Archives for posts with tag: Orange

Everybody loves a good comeback story, especially in college football where those at Maryland still recall rallying from 31 points down to beat defending national champion Miami 42-40 in 1984. This year on the national and local level we’ve seen more than our share, where double-digit leads and deficits are meant to be erased in the blink of an eye-or scoring plays of 82 and 90 yards like the ones Virginia Tech allowed at Louisville.

Every game features momentum swings; it’s a natural part of the sport which features adjustments and counter-punches over a 60-minute streatch. But with more offensive oomph in the game this year, the pendulum swings are more pronounced: No. 1 Clemson trailed Boston College 28-10 at one point before rallying past the Eagles 34-28. No. 6 Oklahoma State wasn’t as lucky, seeing a 31-20 lead over Texas transform into a 41-34 overtime loss (before you start saying “TEXAS IS BACK!” please know the Cowboys were the Big 12’s last legitimate playoff hopeful). The massive momentum movements make for a much more entertaining Saturday afternoon and evening, even though it makes life more difficult for those writing against deadline.

Alma Mater Update- there will be no such rollercoasters in Central New York this fall, as the Orange lost another game that they never really were in from the start. The 38-14 loss to Wake Forest means that SU will finish under .500 for the sixth time in seven years. At least freshman JaCobian Morgan (7-7 for 57 yards and a TD) looked promising. The remaining four teams on the schedule are a combined 16-10, with a trip to Notre Dame wrapping things up in a neat little bow.

Maryland (1-1) kicked off the weekend with a 45-44 overtime win over Minnesota that felt like three distinct games; the first saw the Terps jump out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter while the second saw the Golden Gophers reel off 31 straight points before the Terrapins finished with a 24-6 kick that included a missed extra point in OT for the visitors. After playing on Friday night, they’ll need the extra day off to recover.

Terrapin Triumphs: Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 394 yards and three touchdowns while running for two more scores; he was the first Terp to throw for over 300 yards since Caleb Rowe in 2013 against–wait for it–Virginia. Jake Funk rushed for 221 yards, running for one TD while catching a touchdown pass to complete his recovery from a torn ACL and answer those who thought he was a “good special teams player but not a feature back” (that would be me). Chance Campbell spearheaded the defense with 13 tackles and a sack; the D earned an A in the second half by getting off of the field on 5 of 6 third downs.

Terrapin Troubles: last week Head Coach Mike Locksley said theyo would clean up the team’s run defense, and that part of the game needs another deep cleanse after allowing 262 yards on the ground. Ten penalties, a with a more than a few of them coming at the most inopportune times. Two turnovers; the first set up a Minnesota touchdown and the second occurred on first and goal from the Golden Gophers’ one.

Next: Saturday at 0-2 Penn State; 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

Virginia Tech (4-2) bounced back from its lowest scoring output of the season by reaching the end zone on three of its first four possessions, outscoring Louisville 42-35 in a game where the VT offense scored every time they had the ball in the second half with the exception of a game-ending kneel-down. They’re still a few weeks removed from the ACC gauntlet that includes Miami and Clemson, so the defense can be fixed up. Right?

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker completes 10-10 passes for 183 yards while rushing for three touchdowns, and just as important the junior didn’t turn the ball over. Khalil Herbert rushes for 147 yards and a touchdown (his 803 on the season are second-most in the ACC). Justus Reed tallies two sacks (his 4.5 leads the team this fall) while Brian Johnson connects on field goals of 30 and 41 yards.

Hokie Humblings: the defense allowed 548 yards and surrendered touchdowns on five of the Cardinals’ final seven possessions of the game (other two ended with interceptions, with one coming at the VT two-yard line). The offense despite all of its success converted just 1-7 third downs. Oscar Bradburn averaged under 40 yards per punt with one touchback.

Next: Saturday at noon against 6-0 Liberty.

Navy (3-4, 3-2 AAC) reached the end zone the first two times they had the ball and scored on their last three possessions in their game at No. 22 SMU, but generated just 95 yards on 35 carries in between the strong start and furious finish in a 51-37 loss to the Mustangs. Two weeks ago there were possibilities of playing in the AAC Championship Game; today the question is can this team finish over .500.

Midshipmen Medals: backup quarterback Tyger Goslun threw two fourth quarter touchdown passes to make the score respectable, while Chance Warren ran for two scores. Mitchell West tallied 10 tackles and Bijan Nichols connected on a 46-yard field goal (the only scoring during the team’s mid-game drought).

Midshipmen Miscues: another rough night for a defense that allowed 6.9 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per pass (as in pass attempt, not pass completion) while Mustangs went 7-11 on third down.

Next: Saturday at noon against 3-1 Tulsa.

Virginia (2-4) wrapped up the weekend much like Maryland had started it; the Cavaliers 44-41 win over No. 15 North Carolina saw UVa fall behind 20-13 in the first half before going on a 28-0 run only to hold off a 21-3 UNC finishing kick. There are those who tell you that Virginia’s “true rival” is the Tar Heels, and most of them either live in Charlottesville or have a degree from the school. But anytime you snap an in-season losing streak at four games by beating a longtime conference foe for the fourth straight year, it’s a sunny day on the grounds.

Cavalier Congrats: talk about offensive balance-they passed for 208 yards and ran for 210. Brennan Armstrong only threw 22 passes, but three of them were touchdown strikes. He also had a 23-yard scoring run that put UVa on the board. Billy Kemp IV’s apparent mandate on being the leading receiver saw four more catches to pace the team. Charles Snowden notched 10 tackles, four of which were sacks. One of those sacks generated a fumble that set up a UVa touchdown; a special teams fumble recovery on a punt return set up another TD.

Cavalier Concerns: despite putting a season-high 44 points on the board, the offense converted just 3-12 third downs. The defense didn’t fare much better, getting off of the field on four of ten opportunities while allowing 536 yards (443 through the air). A missed extra point could have proven costly but thankfully it did not.

Next: Saturday against 2-5 Louisville at 8 p.m.

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The Big Ten’s return to the college football landscape saw plenty of the usual goings-on, from No. 5 Ohio State’s 52-17 rout of Nebraska to No. 18 Michigan’s 49-24 blasting of Minnesota that begins the tradition narrative that ends in either Ann Arbor or Columbus (this year the Buckeyes have home field). But this year’s opening weekend also served notice to Maryland that the always-tough East Division may be even more of a challenge, as traditional also-rans Rutgers shocked Michigan State 38-27 and Indiana pulled out a 36-35 overtime win over No. 8 Penn State.

Greg Schiano’s triumphant return helped the Scarlet Knights not only end a 21-game conference losing streak; Rutgers 38 points in their opener was 13 shy of last year’s total accrued over nine league games. And the Hoosiers’ rollercoaster ride went from a ten-point halftime lead to down eight with under a minute remaining, only to survive a last-second field goal attempt in regulation before finally triumphing on a two-point conversion in OT. Penn State and Michigan State aren’t going away either, which makes Maryland’s mountain to climb all the steeper.

Alma Mater Update- at least they covered the 46-point spread. And the Orange played well enough to merit tough questions to Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney, who had issues with what he was asked after an underwhelming victory over a team that was minus its starting quarterback and top receiver. But the Orange are now 1-5 and face just one team with a losing league record the rest of the way. The 2005 team is nervous.

