Archives for posts with tag: sports

The storyline of the first half of the Nationals season was three-fold:  explosive offense, solid starting pitching and a flammable bullpen.  One weekend after the All Star Break, little has changed.  The offense pounded out 29 runs (even though Joe Ross is on the DL and headed for Tommy John Surgery instead of on the mound), the starting pitchers tossed 20 and a third scoreless innings while the bullpen notched an ERA of 9.95.  Will the trade for Oakland relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle do something to patch up what’s been a leaky hull (5.31 ERA, worst in the Majors) all season?  If nothing else, it removes Blake Treinen from the equation:  the 6-foot-5 right-hander began the year as the team’s closer but wound up sporting a pre-All Star Break ERA of 5.73.  He’d been more “Blaze” than Blake over the last month. 

Dissecting the Division- pesky Atlanta (nine and a half games back) keeps pace by sweeping their weekend as well, and with Freddie Freeman back in the lineup the Braves could make a run at the postseason.  At least their pitching is consistent–meaning the starter’s ERA ranks 19th in the big leagues and their reliever’s ERA is 20th.  The Nats have six more games against Atlanta this season–all in September.

O’s Woes- the only thing worse than a leaky bullpen is a razed rotation.  After entering the All Star Break on a two-game winning streak, the Orioles proceeded to get swept at home by the defending champion Chicago Cubs.  Pitching was porous:  the starters allowed 21 runs over 11 and a third innings (16.68 ERA).  Some storylines never change. The New York Yankees currently own the final playoff spot in the American League at 47-43…a pace of 85 wins over the full season.  In order to catch them, the O’s would have to finish 43-28.  The team may say they’re buyers as the trading deadline looms…but you have to think they’re going to auction off some pieces for prospects.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .636 with 3 homers and 9 RBI.  Granted, three games is a small sample size but WOW.  Daniel Murphy hit .625 with 7 RBI…while Murph and Bryce Harper both homered twice over the weekend.  Gio Gonzalez tossed 8 and a third scoreless innings while Max Scherzer struck out ten in his start and Tanner Roark had a solid outing for his first win since June 4th.

Last Week’s Humbled- Brian Goodwin went 2-for-13 over the weekend (.077) with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts…not what you want to see from your leadoff hitter but repeat after me, “it’s a small sample size”.  Relievers Trevor Gott (5 earned runs in one inning) and Austin Adams (2 runs allowed without recording an out) may have small sample sizes, but anytime you’re a pitcher who wears a number in the 60’s or 70’s it can’t be good.

Game to Watch- Sunday Stephen Strasburg (9-3, 3.43 ERA) pitches in Arizona against Robbie Ray.  Despite having two first names, the Diamondbacks pitcher is 8-4 with an ERA of 2.97.  He’s also a former Nats farmhand…having been sent to Detroit in the Doug Fister deal.

Game to Miss- Wednesday night the Nats wrap up their series with the Los Angeles Angels as Gio Gonzalez pitches against Ricky Nolasco (4-10, 4.82 ERA).  It’s a 10pm start… meaning you’re likely going to bed after golf’s British Open (or as they insist, “The Open Championship”) tees off.  Golf’s oldest major wins the tiebreaker here.

 

The Nationals came up short in attempting to sweep the New York Mets Sunday.  But they still departed Citi Field with a double-digit lead in the NL East…and won’t face a team that currently has a winning record until after the All Star Break.  Not that home-field advantage is worth the paper it’s printed on (as we’ve learned in 2012, 2014 and 2016), but the team has a great opportunity to make a run at the NL West trio (more on them shortly).

Dissecting the Division- what made the 3-1 weekend on the road against the Mets even more special was that in previous years these were weekends that underachieving Nats teams found ways to go 1-3 or even 0-4.  And the Mets were red-hot with five wins in six games entering the four game set.  Instead of giving their NL East foes hope, Manager Dusty Baker’s team proved over 36 innings that they were the better bunch.  Now the Mets are tied with Atlanta for second place, with Miami half a game back in third.  Philadelphia?  When does 2019 begin?

