Archives for posts with tag: Northwestern

PORTIONS PREVIOSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Two weeks ago I was amazed at how Kentucky for the first time since 1977 was going to finish with a winning conference record.  Well, those Wildcats are going to have to take a back seat to a school that wrapped up a Division title-with two weeks in the regular season to spare.

Northwestern’s 14-10 win at #21 Iowa clinches their first West Division title, putting the Wildcats within one victory of their first Big Ten championship since 2000. It’s easy to sell this year’s team short. They lost to Akron, a school that had last beaten a Big Ten team two years before the conference was founded in the 19th century.  They were 1-3 at the start of October–and that one win was a four-point Labor Day weekend victory over Purdue.  Northwestern needed overtime to edge then-winless Nebraska and a fourth quarter touchdown to beat Rutgers (!) in October, and it felt as though whatever division hopes they had were a mirage.  But nobody told the school with the smallest enrollment and tiniest stadium (21,000 and 47,330 respectively) in the Big Ten.  And the little program that could beat ranked foes Wisconsin and Iowa en route to its first division title.  Now coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team waits to see if they’ll face #4 Michigan or 8th ranked Ohio State in the championship game at Indianapolis next month.  I wouldn’t sell them short…

Alma Mater Update-  Syracuse is 8-2 and #13– the rarest air this program has graced since 1998.  An unbeaten record at home!  And a winning mark in the ACC for the first time since SU joined the league…Camping World Bowl here we come!  The Orange face #3 Notre Dame and always-tough Boston College the final two weeks of the season…and both games are away from the dome.  Who’s talking about basketball?

Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) lost quarterback Kasim Hill to injury and fell 15 points behind Indiana-twice-before rallying to take a late lead over the Hoosiers.  Unfortunately, IU’s offense woke up to drive for a go-ahead field goal and backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome fumbled on the Terps’ last possession in a 34-32 loss.  The road to bowl eligibility just got a lot tougher.  Terrapin Triumphs: Anthony McFarland rushed for a career-high 210 yards.  Tyrrell Pigrome completed 10 of 13 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown and also made plays with his feet coming off of the bench.  Tre Watson tallied seven tackles plus an interception to direct a defense that held the Hoosiers to 3 for 12 on third down. Terrapin Troubles:  Four turnovers-the first three leading to 17 IU points and the fourth extinguishing any hopes for a victory in the final minute of regulation.  Ten penalties for 93 yards- life is tough enough in the Big Ten…but when you beat yourself it’s even more difficult.  Next:  Saturday at noon against #8 Ohio State.

Virginia (7-3, 4-2 ACC) didn’t make things easy of its fan base at Scott Stadium.  Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team took a while to get going, falling behind Liberty on the first possession of the game outscoring the Flames 21-7 after intermission en route to a 45-24 triumph.  UVa can still win the Coastal Division, but need a 2-0 finish plus a pair of Pitt losses.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins threw for two touchdowns while running for two more scores.  Both of Perkins’ TD passes were to Joe Reed who also returned a kickoff 90 yards for touchdown.  Jordan Ellis had his first 100-yard rushing game since September.  Juan Thornhill tallied 13 tackles while Robert Snyder posted 11 stops with a sack.  Three takeaways for the defense and just one penalty for the team.  Cavalier Concerns:  allowing 24 points to…Liberty?  The Flames scored on three of their five first half possessions, with the other two resulting in a missed field goal and an interception in the red zone.  UVa allowed 205 yards rushing…and their next foe will try to exploit any weaknesses on the ground early and often.  Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 6-4 Georgia Tech.

Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) was still in control of its path to the  Coastal Division heading into their game at Pitt…only to run into a Panthers team that appears to be destined this fall.  The 52-22 loss eliminated the Hokies from the division race and put their bowl hopes on life support.  Yes, they face a fading (four straight losses) Miami team followed by the annual duel with Virginia (they haven’t lost to the Cavaliers since joining the ACC)- but the margin for error is ridiculously thin.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw for 231 yards and three scores on a turnover-free day while also leading the team in rushing.  Oscar Bradburn averaged over 40 yards per punt.  Hey-in a 30-point drubbing, you look for what you can get.  Hokie Humblings:  The defense coughed up 492 yards on the ground and allowed 31 points in the first half.  This is the fourth time this fall that the D has allowed 40 points or more and the primary reason why instead of talking division title this year’s team is on the precipice of bowl elimination.  Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. vs. 5-5 Miami.

