Archives for posts with tag: Terrapins

Memorial Day weekend isn’t just when men and women have traditionally held their respective Final Fours, it’s a time when players, coaches, media and fans celebrate the growth of the game.  But this year there’s no Final Four, while the growth of lacrosse and the stability of college athletics in general faces difficult decisions.  Imagine the Maryland men’s and women’s programs as strong oak trees in a forest of saplings attempting to gain root and thrive in a suddenly unfriendly forest.  “Obviously Maryland lacrosse is a program that’s around for a long time; it’s a very important sport in our state,” Terps men’s head coach John Tillman said. “But we have newer programs- programs at smaller schools. We all want to see those programs succeed and endure. We want to make sure those young people have as many opportunities as possible.”

 

The 21st century has been kind to college lacrosse.  The Division I field grew from 55 to 69 men’s programs from 2000 through 2016 while women’s programs grew from 71 to 110 in the same time.  And 26 schools added programs this year across all three NCAA divisions (Akron women the only new D-I school) plus NAIA.  Ten added men’s programs, 12 added women’s teams, and four schools added men’s and women’s programs.  But this week there became one fewer Division I men’s program with Furman University dropping the sport (the Paladins had been playing in D-I since 2014). “No one wants to see sports cut,” Maryland women’s head coach Cathy Reese said.  “No one wants to see these athletes lose their opportunities that they have to compete collegiately, or coaches and programs lose jobs or whatever it may be.”

   

While each sport deserves its moment in the sun and every athlete merits attention, the primary revenue engines for college athletic departments are football and men’s basketball.  The loss of this year’s NCAA Tournament costs schools roughly 375 million dollars, and the potential loss of the 2020 college football season is estimated by ESPN as up to four billion dollars. “If we don’t have college football in the fall, and we’re going off not having the NCAA Tournament and all of these conference tournaments in basketball, more hits than we probably even realize nationwide,” Reese said.  The revenue drain and potential hit have already taken some toll, with several schools discontinuing programs from Cincinnati men’s soccer to Bowling Green baseball, from both East Carolina men’s and women’s tennis and swimming teams.  “Then you realize that universities are going to have to make some hard decisions in so many ways,” Tillman said. “So we’re certainly hoping for some good things down the road realizing that there’s probably going to be some tough decisions for some colleges to make.”

 

Maryland currently fields 22 sports and has over 700 student athletes participating in those programs.  But the school is no stranger to tightening the belt, having dropped five teams in the department’s most recent reorganization.  And despite the current revenue stream (although it should be referred to as a river given the amount of dollars concerned) from the Big Ten Conference, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that the university might not be spared another reorganization on the horizon.  “I think there will probably a lot of discussion unfortunately,” Reese said. “But it’s something obviously no one wants to see.  We’re hanging on to the hope that we’ll going to figure this out and get through it. Push forward, it’ll definitely be different times.”

 

The NCAA Division I Council has voted to lift a moratorium on voluntary workouts by football and basketball players effective June 1.  A decision on other sports has not been reached.  Meanwhile, a number of schools have announced plans to reopen their campuses for the fall semester.  Ohio State University has even discussed opening its 100,000+ seat stadium to 20,000 or so fans scattered about via social distancing.  “There’s schools talking about different versions of what the fall’s going to look like and if we’ll be back and if we are back how are we going to do this,” Reese said.  “How’s fall sports going to translate in?  We’ve got to wait to see where it goes.”

 

Because even though both men’s and women’s lacrosse plays its seasons in the spring semester, there is a fall practice program akin to spring football.  So while the coaches wonder what the fall semester may bring on campus, they also look at the state of the game.  “We’re hoping that the fallout isn’t bad and people can hang in there, but you are worried about that because we want our game to expand and not get smaller,” Tillman said.  And the longer the big revenue engines stay silent (or at least operating at under 100%), the longer athletic departments tread lightly.  “That’s definitely a concern for most sports at this point,” Reese said. “There’s such big hits for these universities and more specifically athletic departments.  A lot of our funding does rely heavily on sports like basketball and football, and now we don’t know what’s ahead for either.”

Previously appearing on WTOP-

The shutdown of spring sports not only ended the Maryland Women’s Lacrosse Team’s pursuit of a twelfth straight Final Four, but it may also affect the Terps in their pursuit of 2022 and 2023 championships.  The 2020 recruiting class is already signed and on their way to College Park this summer, and according to insidelacrosse.com’s recruiting database eight “commitments” are headed to the school for next year (players can start signing National Letters of intent by mid-November).  But the groundwork for the following classes is still being established and faces multiple obstacles.