The Wild, Wild, West- it’s an odd-numbered year, so forget about San Francisco for the moment.  The NL West is giving fans the best race for their money with three of the top five teams in baseball residing in that division.  Colorado, Arizona and the Los Angeles Dodgers are separated by one game and all three could make the postseason as the next Wildcard contender is nine games behind LA (it’s the Cubs, and it’s a long season, but still…).  The Rockies own the best offense of the trio (tied for first in the bigs in runs scored and second in batting average) while the Diamondbacks boast the most consistent pitching (second in team ERA, ninth in quality starts and fifth in bullpen ERA).  LA has the weakest rotation of the three (24th in the majors in quality starts) and is getting the most out of its offense at this time (sixth in runs score despite ranking 19th in batting average and 17th in home runs).  Brace yourself for plenty of late nights as the three jockey for the division, home field and wildcards.

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Lind hit .462 over five games while providing depth off the bench.  Daniel Murphy batted .429 while scoring 6 runs and driving in 5.  Max Scherzer strikes out 10 over 8 innings in his lone start while reliever Enny Romero (1 save, 2 holds, 5 strikeouts and no earned runs in 4 innings over 3 games) provided some necessary relief.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman has enjoyed one incredible comeback season, ranking among the league leaders in all three triple crown categories.  Thus hitting .208 will be viewed as a minor hiccup.  Trea Turner struck out 6 times while walking just once.  Tanner Roark allowed 7 runs over 5 innings in his outing of the week…and the righthander’s ERA in April was 3.64, 4.04 in May and now 6.27 in three June starts.  Joe Blanton, Trevor Gott and Matt Albers each posted ERA’s in the double-digits last week.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats return from their road trip and start Stephen Strasburg (8-2, 3.28 ERA) against Cincinnati.  The Reds pitch Bronson Arroyo.  Yes, the 40-year old former Red Sox hurler is back in the bigs for the first time since 2014 (a spring training stint with the Nats occurred in 2016).  He’s named after Charles Bronson, making every outing of the righthander’s redemption tour must-see if only to think about Deathwish and The Dirty Dozen.

Game to Miss- Monday Tanner Roark (6-4, 4.39 ERA) takes to the mound in Miami against Justin Nicolino (4.15 ERA) with “Better Call Saul” warming up in the bullpen as the AMC drama airs its season three finale.  Bob Odenkirk is always good and you’ll recognize Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley, Spinal Tap) as Jimmy McGill’s upstanding brother with jealousy issues and more, but fans of a certain age will recall blue-blood lawyer Howard Hamlin as the former Professor Lasky from “Saved By the Bell: The College Years”.  My sneaky MVP on this show?  Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, the striving attorney who sees Odenkirk’s character’s possibilities and excesses while trying to stay on the road (literally and figuratively).  Check out all three seasons…

Rain interrupted the Nationals inter-league series with the Orioles last week…while their bullpen is weighing down their 2017 hopes.  The relief corps less than one-quarter into the season has already blown 8 save opportunities (they had 14 blown saves in all of 2016) and owns the fourth worst ERA in the majors.  Initial closer Blake Treinen has watched his ERA balloon to 8.10…and he’s not the most flammable arm coming out in the late innings (Joe Blanton’s holding strong at 9.49).  Look no further than last years San Francisco Giants:  they owned the best record at midseason before 30 blown saves turned them into a wildcard club…and the pen came back one more time to bite them in a Game 4 loss to the Chicago Cubs.  It’s only May…but a leaky pen usually gets worse before it gets better.  Buckle up…it could wind up being a very bumpy summer.

Dissecting the Division– after taking two of three from Philadelphia, the Nats are seven and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL East.  They’re the only team over .500 in the quintet…and the only team with even a .500 win over the last ten games is the oft-injured New York Mets.  Will a race that never starts be a help or a hindrance for a team focused on producing in October?