Navy (2-8, 1-5 AAC) rallied after falling behind to #11 UCF 21-3 at intermission.  While they were able to reach the endzone three times in the second half, it wasn’t enough as the Midshipmen lose 35-24 and are officially eliminated from bowl eligibility.  The good news is the run through the gauntlet is over.  Midshipman Medals:  The offense converted 8 of 13 third downs and scored touchdowns on three of four second-half possessions.  Taylor Heflin led the defense with 14 tackles.  Owen White averaged 54 yards per punt.  Midshipman Miscues:  Zero sacks as the defense was unable to make McKenzie Milton uncomfortable to any degree (he completed 17 of 21 passes).  The run defense allowed 5.7 yards per carry on the afternoon.  Next:  Saturday vs. 2-8 Tulsa.  The Mids’ last five opponents currently have a combined-eight losses.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Losing Sucks.  And with the late Luther Vandross belting “One Shining Moment” at the close of another NCAA Tournament, 67 schools wonder how things could’ve ended in that slo-motion net-cutting moment.  Meanwhile, 280 schools wonder what it will take to get into the Big Dance.  For just about everybody it’s a slippery slope on the way to the top;  a prized recruit attends another school, an athletic director makes a bad hire… and the winter of one’s discontent can turn into several years.  Losing Sucks.  Whether you were Michigan unable to turn back the Louisville tidal wave, Syracuse unable to get the block call instead of the charge, Georgetown unable to nip March’s most memorable story in the bud, Maryland unable to win on the road in the ACC, George Mason unable to keep Luke Hancock around campus, American unable to put 40 smart minutes together, Howard unable to break the cycle of 20-loss seasons or the Maryland women unable to keep its backcourt off crutches–Losing Sucks.  But it’s worth the missed shots, the blown calls, the misjudged recruits…because Luther had pretty damn good pipes.  Just hearing that song makes a lot of the heartbreak manageable…and if it just happens to be your school’s “One Shining Moment”– don’t let it go.  Ever.

Cardinals Rule– It’s hard to think that this Louisville team was once a teetering ship that malfunctioned multiple times at Notre Dame during a 5-overtime marathon, wrapping up a 3-4 stretch that took coach Rick Pitino’s team from top ranked to partially tanked.  Credit the Hall of Famer for getting this team back in gear– and 16 wins later, they’re National Champs.  Credit Luke Hancock for averaging 21 points during the Final Four in Kevin Ware’s absence.  Credit the Cardinal pressure generating turnovers on the perimeter while locking down inside and dominating the glass against Michigan.  Credit Jim Nantz for not coming up with a blatantly ridiculous pun at the final buzzer.

Alma Mater Update– what did I say?  Losing Sucks.  But what a run by the Orange.  The VAUNTED 2-3 ZONE must now be capitalized and in boldface with italics for one calendar year.  I still think I’m watching the halfcourt offense every time I drive through DC– come on people, it’s a crosswalk!  Make your way with some kind of purpose!  I still have to shake my head when I realize this team had lost 4 of 5 entering the Big East Tournament, the killer a 39 point effort against Georgetown.  I still get goosebumps when I remember the upset of Indiana and recall the net-cutting after beating Marquette.  I still wonder if Mike Hopkins will be Tom Izzo or Craig Esherick (THAT IS CRAP!).  I still try to imagine how the move the ACC will help or hurt this program from an immediate as well as a longterm standpoint.  I still marvel at the fist-pumping high-fiving comradery I have with fellow alums in Orange Nation win or lose.  And I still know it’s 9:39 PM. 

Bye Bye Big East– National Champs in 1984, 85, 99, 03, 04, 11, 13.  Not a bad tally for a latecomer to the big time… who then redefined what Big Time was.  Great memories of incredible games and Hall of Fame coaches and unbelievable players.  The 34 year history of excellence will live on…in the “New Big East” (hopefully more “Frasier” than “AfterMASH”), the ACC (7 of the 14 schools in the league next summer will have Big East ties) and the American Athletic Conference– yeah, whatever.  Losing Sucks.

