentucky or Arizona in the Sweet 16.

Gold- Arizona instead of depending on a freshman role-player put all of their chips on the shoulders of a freshman phenom.  And 7-foot-1 center Deandre Ayton is a hitting his stride with seven double-doubles in his last eight games.  They also have the steady hand of senior point guard Parker-Jackson Cartwright directing the offense.

 

WEST- Xavier is the #1 seed;  the Musketeers have never been to the Final Four- their 27 appearances is the second most of any school (behind BYU) without a National Semifinal appearance. Will this be the year they finally break through?

Bold Providence bullied its way to the Big East Championship only to lose in overtime to Villanova after coach Ed Cooley split his pants.  The Friars knocked off top-5 teams ‘Nova and Xavier, so North Carolina won’t be too intimidating before the Tar Heels experience their customary basketball amnesia.

Fold- Ohio State played above its talent all season long under first-year coach Chris Holtmann, but got swept by Penn State and struggled down the stretch.  The early Big Ten Tournament means they will have played one game in 20 days when they face South Dakota State-and the Jackrabbits have a red-hot Mike Daum who averaged 26 points and shot 40% in their run through the Summit League Tournament.

Gold- no team finished the season playing better than Michigan.  Mo Wagner is a big who can stick threes…and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman can go off when necessary.  John Beliein is the best coach nobody talks about…and this year the veteran grinder (stops at Lemoyne, Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia) gets his due.

 

EAST- Villanova gets the top seed…and this is the fifth straight year they’ve been a #1 or #2 seed.  While they won it all in 2016, the Wildcats were bounced the first weekend in 2014, 15 & 17.  Talk about feast or famine…

Bold- St. Bonaventure’s bolstered by the backcourt of Matt Mobley and Jaylen Adams.  Guards get it done in March and the Bonnies have the duo to become tournament darlings.

Fold- West Virginia defends very well for 94 feet over 40 minutes.  Unfortunately they have stretches where they forget how to use the basketball for scoring purposes.  Coach Bob Huggins’ teams have a history of flaming out on Fridays.

Gold- Purdue hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1980.  They knocked on the door for years with Gene Keady’s combover, and since have become a factor with Matt Painter.  He’s got skilled bigs who can make shots…and they’ll cut down the nets in Boston.

 

MIDWEST- #1 seed Kansas has an easy path to San Antonio; the Jayhawks play the first weekend in Wichita and the Regional is in Omaha.  What-they couldn’t put the Final Four in Kansas City? 

Bold-New Mexico State ranks fifth in the nation in rebounding margin and San Diego is a short trip from Las Cruces. Aztecs guard Zach Lofton averaged 24 points per game during the WAC Tournament.

Fold-Rhode Island lost three of four entering the Atlantic 10 Tournament, could have lost to VCU, should have lost to St. Joe’s and did lose to Davidson.  The trend continues against the Sooners Trae Young.

Gold- Michigan State and Duke both were #1 during the regular season, but the bracket is once again set up for Kansas.  For the record last year the Jayhawks played the first weekend in Tulsa before losing in the regional at Kansas City.

So much for the “Beltway Basketball Bonanza”.  None of the schools in and around the beltway made the NCAA Tournament- and the area is Marchless for the first time since 1978.  Not even an NIT bid!  So the as the winter of our discontent concludes…we move on to being interested observers of the Madness.

Atlantic 10 Tournament Thumbnails- despite being one of those five-day affairs that are the result of leagues ballooning to 14+ teams where fans don’t get to see the #1 team in the conference until the seventh game of the week, the A-10 put on a pretty good show at Capital One Arena.  Eleven of the 13 games were competitive and only the Davidson-Saint Louis Friday night 3 vs 6 game was bad from the beginning.  While the four local schools didn’t reach the weekend, each team posted a victory before being bounced.  And we got a nail-biter of a victory by Davidson on Sunday where the Wildcats won despite going over 13 minutes without a basket.  Deservedly, three schools advance to the Big Dance (truth be told I was a little nervous about St. Bonaventure after their semifinal loss).  And while the media dining wasn’t as elegant as two years ago when the ACC rolled into town (nobody does the tournament like the Cadillac of Conferences), it was MUCH better than the Big Ten last March.  Here’s hoping we get the Atlantic 10 back in Washington sooner rather than later.

Selection Show Thoughts- well, it was definitely different.  TBS took the reins and kind of fell flat, from a studio audience that wasn’t necessary to naming the at-large teams in alphabetical order.  Hopefully that’s a one-year experiment.  It doesn’t help that they force announcers on us who don’t cover the college game and expect us to buy into their expertise.  Would you take Jim Spanarkel or Bill Raftery seriously if they jumped on board for the NBA Playoffs?  The easy solution for this would be if TBS simply had a game of the week (hello, Southeast Conference).  You could rotate Charles & Kenny in with a regular college hoops analyst in the studio, have Ernie’s March backup be the primary host and voila–Turner could swat down any accusations about how they don’t devote one second of effort until March.

Bracket Racket- I was surprised to see a 15-loss Alabama, an Oklahoma team that lost 11 of its last 15 games and a Syracuse squad that went 8-10 in the ACC (and that’s with two wins over Pitt) make the field.  Who was robbed?  Oklahoma State went 2-1 against the Sooners and swept Kansas.  USC finished second in the Pac-12 and played in the conference championship game.  Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary’s were sent to the NIT despite rolling up gaudy win totals.

Planting Seeds- nothing really egregious, although it is amusing to see North Carolina and Duke no matter where they finish in the national rankings find their way to a #2 seed.  Midwest #1 Kansas starts in Wichita and plays the regional at Omaha?  Just remember last year the Jayhawks lost in Kansas City.  Overall number one Virginia has a less than appetizing potential Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky or Arizona.  The biggest question is how will the four Big Ten schools in the bracket fare with at least ten days off- and Ohio State will take to the court Thursday having played just once in 20 days.

Destination Dayton, or Here Comes the First Four!- at least they’re not referring to it as the “first round” anymore.  Somehow there is sanity somewhere in the NCAA.  Eight schools fly to the middle of the country to play one game…and then four of them fly to other cities to play two days later.  At least three of the four cities aren’t too far from Dayton:  Pittsburgh, Detroit and Nashville are all short hops (Dallas being the exception).  Part of being in the tournament is BEING IN THE TOURNAMENT.  That means rubbing shoulders with the other members of the sub-regional.  In a perfect world we’d have only 64 teams in the tournament;  in a world I wouldn’t mind I’d settle for sending the two play-in schools to that weekend’s subregional site while still having them play there on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Coming up Wednesday- Bold, Fold and Gold Picks…