Archives for posts with tag: Ohio State

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So much for a duel in the Dominion.  Tuesday’s ACC battle royale between #4 Virginia and #9 Virginia Tech turned into a rout almost from the outset:  the Cavaliers scored the game’s first five points and held the Hokies without a field goal for the first three and a half minutes.  There would be no repeat of last winter when coach Buzz Williams’ scrappy bunch shocked then-second ranked UVa in overtime.  Instead, the Cavaliers hit 59% of their shots and 54% from three-point range while winning the battle of the boards 27-19.  The 22-point point lead at intermission would turn the entire second half into mop-up time as coach Tony Bennett’s team emerged as the ACC’s last remaining team unbeaten in conference play.  And just like Florida State two weeks ago, another top ten team tumbles before leaving John Paul Jones Arena.  Virginia’s four league wins have come by an average of 20.5 points per game and while a date with #1 Duke awaits, the Cavaliers have undercut their instate foes (don’t you dare tell the Charlottesville faithful that the Hokies are their rivals) once again.  Set your calendar for Monday, February ninth when these two teams battle in Blacksburg.

 

Alma Mater Update- nothing like washing off the smell of a double-digit home loss to Georgia Tech by beating #1 Duke at Cameron Indoor in overtime.   A 4/5 court heave by Elijah Hughes that went down.  A monster game that saw Tony Battle and his 32 points remind everyone why they all rejoiced when he announced he was coming back for his junior season.  Despite the injuries and illnesses, the Blue Devils are the team to beat and the Orange did just that.  Now they play a pesky Pitt that’s pesky and guided by a former Duke assistant in Jeff Capel.  SU has proven they can win on the big stage–can they sustain their solid play?

 

Friday’s Game:

Maryland (15-3, 6-1 Big Ten) at Ohio State (12-4, 2-3), 6:30 p.m, BTN.

This is the second of four Friday games for the Terrapins this winter.  Friday night hoops should involve me wearing a blue foam finger in Manchester, NH and scrounging up enough money to get Ugli sticks at Luisa’s Pizza on the west side.  The Terps have won consecutive games against Indiana and Wisconsin despite not putting together complete 40-minute efforts.  What’s encouraging is that even when things have gone sideways this month coach Mark Turgeon’s young team has found a way to win.  The Buckeyes have dropped three straight, including a three-point loss at Rutgers.  Perhaps they need to get the ball more to Kyle Young, who leads the conference in shooting (72.1%) but has taken just 12 shots during the slide.

 

Saturday’s Games:

Richmond (7-10, 1-3 Atlantic 10) at Davidson (12-5, 3-1), 12:30 p.m., NBCSN.  Both teams are looking to bounce from discouraging defeats:  the Spiders lost at home to Duquesne for the first time in 25 years, while the Wildcats fell at St. Joe’s by one.  Both teams bring plenty of firepower to Belk Arena:  Davidson leads the A-10 in three-pointers made per game while the Spiders rank second in the conference in field goal percentage.

 

American (8-8, 2-3 Patriot League) vs Lafayette (4-12, 1-4), 2 p.m.  How friendly has home court been for the Eagles thus far in conference play?  They’re 2-0 at Bender Arena and 0-3 outside DC.  Perhaps this is the game where Sa’eed Nelson finds his stroke from three-point range:  the Leopards rank last in the Patriot League at defending the three and are 9th in scoring defense.  But they do have a pair of offensive threats in Justin Jaworski (18 points per game in league play) and Alex Petrie (50% from outside the arc in conference action).

 

Navy (6-10, 3-2 Patriot League) at Army (8-10, 3-2), 2:30 p.m., CBSSN.  It’s not the football game, but this mid-January matchup has two schools recovering from nightmarish pre-conference schedules.  While the Midshipmen are still trying to find their way after losing last year’s leading scorer Shawn Anderson to graduation, the Black Knights are led by juniors Matt Wilson inside (2nd in the conference in rebounding) and Tommy Funk outside (2nd in assists).