Oh My Goodness- after coming to Nats Park and chanting “OH” during the anthem, Orioles fans find themselves saddled with a four game losing streak and a much tighter AL East.  They’re a half game behind the Yankees (who own the best run differential in the bigs) and three and a half games ahead of Boston in the East.  All this, while ranking 17th in MLB in scoring and 25th in opponent’s batting average.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .417 with 3 homers and 7 RBI while inking a 21+ million dollar contract for next season.  Did we mention he delivered a walk-off homer in Saturday’s win?  Michael A. Taylor homered twice, with both blasts coming in huge spots of wins over the Orioles and Phillies.  Matt Albers tossed three scoreless innings over four appearances, notching a win in relief as well.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .136 from the cleanup spot while Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner also batted under .200 for the week.  Shawn Kelley’s 20.25 ERA over two appearances let Enny Romero’s 7.71 fly under the radar.

Game to Watch- Saturday in Atlanta Max Scherzer meets Bartolo Colon in a duel for the ages.  Meaning that the Braves pitcher is 43 years old and has enjoyed a career that actually lasted longer than the life of the Braves’ former home Turner Field (1997-2016).  After two starts where Scherzer was let down by either his offense or his bullpen, Max may be looking to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of win #5.  Colon is 1-4 with an ERA of 7.22…and may be one or two starts away from Jeremy Guthrie territory.

Game to Miss- Wednesday in Pittsburgh the Nats will trot out “TBD”, meaning they’ll be calling up somebody from the minors or having Jacob Turner on the mound against hard-luck Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole.  Either way, I’m watching “The Americans” from the previous night because I can’t justify preempting a Stephen Strasburg start.

Break up the Nationals!  Seven straight wins and a 6-0 start to their road trip give Dusty Baker’s team the best record in the big leagues.  And this is happening in the middle of a bullpen shuffle and a three-city, ten game journey.  While 18 games represents just one-ninth of the schedule, sweeping the Mets at Citi Field is a nice early statement.

Starting with the Closer/Closers- looks like the Blake Treinen era was brief:  last week Manager Dusty Baker announced that Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley would share the ninth-inning role.  While the duo answered the challenge over the weekend at the Mets, it’s a long way from late July and the trading deadline.  One thinks that once again the Nats will be in the market for a closer.

Dissecting the Division- the sweep puts the Nats three games in front of the pack…with Miami (10-8, 3 games back) and Philadelphia (9-9, 4 off the pace) giving chase.  The Mets aren’t just 8-11 but are -3 in run differential and 4-8 at home.  Granted, it’s only April.

Meanwhile in the Other East- the Orioles took two of three from Boston (despite some shenanigans) to stay atop the AL Quintet…with Trey Mancini making his case to stay and play every day.  The 25-year old leads the team in homers and RBI….while playing perfect defense in the field.  Before we begin a season-long tango with the Orioles and Red Sox, we have to notice the New York Yankees.  Their +30 run differential just happens to be the best in the major leagues and maybe this team is closer than a year away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .550 with 10 runs scored while notching 3 homers and 7 RBI en route to taking NL Player of the Week honors.  He’s off to a better start than he was last April when he was the player of the month (when do they visit the Cubs?).   Ryan Zimmerman hit .500 with 10 RBI.  Last year the veteran had just one month where he drove in more than 12.  Max Scherzer tallied 16 strikeouts while going 2-0 and posting a 1.80 ERA.  Koda Glover saved two games over the weekend.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor’s opportunities are few and far between…but to go 1-for-10 with four strikeouts over five games is not going to inspire confidence in the Nats’ brain trust.  Adam Eaton hitting .208 with an on-base percentage of .321 isn’t an issue- it’s doing that from the leadoff spot.  And after dealing with the spotlight of being the team’s closer, Blake Treinen meets a different spotlight as the ex-closer.

Game to Watch- Same teams, different weekend.  After sweeping the Mets at Citi Field, the Nats try to push their NL East rivals further back in the standings.  Max Scherzer allowed a pair of home runs in his most recent start while Jacob deGrom struck out ten Nationals the day before.  They’ll meet up this Friday at Nationals Park.  Break out the Rick Astley fan safety video.

