Archives for posts with tag: NIT

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Since joining the Atlantic 10 Conference, VCU immediately made its mark on the league.  Five straight appearances in the Conference Tournament Championship Game and five consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.  So last year when the Rams finished 18-15 (most losses since the 1998-99 season) and 9-9 in the A-10 (first non-winning conference season since 2000), coach Mike Rhoades realized he needed to go back to basics. “The summer-we just went old school. (I told them) We gotta get back to increasing our workload and hard we work,” Rhoades said.  And while the summer conditioning program made his players stronger physically,  “The best thing about it is we got mentally tougher-period,” Rhoades said. “We got mentally tougher and they did all the work together. So they’re playing together and they’re fighting through it together.”  Together the second-year head coach and his team have risen to the top of the Atlantic 10.

Tuesday’s 71-36 dismemberment of George Mason was the team’s 24th, their most in the regular season since 2011-12 (their final winter in the CAA).  Tuesday was the rule and not the excption as the difference this year has been defense:  Rhoades’ Rams allow the fewest points per game in the A-10, while also allowing the lowest percentage of shots made and three-pointers.  In addition, they’re second in turnover margin.  “I wanted to press, I wanted these guys to have freedom-going for steals and make plays on the freedom to make plays on the ball,” Rhoades said. “But if you want to win a championship, there’s times where you just gotta sit down five guys in half-court…and get stops.”

The team’s 11th straight win clinches the top seed in the Atlantic Ten Tournament and also delivers something previous coaches Shaka Smart and Will Wade did not:  the school’s first regular season title.  “Everybody picked is seventh–some people picked us ninth. Nobody gave us a shot.  And I told these guys if they stick together and work really hard that stuff doesn’t matter-we can do this,” Rhoades said after Tuesday’s clinching win, “It wasn’t our only goal-we’ve got a lot ahead of us.”  Ram on…

 

Alma Mater Update- SU wraps up the regular season with a trip to Clemson. It’s a chance to win 20 games in the regular season for the first time since 2014.  Yes, you read me correctly.  The Orange can finish sixth in the ACC with a victory over the Tigers, who are locked into the 8-9 game next week with NC State.  Somehow it feels as though nothing says 8-9 game in the ACC like Clemson-NC State.  Pulling for first day regulars Boston College and Wake Forest to meet up Tuesday.

 

Friday’s Games-

#24 Maryland (21-9, 12-7 Big Ten) vs. Minnesota (19-11, 9-10), 7 p.m., FS1.  The Terps can ill afford to enter the Big Ten Tournament with three straight losses…while the Golden Gophers have won two straight behind the scoring of Amir Coffey (32 points in wins over Northwestern and #11 Purdue).  They also boast the conference’s leading rebounder in Jordan Murphy (11.7 per game).  The Terps were somehow able to neutralize the senior in their January win over Gophers, holding Murphy to 9 points and 5 rebounds in an 82-67 win.  Two other notables from that night: Maryland closed the game on a 21-6 run and Anthony Cowan Jr. scored a season-high 27 points.  Cowan’s coming off of a rough effort against Michigan (he started the day shooting 1-for-11) and can use all the positive reinforcement he can get.

#15 Virginia Tech (22-7, 11-6 ACC) vs Miami (13-16, 5-12), 7 p.m., ESPN2.  So much for the major momentum of last week’s upset of then-#1 Duke.  So much for getting a double-bye in the upcoming ACC Tournament.  The Hokies let a 14 point halftime lead dissolve into a 73-64 overtime defeat at #14 Florida State Tuesday.  Don’t expect any sympathy from the Hurricanes, who were virtually locked in to playing in the First Round since beginning league play 1-8.  In those early stumbles was an 82-70 loss to Tech January 30th where coach Buzz Williams’ team shot 59% and Nickeill Alexander-Walker scored a season-high 25 points.  Miami senior Anthony Lawrence scored a career-high 27 points in a Senior Night victory over Pitt;  they’ve needed his production recently with leading scorer Chris Lykes netting just 12 points on 4-of-23 shooting over his last two games.

VCU (24-6, 15-2 Atlantic 10) vs. St. Joseph’s (13-17, 6-11), 9 p.m., ESPN2.  Do not overlook Phil Martelli’s team:  the Hawks have won two of their last four with each of the two losses coming by one point.  He also has the A-10’s top scorer in Charlie Brown Jr. But while the sophomore forward averages 19 points per game, he’s not getting a ton of help:  the team ranks 12th in the league in shooting and is last at defending the three.  That’s one of the few things VCU does not do well this year (13th).   In addition, do not overlook St. Joe’s road record in the A-10: it’s 1-7.  And the Siegel Center is not an easy place to play.