 

#9 Virginia Tech (14-2, 3-1 ACC) vs Wake Forest (8-8, 1-3), 4 p.m., ACC Network.  Can the Hokies pick themselves back up from Tuesday night’s wreckage?  They face a Demon Deacons team that is fresh from upsetting #17 NC State by holding the Wolfpack to 37% shooting and 21% from three-point range.  Wake also has a second-generation star in Brandon Childress (son of assistant coach and 1995 ACC Tournament MVP), who’s averaging 16 points with 4 assists per game.  Despite the debacle in Charlottesville, Tech does lead the ACC in shooting and ranks second in scoring defense.  They should be able to find get their mojo back at Cassell Coliseum.

 

Howard (7-11, 1-3 MEAC) at South Carolina State (4-15, 2-1), 4 p.m.  Remind me not to buy into the Bison until they have a winning record entering February: eight losses in nine games has one feeling that “next year” won’t be happening this year.  Tuesday’s defeat to Morgan State was made possible by 18 turnovers and R.J. Cole’s second-lowest scoring output of the season (12 points in 42 minutes).  But as long as Cole and Charles Wiliams (25 points against the Bears) are around, the Bison are a threat to break out on a scoring spree.  And bring me back into the camp thinking that it might just happen this winter.

 

#4 Virginia (16-0, 4-0 ACC) at #1 Duke (14-2, 3-1), ESPN, 6 p.m.  The Cavaliers will have little time to bask in their beatdown of the Hokies…traveling to Durham to face an angry Blue Devils team that lost at home as a top-ranked team for the first time ever (previously 60-0 in that situation).  Adding injury to insult, guard Tre Jones is out indefinitely with a right shoulder injury.  But they still have the ACC’s leading scorer in R.J. Barrett and walking double-double Zion Williamson to test the pack-line defense.  UVa’s ultra-efficient offense that leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio won’t easily have its way with a Duke defense that holds teams under 40% shooting and under 30% from three-point range.

 

VCU (12-5, 3-1 Atlantic 10) vs UMass (7-10, 0-4), 6:30 p.m., NBCSN.  The Rams defeated Dayton Wednesday thanks to Marcus Evans: the transfer from Rice scored 17 points-including the team’s last seven and the go-ahead three with 33 seconds remaining.  The Minutemen may be tied for last in the conference, but three of their four league losses have come by five points or fewer.  They lead the A-10 in three-point shooting and are #2 in field goal percentage, while junior guard Luwane Pipkins scored 38 points last year against the Rams.

 

George Mason (10-8, 4-1 Atlantic 10) vs. Fordham (9-8, 0-4) 7 p.m., ESPN+.  The Patriots outscored UMass 18-9 over the final 6:40 of the second half to beat the Minutemen 68-63 Wednesday as Justin Kier tallied 22 points and 9 rebounds–the junior is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds in league play.  That makes up for Otis Livingston II struggling over the last three games to the tune of 7-32 shooting (22%).  The Rams lead the conference in turnover margin, but are 1-4 on the road (those losses include a defeat to Houston Baptist).

 

Sunday’s Game:

George Washington (6-11, 2-2 Atlantic 10) vs. Duquesne (12-5, 3-1), 4 p.m., NBCSN.  The Colonials bounced back from a horrid first half at La Salle by shooting 68% after intermission in their 68-63 win Wednesday;  they’ll find the Dukes a little tougher to contend with even though the game is in Foggy Bottom.  Duquesne is 12-5 and 3-1 in the league for the second straight January;  last year’s edition stumbled the rest of the way into a 16-16 finish.  Sincere Carry averages 5.5 assists per game;  I can’t think of a more appropriately named point guard.

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Friday’s Game-

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

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

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

 

Saturday’s Games-

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

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

Midshipmen stumble, 35-30. 

 

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

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

Terrapins tumble, 34-22.

 

FCS Playoffs:

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

Towson triumphs, 33-25.