Game to Miss- With Scherzer pitching Friday and Stephen Strasburg (after paternity leave) slated to start Sunday, Joe Ross matches up with Zack Wheeler and his 5.40 ERA.  Meanwhile, a certain hockey team in the district will be hosting a certain nemesis that night.  While Game One is Thursday, I want to see Gio Gonzalez and his 1.35 ERA at Coors Field in the late-afternoon air.  Plus, the Caps are 8-1 in Game Ones against Pittsburgh while just 3-6 in Game Twos against the Penguins.  Rock the Red…

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

The first few weeks of March always brings us back to fundamental questions.  What do you value in an at-large college basketball team?  Do great wins outshine bad losses?  And how many Shamrock Shakes can we knock down before McDonald’s stops offering the seasonal treat?  Thirty-six invitations will be extended in four days…and as always there are more than fifty schools who think they should be in the mix.  But what criteria should be used?

There is the school of thought that you want the 36 “best” teams in the tournament, meaning if two schools played ten times the one that would prevail more often should get the bid.  That’s similar to the “eye test” that allows analysts to say a “team is much better than their record” and takes into account playing in a tough conference.  These people would tell you that an ACC school finishing 9-9 or 8-10 is a better fit for the field than the runner-up of the MAC or MVC Tournament.  So the teams with talent and ten home games in November and December that couldn’t prove in January and February that they belonged in the big dance get another shot?

The other viewpoint is that the NCAA Tournament should have a “representative field”, meaning that even though an Illinois State would probably lose to Michigan State more times than not, the Redbirds deserve to be in the field because they dominated their regular season.  Just as you will be told “there are no nights off in the Big Ten” (obviously nobody’s watched Rutgers this winter), the Missouri Valley Conference is loaded with schools whose sole purpose is to scout, prepare for and beat Illinois State.  And even though ISU failed their final (no shame in losing to #21 Wichita State), they aced the rest of their classwork.  MSU?  The Spartans struggled before Big Ten play (losing to Northeastern) and went 2-7 on the road in the league.  Of course everything changes if Tom Izzo is able to coax a run through the bracket in DC (and the Spartans are 12-2 in the last five Big Ten Tournaments). 

 

Alma Mater Update- Syracuse’s stay in the ACC Tournament was as short in Brooklyn as last year’s was in DC…a tough loss in the 8-9 game.  The Orange put down their blue-books as an 18-14 team that’s 2-11 in road/neutral games…and await the committee’s decision.  Coach Jim Boeheim in his press conference after teh 62-57 loss said that the ACC Tournament should be played in major markets like Brooklyn, Atlanta and Washington…as opposed to Greensboro, NC and thus earning the ire of the city.  While I agree with having the ACC rotate between top-ten markets, I would have waited until SU had actually won a game in the tournament before proposing to move it.

 

Automatic Berths Captured-

#4 Gonzaga wins the West Coast Conference title game over #19 St. Mary’s; it will be interesting to see where the committee seeds the Bulldogs and the Gaels given the “body of work” and “strength of conference schedule”.  South Dakota State captures the Summit League, Northern Kentucky wins the Horizon, and Mount St. Mary’s takes the Northeast Conference.  They’re still celebrating in Emmitsburg, MD, as the Mountaineers make their first trip to the big dance since 2008.

 

Bid on the line tonight-

Patriot League:  Lehigh at Bucknell, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network.  I’ve seen Tim Kempton terrorize the conference for four years, and even though he didn’t win a third straight player of the year award the senior still averaged a double-double this winter.  Bison big man Nana Foulland took the honor this March, and while the junior averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds in Bucknell’s two games against the Mountain Hawks this season-Kempton and Lehigh still came out on top twice.  The difference in those games was three-point shooting:  Lehigh shot 59% and 47% from outside the arc to 30% and 26% for Bucknell.

 

Tonight’s Games-

Big East First Round-Georgetown (14-17) vs St. John’s (13-18), 7 p.m. FS1.  There was once a time where the 8-9 game in the Big East was reserved for the likes of Seton Hall and Providence;  tonight the Hoyas and Red Storm are in that less than ideal place.  Which St. John’s team shows up tonight- the one that shot 5-for-25 in the second half of a loss in DC or the one that hit 54% from three-point range last month?  And which Georgetown team do we get- the one that outrebounded the Red Storm by 20 in January or the unit that turned the ball over 22 times at MSG?  And the reward for whichever one of these consistently uneven teams wins is a lunch date tomorrow at noon with regular season and defending national champ Villanova.