Saturday’s Games-

George Mason (16-14, 10-7 Atlantic 10) at George Washington (8-22, 4-13), 2 p.m.  The Orange Line Rivalry is renewed with the Patriots making the trek into the district and Foggy Bottom.  When GW has been good, there’s no place inside the beltway that rocks like the Smith Center:  the fans are right on top of the court (and media row) and it’s a great vibe.  This year’s Colonials have not been good, having lost eight of nine.  Can Mason rebound from getting blasted to bits at home on Senior Night?  “Twenty-five years as a head coach I’d like to say I’ve never had a game like this, but I have,” coach Dave Paulsen said, “I’ve had teams have this game: a rivalry game, at home, get embarrassed… and I’ve had that team bounce back and win a conference championship. I’ve also had teams that get embarrassed like that kind of put their head down and have a ‘woe is me’ attitude.”  Otis Livingston II needs to find a way out of his recent slump (averaging six points on 5-of-24 shooting over the last three games) for GMU to find its way back.

Georgetown (18-12, 8-9 Big East) at #16 Marquette (23-7, 12-5), 2:30 p.m., FOX.  Whatever vibe the Hoyas had after last weekend’s thrilling double-overtime win over Seton Hall, it’s gone.  As well as likely any hope of an at-large bid.  Losses to DePaul are not ideal; a 101-69 thumping is beyond disastrous.  A win would have kept coach Patrick Ewing’s team in third place–and instead they begin the weekend in seventh.  Now they face a Golden Eagles team that has lost three straight to hand first place to Villanova.  Marquette took the matchup in DC 74-71 thanks to 31 points from Sam Hauser, as the conference’s leading scorer Markus Howard left the game with lower back tightness after three scoreless minutes.  As Jessie Govan goes, so go the Hoyas:  the senior averages 20 points and 9 rebounds in the team’s Big East wins, while netting 15 points with 7 assists in their conference defeats.

Richmond (12-18, 6-11 Atlantic 10) vs. Davidson (22-8, 13-4), 6 p.m., ESPN+.  The Spiders take a three game losing streak into the final weekend, needing a victory or a St. Joseph’s loss to avoid playing in the dreaded first round of the A-10 Tournament.  A less than effective defense is a major reason why they’re going to finish under .500 for the second straight year:  Richmond ranks last in defensive field goal percentage and are 11th in stopping the three-pointer.  The Wildcats are led by Kellan Grady and Jon axel Gudmunsson who rank second and third in the conference in scoring; while Richmond held both in check earlier this winter it was freshman Luke Frampton who came alive with 24 points in a Davidson 75-62 triumph.  Frampton leads the A-10 in threes per game and the Wildcats are the league’s best three-point shooting team.

#2 Virginia (27-2, 15-2 ACC) vs. Louisville (19-11, 10-7), 4 p.m., ESPN.  The Cavaliers are coming off of a 79-53 thumping of Syracuse where they used a 27-3 run in the second half to take the lead for good, blow the game open, and lastly give the Orange a major inferiority complex.  UVa still needs a need a win to wrap up the top seed in the ACC Tournament, as they’d lose the tiebreaker with Duke and North Carolina in the case of a three-way tie.  The Cardinals haven’t won consecutive games since January 30th, and those consecutive wins were against Pitt and Wake Forest.  Just to show that stifling defense isn’t just a VCU thing, coach Tony Bennett’s team leads the ACC in scoring defense, field goal defense and stopping the three.  UVa won the previous matchup this winter 64-52 after holding Louisville to 15 second-half points.  They also got 26 points from De’Andre Hunter that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before:  the ACC is loaded again this winter.  Five of the top sixteen schools in both polls reside in that league.  And it’s not just the traditional blue bloods Duke and North Carolina– Miami, Notre Dame and Louisville also promise to make the conference campaign a gauntlet for the other ten schools.  Two of which reside in the Commonwealth and are also receiving votes this November.

Virginia is coming off of a 23-11 campaign and the departure of London Perrantes.  The centerpiece of the Cavaliers’ resurgence under coach Tony Bennett started 134 games and scored 1,225 points in a career that included a pair of 30-win seasons and #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, an ACC Championship and one trip to the Regional Finals.  Last winter it felt like UVa was “London and four guys from the Y”, especially when they hit the midseason wall and lost six of eight.  Three other pieces of the rotation (Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson and Jarred Reuter) transferred in the offseason-but there are plenty of contributors coming back from the team that allowed the fewest points per game in Division I last winter.  Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins has increased his productivity in the paint every season he’s been in Charlottesville and senior guard Devon Hall has developed into a fantastic perimeter defender while being able to initiate the offense when needed.  Guard Kyle Guy made almost 50% of his three-pointers as a freshman with the most popular hairstyle in the college game;  hopefully Guy’s cutting of the infamous man bun won’t have Samson-like ramifications to his shooting touch.  Jack Salt is from New Zealand and the 6-foot-10 center’s play resembles that of a Shiraz from down under:  plenty of boldness and unpredictability as just once in ACC play last winter did Salt post more field goals than personal fouls.  Seven-footer Jay Huff has gained 30 pounds after redshirting last season;  he’ll get every chance to compete for minutes.