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

Dukes defeat Delaware, 31-16.

 

Last Week: 5-3.

Overall: 61-39.

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Second ranked Ohio State’s 49-20 loss at Purdue (shades of the Buckeyes 55-24 loss to Iowa that kept OSU out of the College Football Playoff last year) robbed the Big Ten of its last standing unbeaten, meaning there are only three Division I FBS conferences to have at least one school still perfect on the season.  Alabama remains heads and shoulders above the pack in the SEC after trashing Tennessee 58-21 while Clemson showed that the ACC is currently its personal playpen in a 41-7 thumping of previously unbeaten (but untested) NC State.  Notre Dame is without a loss as well as without a league, clinging to its independent status because not sharing TV revenue is the proper thing to do.  That leaves the American Athletic Conference and not one but two unbeatens:  UCF and South Florida (a third unbeaten in the AAC-Cincinnati-fell for the first time this past Saturday).  The Knights and Bulls meet on the final weekend of the regular season, and while South Florida plays three of its next four games on the road it’s nice to at least dream about a November showdown of unbeatens.  Even if it’s not in a Power Five Conference.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange sent the alums home happy after posting a 40-37 double overtime victory over North Carolina.  Yes, the Tar Heels currently occupy the Coastal Division Cellar–but they beat Pitt and the Panthers got past the Orange in OT earlier this month.  Tommy DeVito once again came off the bench to lead SU to victory… and even though the defense once again had its issues they played just well enough.  At 5-2 the Orange have already surpassed their win totals in the first two years of the Dino Babers regime.  And while the D isn’t earning an A, they’ve improved each year (120th nationally in 2016, 99th last year and 70th this fall).  Pinstripe Bowl possibilities are in the air.

Maryland (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) faced 40 MPH winds at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium Saturday.  Unfortunately they also faced a relentless Hawkeyes defense and got shut out 23-0 to begin the second half of their season.  Terrapin Triumphs: Tre Watson tallied 15 tackles and an interception (the team’s 15th takeway of the season) as the defense held Nate Stanley to 86 yards passing one week after he threw for six touchdowns.  Terrapin Troubles: the offense was held to a season-low 115 total yards and had possession of the ball for just 19 minutes.  While the running game averaged just a shade under three yards per carry, the pass attack misfired (6-of-16 while gaining 2.9 yards per attempt).  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 3-4 Illinois.

Virginia (5-2, 3-1 ACC) combatted its recent road woes (0-2 this year, 3-10 since Bronco Mendenhall took over) and defeated Duke 28-14.  Can the Commonwealth Cup game against Virginia Tech the day after Thanksgiving actually become the defacto Coastal Division championship game?  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins ran for two touchdowns while passing for score.  Olamide Zachheus caught 10 passes.  Chris Peace notched seven tackles and two and a half sacks while the defense intercepted Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones twice.  Lester Coleman averaged 44.5 yards per punt.  Cavalier Concerns:  Perkins did little to stretch the field with his arm, averaging under ten yards per completion.  The defense gave up a pair of big plays for touchdowns, allowing 22 and 46 yard strikes.  Brian Delaney missed two of four field goal attempts.  Next:  Saturday at 12:20 p.m. at home against 1-5 North Carolina.

Navy (2-5, 1-3 AAC) led Houston by 10 points in the first half before the Cougars went on a 35-point run;  UH scored the first three times they had the ball after halftime and the Mids fall 49-36.  The road to bowl eligibility just got quite a bit tougher for coach Ken Niumatalolo and company.  Midshipman Medals:  Garret Lewis completed 9 of 13 passes for 135 yards and  a touchdown…with a favorite target emerging in Taylor Jackson (5 catches for 120 yards and a score).  Malcolm Perry tallied 97 yards rushing from his old slotback position.  Sean Williams led a defense that notched two takeaways with seven tackles.  Midshipman Miscues:  the defense failed to register a sack on 39 Houston pass attempts, and allowed Houston to convert 8 of 10 third downs.  The Cougars averaged 6.3 yards per carry and over 10 yards per pass attempt while rolling up 570 total yards.  Next: Saturday night at 8 p.m. in San Diego against #3 Notre Dame.