Navy (3-3) dropped to 3-1 in the AAC with their 37-21 loss to Houston. The Mids did a nice job limiting the Cougars to field goals before allowing a 51-yard touchdown pass late in the first half. Unfortunately after intermission a pair of missed field goals and an interception turned the tide the visitors’ way before a last-minute touchdown made the score somewhat respectable.

Midshipman Medals: Dalen Morris had his best day as a starter, throwing for 206 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a score. Diego Fagot notched 10 tackles plus a sack; the defense bent but did not break in the first half as they held the Cougars to 1-7 on third down.

Midshipman Miscues: a pair of missed field goals in the second half hurt any chances at keeping up with Cougars, and the defense that previously bent broke as Houston converted 5-6 third downs after the break. Daniel Davies averaged under 35 yards per punt, giving the visitors decent starting field position on multiple occasions (two field goal drives in the first half began at midfield).

Next: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against No. 23 SMU.

Virginia (1-4) didn’t fall behind double digits in the first quarter as has been their custom this fall, but the Cavaliers still came up short at No. 11 Miami 19-14. While the effort was better and for the first time this fall UVa played a game decided by fewer than 17 points, Bronco Mendenhall’s team is off to its worst start since Mike London’s final season in Charlottesville.

Cavalier Congrats: Brennan Armstrong is back! The quarterback threw two touchdown passes while also rushing for 91 yards. Billy Kemp IV continues to be the hero UVa quarterbacks need, want, and deserve, catching five more receptions to lead the team yet again. Nick Jackson notched 16 tackles as the defense recorded five sacks and held the Hurricanes to 2.5 yards per carry.

Cavalier Concerns: allowing a 2-play, 75 yard scoring drive on the first possession of the night is not how you want to begin any game, against anyone, anywhere. Let alone the No. 11 team in the country. In a game of inches, the little things turned out to loom large: a second quarter touchdown that would have given them a 14-7 lead was wiped out due to an ineligible man downfield penalty. They’d go on to miss a 36-yard field goal. A lost fumble ended the team’s final drive with under a minute to play in regulation.

Next: Saturday against No. 13 North Carolina at 8 p.m.

No. 23 Virginia Tech (3-2) and Wake Forest each averaged more than 40 points per game entering Saturday’s showdown in Winston-Salem, so naturally 39 points were scored between the two teams in a 23-16 Demon Deacon victory. Halfway through the 10-game ACC schedule, the Hokies find themselves locked into the league’s middle class, which in this year turned upside-down isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker rushed for 98 yards as the ground game gained 210 on the afternoon. Chamarri Conner tallied 10 tackles as the defense limited Wake to 3-15 on third down. Brian Johnson connected on three field goals, including a 54-yarder that made the game a one-possession affair in the fourth quarter.

Hokie Humblings: Hooker threw three interceptions, each to freshman safety Nick Andersen (who happens to hail from Clifton, VA). Ten penalties certainly didn’t help matters. Johnson missed a pair of field goals- from 42 and 51 yards- with a sack on third down preceding the miss. The defense allowed 206 yards rushing.

Next: Saturday at 4 p.m at 2-4 Louisville.

Maryland (0-1) kicked off its 2020 season on the road with their first-ever football game in Evanston, Illinois. I’m sure they’re not looking forward to heading back there anytime soon after a 43-3 thumping delivered by a Northwestern team that looks like it may be more contender than pretender for the West Division title they took two years ago. And on a Saturday where Indiana and Rutgers both posted upsets, the Terps look around the East Division cellar for company and don’t get any eye contact from Penn State and Michigan State.

Terrapin Triumphs: a first-possession field goal! The offense’s initial drive mixed eight runs and four passes while producing the team’s longest gain of the afternoon (a 24-yard scamper by Jake Funk). Jeshaun Jones caught 5 passes after missing most of the last two seasons with injuries. Chance Campbell (14 tackles) was expected to be one of the key contributors on defense, and he produced as expected.

Terrapin Troubles: three interceptions and one fumble completely undercut the offense and put the defense in less than ideal spots (Wildcats generated 17 points from those miscues). The running game generated just 64 yards on 20 carries and the quarterback combination of Taulia Tagovailoa and Lance LeGendre averaged under eight yards per completion.  Zero sacks for a defense that allowed Peyton Ramsey to complete 77% of his passes and also surrendered 6.1 yards per carry.

Next: Friday against 0-1 Minnesota at 7:30 p.m.

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It’s often said that while the most important position on a college football team is the quarterback, the second most important position in the backup QB. All three area schools have had to use second stringers this fall, with Virginia and Navy delivering in-game promotions due to injury and Virginia Tech needing help due to COVID-19 concerns. While the backup doesn’t often win you games, he has to play well enough not to lose them. Tyger Goslin gave Navy a boost Saturday when called upon but Dalen Morris remains the best option at that position when he gets healthy. And while the combination of Braxton Burmeister and Quincy Patterson II was good enough for Virginia Tech in their first two games, they looked a world better with Hendon Hooker at the controls. Virginia’s passing game seems a shell of its former self without a healthy Brennan Armstrong, and don’t even get me started about Maryland’s quarterback carousel: the Terps have had to start multiple quarterbacks in 13 of the last 14 seasons.

Alma Mater Update- the season is cooked. Yes, Liberty is unbeaten but is just a few years removed from FCS play. The Orange allowed 80% completions and 7.0 yards per carry in their loss to the Flames as the season that was teetering two weeks ago is now up flames. Ten penalties and another disastrous day on third down (3 of 14). Rex Culpepper completed under 50% of his passes despite throwing a ton of short stuff. The defense allowed scoring plays of 36, 52, and 75 yards. Next up? No. 1 Clemson, whose fans, players, and coaching staff are still burned about the 2017 upset in the Dome and almost losing to SU the next fall in Death Valley. Bring on basketball.

Navy (3-2) improved to 3-0 in the AAC by holding off East Carolina 27-23. The game began with Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers not suiting up because of COVID-19 protocols and continued with Navy QB Dalen Morris getting knocked out of the game by a late hit. While ECU understudy Mason Garcia may have put up better numbers than Morris and his backup Tyger Goslun, the Mids were able to make plays when it mattered for the second straight week.

Midshipman Medals: Nelson Smith rushed for a career high 157 yards and two touchdowns while Tyger Goslun rushed for 27 yards after taking over the offense in the second half. Diego Fagot after missing the game against Temple with injury tallied 12 tackles as the defense held the Pirates to 3 of 13 on third down while recovering a pair of fumbles.

Midshipman Miscues: the offense had issues early, losing an interception and fumble in the first quarter. Bijan Nichols missed an extra point while Daniel Davies averaged 29.6 yards per punt.

Next: Saturday at home against 1-1 Houston at 3:30 p.m.

Virginia (1-3) appeared as though it had recovered from another slow start, but the Cavaliers faded in the second half of their 40-23 loss at Wake Forest. The key to UVa’s improvement over Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure has been the development of the defense, and so far this year it appears as though they’ve taken a step back while allowing 35 points per game.

Cavalier Congrats: the offense tallied 218 yards on the ground, with Keytaon Thompson, Wayne Taulapapa and Iraken Armstead each averaging more than six yards per carry. Billy Kemp IV notched nine more catches for 68 yards; the junior’s 36 receptions are second in the ACC to Pitt’s Jordan Addison’s 38 receptions. Jowon Briggs recorded two sacks while the defense held the Demon Deacons to 4 of 15 on third down. Brian Delaney made three of four field goal attempts.