Successful recruiting is a combination of evaluating players correctly and then developing relationships with those players.  This year Maryland Coach Cathy Reese and her staff have to do both while being limited by the Coronavirus pandemic: there are no high school lacrosse games to evaluate and scout while in-person contact with recruits is also not an option at this time.  “This is going to be an interesting summer as we prepare to watch the recruiting class,” Reese said. “Without the spring season there’s no lacrosse to watch.  No high school season.  There’s no progress to be made.  No chance for coaches to work with players.”

While the spring high school season is a natural showcase, the summer is where the best lacrosse players gather for camps and tournaments-until this year.  “For us in lacrosse there’s a lot of summer play, a lot of summer tournaments where as college coaches we get to get out and watch players from all over the country play,” Reese said. “At this point so far all of our camps at Maryland have been canceled for the summer so we’re not hosting anything.”

Reese still hopes there will be evaluation opportunities as the spring turns into summer.  “There’s so much that’s not known yet.  We don’t know yet what’s going to happen with these tournaments,” Reese said. “Everyone’s trying to scramble and find alternate dates.”  Still, the mother of four recognizes that as the nation deals with a pandemic there are bigger concerns than recruiting logistics. “We’re all kind of just in this holding pattern,” Reese said. “Just waiting and seeing what happens and what the guidelines that come down from the President, the local state governments and the CDC.”

So while we wait and wonder when or if sports will return and our stadiums and arenas will open again, the calendar still moves on.  And as the calendar moves, so does optimism-even if things don’t return to what they were immediately.  “We’re allowed to talk to kids who become juniors on September first,” Reese said. “Hopefully at some point in the summer we’ll all be able to get out and watch lacrosse and just kind of keep checking on kids who–yeah we’ve got our eye on some-but you know there’s a lot of people out there and a lot of lacrosse players who we would have had a chance to see this spring and summer.”

 

Previously appearing on WTOP.COM-

“In theory” and “in practice” begin on the same road yet often wind up at completely different destinations.  The Maryland Women’s Lacrosse team learned in March that there would be no May when the NCAA canceled the 2020 season.  For the seniors on this year’s roster, it was an unfortunate end to careers that had known nothing but being busy Memorial Day weekend (two national championships in three years).  Maybe.

The NCAA stepped in, offering an extra year of eligibility for spring sports athletes who saw things end in March.  And while that’s a very nice thing to do, many of the student athletes in question were already moving towards the next phase of their lives.  “It’s tough. Kids are a month away from graduation, some have applied for jobs and are looking at what’s ahead for them,” Terps Coach Cathy Reese said. “It is a tough time for these seniors to be faced with that (choice).”

There’s only one senior on the Maryland roster taking advantage of the waiver: attacker Brindi Morgan, who led the Terps with 15 goals in 2020.  One other senior is returning for a fifth season, but it’s via a redshirt year as two-time All-Big Ten defender Lizzie Colson is recovering from an injured ACL torn last summer.  Reese isn’t surprised that most of her players are moving on.  “I would anticipate that’s probably how it is nationwide, you’re not going to see everybody come back to programs just because (they can).  Life has thrown different things at them- whether it’s job opportunities, grad school, financial situations, whatever it may be.”

Even if they had lost Griffin to graduation the Terps would have been well-stocked for 2021.  Freshman Libby May’s ten goals were tied for third on the team, freshman Emma Schettig paced the team in ground balls and draw controls, and sophomore goalie Maddie McSally emerged as the starter between the pipes.  Thanks to the NCAA their eligibility window has increased from four to five, creating an unintentional potential ripple effect. “The interesting thing will be to see how it affects teams down the road. Because anybody that plays this year was given another year of eligibility,” Reese said.

While an extra year of eligibility was granted, scholarship and roster limits did not change in the respective sports. Women’s Division I Lacrosse programs have 12 scholarships to spread between up to 30 student athletes on their rosters.  With many incoming freshmen for this fall signing National Letters of Intent in November of 2019, a vast majority of anticipated available scholarship money and roster spots were already accounted for.   “For a team like mine, that’s thirty other people who could have the choice to stay an extra year,” Reese said. “And so we’ll have to see how that plays out, again for my team but also nationwide because that’s going to affect roster sizes too.”  Because while the desire to play college lacrosse cannot be measured, roster sizes and scholarship money most certainly can.

 

Coming up tomorrow- how the future of a college program is affected by the shutdown of the high school season. Coach Reese discusses recruiting and an evaluation season that’s evaporated.

 

 

 

 

Six days until Selection Sunday means the first batch of Automatic NCAA Tournament bids have been snatched up (Belmont & Utah State Saturday; Bradley, Winthrop & Liberty Sunday) while the first shot across the bow at “Bracketologists” has been fired (Indiana coach Archie Miller comparing Joe Lunardi’s ilk to “Sesame Street”).  While bubble schools cross their fingers for minimal upsets this week and ranked teams try to project their seeding, one local school gets to hang a banner in its arena.