Somewhere on paper this seemed like a great idea…especially with that “grow the footprint” guy in the conference office.  What better way for the Big Ten to grow its brand than to plant the flag at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden?  Forget that New York City is within 300 miles of just three of the 14 Big Ten schools (for those counting, Maryland is actually closer to the Big Apple than Penn State by about 14 miles).  Never mind that instead of waiting for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to open up or choosing to play in the usually available Prudential Center in Newark, they had to move the tournament a week early because the Big East has MSG locked up through 2025.  That’s why we had conference games played the first weekend of December.  And that’s why there will be teams potentially working on a two-week layoff going into the NCAA Tournament.  And let’s not realize the residual effect of the men’s tournament sucking all of the oxygen out of the room while the women’s tournament takes place in Indianapolis at the same time (the league should have considered moving the women’s tournament to next weekend to give it maximum exposure).  Of course, if the conference lands an extra at-large team than expected and if the Big Ten dominates the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament this will turn out to be the stroke of genius.  Thank goodness the tournament returns to Chicago next March.

Fun Fact- while the top seed has won the tournament eight times, don’t sleep on the #6 seed which is 29-19 over the years with one title and three finals appearances.  More recently, the #8 seed has more tournament wins (7) than the regular season champ (6) over the last five years.

Teams to Beat-  Michigan State won its last 12 games to earn the #1 seed for the first time since 2012.  The Spartans led the conference in scoring, shooting and rebounding–the only thing they don’t do well is take care of the ball (last in the league in turnover margin).  Purdue was in first place for most of the season before some late hiccups and there’s no better team in the Big Ten at shooting the three.  They’re also a year older than the team that went one and done as the #1 seed last March.  Ohio State under Coach of the Year Chris Holtmann beat both the Spartans and Boilermakers but somehow got swept by Penn State.

Players to Watch- the Buckeyes’ Keita Bates-Diop was a big reason for OSU’s resurgence;  the junior ranked second in the conference in scoring and rebounding on the way to being named Big Ten Player of the Year.  Myles Bridges may not have the numbers, but the Michigan State Sophomore is arguably the most talented player in the league and is the most productive one when necessary.  Purdue forwards Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas are the typical skilled but gritty big men Midwest teams seem to run off of the assembly line each winter (perhaps we can get a few shipped to College Park).

Bubble and Bench Watch- Nebraska is in an odd spot as the #4 seed.  Despite winning 8 of 9 down the stretch the Cornhuskers don’t have a great at-large profile: credit a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 297th in the nation as one reason why ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has them one of the “first four out” in his latest field.  They’re likely going to face #15 Michigan in the quarterfinals, and the Wolverines bring a five-game winning streak into Madison Square Garden while looking beyond awesome in their dismembering last Saturday of Maryland.  An early exit from MSG for coach Tim Miles’ team could mean banishment to the NIT.  Meanwhile, the Nebraska bench has become a lightning rod for their antics that depending on your age and mentality could be called “creative” or “obnoxious”.  It’s cute the guys at the end of the pine pantomimed Olympic bobsledding after a big bucket…but beware:  the last team to pull such shenanigans was Monmouth and they were left out of the field despite a 27-7 mark that included wins over UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown.

Wednesday’s “First Round”-  one of the costs of doing business in a 14-team league is the unfortunate bracket where the first day features a doubleheader of despair:  unlike a 12-team format where you potentially have bubble teams battling and at worst a 5 vs 12 game where one of the schools is headed somewhere we get the “dreaded first round”.  (I’m checking with legal on the rumor that we have to refer to it as “dreaded” at all times, like “Lowly Rutgers”).  Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and “Lowly Rutgers” went a combined 15-57 in league play and these four schools will square off in a doubleheader of depression:  two of those schools’ fan bases get 40 more minutes of watching their sub-500 squads fumble around on the court (although 6th seed Indiana isn’t much to talk about).  The ACC, SEC and Atlantic 10 subject us to this as well; it’s commonly referred to by the media as “the day we pick up our credentials and test the phone lines while watching as little actual hoops as possible”.