The Cavaliers pull no punches in November and December, visiting VCU and #11 West Virginia while facing Vanderbilt in the NIT Season Tip-off Thanksgiving Day.  They won’t play North Carolina or Duke twice in ACC play–once is more than enough for most programs anyways.  It’s not the ACC opener, but circle January 3rd on your calendar as The Cavaliers visit Virginia Tech–they’ve lost two straight in Blacksburg.

Penthouse Prediction- the transfer departures prove to be addition by subtraction, while Wilkins and Hall make the leap we’ve seen previous upperclassmen make in Charlottesville.  Guy is even better without the man-bun and Huff is the center Tony Bennett has been craving.  A top-four finish in the ACC and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Worst Case Scenario- the power of the man-bun is proven and Kyle Guy shoots 20% from the field before hastily growing one over semester break.  Huff has an even higher fouls-per-rebound ratio than Jack Salt.  The ACC eats UVa alive…and they go under .500 in conference play en route to the NIT.  They also get swept by the Hokies.

 

Virginia Tech enters year four under coach Buzz Williams.  They were perhaps a year ahead of schedule last March when they made their first NCAA Tournament since 2007.  Technically they return 77% of their starts, but their top two scorers last winter were seniors Zack LeDay and Seth Allen who primarily came off the bench.  Who fills the void?  Junior Chris Clarke is recovering from a torn ACL-and he was the best rebounder on a team that was near the bottom of the ACC on the glass.  Redshirt freshman Kerry Blackshear, Jr. missed last season with nagging shin injury–but if he’s back at full-strength the 6-foot-10 forward will provide production in the post.  While senior Justin Robinson’s sturdy hand steers the Hokies offense, freshman Nickiell Alexander-Walker started the preseason exhibition against South Carolina and led the team in scoring.

The Hokies’ pre-conference slate includes battles with Ole Miss and Iowa…and a trip to preseason-#5 Kentucky.  The league schedule is no kinder:  in addition to playing Virginia twice Tech gets two games with Louisville, Miami and Duke.  Once again we return to the Blue Devils.

Penthouse Prediction- Clarke and Blackshear come back healthy and Alexander-Walker is better than advertised.  They steal a win and just like the last two seasons exceed expectations.  Somehow Buzz Williams has this team playing in the ACC Championship Game.  They reach the second weekend in the NCAA’s for the first time ever.

Worst Case Scenario- they miss Seth Allen and Zach LeDay a lot more than they thought…while Blackshear and Clarke are never 100%.  After getting all of the bounces last year, the Hokies revert to the mean.  And that means an early exit in the ACC Tournament and a trip to the NIT.

 

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In 1981, Patrick Ewing was the perfect fit for Georgetown.  The highly-recruited center tuned the Hoyas from one of the better Big East schools into a powerhouse:  three Final Fours, a national championship and near-misses in two of the more memorable title tilts.  Thirty-two years after last wearing the signature gray t-shirt underneath his jersey, Ewing tries to bring his school back from what has been a rough couple of years.  Consecutive 18-loss campaigns.  Early exits at the Big East tournament.  Defeats to lowly DePaul.  Roughly 5,000 fans on hand at Verizon Center for the St. John’s game.  There’s work to be done.

Say goodbye to the “Princeton Offense”, run by John Thompson III.   Ewing said, “it’s going to be a blend of the NBA style and also the style that we played here at Georgetown in terms of pressing and being up the floor-all that stuff in my years here.”  Music to the ears of the fans who watched the Hoyas finish last in the Big East in steals and turnover margin in 2016-17.  He’ll have a revamped roster to work with as only two of his top six scorers are back from last winter.  Ewing does have a big man at his disposal:  6-foot-10 forward Jessie Govan.  “Jessie is one of the keys to our success,” Ewing said, “If he does not have step up and have a great year for us we won’t be successful.  I’ve put a lot on his plate.”  To say the least.  The junior forward averaged 10 points per game last winter and was tied for the team lead in rebounding…does he feel any pressure in practice dealing with the best big man in school history?  “I mean–not pressure.  I just gotta listen to everything he says,” Govan said, “because everything he says is with a purpose.  I’m just listening to everything he says and then going out there to do my thing.”  Govan’s thing is pretty good when he hits his stride: he scored 23 points and 8 rebounds against NCAA-bound Marquette last February.  But he posted just a pair of double-doubles last winter- neither occurring in Big East play.