Maryland hasn’t won or shared a regular season conference title in ten years, or since they were in the ACC.  It looked like the Terps couldn’t overcome issues on the road earlier this winter (starting 0-3 away from Xfinity Center in Big Ten play) and then it appeared as though their traditional second half of conference play slide (three losses in four games from February 23 to March 3) was going to derail a promising run.  But instead, the Terps led Michigan for most of Sunday afternoon’s 83-70 victory thanks to their two constants:  senior Anthony Cowan Jr. tallied 20 points with 8 assists while sophomore Jalen Smith added 18 points with 11 rebounds.  Cowan came back for his senior year because he wanted to be remembered as a winner; and he helps deliver a share of the regular season Big Ten Championship.  There are still the unfriendly waters of the Big Ten Tournament (they’re 2-5 with their last win coming in 2016) and the treacherous seas of the NCAA Tournament (one trip to the second week since 2003), but Cowan and coach Mark Turgeon will always have a banner at Xfinity Center they can look up to that will say “2020 Big Ten Regular Season Champions”.  And while March may be fickle, a banner is forever.

Wow of the Week- Howard avoided a winless conference season by beating Maryland-Eastern Shore last Monday.  And while the Bison dropped their season finale to Delaware State, at least they don’t have to deal with the offseason stigma that befalls Kennesaw State (Atlantic Sun), The Citadel (Southern) and Chicago State (WAC).  The Bison are building under coach Kenneth Blakeney, and last Monday was the first of many steps.

Player Spotlight- Jagan Mosely was recruited to Georgetown by John Thompson III and had hoped to turn around what appeared to be a hiccup in the program.  Instead, the Hoyas posted a second straight losing season and JT3 was shown the door.  In came Patrick Ewing and a different system, along with the growing pains of a rebuild.  Mosely was all set to lead the Hoyas back to the NCAA Tournament (the school’s last trip to the big dance was in 2015) this March, but defections (four transfers in December) and injuries (Mac McClung’s foot and Omer Yurtseven’s knee) have hijacked all hopes.  Six straight losses have dropped the Hoyas to 15-16, meaning that reaching the NIT would be a major stretch.  But through it all Mosely has been a standout player for Ewing’s program, leading the Big East with 38.4 minutes played in conference games.  The Marlboro, New Jersey native deserved much better.  But just think how bad things would have been without the team’s backbone this winter.

Bids for Grabs- Just one on Monday.  The Southern Conference was created in 1921, but in the years since schools like Alabama and Auburn left to create the SEC while North Carolina and Maryland departed to form the ACC.  Another generation of schools like George Washington and Richmond marked their time before winding up in the Atlantic Ten, Marshall and East Carolina used the Southern as a stepping-stone to Conference USA and the AAC, and most recently Elon and Charleston have passed through on their way to the CAA.  All told-the Southern Conference has 34 former schools (aka Spinal Tap) with two even dropping down to Divsion III (Sewanee as well as Washington & Lee).  Tonight, regular season champ East Tennessee State (29-4) plays upstart Wofford (7th seed) for the league’s likely lone bid.  Hopefully both schools will stay a while after their title game appearance.

Locals in the Mix- the CAA Tournament comes to the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southeast DC, but the schools closest to Washington went home Sunday evening as Towson tumbled to Northeastern while William & Mary lost to Elon.  The Tribe’s loss ends the schools drive for its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.  Their first big dance banner will have to wait at least one more year.

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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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For 37 minutes Saturday afternoon the script went as it has for most of the Mark Turgeon era on a micro and macro level.  After coughing up a 15-point lead at Michigan State, the Terps trailed the Spartans 60-53 with 3:25 left.  Second half slides have been the rule as opposed to the exception over the last decade; just once in Turgeon’s tenure has the team posted a better record in the second half of conference play than the first (the 2014-15 season saw the team start 6-3 in the Big Ten before finishing 8-1).  But instead of another February fade, the Terps turned the tables on the Spartans by holding them scoreless for the final 3:25.  Jalen Smith made a three-pointer and helped hold Michigan State to one shot by notching three late rebounds while Anthony Cowan finished the deal with back to back to back threes (he’d add two free throws with seven seconds left for the icing on the cake) as Maryland emerged with a 67-60 victory.  All of a sudden the team that couldn’t win on the road all season has won four straight away from home in the toughest conference.  And all of a sudden the Terrapins find themselves in position to capture their first regular season league title since 2002.

Alma Mater Update:  the Orange led Florida State until late in the second half, falling  80-78 in Tallahassee when a road victory would have been a signature win for a team that desperately needed one.  Instead, another rough outing saw SU slip to .500 in the ACC and closer to .500 for the season.  Next up? A Louisville team that’s dropped two in a row and is just as angry as the Florida State team they fell to last weekend. When does lacrosse begin?