Terps end near where they started– it’s just a matter of it you take the subway or a cab from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to Madison Square Garden.  A thrilling 58-57 win at Alabama sent coach Mark Turgeon’s team to the NIT Semifinals–and despite a 71-60 loss to Iowa there’s plenty of positives to take into the offseason.  Now the question is if sophomore center Alex Len returns to College Park.  Enough scouts like his upside– but he’s had more than a few consistently uneven stretches.  You’d think he’d stay to get more polish– but the money’s probably there to be a semi-project in the NBA.  The program will definitely lose the last player on the roster to have played for Gary Williams– Pe’Shon Howard transferring to be closer to his ill grandmother in California.  For whatever reason it just didn’t work for the junior under coach Turgeon– he missed 18 games last winter and this past season shot under 30% from the field.  All the best to a good kid.  And all the best to a Terrapin progam that chooses between Nick Faust, Seth Allen or freshman Roddy Peters to run the offense next season.

Maryland Womens Minute– the Terps came up short against eventual National Champion Connecticut 76-50… before the Huskies bludgeoned its final three opponents in the tournament by an average of 27 points.  The world of women’s hoops this winter involved such a gap between the elite and the upper tier… and coach Brenda Frese’s team after losing its starting backcourt to torn ACL’s found itself overmatched and overworked.  Can another solid recruiting class combined withinjured players Laurin Mincy and Brene Mosley returning to form negate the loss of four year starter Tianna Hawkins?  Alyssa Thomas returns for one more run through the ACC…Duke and UNC beware.

Coaching Carousel– when will it stop?  Actually, never.  A few notable moves over the last few weeks…

Steve Alford went from New Mexico to UCLA…if ever there was a blue-blood player turned blue-blood coach around to guide the blue-blood Bruins, it’s the former IU All-American and Olympian.  His success at various stops now feels like a precursor to this career-making (Wooden) or career-breaking (Cunningham, Hazzard, etc) move.  The pressure at Pauley Pavillion is just enough to turn out a coach who led them to three straight Final Fours (Howland).  But after operating on the fringes it’ll be interesting to see how Alford deals with a prime time program that’s expected to win big consistently.

Andy Enfield went from Anonymity to USC…while Alford’s career has been a slow broil, the ex-Florida Gulf Coast coach’s run has been a high heat microwave trip.  He’s charismatic, energetic…respected in NBA circles.  Enfield teaches a pro-style offense that recruits will flock to.  He’s going to be recruiting in Southern California.  And he took his Maxim model wife out to Taco Bell on their first date…while proposing with a ring stuck between Krispy Kreme donuts.  Let’s just say the guy has moxie.  And the bar in Troy is much lower than Westwood.

Richard Pitino went from being Rick Pitino’s son to being Rick Pitino’s son at a Big Ten job…one never knows how a coach’s kid will fare when on his own (Pat Knight, Sean Sutton) and it’s not easy to win at Minnesota (unless you want the eventual NCAA Probation).  He’s had one year as a head coach and led Florida Atlantic to an 18-14 record.  Now he might turn into something special, but the Big Ten is not the ECAC North where his father cut his teeth at Boston University.  And the Golden Gophers got rid of a perfectly decent coach in Tubby Smith who had been somewhat successful.

Chris Collins went from CBS’ halftime interview to the Big Ten’s Abyss… I can’t wait to see Wojo handle that role next year, although I don’t think it’s fair for Coach K not to rotate his assistants in the halftime interview segment.  Although he did speak at the half this year.  I think after losing to Louisville, Coach K will view his halftime chats as bad luck and give one of his managers the role next winter.  The last few sentences has intentionally kept me from writing about Northwestern Mens’ Basketball.

Mike Rice Jr. went from Rutgers to Infamy… Wow.  Beyond career-napalming.  How does that happen for so long without anything coming out?  Oh yeah, Rutgers.  I’ll call this the Curse of Gary Waters– the Scarlet Knights hired him away from Kent State and despite 3 winning seasons in 5 years, dumped him for Fred Hill (57-77 over 4 years) and now Mike Rice (11-25 after 2 seasons).  Since Waters left, Rutgers hasn’t only lost every season– they’ve placed in the teens of the Big East (13th or lower) every single year.  Athletic Department misfires aside, Rice cooked himself with belligerent behavior that not only crossed over the line but ran far beyond it.  Shoving and kicking players from behind is akin to attacking a defenseless receiver in the NFL– you just don’t do it.  Homophobic slurs in 2013– you just don’t do it.  Not with video.  Not with sound.  You wonder if Rice let the pressures of handling a sinking program in the Big East get the better of him.  You hope that he gets the necessary help to move on.  But you know that he’s justifiably out of there…and probably shouldn’t be anywhere for a while.