Govan will have help.  Fellow junior Marcus Derrickson expects to build off a sophomore year that began with a bang: the Bowie, Maryland native averaged 15 points over first five Big East games last winter.  Unfortunately he posted just a pair of double-digit efforts the rest of the way.  “I know going into this season and coming out of last year I have a lot to work on,” the 6-foot-7 forward said, “I had to get in better shape and just improve my overall game.  Coming into college and not winning for two years really motivated me to push myself so I can win this year.”  Former Ole Miss recruit JaMarko Pickett will also be in the mix…and while they won’t make anybody forget the days of Ewing and Michael Graham, they should be able to hold their own inside this winter.

Potential producers on the perimeter are guards Jagan Moseley (second in assists as a freshman) and former Juco Transfer Jonathan Mulmore.  There’s help at the point in the form of graduate transfer Trey Dickerson (South Dakota) and freshman Jahvon Blair.  Greg Malinowski is a graduate transfer from William & Mary where he shot 40% from three-point range last season.

The schedule has few speedbumps–a November 25th trip to Richmond an a December 16th game against Syracuse (even with all of their issues the last two winters, John Thompson III’s team was able to beat the Orange).  Big East play begins with Butler December 27th.  The Hoyas also play DePaul, Marquette and Creighton before finally facing a conference foe that was in the league when Ewing was a player–at St. John’s on January 9th.  I think there might be more than 5,158 at Capital One Arena when the Red Storm drop by the District January 20th.

Ewing returns to campus after being an assistant coach in the NBA for the last 15 years.  He’s never been a head coach anywhere and has never coached in the college game–until now. “We’ll just take it day by day, step by step, laying the foundation and we’ll see what happens in the future.”  For those who grew up on Hoya Paranoia in the 1980’s, #33 remains one final attempt to return to the program’s “Camelot”- after the hires of Craig Esherick and John Thompson III each saw early success before eventually meeting failure. “You know, everyone was wearing the Georgetown starter jacket.  From the east coast to the west coast.  People in the movies were wearing it.  I think all that showed how dominant we were,” Ewing said.  The long road back begins November 12th against Jacksonville.

Penthouse Prediction:  Ewing gets through to Govan who becomes a beast.  A soft non-conference schedule allows this team to find its feet before the conference wars.  They take their lumps, especially in Big East play, but shock the world with a win or two and make the NIT.  Of course they beat Syracuse.  And of course Jim Boeheim whines during his press conference.

Worst Case Scenario:  the career NBA assistant takes a little longer than expected to get in gear with the college game.  Govan turns out more like Brandon Hayes than Greg Monroe.  The perimeter players cobbled together aren’t able to gel.  A 20-loss season is punctuated by obnoxious orange-clad fans telling the Capital One Arena crowd what time it is on December 16th.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Some Marches become memorable because your school steals a game it had no business winning…while others are made by incredible tournament runs that keep the season alive for another weekend.  The select few seasons end with your team playing for it all during the first weekend of April…with the chance to bring home hardware.  This was not one of those years for the area schools…as even George Washington fell Monday night in the College Basketball Invitational (also known as CBI) to UIC (previously known as Illinois-Chicago) in the Quarterfinals (I feel like I should continue the trend and call it the QF).

As the dust clears from a wild weekend–what happened?  If you went into the tournament recognizing Mount St. Mary’s would be overmatched with Villanova, each of the other locals (Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and VCU) had potential red flags.  And each red flag was flown high.  And while the answer opening weekend was less than ideal for each school, as the offseasons begin there will only be more questions until next October 15th.

Maryland (24-9) had issues beginning with its January 1st loss to Nebraska where they did not score for the final six minutes of regulation.  Minus a proven post presence the Terps were reduced to a jump-shooting/drive-and-kick team this winter…and when they were hitting it was great.  But they had too many stretches of wandering in the offensive wilderness-against Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern-and losing Michal Cekovsky to injury limited their options inside further.  The Terps’ 76-65 loss to Xavier saw another one of those extended scoreless stretches (six minutes in the second half)…along with getting hammered on the boards by ten.  As Damonte Dodd graduates and L.G. Gill wraps up his one year with the program as a graduate transfer, all eyes are on Melo Trimble.  Will the 22-year old now projected to land in the middle of the second round by nbadraft.net return for his senior season?  Even if the junior departs, there’s a solid base in College Park with the freshman trio of Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson.  Not to mention redshirt Micah Thomas. Will six-foot-ten center Bruno Fernando be the inside answer?  Come back next winter.  

I didn’t know the Musketeers were that loaded- Xavier is the only double-digit team to survive the first weekend, and Chris Mack’s team did so after entering the tournament on a 4-7 lurch where three of those wins came against lowly DePaul (I have yet to check with the NCAA office, but I believe until further review one has to refer to the Blue Demons as “lowly DePaul”).  They hadn’t been the same since losing point guard Edmond Sumner and the NCAA Tournament is a guard’s game, right?  While the victory over Maryland wasn’t a complete shock their dismembering (91-66) of #3 Florida State was.  Along with fellow Big East newbie, Xavier is flying the conference banner in the regional round.