Wow of the Week: Georgetown beat No. 19 Butler 73-66 Saturday despite being minus their top two players, as Omer Yurtseven had yet to fully recover from a badly sprained ankle and Mac McClung has missed four straight games with a foot injury.  Somehow the Hoyas went into Hinkle Fieldhouse (where the rims are still ten feet off of the court) and hit 10 of 15 three-pointers while Terrell Allen (not even a starter until James Akinjo left the program) scored a career-high 22 points. At 15-10 and 5-7 in the Big East, Georgetown still has a window of opportunity (however slim) to make the NCAA Tournament.

Player Spotlight:  Richmond’s resurgence this winter saw the Spiders avenge their January loss to VCU by routing the Rams 77-59.  This winter they’ve been sparked by high-scoring Blake Francis and anchored by big man Grant Golden while Jacob Gilyard pilots the offense.  But every so often an unsung hero comes up big:  Saturday it was Nick Sherod who scored 23 points while hitting 5-of-7 three-pointers.  The junior has done a lot of the little things this winter to help the Spiders bounce back from consecutive 20-loss seasons, and at this time coach Chris Mooney’s team is making its way towards the NCAA Tournament bubble.

League Look: despite Clemson’s recent success on the gridiron and Virginia’s men’s lacrosse title, the ACC is first and foremost a basketball conference.  Former Duke player Gene Banks said during an era when a maximum of two schools per conference made the big dance that “if the ACC got six teams into the NCAAs, they’d all make the Final Four.”  Six schools have made the field every season since the league expanded to 15 during the 2013-14 season, but this year they’ll be hard-pressed to get five.  Back to back wins by Virginia (one in overtime, another on a last-second shot) have the Cavaliers on the right side of the bubble, but after that there’s a hot mess where fifth and 12th place are separated by a total of two games. Perhaps quality instead of quantity is this year’s mantra:  the league’s  soft center will help upper tier schools like Duke, Florida State, and Louisville likely land top three seeds next month.

Ballot Battles:  last week’s turnover has been rectified, as Pac-12 leader Colorado makes the Top 25.  Maryland moves up three spots on my AP ballot from 10 to 7 this week, while Seton Hall and West Virginia both slide down the teens.  Butler (once as high as number five) drops out after falling to a depleted Georgetown at home.  Small school shout-outs this week go to the usual suspects:  Wright State, East Tennessee State, Stephen F. Austin, and Rhode Island.  Just missing the cut:  Iowa and New Mexico State.

Starting Five:

Wednesday- Georgetown vs. Providence.  The Hoyas lost to the Friars by 16 on the road last month, and while they were hurt by the absence of Mac McClung (eye injury) they were hurt just as much by Alpha Diallo’s 20 points and 8 rebounds.  PC has beaten three ranked teams this month, but has lost road games at Xavier and St. John’s.

Also Wednesday- George Mason at Richmond.  The Patriots are smarting after getting swept by George Washington, but let the record show they went into the Siegel Center last week and beat VCU.  The Spiders shot 67% in a January win at Fairfax, while Mason’s Javon Greene scored 39 points in defeat.

Thursday- William & Mary at Towson.  Both schools are chasing first-place Hofstra in the CAA, with the second place Tribe one-half game ahead of the Tigers, who took the January meeting by 12 thanks to a career-high 21 points from freshman Jason Gibson.  They also lead the conference in scoring defense and rebounding margin.

Sunday- American at Boston University.  AU enters the week one game behind the Terriers for second place in the Patriot League;  in a conference where the tournament is played on home courts tiebreakers are all the more important. The Eagles won the previous meeting by four in DC thanks to Sa’eed Nelson; the senior is the only active NCAA D-1 player to have recorded 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in his career.

Sunday- No. 7 Maryland at Ohio State.  The Terps took the January meeting after falling behind 8-0 and going scoreless into the game’s first media timeout.  The sibling tandem of Kaleb & Andre Wesson combined for 29 points and 14 rebounds that night, but their teammates shot a collective 10-for-43 (23%).  The Buckeyes boast the Big Ten’s best scoring defense and are tops at defending the three;  should the Terps find themselves down seven with three minutes left on this time they might not find a comeback as easy in Columbus as it was in East Lansing.

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Maryland’s road to March has been bumpy so far this winter, to say the least.  An 0-4 start in true road games included the annual hiccup at Penn State (although for scheduling purposes, this season it happened in December), a shocker at shorthanded Seton Hall (although the Pirates have played their way back into the Top 25), a flameout at Iowa, and a last-minute meltdown at Wisconsin.  So when the Terps started slowly once again at last-place Northwestern we weren’t shocked by any stretch of the imagination.  When they trailed the Wildcats by 14 at the half the narrative was in motion once again.