ACC Second Round-

Virginia Tech (21-9) vs Wake Forest (19-12), 7 p.m. ESPN2. The Demon Deacons held off a pesky Boston College team to keep its NCAA bubble hopes alive, while the Hokies still have the fresh memory of Wake coming to Blacksburg last Saturday and leaving with an 89-84 victory.  John Collins might merit most of the attention as the sophomore led the ACC in field goal percentage, was second in rebounding and third in scoring.  But Bryant Crawford was the one who scored a team-high 26 points at Cassell Coliseum;  and when BC doubled Collins early and often yesterday the sophomore from Silver Spring led WF with 20 and 6 assists.  Seth Allen scored 20 points in the regular season finale;  does the senior have one more week of miracles in his pocket?

Virginia (21-9) vs Pitt (16-16), 9:30pm ESPN2.  Another rematch from last weekend has the Cavaliers playing the Panthers for the third time this winter:  Pitt prevailed in the first game 88-76 (shooting 63% from three-point range while outrebounding the Cavs by 18)while UVa took the regular season finale 67-42 (holding Pitt to 20% from outside the arc and winning the battle of the boards by 7).  The Panthers are not your garden-variety ten games under .500 in the conference team:  Michael Young and Jamel Artis both finished in the top five in the ACC in scoring and they returned two other starters from last year’s NCAA squad.  The transition from Jamie Dixon to Kevin Stallings has been less than ideal…but they ended Georgia Tech’s bubble hopes last night in a 61-59 win over the Yellowjackets.  The Cavaliers are already in the field…but a loss here might knock them down from a 5 to a 6 seed.

 

North Carolina State fired its coach Mark Gottfried last week…yet the Wolfpack will continue to be guided by Gottfried for the rest of the current season.  Perhaps his office is really messy and he needs an entire month to box up his keepsakes?  There was once a time when NC State wasn’t just a player in the ACC, but royalty in Raleigh where the conference tournament was held for the first 13 years.  The Wolfpack won with Everett Case as their head coach and cut down the nets with Press Maravich in charge, before winning it all under Norman Sloan and Jim Valvano.  Perhaps they used up too much mojo during the 1983 National Championship run.  Perhaps they used even more karma in their improbable ACC Tournament run as a #6 seed in 1987.  That was their tenth title in 34 years-tying the Wolfpack with North Carolina.  In the last thirty years NC State has as many ACC Championships as Clemson.  Or Boston College.  Or UCLA.  That makes the natives restless and thus makes the seat as hot as their fire-engine red uniforms.

Gottfried guided NC State to a pair of Sweet Sixteens and four straight NCAA Tournament appearances before last winter’s 16-17 stumble.  This winter has been even more bitter with losses that include a 51-point drubbing in Chapel Hill and a come-from-ahead collapse against Syracuse.  But the endgame was a messy one in Raleigh…and now the school scrambles to find someone willing to compete in the shadows of the Smith Center and Cameron Indoor.  Who will be willing to put their career in the hands of an athletic department that pulled the rip-chord on a mostly successful regime?  North Carolina and Duke snicker at their poor country cousin.

Alma Mater Update- it’s NC State’s 30 years in the wilderness that makes other schools nervous.  Schools who have only had one great head coach in the history of the program.  Schools that have said coach nearing the final years of his career.  That admitted, the 2017 Orange are perhaps paying up on a market correction from last March’s run.  Three straight losses have SU on the back end of the bubble…likely needing to win two of three to finish the season.  That means a win against Duke or at Louisville.  When does lacrosse begin?

#24 Maryland (22-5, 10-4 Big Ten)- the Terps learned Monday that they’d be without the services of Michal Cekovsky for the rest of the year after the junior forward fractured his ankle in Sunday’s loss at #11 Wisconsin.  Bad news for a team that ranks ninth in the Big Ten in rebounding.  They’re one game behind the Badgers and Purdue…and in recent losses to each came up short on the boards.  The good news is Maryland isn’t completely unfamiliar with Ceko on the shelf:  the seven-footer had missed 10 of the team’s first 19 games this season.  This week they host streaking Minnesota (five straight wins) and slumping Iowa (three straight losses).  ESPN’s Joe Lunardi tickets the Terps to the Midwest Region as a #6 seed with a first round game against Middle Tennessee, while CBS’s Jerry Palm has the Terrapins a #6 in the West drawing Arkansas.