Cavalier Concerns: two second half turnovers led to 10 points for Wake Forest. Lindell Stone checked down early and often, averaging eight yards per completion while the offense moved the chains on just 4 of 15 third downs. The defense allowed touchdown passes of 40 and 75 yards.

Next: Saturday on the road against 4-1 Miami at 8 p.m.

No. 23 Virginia Tech (3-1) recovered two first quarter Boston College fumbles and only had one field goal to show for it, but wound up pulling away thanks to their best defensive effort of the season in a 40-14 rout of the Eagles. They also avenged last year’s week one loss to BC, not that former Big East foes keep track of that sort of thing.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker made his first start of the season and ran for 164 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 111 and another score. Khalil Herbert rushed for 143 yards on a day where his former team Kansas managed just 62 in a loss at West Virginia. Chamarri Conner tallied 11 tackles and the defense turned BC over five times. Brian Johnson made two of three field goals while Oscar Bradburn averaged 50.3 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings: there were issues on third down as the offense moved the chains on 3 of 9 occasions while the defense remained on the field on 9 of 15 opportunities (and BC converted 2 of 3 fourth downs). Seven penalties didn’t hurt them–this time.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 2-2 Wake Forest.

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Despite what people in Tuscaloosa and 13 other campuses tell you, the SEC is NOT infallible. The best conference in the 21st century delayed its season with the purpose of playing while other leagues (namely the Big Ten) initially canceled fall football. Even after Navy began its season and the likes of Virginia and Virginia Tech were reshuffling their schedule, the world waited with baited breath for the Southeastern Conference to start playing before feeling the “real season” was underway.

But even though the Southeastern Conference boasts six Top 20 teams in mid-October, they aren’t immune to the COVID-19 pandemic. It began with Vanderbilt and Missouri postponing their game; although Commodores-Tigers is the SEC version of the existential circumstance “if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it”.  The loss of that game would be “merely a flesh wound” in the grand scheme of things. But then No. 10 Florida’s game with LSU was postponed after a Coronavirus outbreak in the Gators’ program.  The school initially said there were five but the student newspaper The Alligator reported there were 19 positive tests.  I know better than to argue with an Alligator.

I also know better than to tempt fate, and the fact that this game gets pushed back less than one week after Gators Head Coach Dan Mullen said he wanted to fill the stadium in Gainesville, despite the ongoing pandemic, comes straight from the Irony Department. And to add insult to irony, Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID-19. Saturday the Crimson Tide host No. 3 Georgia in a potential Conference or National Championship Game preview. He’s hopeful he’ll be able to remain symptom free and post enough negative tests by Saturday night’s kickoff to be on the sidelines.

Alma Mater Update- the 1-3 Orange are three point underdogs this week at home to Liberty. Tommy DeVito is done for the year and that means that redshirt senior Rex Culpepper who has thrown 95 passes in his career replaces the guy who has thrown 96 passes this year. Good luck jumpstarting an offense that ranks last in the ACC in passing, total and scoring offense as well as pass protection and moving the chains on third down. The defense is a little better, ranking last in only two major categories: rushing and total defense. We need a little liberty from this season.

Navy (2-2) at East Carolina (1-2), noon (ESPN2).

This game was originally to be televised on ESPN+, but gets the promotion after No. 8 Cincinnati’s game with Tulsa was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Bearcats program. The Mids may be 2-0 in AAC play, but their wins have come on a last second field goal and a deflected two point conversion.  The ground game gained a season-high 251 yards in last Saturday’s win over Temple and ECU has had trouble stopping the run this fall (allowing 208 yards per game). The Pirates are in the second year under Head Coach Mike Houston, who led James Madison to the 2016 FCS National Championship. While he doesn’t have the likes of former Dukes and current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Ben DiNucci at his disposal, ECU does have third-year starter Holton Ahlers at the controls and is coming off of a season-high 44 points in their win over USF. Does Navy have the firepower to keep up?

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen fall, 35-30.

Virginia (1-2) at Wake Forest (1-2), 4 p.m. (ACC Network).

The Cavaliers try to recover from their home loss to NC State, a game where they failed to register a sack.  Wake may allow over four sacks per game so far this fall, but the majority of the Demon Deacons issues are on defense:  they rank 12th in the ACC at stopping the run, 13th against the pass, and 14th in getting off of the field on third down. The question for the Cavaliers is will Brennan Armstrong (concussion) be able to return to the field? If not, Lindell Stone (240 yards and three touchdowns against the Wolfpack) gets the start. But it’s not the passing game that concerns me; the 14th best running attack in the ACC has been consistently uneven this autumn.

Kippy & Buffy strive for consistency in their socially distanced tailgate. And you can’t get more consistent than a bottle of St. Francis Claret; the 2017 vintage is a blend of merlot, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, and petit verdot grapes. “This charismatic wine entices the nose with a brilliant spark of dried cranberry, underlined by savory cherry compote and a capitaviting forest musk. The elevated acidity on the finish is glycerol keeping the final hints of fruit vivid as they diminish.” Another loss would diminish the preseason optimism in a vivid manner.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come up short, 36-28.

No. 23 Virginia Tech (2-1) vs. Boston College (3-1), 8pm (ACC Network).

Almost twenty years after both schools bolted the Big East, this still has a non-ACC flavor.  Instead of the clam chowder of Chesnut Hill the flavor this year is the smoked turkey of Blacksburg:  the Hokies have won 8 of the last 12 games in this series but have lost in two of the last three games played at Lane Stadium. In this battle of the birds the ground-bound Hokies lead the conference in running the ball (299.3 yards per game and 6.5 per carry) while the Eagles should stay in the air (last in the league with 60.3 yards per game and 1.9 per attempt).  Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec has fit in well at BC, completing 65% of his passes while throwing for at least 300 yards three times this fall. Hendon Hooker led the Hokies offense to 31 second half points last week, he’ll have a full four quarters this week.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies bounce back, 33-17.

No. 2 Alabama (3-0) vs. No. 3 Georgia, 8 p.m. (CBS).

We come full circle with the game of the week–and of the early season. Perhaps it’ll be the game of the year, but as we all know a “Game of the Century” can legally only be a No. 1 vs. No. 2. While these two schools have met just once in the regular season since 2008, they’ve made up for it with December drama and January thrills: both of their SEC Championship Game showdowns have been one-possession affairs while their duel for the National Championship went into overtime. At first glance this is a matchup between quarterbacks Mac Jones and Stetson Bennett IV; and lets be honest you probably can’t get two better named QB’s for their respective schools. Jones is completing almost 80% of his passes this year while Bennett has yet to throw an interception. But the real star of the show is Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban; even if he’s not able to be on the sidelines his shadow looms large.

Presto’s Pick: Crimson Tide rolls, 34-24.

Last Week: 2-2.

Overall: 15-9.

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It’s not just Virginia, Virginia Tech and Navy who are having issues on the defensive side of the football this fall (even though the Cavaliers allow 33 points per game, the Hokies cough up 37 per game, and the Mids surrender 36 a contest).