But then Jalen Smith happened: the sophomore forward scored 21 of his 25 points after intermission as the Terps won its first road game of the winter 77-66.  And he wasn’t done:  Smith scored 29 points-including the go-ahead basket with 16 seconds left in Sunday’s 77-76 win at Indiana (the Terps’ first win in Bloomington since joining the Big Ten).  The Baltimore native also grabbed 11 rebounds in each of the Terrapins’ wins and was named Big Ten Player of the Week.  Almost halfway through league play, the 6-foot-10 forward ranks eighth in the Big Ten in scoring, fourth in rebounding, and third in blocked shots.  If he had enough attempts to qualify, Smith’s 42.9% would be tied for the league lead…in three-point shooting.  In the coming weeks, he’ll have duels with centers Luka Garza of Iowa and Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu.  And just like he’s helped re-write his team’s road performance narrative, Jalen Smith can re-write his own story as the Big Man of the Big Ten.

 

Alma Mater Update- can you say “Back to back to back to back to back”?  The Orange are suddenly 6-3 in the ACC after beating Notre Dame and Pitt, two schools they should be beating (Fighting Irish & Panthers are a combined 6-11 in league play).  They’re in…fourth place.  Granted, this is a down ACC this winter–but seriously?  SU hasn’t received a “double-bye” in the ACC Tournament since they finished second in the conference during their inaugural season of 2013-14.  That year feels like decades ago.  This week the Orange visit Clemson (Tigers have already won at North Carolina for the first time ever and followed that up with a victory over Duke) and then host Duke.  Gulp…

Wow of the Week- Towson has won six in a row to suddenly become a factor in the CAA race.  The Tigers are doing it with defense, allowing the fewest points per game while holding foes to the lowest shooting percentage in the conference.  They’re also second best in the league at defending the three and in rebounding.  While senior guard Brian Fobbs is their best offensive threat (16 points per game), freshman Jason Gibson is heating up with double-digit efforts in three of his last five games (including 21 points in a win at William & Mary).  Coach Pat Skerry has won 20 games three times since taking the reins of the program in 2011;  all of a sudden this team is in the mix to begin the 2020’s with a 20-win campaign.

Player to Watch- Virginia Tech is faring well in their first season of the post-Buzz Williams era. One reason has been the play of freshman guard Landers Nolley II- the Atlanta, GA native is averaging 18 points with 6 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 37% from three-point range.  He’s the true barometer for this team: in five ACC wins he’s netting 23 points per game while Nolley is averaging 13 points in their four league losses.

League Look- the Atlantic 10 has six schools with 14+ wins.  While No. 7 Dayton is the only school in this week’s Top 25,  more than just Dayton. Rhode Island is also receiving votes this week while VCU as well as Duquesne have also been on ballots this winter.  A good year for the A-10 means bad news for George Washington and George Mason:  both schools are under .500 in league play and are one bad week away from dipping into the bottom four (meaning they play in the dreaded First Round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament).  I enjoyed covering the tournament when it was held at Capital One Arena two years ago; I wish I didn’t have to wait two more years for the A-10 to return to DC.

Ballot Battles- while my top ten stayed the same this week, the bottom of my Top 25 got overturned with Stanford, Florida, Duquesne and Memphis making their exits. Back in is plucky Akron from the MAC and making it’s debut from the Southern is East Tennessee State.  Unfortunately my number 26 school Houston did not make the cut this week, prompting ire from the Cougar fan base.  I can only imagine how mad they’d be if the Big 12 had let them in the conference.

 

Starting Five-

Tuesday- Georgetown vs. No. 16 Butler.  The Bulldogs lead the Big East in rebounding margin while the Hoyas rank second;  but Butler is also tops in scoring defense while also leading the conference in shooting and defensive field goal percentage.  They also boast Kamar Baldwin; the senior scored 31 points in Saturday’s overtime win against Marquette.  The big question mark is junior guard Aaron Thompson;  the Paul VI product sat out the Marquette with with a left wrist injury.  If he’s able to play he’ll face DeMatha Catholic product Terrell Allen, who remembers Thompson well from their younger days.

Also Tuesday- VCU at Richmond.  College basketball rivalries have nothing on our capital city duo.  It’s state school versus private institution. It’s 21st Century Cinderella against the original article.  It’s also a winter where both programs are A-10 contenders for the first time in three years:  each is 15-5 and 5-2 in the conference.  The Rams have health on their side this time as Spiders’ leading scorer Blake Francis is out with a sternum injury.

Thursday- No. 15 Maryland vs. No. 18 Iowa.  The Terps had as many turnovers as made baskets (17) in their January 10th loss at the Hawkeyes.  Coach Fran McCafferty’s team shot 3-20 from three point range Monday against Wisconsin; no matter as they finished off the Badgers thanks to a 23-5 closing run.  Jalen Smith will have his hands full against Luka Garza as the junior center leads the Big Ten in scoring and ranks second in rebounding.