Virginia (23-11) gained the reputation as “London Perrantes plus four guys from the Y” during a stretch where they lost six of eight…and had trouble shaking that status no matter how many good games Kyle Guy and Marial Shayok produced.  Perrantes was the only Cavalier on the roster in March averaging in double figures (transfer Austin Nichols was dismissed in November after scoring 11 points in his only game for UVa)…and Saturday in the 65-39 loss to Florida the rest of the team shot 14 of 42 (33%).  Perrantes leaves Charlottesville having been the pulse of the team that averaged 28 wins and brought home the school’s second-ever ACC Tournament title.  He leaves a roster of players who need to develop over the next offseason…from Shayok and Guy to Jack Salt (the New Zealander had a season-high 10 rebounds against the Gators) and Isaiah Wilkins (limited by illness in the NCAA’s).  The only commit so far is shooting guard Marco Anthony, so the next floor general will have to come from within the ranks.  Darius Thompson, we presume?

ACC stands for Annoying Conference Collapse- nine schools made the field of 68…and one by one each went down over the weekend.  While nobody had Wake Forest or Miami making the Final Four, Louisville and Notre Dame had each been in the top ten during the regular season.  And both were gone by the end of the weekend.  Same with Florida State and…Duke?  Granted-they lost to South Carolina in Greenville, SC-but the way the Blue Devils had been playing down the stretch their faithful were confident in (and their detractors were fearful of) a Final Four run.  Only North Carolina somehow pulling victory not only out of the jaws but out of the esophagus of defeat against Arkansas kept the league from going 100% sour before the Sweet Sixteen.

Virginia Tech (22-11) ranked last in the ACC in rebounding…and that was before losing top rebounder Chris Clarke to a season-ending ACL injury.  So it was no surprise that the Hokies got crushed on the glass in their 84-74 defeat against Wisconsin…especially when the Badgers blew up everyone’s bracket by bouncing defending national champ Villanova two days later.  But let’s sit back for a second…Virginia Tech made the tournament for the first time in ten years.  And despite a rapidly thinning bench, coach Buzz Williams’ team entered selection Sunday having won six of nine.  While Zach LeDay and Seth Allen have played their final games in maroon and orange, there’s a solid nucleus that has plenty of starting experience (truth be told, LeDay and Allen were coming off the bench by the end of the season).  Another recruiting class for the energetic Williams comes to Blacksburg…and next winter they try to post the school’s third straight winning conference record for the firs time since 1986 (three moves ago, or when they called the Metro home).  Even with a loss to the Badgers, the Hokies’ glass is more than half-full.

From Much-Maligned to Sweet Revenge- the Big Ten was undervalued early and often this winter, culminating with a Selection Sunday slap in the face to multiple teams.  How’d they respond?  Purdue fought back the ghosts of brackets past with two solid wins (including a great punch-counterpunch victory over Iowa State) and their first Regional trip since 2010.  Michigan continued its great play that started well before its 4-0 sweep through the Big Ten Tournament (6-2 in final eight regular season games)…and bounced Oklahoma State before upsetting Louisville.  Wisconsin?  The conference runnerup after being given a #8 seed found a way to eliminate defending champ and overall number one seed Villanova.  Instead of misery this March is filled with magic for the Big Ten-as the league’s three teams alive are tied with the Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.  Maybe it was because their tournament was held in DC…

VCU (26-9) had issues shooting the three all season…tying for 248th in Division I.  Against an underseeded St. Mary’s (the Gaels were a #7 despite finishing the regular season 22nd in the writer’s rankings) in Salt Lake City the Rams were held to 2-of-13 from outside the arc in an 85-77 loss.  One wonders what sort of seed they would have received if VCU had managed to hold off Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Tournament finals.  One doesn’t wonder about the force of nature that was JeQuan Lewis:  the senior went down shooting in his final game, leading the Rams with 30 points.  While the Rams return juniors Justin Tillman (2nd in the A-10 in rebounding) and Jonathan Williams (2nd on the team in assists), coach Will Wade won’t as the 34-year old wunderkind gets swept away to rebuild LSU.  Caveat Emptor:  the power conferences are littered with former VCU coaches, from Anthony Grant at Alabama to Jeff Capel at Oklahoma.  And Shaka Smart just went through an 11-22 campaign at Texas.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange finished the season 19-15 much like their inconsistent play mandated:  tipping off an 11am Saturday NIT game.  While Tyler Lydon is off to the NBA, longtime #1 assistant and “coach in waiting” Mike Hopkins is headed to Washington as the Huskies’ head coach.  This allows Jim Boeheim to stay after the 2017-18 season that was originally agreed upon as his retirement date (you know, after the probation that stripped the school of over 100 wins and 2 Big East Tournament titles).  Betty White applauds…

Bracket Busted- my CBSSports.com bracket did not lose a game the first weekend–because the computer site froze between 11:30am and 12:30pm. Epic fail, kids…but let that be a lesson to procrastinators worldwide. Get it done early…and watch suckers like me freak out at the last moment.