Take a look at the Cadillac of conferences, the SEC: West Division-favorite Alabama allowed 48 points in their win over Ole Miss, East Division-contender Florida surrendered 41 at home in a defeat to Texas A&M, and defending National Champ LSU coughed up 45 in a loss to Missouri (a program so disrespected they aren’t even allowed to be in the SEC West despite residing west of the Mississippi River). Points are no longer at a premium and Saturdays are starting to resemble video games with both players using the cheat codes.

What can we point to this year? Perhaps the pandemic has forced teams not to practice as much tackling and hitting, and a defense gets better with practice. Rules have been tailored over the years for offenses to be more productive, because more scoring attracts the casual fan. Keep in mind the better athletes are steered towards the offensive skill positions from the very start.

But is this good for the game? I love highlights and scoring as much as the next guy, but what’s the point in watching a movie without a worthy villain. Do I yearn for 9-6 and 14-12 games? Hardly. But it’d be nice to see games in the 20’s—or even the 30’s—at this rate.

Alma Mater Update- do you know who ISN’T participating in 2020’s offensive explosion? The Orange have been held to 6, 10, and 24 points in their three losses this year. The team entered Saturday’s defeat to previously winless Duke near the bottom of most offensive categories in the ACC and with Tommy DeVito likely out for the year Pinstripe Bowl dreams have been reduced to pipe dreams.

No. 19 Virginia Tech (2-1) fell at No. 8 North Carolina 56-45. It took a while for the Hokies to wake up as they trailed 21-0 before recording a first down. While the offense was able to eventually get in gear, the defense that allowed 31 points the week before was exposed again.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker showed minimal rust, throwing for two touchdowns while also running for a score. Khalil Herbert rumbled for 138 yards and two touchdowns. I’m sure Les Miles wishes the former Jayhawk had stayed in Lawrence (Kansas is 0-3 and averaged 2.5 yards per carry in October third’s 47-7 loss to Oklahoma State).

Hokie Humblings: the defense was gashed early and often, allowing five touchdowns on seven first half possessions. When they weren’t betting burned by the pass (UNC completed 18 of 23 passes for 257 yards) the run defense was allowing 399 yards to the tune of 9.3 per carry. It was a combination of bending and breaking, as the Tar Heels converted 6 of 10 third downs while also having scoring plays of 43 and 62 yards.

Next: Saturday at 8 p.m. at 3-1 Boston College.

Virginia (1-2) also started slow, falling behind NC State 24-0 before losing 38-21 to NC State. All eyes will be on quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who left with a first half injury. What has been a major factor in this program’s improvement has been a solid quarterback situation (Kurt Benkert and Bryce Perkins made every start during their seasons at the helm). A quarterback carousel is the last thing Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall needs.

Cavalier Congrats: Lindell Stone came off of the bench for an injured Armstrong and threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns. Billy Kemp IV caught 10 more passes for 82 yards to remain the security blanket for whoever plays QB. D’Angelo Amos tallied ten tackles as the defense held the Wolfpack to 3-13 on third down.

Cavalier Concerns: four turnovers on the day. Armstrong’s two interceptions led to 10 first half points for the Wolfpack while Stone tossed a pick six that buried UVa in the second half. The running game was limited to under three yards per carry.

Next: Saturday on the road against 1-2 Wake Forest at 4 p.m.

Navy (2-2) improved to 2-0 in the AAC by holding off Temple 31-29. Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo recorded his 100th win in 13 years guiding the program and was quick to deflect praise to his players. And while his current group of players might not be the equal of last year’s 11-2 team, the Mids will likely be a factor in the American Athletic Conference race.

Midshipman Medals: the offense scored on its first three possessions (the fourth began with under a minute left in the first half), rolling up 251 yards rushing. Nelson Smith tallied 120 yards and two touchdowns while the offense moved the chains on 8 of 14 third downs (they were also 4 for 4 on fourth down). The defense minus four starters due to injury made big plays when it mattered: John Marshall recorded an interception in the red zone late in the first half while Terrell Adams deflected what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion. The kickoff return game put the Mids in decent field position on two of their TD drives. Bijan Nichols connected on a 50-yard field goal that proved to be the difference.

Midshipman Miscues: the defense that was minus four starters was pushed around for the majority of the evening, allowing 407 yards and scores on five of the Owls’ seven possessions. Temple converted 8-12 third downs and was 2-2 on fourth down. Four penalties, including a three personal fouls that helped move along three of the Owls’ four touchdown drives.

Next: Saturday on the road against 1-2 East Carolina at noon.

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2020 if nothing else has been a year of Plan B’s and C’s. I’m even going to suggest that many of us out there are on “Plan Q” right now, but that’s okay. We adapt and move on. We’ve seen Virginia and Virginia Tech’s openers get moved multiple times. Navy has experienced quite a rollercoaster of its own this year. But at least there’s a rollercoaster for the Midshipmen to ride.

This year’s State Fair of Texas has been canceled for the first time since World War II, although there is a drive-through option for those looking to get food. The drive-thru will take a break Saturday as traditional Big 12 contenders Texas and Oklahoma give the series its first matchup where neither school is in the Top 20 since 1999. So instead of doing a deep-dive in previewing the most underwhelming matchup of these two college football bluebloods in the 21st century, let’s focus on the food. Checking out “New Food” on bigtex.com, there’s quite a triple option:

Deep Fried Chicken Cordon Bleu Stuffed Waffles, for those whom fresh breaded chicken cutlets stuffed with Prosciutto di Parma and melted swiss cheese needs something else. 

Loaded Baked Potato Funnel Cake, for those looking for a meal to go with dessert.

And for those desiring something light, there’s the PB & J Bacon Pickle Dog.

Whatever indigestion these items provide is nothing compared to the plight of the Longhorns and Sooners.

Alma Mater Update- somehow the Orange are an underdog at home Saturday to an 0-3 Duke team that has been outscored by 59 points. The Blue Devils rank last in the ACC in scoring and stopping the run. The Orange are last in converting third downs as well as passing and total yardage. Tommy DeVito doesn’t need to be the quarterback everybody said he was when he arrived on campus, but it’d be nice if he were closer to Todd Philcox than Billy Scharr at this point.

No. 18 Virginia Tech (2-0) vs. No. 8 North Carolina (2-0), noon (ABC).

Even with the small sample sizes of two games apiece, this one shapes up as a classic matchup on the ground with the Hokies leading the ACC in rushing (319 yards per game) and the Tar Heels are tops in stopping the run (54 yards allowed a game on 2.0 per carry). While COVID-19 has turned the Hokies’ quarterback situation upside down, head coach Justin Fuente said that Hendon Hooker would be available this Saturday. Hooker and Sam Howell went toe to toe last year in a game that wound up going six overtimes; Hooker left the game after a first half injury. Howell was sacked four times in the Tar Heels’ four-point win over Boston College; the Hokies average a league-best 6.5 sacks per game.

Presto’s Pick: Tar Heels triumph, 27-17.

Virginia (1-1) at NC State (2-1), noon (ACC Network).

The Cavaliers are coming off of a tough loss at Clemson while the Wolfpack have been in three shootouts this year, allowing a league-high 38.7 points per game.  The Pack have also made a switch at quarterback, with sophomore Devin Leary ascending. The Sicklerville, NJ product completed under 50% of his passes as a freshman, but threw for a career-high 336 yards in last week’s upset of then-No. 24 Pitt. The Cavaliers allow a league-worst 388 yards passing per game, but keep in mind the two-game sample size is Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the guy he beat out in Duke QB Chase Brice.