Also Thursday- Towson vs. UNC-Wilmington.  How much of a high-wire is the CAA?  Seven schools are within two games of league-leading William & Mary.  The Tigers trail the Tribe by one game after winning by 12 in Williamsburg, and are home this week.  With slumping Charleston coming to campus Saturday, enter “Trap Game 101”.  UNCW may be 2-7 in the league but has just beaten Charleston and Northeastern (two of the seven schools in the hunt).

Saturday- Virginia Tech vs. No. 5 Florida State.  The Seminoles were picked to finish fifth in the ACC, and soft seasons by North Carolina and Virginia have created a bit of a vacuum which coach Leonard Hamilton’s team has been more than happy to fill.  But three straight single-digit victories may lead one to believe FSU’s run is about to end, or at least be sidetracked for a game or two.  And who knows what shape they’ll be in from a tempo standpoint after facing Virginia Tuesday night.

 

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Maryland received a rude awakening in December when they lost again at Penn State. Now the eastern wing of the Big Ten neighborhood could be even dicier.  I said it here last week in this space, and I’m going to say it again. Rutgers is actually good this year.  The Scarlet Knights are 14-4 and are currently ranked by the AP for the first time since 1979: when the Top 25 was a Top 20, the shot clock was years away from being used in the college game, and the three-pointer wasn’t even used in the NBA. The Big East hadn’t even been formed and the NCAA Tournament was going from 32 to 40 schools, with the Final Four broadcast on NBC and ESPN not even created yet to broadcast the first two days.  The ensuing 40-plus years have not been kind to a school that’s logged time in five different conferences, as they’ve not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991 (that was three leagues ago when they were an Atlantic 10 member).  But coach Steve Pikiell in his fourth year at the helm as built the Scarlet Knights into a defensive dynamo: they allow a Big Ten-low 58.7 points per game while ranking second in steals and fourth in rebounding margin.  We’ll know how far they’ve come Wednesday night when they visit No. 19 Iowa.

 

Alma Mater Update- back to back to back wins for the Orange have SU over .500 in the ACC for the first time all winter.  Saturday’s 71-69 win at Virginia Tech avenged a loss from the week before in the Dome as Buddy Boeheim tied a career high with 26 points.  The Buddy Watch has the sophomore at 511 career points with 13 games remaining; if he keeps up his current average of 16.2 points per game he’ll enter the ACC Tournament with 721.  His dad scored 745 career points before going on to win over 1,000 games with his alma mater.

 

Wow of the Week- Richmond (14-4, 4-1 Atlantic 10) has already surpassed last winter’s win total, and the Spiders did so by triumphing twice on the road.  Wagner transfer Blake Francis has settled in to spearhead the offense (18 points per game), allowing big man Grant Golden to focus inside and guard Jacob Gilyard to worry more about running the offense.  Coach Chris Mooney is in his 15th season at the helm, and after consecutive 20-loss campaigns appears to have the Spiders set back on a familiar course that will have them contending in the A-10.

 

Player to Watch- Virginia gave us four years of the unintentional comedy that was big man Jack Salt:  the six-foot-ten center from New Zealand, despite shooting 59% from the field during his career, notched more personal fouls than made baskets in each of his four seasons with the Cavaliers.  Salt’s exit means more run for seven-foot-one Jay Huff, who after averaging under ten minutes per game in his first two seasons has turned into a major force this winter.  He’s averaging 24.5 minutes and recorded 17 points with 8 rebounds in a win against Georgia Tech that ended a three game slide.  But Huff was back to single digits in Monday’s loss to NC State, and UVa finds itself at .500 in league play.

 

League Look- one game separates the top five teams in the Patriot League as preseason favorite Colgate (14-5, 5-1) is being chased by American and Navy, along with Boston University and Bucknell.  The Raiders won at Navy earlier this month; Jordan Burns and company visit AU Saturday.

 

Ballot Battles- this week I moved Baylor into the top spot after two more wins; I very well could have moved them there last week after the win over Kansas but I try to be less knee-jerk when it comes to number one.  This week I received grief for having Colorado in the top 20 while keeping Arizona out despite the Wildcats win over the Buffaloes at home Saturday.

 

This Week’s Starting Five (games of local interest)-

Tuesday: No. 17 Maryland at Northwestern. The Terps may be 0-3 on the road in the Big Ten, but that’s the rule as opposed to the exception in the conference this winter.  Home teams are 40-7 so far this season, but the last-place Wildcats have two of those defeats.  If the Terrapins want to stay in the top half of a very good Big Ten (ten schools in Ken Pomeroy’s top 40), they need every road win they can get.