 

Thursday’s Second Round-

Maryland (19-12, 8-10 Big Ten) vs Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11), noon.  The Terps won the lone regular season meeting between the two schools 68-63 on Super Bowl Sunday in a game where they blew a ten point halftime lead.  Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 23 points in 39 minutes that afternoon–and for the record, the sophomore has played in 234 of 240 possible minutes since.  In a season where injuries and last-minute losses have all but dashed the Terps’ NCAA hopes (a bid is coming only if they cut down the nets at MSG Sunday), Cowan has been the major bright spot–ranking in the top three of the Big Ten in assists and steals while leading the conference in minutes played.  His play along with Kevin Huerter (the two combined for 14 of the team’s 23 baskets in the win over the Badgers) will be paramount if the Terrapins want to be playing in the quarterfinals Friday.

Wisconsin has endured a winter of discontent as well:  instead of thinking about a potential third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen under coach Greg Gard, the team that received votes in both preseason polls is likely going to finish with a losing record for the first time since 1998.  But they did conclude the regular season with four wins in six games (and their two losses were against Michigan and Michigan State).  The Badgers’ bright spot is junior Ethan Happ;  the 6-foot-10 forward scored 18 points in College Park earlier this month and paces leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks (but is a 9% shooter from three-point range-slacker).  Freshman guard Brad Davison has given them feast (30 points against Michigan State) and famine (5 on 1-4 shooting earlier in the week at Northwestern) in varying doses but is their number two option.  At the beginning of February it appeared as though Wisconsin was a year away from being a factor;  there’s no reason not to expect they’ll be a handful Thursday.

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM…:

Unlike college basketball where most of the bluebloods actually wear blue (look it up: UNC, UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky & Duke), the majority of college football teams wear red.  Saturday night we saw two premiere programs battle in a top five showdown, with Oklahoma under first-year-interim-former-vice-president coach Lincoln Riley (you could never have gotten away with having  a Sooners coach named “Lincoln” during the Big Eight days).  Somehow the fresh-faced 34-year old went from substitute teacher to “Coach in his own right” as OU shocked the 2nd ranked Buckeyes in the Columbus night, winning going away 31-16.  Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield won the Ohio primary over JT Barrett by throwing for 386 yards and three scores…and the rest of the Big 12 is on notice that the Sooners are back.  As opposed to 2016 when they were a disappointing 11-2.  Being a blueblood, no matter which color you wear, is never fair.

Alma Mater Update- is the second week of the season too early to say the Orange’s bowl hopes are doomed?  Saturday’s underwhelming loss at home to Middle Tennessee was decidedly less than ideal…and for a team whose ceiling was six to seven wins this fall a home loss to a school from Conference USA is crushing.  The offense averaged under five yards per pass attempt and under three yards per rush.  The defense allowed big plays (Ty Lee’s 48-yard TD catch) and long drives (a fourth quarter march of 75 yards on ten plays) in defeat.  At least they face Central Michigan before going to LSU.  They’ll beat the Chippewas, right?