Kippy & Buffy go back to the basics with this week’s socially distant tailgating choice: Cristom Pinot Noir, specifically the 2017 Mt. Jefferson Cuvee. This Oregon wine grown near a mountain named after the UVa’s founder boasts “expressive strawberry blossom and raspberry aromas open to elegantly structured cherry and spicy cinnamon flavors that build richness toward refined tannins” (Tim Fish, Wine Spectator). Break out the Gruyere and multi-grain crisps.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come up big, 44-34.

Navy (1-2) vs. Temple, 6 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

So much for in-season scouting: the Midshipmen draw a team in their season opener for the second straight week.  The Owls went 8-5 under first year coach Rod Carey in 2019—who would have thought that the school once kicked out of the Big East is a stepping stone to jobs like Miami (Al Golden), Boston College (Steve Adduzio), Georgia Tech (Geoff Collins) and the NFL’s Carolina Panthers (Matt Rhule)? The Mids get Dalen Morris back at quarterback after the senior didn’t travel west for last week’s game at Air Force. Recent history favors the Owls who have won three straight in the series, including the AAC Championship Game in Annapolis four years ago. Temple also returns senior quarterback Anthony Russo and his top two targets Jadan Blue and Branden Mack.

Presto’s Pick: Mids come up short, 31-20.

No. 1 Clemson (3-0) vs. No. 7 Miami (3-0), 7:30 p.m. (ABC).

An early-season showdown for conference supremacy features the five-time defending ACC champs against the school with one division title to show for their underwhelming tenure. The Hurricanes are off to their best start since they won the Coastal Division in 2017, former coach Mark Richt’s second year at the helm (they lost to Clemson 38-3 in the title game). This is Manny Diaz’s second year running the program, and the offseason addition of transfer quarterback D’Eriq King (Houston) has paid dividends: the former Houston Cougar is completing 67% of his passes for 736 yards, 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. The Tigers are 3-0 for the sixth straight year and pace the ACC in passing yardage and efficiency thanks to Trevor Lawrence; they’ve also won 25 straight at home.

Presto’s Pick: Tigers Triumph, 38-21.

Last Week: 2-2.

Overall: 13-7.

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Say what you will about Virginia and Virginia Tech competing in a “football lite” league, the ACC’s Alpha Dogs don’t often stumble. And when a Florida State goes into program decline, Clemson is there to emerge as the bully on the block. Not so in a Big 12 which is down to just one unbeaten and both signature schools suffering early-October crises of confidence (please note that I did not say “malaise”).

“Texas is back”. We’ve heard that refrain multiple times over the last few years from the once-proud program that used to compete regularly for Big 12 championships but hasn’t played for a title in the last decade. Head coach Tom Herman is in his fourth year with the Longhorns and in what appears to be a down-year for Oklahoma (1-2) the potential road to the College Football Playoff looked a little lighter. One could even write off their 63-56 overtime win at Texas Tech as a “lesson learned” game. Unfortunately a lost fumble at the TCU goal line in the fourth quarter handed the Longhorns a 33-31 loss, their seventh defeat in nine games to the Horned Frogs since they joined the Big 12. This sets up an underwhelming Red River Shootout against an Oklahoma team that’s lost two straight. Texas is back, all right. Back to their usual place in the middle tier of a second-tier conference.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange were idle before consecutive home games against Duke and Liberty. These games are both winnable and if this team wants to keep us dreaming about a potential Pinstripe Bowl Berth (and another banner!) they’ll need to win both given that they still have to play No. 1 Clemson and No. 5 Notre Dame, not to mention Boston College and NC State.

Virginia Tech (2-0) played another week without first string quarterback Hendon Hooker and Defensive Coordinator Justin Hamilton due to COVID-19 concerns. They were also minus 20 other players and an assistant coach but still found a way to defeat Duke 38-31. After an offseason where there were questions which way this program was trending (14-12 the last two years after going 19-8 in Justin Fuente’s first two seasons), it appears as though 2018-19 was more of a hiccup.

Hokie Highlights: Khalil Herbert rushed for 208 yards and a two touchdowns while returning a kickoff 83 yards to set up another score. As a team VT rushed for 324 yards and held the ball for over 34 minutes. Emanuel Belmar notched three of the team’s seven sacks while Rayshard Ashby tallied 10 tackles, helping the defense hold the Blue Devils to 5 of 17 on third down.

Hokie Humblings: get Hendon Hooker back pronto; while Braxton Burmeister showed his wheels with 54 yards rushing and two touchdowns, the understudy quarterback completed just 9 of 25 passes and turned the ball over twice. Punt returns were a disaster as the Blue Devils pounced on a fumble for a first quarter touchdown. The defense that allowed just 73 yards on 29 first half plays surrendered points on three of Duke’s last four possessions.

Next: Saturday at noon on the road against No. 12 North Carolina. Who will be available?

Navy (1-2) visited an Air Force team that had yet to play a game and was without 32 of its players. Naturally they went out and lost 40-7. Note that they did not have once and future starting quarterback Dalen Morris traveling for the game. While I might be ready to give up on trying to understand the 2020 season, the Mids have the bulk of their AAC schedule ahead. They’ve got to be more of the Navy that rallied at Tulane than the one that fell behind the Green Wave, BYU, and Air Force.

Midshipman Medals: junior quarterback Tyger Goslin threw his first collegiate pass Saturday, and while his numbers weren’t great (6 of 15 for 137 yards) he did have downfield strikes of 33 and 73 yards (the 73-yarder to Myles Fells was for the team’s lone TD). J’arius Warren tallied 10 tackles while the defense held the Falcons to 2 for 9 on third down.

Midshipman Miscues: the offense stalled on the ground, managing just 90 yards on 36 carries (2.5 yards per attempt). Their two turnovers were costly, as Air Force turned the fumble into a field goal and the interception into a touchdown. The defense that bent for three quarters allowed three fourth quarter touchdowns and wound up surrendering 369 yards on the ground (to the tune of 7.0 per carry).

Next: Saturday at 6 p.m. in Annapolis against Temple. That’s right, due to COVID-19 concerns the Owls have yet to play a game this year so your guess on what sort of team we’ll see is as good as mine.

Virginia (1-1) didn’t allow 62 points like they did in last year’s ACC Championship Game, but they still came up short against No. 1 Clemson. How good have the five-time defending ACC Champs been in conference play lately? This was just the third time 21 games against league foes since the beginning of the 2018 season that Clemson has won by fewer than 20 points (they beat UNC 21-20 last year and topped Syracuse 27-23 the season before). There’s no shame in falling to the best; let’s see how this team responds from early-season hardship with two more road games over the next three weeks.

Cavalier Congrats: Brennan Armstrong might not be matching the pace of Bryce Perkins, but the lefthander did throw for 270 yards and three touchdowns while leading the team with 89 yards rushing. Billy Kemp IV is the security blanket every first-year starter needs, notching 10 receptions for 96 yards. Nick Jackson paced the defense with 12 tackles while Nash Griffin averaged 46.5 yards per punt.