Wednesday:  Georgetown at Xavier.  The Hoyas are also 0-3 on the road in Big East play, but home court dominance isn’t as great in a conference where road teams are 11-17 this winter.  Both teams find themselves in the bottom half of that league, with the Musketeers coming off of three straight double digit defeats.  They also have trouble scoring (seventh in shooting and ninth from three point range), making things a little easier on the Hoyas who allow the most points per game in conference.

Also Wednesday: George Washington at Fordham.  The Colonials have won consecutive Atlantic 10 games for the first time since February 2018.  Armel Potter was a big reason why, as the senior guard averaged 24 points with 6 assists in those victories.  The run can continue for first-year coach Jamion Christian, as they play their next two games against schools winless in the A-10.  First is a Rams team that ranks 345th in the nation in shooting and 348th in scoring.

Saturday: Navy vs. Army.  It’s not the football spectacular, but this Patriot League matinee is not without relevance.  The Midshipmen have won three of four while the Black Knights have won two straight.  Army also is led in scoring by Tommy Funk, which on name value has to count for something.

Sunday: Virginia at Wake Forest.  The defending national champs knew they’d have growing pains with the bulk of last year’s producers departing, but the Cavaliers have lost four of five and are slowly slipping towards the NCAA Tournament bubble.  The Demon Deacons are to the ACC what Rutgers used to be to the Big Ten:  a school with distant Final Four history and often a tough out but a team you need to beat if you want to stay in contention.

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2019 has been a year to remember in Charlottesville, with Virginia winning National Championships in Men’s College Basketball as well as Men’s Lacrosse. They’ve even had a chance to bask in the Nationals’ World Series run, as Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle played their college ball for the Cavaliers.  How do you top that?  There’s only one answer–and that’s a win over Virginia Tech in football that would result in a Coastal Division crown.

The Cavaliers entered the year the lone Coastal team without an appearance in the ACC Championship Game, and with the other six schools taking turns representing the division the previous six years it almost made sense to pencil UVa in this year.  Thankfully the softest Power Five Conference division with multiple schools in rebuild or revamp mode provides the Cavaliers with the perfect avenue to complete what would be one crazy seven-year run for the Coastal.  But they have to get past their nemesis-if you haven’t heard or read before, Virginia has not beaten Virginia Tech in football since the Hokies entered the ACC in 2004.  That’s not just a small snapshot, but a tapestry of tragedy that ranges from routs (52-14 in 2005 and 52-10 in 2016) to heartbreak (17-14 in 2008 and last year’s 34-31 overtime loss).  That’s fifteen straight years of woe instead of “Wahooha!”.

At the University of Virginia, they eschew terms like “freshmen” and “seniors” for “first year” and “fourth years” because in theory you’re always learning (or at least paying tuition).  Factoring a four-year stay on “the grounds” (never “campus”), no current fourth-year student has attended the University with anyone who’s gone to school with anyone who’s been a student with anyone who’s been in classes (I hope they don’t have a special name for “classes”) with a fellow student who was at Virginia the last time they beat Virginia Tech.

Since arriving in Charlottesville in 2016, head coach Bronco Mendenhall has turned around a program that posted eight losing seasons in ten years to one that will make its third straight bowl.  He’s established stability at the quarterback position that was previously a revolving door and has the Cavaliers one step shy of a first-ever Coastal Division crown.  More than just a step, a win Friday would represent a giant leap for the program and complete a year to remember.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange wrap up the season Saturday by hosting Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are a lot like SU: a private school fish swimming in a sea of public school sharks.  The Atlantic Division will long be the domain of Clemson and Florida State as long as those schools refrain from bad coaching hires, but there is evidence that a school like Wake Forest can be competitive.  Moving forward, the Orange need to take that cue.

 

Friday’s Game:

No. 23 Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) at Virginia (8-3, 5-2), noon (ABC).

Despite the streak being almost old enough to drive, close games have been the rule recently with four of the last seven games decided by one possession (with two more decided by ten points).  Two months ago this had all of the signs of being the year, but that was before the Hokies defense found its teeth and Hendon Hooker became the starting quarterback (the sophomore still has yet to throw an interception).  Since getting smacked by Duke 45-10 head coach Justin Fuente’s team has won six of seven, averaging 35 points per game.  They’ve gotten better in college football’s closing month, outscoring foes 109-17 the last three weeks.  You could say UVa peaked in their 48-14 October win over the Blue Devils;  they’ve coughed up 114 points in the four games since and have trailed in the first half of each game. Yes, even against Liberty.  Despite an inconsistent running game that ranks 13th in the ACC and an offensive line that allows over three sacks per game, Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins has responded down the stretch with heroics on a weekly basis.  Can he dial it up one more time?