Georgetown (14-13, 5-9 Big East)- barring a run through conference tournament, Sunday’s loss at #20 Creighton likely seals the Hoyas’ NCAA tournament hopes.  Since five  14-loss schools made the field of 68 as at-large teams in 2011, nobody with 14 losses on Selection Sunday has had their shoulder tapped.  Three-point shooting has been an issue since league play began (they’re 9th in the Big East from outside the arc) and against the Bluejays poor perimeter production reared its ugly head again as they shot 3-for-22 from downtown.  There is hope as John Thompson III’s team plays its next three games against schools that are currently sub-500 in the league…before wrapping up the regular season with #2 in the nation Villanova.

#18 Virginia (18-9, 8-7 ACC)- four straight losses?  Back to back sub-50 scoring efforts for the first time since 1969?  Trouble in Charlottesville as the the Cavaliers careen down the conference standings.  If they had held on to that 14-point second half lead at Virginia Tech they would have moved into a first place tie;  instead four losses later UVa is tied for seventh.  They have to get London Perrantes on the right track-the senior is shooting 28% during the current slide (Monday’s 2-for-15 performance against Miami the exclamation point).  Moving forward, they could also use some frontcourt production as Isaiah Wilkins has just six double-digit scoring efforts in league play.  Center Jack Salt may be shooting 50% during the current skid, but the New Zealander has taken just six shots over 63 minutes.  ESPN has UVa a #5 seed in the Midwest with a first round game against UT-Arlington, while CBS has the Cavaliers seeded sixth in the south and Middle Tennessee State as their first round foe.  Both projections were released before Monday’s loss.

Virginia Tech (19-8, 8-7 ACC)- how does Buzz Williams not have a dry-cleaning sponsorship deal?  The guy makes Jimmy Patsos and Sean Miller seem absolutely arid by comparison.  Unfortunately, after sweating through his dress shirt against Louisville Williams had to put an orange t-shirt on, leading kids watching the Saturday afternoon game to believe that Charlie Brown on the Hokies’ sideline.  A drier Williams watched his team top Clemson 71-70 Tuesday thanks to Seth Allen’s three-pointer with three seconds left. Last year’s team exceeded expectations en route to the NIT.  This year?  I would not be shocked to see the Hokies playing not just in the NCAA’s, but advance to the second weekend.  Before Tuesday’s tilt, ESPN had the Hokies seeded 10th in the Midwest with a first round game against Oklahoma State while CBS has them facing VCU in the 8-9 game of the Midwest Regional.

George Mason (18-10, 8-7 Atlantic 10)- no shame in losing to conference-leading Dayton; what bothers coach Dave Paulsen was the team’s sluggish start in their loss to Rhode Island.  The road to the double-bye gets tougher, as they always have trouble with George Washington and everybody’s having trouble this year with VCU.

George Washington (14-13 , 6-8  Atlantic 10)- the Colonials might not be in contention for the coveted double-bye…but Sunday’s win over Duquesne does lift GW further away from the dreaded opening round.  A 2-2 finish is not out of the realm of possibility, and after an offseason of upheaval a 16-15 mark entering the conference tournament should be viewed as a success.

Howard (7-21, 4-9 MEAC)- after winning consecutive conference games for the first time all season, the Bison came back to earth in a 66-59 loss to North Carolina Central.  While shooting 33% from the field and 4-23 from three-point range is not ideal, there’s no shame in coming up short against the conference leaders.  The Eagles have won 12 straight to surge up the standings past Norfolk State. Gulp– that’s who the Bison have next.

American (6-21, 3-13 Patriot League)- the Eagles came up short on Senior Day to Holy Cross 69-54…which is not ideal but almost makes sense as the strength of this team is coach Mike Brennan’s underclassmen.  The top two scorers are freshman Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini…while sophomores Delante Jones and Lonnie Rivera have also made contributions.  AU is assured of playing in the first round;  they need two wins plus two losses by Army and Lafayette to have any hope of hosting their first round game.  Navy and Loyola, brace yourselves.