Cavalier Concerns: the defense allowed scores on four of the first five times the Tigers had the ball. The offense was held to 6 of 16 on third down while Brennan Armstrong threw two interceptions; both of those turnovers led to Clemson points.

Next: Saturday at noon against NC State.

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Four days until Selection Sunday. Five more bids were claimed last night bringing the number of teams in the field to 11:  No. 2 Gonzaga, Robert Morris, North Dakota State, Northern Kentucky, and Hofstra.  The Pride’s 70-61 win over Northeastern in the CAA Championship Game was its first in four Finals appearances, and punched the school’s first ticket to the NCAA Tournament since they competed in the America East Conference as the “Flying Dutchmen”.  Their win wrapped up four days at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southeast DC; the first of three years the CAA will be coming to Washington.

Meanwhile, a pair of locals played last night with their seasons on the line as neither Virginia Tech nor Howard had a legitimate shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team.

The Hokies (16-16) lost to North Carolina in the ACC First Round 78-56 after shooting 29% while getting outrebounded by 15.  Who knows if the future is bright, but it’s most certainly on campus in Blacksburg: freshmen Hunter Cattoor (14 points), Jalen Cone (11 points) and Landers Nolley II (10 points) scored 64% of the Hokies’ points.  Unfortunately the rest of the team shot 6-for-29 (21%).  How will Coach Mike Young build off of that nucleus with his first complete recruiting cycle?  In an ACC that was in flux much of the winter, we’re a few years away from learning which direction this program that is going after watching its consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances streak end at three.  Never an easy night, winter, or year in the ACC.

Howard (4-28), however, showed how mad March can be sometimes.  The Bison somehow shocked South Carolina State in the First Round of the MEAC 70-63.  Let’s put this in perspective:  HU went 0-9 in November, 2-3 in December, 0-8 in January and 0-7 in February.  But they’re 2-1 in March, and more importantly they live to play another day thanks to Charles Williams (24 points), Kyle Foster (18 points), and team defense that held the Bulldogs to 2-19 shooting from three-point range.  Next up? Second seed North Carolina A&T; the Aggies went 12-4 in league play and beat the Bison by four in February.  So HU can still dream.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange ended the regular season with a loss at Miami, dropping the team to 10-10 in a soft ACC and 17-14 overall.  The team finished 1-1 in overtime games and 3-5 in regulation games decided by five points or fewer.  The 14 regular season losses is the most for the program since 1969, Roy Danforth’s first year and the last time the Orange posted a losing record (9-16).  And they face a North Carolina team that rolled them on Senior Day in the ACC Second Round.  It’s technically the “9 p.m. game”, but anybody who knows anything about the ACC realizes that the nightcap will not begin much before 10 p.m.  Buddy Update: his 12 points against Miami give the sophomore 474 for the season and 691 for his career, putting him 54 points shy of his father Jim’s career total.  If he scores his regular season average of 15.3 per game, the Orange will need to win at least two games (meaning he’ll play in four) in the ACC/NIT for Buddy to pass the other guy who once wore No. 35.

Ballot Battles- I caught heat this week from a San Diego State fan for dropping the Aztecs all the way from sixth to 15th after their loss to Utah State.  For the record they were probably overvalued while still staying unbeaten, and there is a bit of a market correction for mid-major schools losing games this late.  Power five schools may get a pass because in some leagues (Big Ten, Big East) most of the conference schedule is against potential NCAA Tournament teams; not so in the Mountain West or West Coast Conference (sorry, BYU).  Biggest differences between my ballot and the composite poll?  Oregon (I’ve got the 13th ranked Ducks 7th), Virginia (I’ve got the 17th rated Cavaliers 11th), and Creighton (I have the 7th ranked Bluejays 15th).  Small school shout-outs go to Stephen F. Austin (28-3, first place in the Southland and that win over Duke) East Tennessee State (30-4 and making me look smart with their roll through the Southern), and New Mexico State (the Aggies have won 19 in a row).

Bids up for Grabs:  just one on Wednesday, with Colgate hosting Boston University for the Patriot League Championship.  Since joining the conference for the 2013-14 season, the Terriers are 5-6 while the Raiders are 7-5 with last year’s title in their trophy case.  They also won both regular season games between the two schools and are led by facilitator Jordan Burns (15 points and 5 assists per game).  I’ll be watching wondering how AU can get back there.

 

Tipping off Today/Tonight:

The Atlantic 10, Big Ten and Big East begin their tournaments in Brooklyn, Indianapolis and New York City.  Meanwhile, the MEAC continues in Norfolk as does the ACC in Greensboro (without Virginia Tech).

1 p.m. – George Mason (16-15 overall, 6-12 A-10) vs. St. Joseph’s (6-25, 2-16). What a difference a few months and a key injury makes.  The Patriots began the season 11-1 even with Justin Kier’s early injury issues but when the senior re-injured his foot the team went into a tailspin (that will happen when you lose the previous season’s leading scorer).  Coach Dave Paulsen’s team has lost five of seven, with the two wins coming against tied-for-last Fordham and St. Joe’s.  Mason’s 62-55 win over the Hawks saw Javon Greene score 20 points; the St. Joseph’s player to watch is junior guard Ryan Daly who leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. He’s slacking in the blocked shots department (fourth).

3:30 p.m. – George Washington (12-19, 6-12 A-10) vs. Fordham (8-22, 2-16).  Newsflash: teams that play in the “dreaded first round” are not hot entering March.  The Colonials have lost five straight, with one of those defeats coming to the Rams.  Actually GW is the only A-10 team Fordham has been able to beat this winter, so the last-place Rams have the bracket right where they want it.  It’s also a matchup of the two lowest-scoring teams in the conference:  while GW’s 65.6 points per game ranks 313th the Rams’ 58.1 is 349th.  Somehow Fordham also found a way to post November wins against UConn (now 19-12) and Bradley (MVC Tournament winner).

7 p.m. – Georgetown (15-16, 5-13 Big East) vs. St. John’s (16-15, 5-13), 7 p.m.  If this feels familiar, it’s because this is the third meeting in the eight-nine game between the Hoyas and Red Storm in the last four years.  Since the revamping of the “New Big East”, the old powers have had it rather rough:  this is the fifth straight March the Johnnies have played in the first round while Gtown is making its sixth appearance in seven years on the first night at MSG.  The Hoyas swept the regular season series, rallying from 17 points down at the Garden on Super Bowl Sunday.  They’ve won just twice since, while St. John’s won two of three to end their regular season.

8:30 p.m. – Howard (4-28) vs. North Carolina A& T (16-15, 12-4 MEAC).  Can the Bison keep the dream and its season alive?  As impressive as last night’s upset of South Carolina may be, HU has not won consecutive games all season.  NC A&T won four of five to conclude the regular season, with the only loss coming to regular season champ North Carolina Central.  The Aggies are led by senior forward Ronald Jackson, who tallied 18 points with 10 rebounds against the Bison last month and averages a double-double.  Howard senior Charles Williams may be averaging 25 points over his last three games, but the guard shot 4-11 and 0-2 from three point range against the Aggies last month.