Maryland (2-0) took to Towson like a blowtorch through butter in its 63-17 rout of the Tigers, scoring on their first three possessions of the game while reaching the end zone the first five times they had the ball after intermission.  They’ve started 2-0 before…but not with this type of ferocity.  Games like Northwestern and at Minnesota all of a sudden appear more winnable…and the road to six victories (and postseason play) becomes a lot more manageable.  Terrapin Triumphs:  Ty Johnson tallied TD runs of 46 and 74 yards en route to another 100+ yard afternoon, while the team gained over ten yards per carry.  Kasim Hill excelled in his first career start, making plays with his arm and feet.  DJ Moore caught both of Hill’s TD passes while running for a third score on a broken play where he was almost brought down in the backfield.  The defense held the Tigers to six yards on 13 plays from scrimmage in the third quarter to effectively end the game.  Terrapin Troubles:  a soft first half by the D (an 81 yard scoring march plus a drive that died inside the Maryland 10) was less than ideal as the Tigers converted 6 of 10 third downs before intermission.  Calling out the schedule-makers too for the week three bye– when you score 114 points over the first two weeks the only thing that can contain you is inactivity.  Next:  September 16 against UCF.

Virginia (1-1) received a dose of reality in its 34-17 loss to Indiana.  Yes, this team is better than the 2-10 squad that suffered early and often in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first season…but they still have strides to make.  And those strides haven’t been made yet.  Cavalier Congrats:  Kurt Benkert threw for 259 yards and a touchdown while going another week without tossing an interception.  Jordan Mack led the defense that held IU to 4 of 15 on third down by tallying 16 tackles and half of a sack.  Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding provided their customary 10+ tackles as well.  Cavalier Concerns:  the running game netted just 55 yards.  The defense allowed a redshirt freshman to complete 80% of his throws…and coughed up scoring plays of 26, 29 and 32 yards.  The punt coverage team surrendered a game-clinching 44-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. Next:  Saturday vs 1-0 Connecticut. 

Virginia Tech (2-0) had less than six days to prepare for Delaware, but wound up blanking the Blue Hens just the same 27-0.  Can we see a battle of unbeatens to wrap up the month against Clemson?  (Apologies to coach Justin Fuente for looking ahead). Hokie Highlights:  Greg Stroman returned a punt 61 yards for the first TD of the day.  Redshirt freshman Josh Jackson threw two touchdown passes while turning in another turnover-free game.  The defense was led by the Edmunds brothers:  Tremaine tallied 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble while Terrell added eight stops, a sack and a 55-yard interception return.  Hokie Humblings:  the offense converted just 3 of 11 third downs, while the running game that gained 234 yards against West Virginia was held to under three yards per carry.   Next: Saturday at 0-2 East Carolina.   

Navy survived a scare in Annapolis, outdueling Tulane in a battle of option offenses 23-21.  The AAC waters will be rough sailing this fall for the defending West Division champs. Midshipman Medals:  Zach Abey ran for over 100 yards while throwing a 79-yard touchdown pass.  DJ Palmore led the defense with ten tackles…and the D held the Green Wave to 3 of 14 on third down.  Owen White averaged over 40 yards per punt. The Mids did not commit a penalty.  Midshipmen Miscues:  the offense turned the ball over twice and Abey completed less than 50% of his passes for the second straight week.  If they’re going to contend for a second straight trip to the championship game, the attack has to be a little more versatile.  Next: Saturday vs 1-1 Cincinnati.OO

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Even though it’s for a potential playoff berth instead of a place in the Rose Bowl, Michigan-Ohio State is the game that will define this upcoming weekend.  Even though it’s played at noon instead of in prime time, this is the showdown that will have everyone watching and then rehashing.  It’s a defacto elimination game as while the winner is not assured of a playoff berth (or in Ohio State’s case even a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game), the loser gets to practice their “no, playing in the (insert bowl’s name here) Bowl is not a letdown at all” speech.  But Ohio State-Michigan is a lot more than that.  College football is at its best when its premiere programs are producing and even better when it’s major rivalries meet in high-stakes showdowns.  While the era of 1968-80 (when either the Buckeyes or the Wolverines went to Pasadena) is long gone, these two teams are still the class of the conference (at witnessed by Maryland getting outscored 121-6 over a two-week span by the duo).  Even if Penn State winds up playing Wisconsin for the actual Big Ten title.  Because you can win a tie-breaker in the standings, but you can’t upstage the horseshoe.  And when you look at the Buckeyes’ home field in Columbus, you see Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines along with Hall of Fame coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.  You see JT Barrett and Jabrill Peppers…but you also recall the exploits of Heisman Trophy winners Archie Griffin and Desmond Howard.  You hear “Hang On Sloopy” and “Hail to the Victors”…while seeing the dotting of the I.  You look at the field in Columbus and are reminded that even when this game isn’t technically a big game, it’s a huge matchup.  You wish your school had a rival you loved beating and hated losing to even 10% as much as this one.