Conference Carousel- the ACC’s flameout (especially after last year’s incredible success) in the Big Dance this year reminds me of the Big East in the 1980’s.  1985 saw the league send three schools to the Final Four and post an 18-5 record, before going 4-4 the following March while getting shut out in the Sweet Sixteen.  The Big East bounced back in 1987 with a 14-5 record, two Final Four teams and a third that reached Regional Final.  So  2018 is on notice…

Sunday Night Special- I understand that TNT, TBS and TRU own the first Sunday of the tournament and thus are putting their games on at night for the biggest audience.  But could we move the 9:40 game to 4:40?  The 8:40 game (Duke-South Carolina) was the perfect cherry on Sunday’s games–making UCLA-Cincinnati seem like the cherry’s stem. It’s there but you don’t want to look at it…especially for those of us who have consumed 47 games over 48 hours of watching over four days.

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Selection Sunday comes and goes with the usual joy (Northwestern is going dancing!), customary disappointment (so you’re telling me a Syracuse team that went 2-11 on the road and lost to sub-500 Georgetown and St. John’s at home belongs?) and hair-splitting (Duke beats UNC twice and doesn’t get the #1 seed??).  Not to mention storylines waiting as we begin a new countdown to Thursday.

Finally, the First Four is just that.  That’s right- no more referring to the first weekend as the second and third rounds!  I conscientiously objected over the years and called them the “round of 64” and “round of 32”.  And yes, I skipped the Tuesday and Wednesday doubleheaders in the “new countdown” because that is how the NCAA treats these eight schools that make the field. Mount St. Mary’s, New Orleans, North Carolina Central and Cal-Davis:  welcome to the kiddie table.  Please make room for Providence, USC, Kansas State and Wake Forest.  I know Dayton sells these games out and goes the extra mile to make the schools feel special, but it’s kind of lame that a school/fan base has to fly to Dayton only to turn around and go to Buffalo, Tulsa and Sacramento for a game that takes place less than 48 hours later.  Have the First Four schools play at those eventual sites on Tuesday/Wednesday;  if anything you’re just cutting travel costs and letting them experience the true tournament.

No such worries for Maryland (24-8) regarding a Dayton destination, although there was a little more suspension this March than on the previous two Selection Sundays.  In 2015 and 2016 the Terps were listed among the first matchups in the bracket; this year they were the second to last school to read its name on TV.  Coach Mark Turgeon said, “I don’t know what their (his players’) reaction was because I was going crazy.  I got up so fast I almost fainted.”  Maryland gets a #6 seed in the West Region and a first round date with Xavier (21-13) Thursday in Orlando.  The Musketeers enter the tournament minus offensive catalyst Edmond Sumner (torn ACL in January) and are 4-7 since February 5th.  Three of those four wins came against lowly DePaul.  6:50 tipoff Thursday.

Virginia (22-10) also is headed to Orlando…but as the #5 seed in the East Region and a First Round showdown with UNC-Wilmington.  The 29-5 Seahawks bring a potent offense (10th nationally at 85.1 points per game) as well as a seven game winning streak.  UVa has won three straight round of 64 games under coach Tony Bennett; the stickler might be the fact that if they win the Cavaliers would likely face Florida.  I’ve been told by multiple sources that the University of Florida happens to reside in the same state as the city of Orlando, although many will tell you that the Magic Kingdom technically has jurisdiction. 12:40 gametime Thursday.

Virginia Tech (22-10) is in the same half of the East Bracket, getting the #9 seed and a First Round date with Wisconsin in Buffalo.  Having seen the Badgers’ big men Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ during the Big Ten Tournament (they lost to Michigan in the championship game), one’s going to wonder how the Hokies will hide the worst rebounding margin in the ACC.  Don’t worry-likely awaiting Buzz Williams on Saturday will be overall number one seed and defending National Champ Villanova.  9:40 start Thursday.

VCU (26-8) heads West as the #7 seed and goes to Salt Lake City for a Thursday evening game with St. Mary’s.  Yes, the Gaels who were actually ranked entering Selection Sunday will be the lower seed.  Three of their four losses were to top seed Gonzaga…and coach Randy Bennett’s team allows the second-fewest points per game in Division I.  Was the committee that miffed that they’d have to include Rhode Island in the field that they elected to punish the Rams in this manner?  7:20 tipoff Thursday.

Mount St. Mary’s (19-15 and not to be confused with Mt. Saint Mary’s) gets the Big Spin before the Big Dance and a date in Dayton with New Orleans Tuesday…although many fans and alums would much rather have a date with Dayton in New Orleans.  The Privateers boast a 20-11 record and a big man by the name of Erik Thomas;  the six-foot-five senior averages 19 points and 8 rebounds while making 59 percent of his shots.  The Mountaineers will have their hands full on the glass, as they rank 341st in the nation in rebounding margin while UNO is 63rd.  The winner gets to go from Dayton to Buffalo to face Villanova Thursday.  6:40 start Tuesday.