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As March begins, Maryland and Georgetown fans can take solace in knowing that they’re members of arguably the two best conferences in the country.  Beware the Big Ten and Big East.  Both leagues are playing at a high level as we enter college basketball’s “closing month”.  Most bracket models have 10 Big Ten schools (71% of its membership) reaching the NCAA Tournament, while seven Big East schools are in the mix for the field of 68 (7/10 makes for easier math).  The Big Ten is enjoying a ridiculous run right now, with eight schools in the most recent Associated Press Top 25.  What is this, SEC football?  “The Big Ten’s always really good; it’s just unusual to have this sort of quality depth where the league performed at such a high level in the non-conference, and then seemingly everybody at least early on protected their home courts like you don’t see very often.” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said before last Saturday’s Maryland-Michigan State game. “I’m not sure that the Big Ten 1-2-3 at the top is significantly better than the ACC or the SEC.  But one through ten, I don’t think it’s a close call.  It’s the best league top to bottom and by far the most competitive.”

In a 21st century college hoops landscape where third-year juniors are a rarity and fourth-year starters are virtually extinct (Maryland’s Anthony Cowan is the exception that proves the rule),  the man wearing the suit (not always with a tie these days) becomes all the more important. “Continuity in coaches-the coaches have been there for a long time,” Bilas said.  And they have:  seven have been at their current jobs at least since 2013, with Purdue’s Matt Painter (15 seasons) and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (25 years) the longest tenured.  That leads to programs on solid footing:  with Penn State, Rutgers, and Illinois likely making this year’s NCAA field, Nebraska (2014) would be the only program not making the Tournament in the last five years.

The Big East may not have the Big Ten’s depth, but they do have what they don’t: National Championships.  Since the Big Ten won its last in 2000, the Big East has boasted six titlists (from an accounting standpoint, we count the 2013 vacated Louisville team but don’t recognize UConn in 2014 as the Huskies were in the AAC).  And this year the league has seven likely participants.  They also have the all-important continuity with six having five-plus years at their respective schools.  “Everybody’s recruiting at a very, very, very high level,” Xavier second-year coach Travis Steele said. “Every time we get a young man committed, I always tell our guys, ‘Hey-don’t forget, Georgetown’s getting the same thing. So is Marquette, so is Villanova, so’s Providence’. Everybody’s good.”  Bad news for a Georgetown that’s on the underbelly of the bubble with four straight losses, and minimal comfort for a Maryland that may lead its conference but has dropped two of three.

Alma Mater Update: the Orange played their home finale Saturday by saluting John Wallace and enabling Jimmy Fallon.  Wasn’t it neat to see Fallon pal around with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman courtside before directing the Sour Citrus Society?  Yeah, right.  Meanwhile, SU lost to North Carolina and slipped to 16-13 on the season and 9-9 in the ACC.  They still need to beat Boston College or Miami to secure that 17th victory and a winning season.  A berth in the NIT is no lock, by the way.  On the Buddy Watch:  the younger Boeheim is averaging 15.2 points per game, putting him on pace for 471 this season which would give him for 688 in his career.  Or 57 shy of his father entering the ACC Tournament.

Wow of the Week: Once again the wow comes from Charlottesville.  Virginia continues its surge up the standings in the ACC with two more wins.  Saturday’s 52-50 triumph over then-No. 7 Duke saw the Cavaliers get a career-defining game from Jay Huff (15 points, 9 rebounds and 10 blocks) as they once again win a nail biter: six of their wins in the current 9-1 stretch have come by one possession.  They’ve already locked up a double-bye in the ACC Tournament and could take third with two wins or a one victory plus help.

Player Spotlight: Sa’eed Nelson earned our first player spotlight at the beginning of January, and as we enter March the spotlight comes full circle.  The senior became American University’s all-time leading scorer last Wednesday, passing Russell “Boo” Bowers.  The guard was also named Patriot League Player of the Year as he helped power AU to a second-place finish, their highest since 2014 when they advanced to the NCAA’s.

League Look:  the Patriot League gets a jump on everyone else with their tournament beginning Tuesday evening.  And unlike most other conferences, games are on campus sites.  Defending champ Colgate repeated as regular season titlist and enters as the No. 1 seed; the conference’s highest-scoring offense (76 points per game) is also the most dangerous from three-point range (36%).  They also have the conference’s top rebounder in Will Rayman (8.9 boards per game).  Perennial favorite Bucknell is conspicuous by its absence from the top of the standings.  This is the first time since 2014 the Bison haven’t finished with a share of the league’s best record, and their history of dominance with six tournament titles and 13 regular season crowns and two of the league’s three NCAA Tournament victories.  Instead, they’re playing in Tuesday’s First Round against last-place Holy Cross knowing that a win sends them to Bender Arena and a date with American on Thursday.

Ballot Battles:  Maryland was oh so close to finding its way into this week’s top five once again, but a loss to Michigan State holds the Terps back.  This week’s movers include UCLA (the Bruins suddenly atop the Pac-12) and Creighton (I’ve got the Bluejays 20th as opposed to the 11th they’re at this week), with small school shout-outs going to Stephen F. Austin, East Tennessee State, and Northern Iowa.  The biggest heat I’m getting?  BYU fans after I dropped the Cougars from 20th to 21st (they’re 15th overall) on my ballot.  While the West Coast Conference’s second place team has won nine in a row, I moved Michigan State and Ohio State over them based on quality wins by the Spartans and Buckeyes over the last eight days.

 

Starting Five:

Friday- Richmond at Duquesne.  The Spiders have won seven of eight to move onto the NCAA Tournament bubble; unfortunately most of those wins have not been of the marquee variety and most bracket models still have Richmond on the outside looking in.  The Dukes are likely the best team U of R has faced since falling to now-No. 7 Dayton in late January.  While a win won’t bolster their at-large consideration, a loss will definitely go towards deflating it.

Saturday- Georgetown vs. Villanova. Patrick Ewing is officially using paper clips and duct tape to hold his roster and rotation together, with Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven joined on the hobbled list by Malcolm Wilson.  Who’s that?  A 6-foot-11 big hoping to redshirt in peace-and he couldn’t even do that, suffering an injury in Saturday’s practice.  The Wildcats are playing for seeding in the Big East as well as NCAA Tournament and won the game up in Philly by 14 when Sadiq Bey sunk eight threes on his way to 33 points.

Also Saturday- No. 22 Virginia vs. Louisville.  The last team to beat the surging Cavaliers? The Cardinals in an 80-73 affair that saw UVa break the 70-point barrier for the first time all season.  Jordan Nwora notched 22 points and 7 rebounds that day, and containing the junior forward is key:  since the start of February he’s averaging 19 points with 9 rebounds (shooting 41% FG and 38% from three) in Louisville’s six wins, 5 points with 7 rebounds (shooting 24% FG and 13% from three) in their three losses.

Also Saturday- George Washington at No. 3 Dayton.  The Colonials try to play spoiler on Senior Day for the Flyers, who are attempting to zero in on the conference’s first number one seed since Saint Josephs in 2004.  Celebrations aside, all eyes will be on a certain sophomore.  Forward Obi Toppin leads the A-10 in shooting (63%), ranks second in scoring (19.8) and is seventh in rebounding (7.8).  GW doesn’t have the firepower to match:  the Colonials rank 13th in the conference in scoring and are also second to last in turnover margin.