 

Alma Mater Update- Year I of the Dino Babers Era ends mercifully Saturday against a Pitt team that upset Clemson on the road earlier this month…and boasts a running back named James Conner who not only destroys opposing defenses (1700+ yrads rushing as a sophomore) but also beat Hodgkin’s Lymphona.  Meanwhile, men’s and women’s basketball are both off to strong starts.  So a potential Pinstripe Bowl countdown will continue next fall…while one sweats out Orange hoops and lacrosse in the interim.  Go Orange…

 

Maryland (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) vs Rutgers (2-9, 0-8), 12 p.m., ESPNews.  As bad as things have been for the Terps during their four game slide, the Scarlet Knights have been shut out four times in conference play-losing games 39-0, 49-0, 58-0 and 78-0.  Quarterback Perry Hills and his shoulder remain in the land of limbo…but Rutgers is exactly the team you’d be okay with a backup QB facing:  13th in the Big Ten in yards and points allowed…13th in sacks and 13th in defensive passing efficiency.  And their offense is worse.

Terrapins Triumph, 30-18.

 

Virginia (2-9, 1-6 ACC) at Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2), 12 p.m., ESPN2.  Have we mentioned that the Hokies have won this matchup 12 straight years?  Last fall they clinched bowl eligibility with a victory in Charlottesville…and this year they can wrap up the ACC Coastal Division with a win or a North Carolina loss to NC State.  It’s easy to call this matchup a tale of two quarterbacks;  but while Jerod Evans has had the season for Tech that UVa hoped Kurt Benkert would have its more of a difference of defenses.  Under longtime coordinator Bud Foster the Hokies haven’t missed a beat-and some could say the defense has been better this fall.  Bronco Mendenhall’s D in Charlottesville is earning one…near the bottom in the ACC at just about every category.  At the end of another season where the wins were rare but the great Virginia wine was plentiful, Kippy & Buffy go out in style: enjoying a Chateau O’Brien 2011 Limited Reserve Tannat:  “full bodied, dense & concentrated – with black fruit flavors & a silky smooth finish.”  Break out the garlic dill jack on club crackers.

Hokies make it a lucky 13 straight, beating the Cavaliers 28-10.

 

Richmond (8-3) vs North Carolina A&T (9-2), 2 p.m., ESPN3.  While many schools are focused on finishing their regular seasons, the Spiders begin their postseason run with a home game against the Bulldogs.  It’s a contrast of strengths:  Richmond has made its money through the air this fall while the NC A&T has dominated on the ground (ranking in the top 20 of FCS in both rushing offense and defense).  In November that takes a higher priority…and Richmond is also coming off a bad loss to William & Mary.  But Kyle Lauletta has at least one more great game in him this year.

Spiders advance, 36-24.

 

Navy (8-2, 6-1  AAC) at SMU (5-6, 3-4), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU.  The Midshipmen have already locked up a berth in the AAC Championship Game…but a win against the Mustangs will further their ambitions of potentially playing in a New Year’s Day bowl. Actually, the New Year’s Day Bowls will be played on January 2nd this year because the NFL’s regular season wraps up on Sunday the 1st.  Could anything derail the Mids?  Actually, SMU can pass the ball (4th in the AAC) and Navy ranks last in the conference in defensive passing efficiency.  But since October, only Air Force has held the runaway option to under 28 points.  SMU won’t be the second.

Mids make it happen, 35-20.

 

Last Week: 8-2.

Overall: 77-33.