 

Missing the Field-

Alma Mater Update- the Orange went 18-14 en route to a #1 seed in the NIT.  Ironically the lack of wins away from the Carrier Dome ensures that they will play up to three more games in that building.  And it’s not just the NCAA that has a sense of irony:  less than one week after coach Jim Boeheim proposed moving the ACC Tournament from Greensboro, NC because it had no value SU draws UNC-Greensboro in the First Round.

Richmond (20-12) will play at Alabama in the NIT Tuesday.  The Spiders were unable to hold off a late charge by VCU in Saturday’s Atlantic 10 Semifinal and lost in overtime to the Rams-the third time they’ve been bounced by their neighbors in the A-10 tourney since VCU joined the league.  It’s always intriguing to see how a power conference team approaches the NIT after missing the NCAA cut; the Crimson Tide are in the “other tournament” for the third straight year and have lost on the road the previous two seasons.  It’s a good thing spring football practice doesn’t begin until next week.

George Mason (20-12) and George Washington (19-14) are headed to the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) after Friday night losses to their Commonwealth Capital brethren in the Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals.  Wednesday at 7 the Patriots host Loyola of Maryland (15-16 with six losses in their last eight games) while the Colonials will entertain Toledo (17-16 with a 4-7 record away from home) at the same time.  It’s the second CBI for both schools:  George Mason was the 2013 runner-up while George Washington fell in the 2010 First Round.

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Brent Musburger announced this week that the January 31st game between Georgia and Kentucky will be his final one behind the mic, ending a career in the national sports spotlight that began in the 70’s when he hosted the NFL Today.  For fans of a certain age, autumn Sundays meant a 12:30 ET appointment with Brent, Irv, Jimmy the Greek and Phyllis George.  He took over Final Four announcing duties from Gary Bender in 1985 as the NCAA Tournament was taking off, and is believed to have coined the term “March Madness”.  In addition, the guy simply dominated the 80’s.  NBA Finals?  College Football’s biggest games?  Brent was there…looking live.  While he carved out a nice post-CBS career as ABC/ESPN’s voice for college football and basketball, 80’s Brent was the announcer you wanted to watch and the announcer you dreamed of becoming.  Here’s looking live at you…one more time Brent.

Alma Mater Update-

There’s a pulse…but the Orange find themselves in the growing ACC middle class as they near the halfway point of their conference schedule.  That theory “they need to go 12-6 to make the NCAA’s as an at-large”?  Yeah.  I’m hoping for a 10-8 and a trip to the NIT.  It doesn’t help that #6 Florida State comes to the Carrier Dome still stinging from a beatdown by Georgia Tech.  Five of SU’s final ten games are against ranked foes and five of their games are on the road.  The Orange need to win a few of those to keep things interesting.

Saturday-

1 p.m.-

George Mason (13-7, 3-4 Atlantic 10) at UMass (12-9, 2-6).  The Patriots have to shrug off an 87-68 loss at home to George Washington…and quickly.  The Minutemen lead the A-10 in lowest field goal percentage allowed and are second in defending the three, and Mason just shot 1-for-8 from outside the arc in their loss to the Colonials.  UMass is also the only team to beat Dayton in league play thus far this winter.  GMU’s best win is a road triumph at Richmond…can they continue to shine away from Fairfax?

 

2:15 p.m.-

Maryland (18-2, 6-1 Big Ten) at Minnesota (15-6, 3-5), ESPN2.  Williams Arena is one crazy place to play;  Vanderbilt is perhaps the only other major school that has a similar home court advantage.  That said, the Golden Gophers have lost four straight and what appeared to be a fight for first place in the conference has turned into the Terrapins visiting the site of last winter’s worst loss.  Remember when the winless-in-the-conference Gophers beat a stacked Maryland team with Final Four hopes?  The Terps who returned this season haven’t either.  Minnesota features a fine point guard in Nate Mason who is second in the Big Ten in assists…while the Terrapins counter with a “double-barrel” offense of Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan where each can and will direct the attack.  Maryland may be unbeaten on the road, but now that school is in session they’ll finally get to meet the opposing students in the Big Ten.

 

4 p.m.-

George Washington (11-9, 3-4 Atlantic 10) vs Saint Louis (6-14, 2-6).  Consecutive wins have the Colonials getting off the mat… and the Billikens despite their recent road win at George Mason are definitely not world-beaters this winter.  Don’t expect a ton of style points in Foggy Bottom:  GW’s 13th in the A-10 in shooting while Saint Louis is last.  Both teams also have trouble taking care of the ball as each has turned the ball over 285 times this season (tied for second most in the conference behind Duqesne).  Neither defense takes advantage of opponents miscues both teams are near the bottom of the A-10 in steals. 