Sunday- No. 9 Maryland vs. No. 25 Michigan.  The Terps begin the week one win away from a share of their first conference regular season title since 2010, and they remain in the driver’s seat to secure their first outright regular season crown since the National Championship season of 2002.  The Wolverines have yo-yoed their way through the season, going from starting the season unranked with first-time head coach Juwan Howard to making its Top 25 debut in December at No. 4.  They’ve won five straight and have lost four in a row during conference play and find themselves at .500 with two games left in the regular season.  It’s another tough test for the Terps on the perimeter; Xavier Simpson averages a conference-best 7.9 assists per game.

 

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The final week of February brings two phrases back to the college basketball scene:  “seeding line” and “the bubble”.  Even with their 79-72 loss at Ohio State Sunday, Maryland is competing for a top-three seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament.  Why is three a magic number?  Because as a top-four seed they’d be protected and sent closer to the Terps natural region (likely New York City and Madison Square Garden for the East Regional), but they wouldn’t have to face the region’s top seed until the round of eight.  Right now the Terps (22-5, 12-4 Big Ten) are projected to be a No. 2 seed by the “Bracketologists”; with regions varying from South (ESPN), Midwest (CBS Sports), East (USA Today), and Midwest (NBC Sports).  But three of the four have Maryland going to Greensboro (USA Today the outlier with Tampa as their first weekend destination) to begin the tournament.  Virginia (19-7, 11-5 ACC) is a potential second-round foe for the Terps according to ESPN and CBS, as the Cavaliers are a No. 7 and No. 10 seed in those models (UVa is No. 9 seed according to USA Today and NBC).  On the other side of the seeding coin is the bubble:  right now Georgetown (15-12, 5-9 Big East) is squarely on the underbelly thanks to consecutive losses with USA Today listing the Hoyas as one of the “first four teams out” while ESPN and CBS have them in the “next four out”.  Richmond (20-7, 10-4 Atlantic 10) is also on the bubble, with CBS having the Spiders playing in the First Four while the other three models have them in the “first four out”.  Meaning Coach Chris Mooney’s team can ill afford another misstep between now and the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Alma Mater Update: SU rallied to beat Georgia Tech Saturday, which returns the Orange to 8-8 in a soft ACC and returns them to three games over .500 with four dates remaining.  Three are on the road and the fourth is against a North Carolina team that can’t be this bad…right?  Actually, all four schools are currently under .500 in league play so an 18-win campaign isn’t out of the realm of possibility.  Sound familiar?  Since Syracuse’s first winter in the ACC, they’ve finished the regular season with either 18 (twice) or 19 wins (three times).  Not ideal for a program that was accustomed to winning a lot over a long time.  Buddy Watch: the recent rough patch (38 points over his last four games) drops the sophomore’s average to 15.5 points per game, putting him on a pace of 481 for the regular season which would have this No. 35 at 698 for his career entering the ACC Tournament. Or 47 points shy of his father.

Wow of the Week: defending National Champion Virginia owns the longest winning streak in the ACC; four straight victories have moved the Cavaliers off of the bubble and into the NCAA field.  Coach Tony Bennett’s grinders actually enjoyed a breather when they beat Boston College; the 78-65 triumph was just their second double-digit win since January 1.  While offense can leave for the NBA early (Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome) but the rock that this program has been built upon is defense; and the Cavaliers lead the NCAA in scoring defense while ranking second in defensive field goal percentage.  But the schedule ratchets up over the final two weeks with a pair of road games along with home matchups against teams currently in the top ten.

Player Spotlight:  Maryland sophomore Aaron Wiggins led the Terps with 20 points in Sunday’s loss at Ohio State while making 6 of 13 from three-point range.  In his five other games this month, the guard is averaging seven points with four boards and two assists while shooting 36% and 5-23 from outside the arc.  For the Terrapins to shine in March and get to Saturday’s Semifinals in the Big Ten Tournament and the second week of the NCAA’s, they need more than Jalen Smith inside and Anthony Cowan outside.  With Eric Ayala (26% from three after making 41% as a freshman) still looking for his shot, that may fall to Wiggins in the coming weeks.

League Look:  the Big Ten has four schools ranked in the Top 25 with six others likely making the tournament field if today was Selection Sunday (and obviously it is not, but still…).  Two more are on the bubble, with Minnesota and Purdue needing to microwave their way down the stretch to get into the postseason conversation.  While Maryland owns a two game cushion with four to play, there’s a five way tie for second place at 10-6 and then one game separates seventh from tenth place.  Talk about fluid standings.

Ballot Battles:  Saturday saw three of the top four teams in the nation tumble; and that bled over to Sunday when then-No. 7 Maryland fell at Ohio State.  Kansas is the new No. 1 thanks to its victory at previously top-ranked Baylor.  Small school shout-outs this week welcome Liberty (26-3) to the party, with Stephen F. Austin, East Tennessee State, and Northern Iowa remaining in the mix.  Toughest decision was how far to drop the Terps–I slid them three spots after the defeat, behind Duke and San Diego State to the dismay of a few.  After last Monday when my Washington Post Sunday Magazine Crossword became twitter fodder, I’m happy to be roasted by fans from all offended schools this week.

 

Starting Five:

Wednesday- Virginia at Virginia Tech.  The Cavaliers took the January meeting by 26, and the Hokies have lost seven of eight to fall out of NCAA contention.  Freshman Landers Nolley II has officially hit the wall, also known as that time of the season when first-year players have logged more minutes and games than they did during their high school career.  The team’s leading scorer is averaging 9.3 points with 8 rebounds over his last three games while shooting 18% from the field and 1-for-17 from three point range.  He’s going to find scoring against the Cavaliers even more difficult.

Also Wednesday- No. 9 Maryland at Minnesota. Beware late February, Terrapin Nation.  How many times have we seen a highly-regarded Terps team go on the road and get shocked in Lincoln, State College, or Minneapolis?  The Golden Gophers may have lost five of seven and rank third-worst in the Big Ten in shooting, but still boast a big man to be reckoned with. Daniel Oturu’s 11.4 rebounds per game leads the conference and his 19.7 points per game is second-best behind Luka Garza. Jalen Smith, just a few days removed from dealing with Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson, will have his hands full once again.

Also Wednesday- American vs. Lafayette.  The Eagles own a one-game lead in the race for third place in the Patriot League, but the Leopards currently own the tiebreaker thanks to their 12-point win in Easton at the beginning of the month.  It was a day where AU shot 15% from three-point range and couldn’t contain Justin Jaworski (32 points on 11-17 shooting).  Sa’eed Nelson is two points away from becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer; he’ll need help from his supporting cast after they shot 14-42 (33%) in Sunday’s loss at Boston University.

Saturday- George Washington at VCU.  It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Rams, who have lost four straight and five of six to light a match to their at-large hopes.  The coveted double-bye is also almost gone for Mike Rhoades team.  GW has won two of three to position itself away from the A-10’s dreaded first round for the first time in three years.

Sunday- Georgetown vs Xavier. Schools with 8-10 conference records have made the NCAA Tournament before, but four games under .500 is almost the at-large kiss of death.  That’s where the Hoyas are on track to land, unless they get things in gear quickly.  The Musketeers are on the top half of most bubbles.  They also lead the Big East in rebounding margin and defending the three; the Hoyas lead the conference in crucial injuries with Mac McClung (eight minutes played this month due to a foot injury) and Omer Yurtseven (five points and eight rebounds in the loss at DePaul after missing the previous two games with a sprained ankle) question marks moving forward.