 

Navy (11-10, 6-3 Patriot League) vs Holy Cross (11-11, 5-4).  Make no mistake about it, there is no hotter team in the Patriot league than the Midshipmen. Six straight wins have turned the winter around and Navy is tied for second place halfway through the league season.  Shawn Anderson won’t need to score 30 like he did against Army last weekend, but he’ll need to better his previous performance against the Crusaders:  zero points on one missed shot over 26 minutes in a 51-50 loss January 2nd.  Malachi Alexander led Holy Cross with 17 points that night and is coming off a 20-point performance in a loss to Loyola-Maryland.

Howard (5-15, 2-3 MEAC) vs Savannah State (8-12, 5-2).  Just when you thought the Bison were back on track, they deliver a clunker like Monday’s 74-39 loss at North Carolina Central.  You want to say that the 28% shooting from the field was an aberration against a better team (the Eagles are second in the league)…but the Tigers are not far behind UNCC.  Troyce Manassa and Dexter McClanahan provide a 1-2 punch on the perimeter that may have Howard going dizzy by the end of the afternoon.  To say the Bison need better ball movement would be an understatement:  the team’s 8.4 assists per game rank 351st (dead last) in Division I.

 

6 p.m.-

Richmond (12-8, 6-2 Atlantic 10) vs Duquesne (9-12, 2-6).  The “other” school in the Commonwealth’s capital boasts the most efficient offense in the A-10 (leading the league in assist-to-turnover ratio) and a matchup nightmare in “point-forward” T.J. Cline.  The Dukes have dropped four straight, three by double figures.  Two of their top three scorers (Mike Lewis II and Isaiha Mike) are freshmen…and league play on the road is doubly cruel to its young.

 

8 p.m.-

Georgetown (11-10, 2-6 Big East) at #11 Butler 18-3 (7-2), CBS Sports Network. Hinkle Fieldhouse was the site of the Indiana State Championship that you remember seeing in “Hoosiers”.  The Bulldogs are 11-0 in that building this season.  The Hoyas are coming off an upset win over 16th ranked Creighton (albeit a weakened one minus Maurice Watson Jr. and his 9 assists per game) but have not won consecutive conference games in over a calendar year.  Coach John Thompson III’s team took Butler to overtime earlier this month in DC, and that was with Rodney Pryor shooting 0-for-8 from the field.  What hurt the Hoyas that day was the Bulldogs hitting 10 of 20 three-pointers.  Ball security will be a pivotal:  Butler leads the Big East in turnover margin while Georgetown ranks 9th in the conference.

 

Sunday-

1 p.m.-

#12 Virginia (16-3) at #1 Villanova (19-2), FOX.  Even with the Wildcats loss to Marquette, this is a major interconference matchup worthy of Brent and Billy Packer…or at least Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery. Prepare for some top-notch perimeter play:  UVa leads the ACC in three-point shooting  while ‘Nova leads the Big East at defending the three.  The Cavaliers will have their hands full with Josh Hart, while the Wildcats have to contend with London Perrantes (who’s taken the team on his back in ACC play by averaging 15 points per game against league foes)  The big question for UVa:  which Isaiah Wilkins will we see?  The big man who notched 13 points and 9 rebounds against Notre Dame or the kid who was held to 5 points and 4 rebounds in 29 minutes in the loss to Florida State?  Just as important- will Jack Salt be able to contain Villanova big man Darryl Reynolds (71% shooter but a footnote in the offense)?

 

2 p.m.-

American (5-15, 2-7 Patriot League) vs Colgate (6-16, 4-5), CBS Sports Network.  Consecutive losses have the Eagles tied for last place in the conference…and after facing the Raiders AU has to deal with the meat-grinder that is Bucknell-Lehigh-Boston University (combined 20-7 in league play).  Coach Mike Brennan’s team won the January matchup in overtime thanks to solid play from freshmen Mark Gasperini and Sy’eed Nelson.  Colgate also turned the ball over 17 times in that game.  AU could use more of the same Sunday.

 

6:30 p.m-

Virginia Tech (15-5, 4-4 ACC) vs Boston College (9-12, 2-6), ESPNU.  What is it with the Sunday evening window and the Hokies?  They’re here again…and instead of Clemson it’s a duel against another sub-500 ACC team in the Eagles.  Virginia Tech was crushed on the boards in their their loss at #9 North Carolina 43-22;  while nobody’s even close to the Tar Heels on the glass in the ACC this winter Tech will have to fare better against the BC bigs.  The Eagles have lost four in a row but boast guard Jerome Robinson;  the 6-foot-5 sophomore is third in the league in scoring at 20 points per game.  With two games against Virginia over the next three weeks, the Hokies can ill afford a stumble to their former Big East foe.