Kippy & Buffy try to dial up some magic from the last time UVa beat the Hokies:  this week they’ll be enjoying a bottle of 2003 Chateau Lynch Bages. “Blending power, concentration, style and charm. Forest floor, cedar wood, fennel, smoke and cherry liqueur scents start off the concentration of flavor, supple, round tannins and a sweet, finish filled with ripe cherries and crème de cassis.”  Lynch Bages is a wine for patient wine lovers, as it often needs 15-20 years in the top vintages to show its best.

Presto’s Pick: Kippy & Buffy have to be a little more patient, as the Cavaliers come up short 24-14.  Can you say “back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back”?

 

Saturday-

Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) at Michigan State (5-6, 3-5), 3:30 p.m. (FS1). 

Call this the Disappointment Bowl:  both teams were ranked in September before dropping three-point games in week three.  The Spartans can still secure bowl eligibility with a win and are coming off of a shutout of Rutgers.  They also have a senior quarterback in Brian Lewerke who they’ve been able to protect (a Big Ten-low 17 sacks allowed).  The Terps rank 14th in the conference defending the pass and are second-worst at getting off of the field on third down. They’ve also been hamstrung on offense thanks to multiple injuries at quarterback (they played four in the Nebraska loss) and runningback (Anthony McFarland was never right this fall).  Head coach Mike Locksley referred to this season as “Year Zero”, and he’ll have meetings with players and coaches Sunday and Monday.  While that won’t prevent his team from putting forth maximum effort Saturday, their limitations will prevent the sendoff they desire for their seniors.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 38-14.

 

No. 24 Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) at Houston (4-7, 2-5), 7 p.m. (ESPN2). 

The Midshipmen will know by kickoff if this game is for the AAC West;  No. 18 Memphis meets No. 19 Cincinnati Friday afternoon and if the Tigers tumble there will be a window of opportunity open to the Mids for their first division title since 2016. The Cougars won the inaugural AAC Championship Game in 2015 but that was two head coaches ago:  Tom Herman bolted to Texas, and his successor Major Applewhite was fired after 2018’s 8-5 finish.  When Applewhite was hired, University President Renu Khator told faculty and staff at her annual holiday party, “The winning is defined at University of Houston as 10 and 2…we’ll fire coaches at 8 and 4”. That’s a tall order for a program that’s produced five nine-victory campaigns seasons since 1990.  Even a taller order for first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, who posted one such season in his last seven years with West Virginia.  He’s been accused of tanking his first season on campus by having his best players redshirt. This is the kind of program Navy wants to share the field with?

Presto’s Pick: Mids make it happen, 44-20.

Last Week: 5-4.

Overall: 82-34.

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Only 28.2 miles stands between Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis and Maryland Stadium in College Park, but Saturday saw two seasons continue in opposite paths a world away.  Navy’s 35-28 win over No. 21 SMU continued the turnaround from last fall’s 3-10 disaster;  in the grand scheme of things amidst an era of bowl bids, conference contention and Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies 2018 will be regarded as an isolated incident.  That’s what you get with the sturdy foundation of a program that’s been in place for a decade-plus.  The Midshipmen still have bigger games:  the trip to Houston has AAC West implications and the annual game with Army means dealing with their recent slide in the rivalry, but head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s offseason mission- modify the program while embracing its culture-has been a successful one that has shown immediate results.

The road to recovery at Maryland is only just underway for head coach Mike Locksley, and despite a 2-0 start in September the reality is that this program is in a serious rebuild.  Saturday’s 54-7 loss to a slumping Nebraska fighting for bowl eligibility shined the spotlight on many deficiencies, the most apparent the turnovers and penalties that crop up at the most inopportune times. “You don’t win games when you beat yourself,” Locksley said. “And I’ll keep saying this: when we learn to not beat ourselves first that’s when we’ll start turning the corner, and get back to the winning football that we need to play.”  Winning football has been the isolated incident this decade, with the team not finishing over .500 in conference play since 2010.  And for the 16 seniors who played their last game in College Park Saturday, the culture has been one of upheaval.  A fifth-year senior has played for three head coaches and two interim coaches.  Nobody said it was going to be easy, and the road ahead for Mike Locksley will certainly have many more bumps, twists and turns before he has the program where he wants it.

 

National Notebook:  “You love her, and she loves him. He loves somebody else, you just can’t win.”  The Pac-12 completed its version of the J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks” with No. 6 Oregon’s loss to Arizona State.  Perhaps I should have referred to Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” because the Pac-12 did not break it.  You see:  the Ducks lost to the Sun Devils, who fell to UCLA, who lost to Oregon State, who came up short against Utah, who lost at USC, who couldn’t beat Washington, who succumbed to Stanford, who came up short against Colorado, who wilted against Washington State, who fell to Cal, who lost to Oregon, who–we’ll we’re now back to square one.  Good news for Alabama, who despite not being able to play for their conference championship naturally is in the mix to play for the national one.  Bad news for the only conference that plays nine league games while also having a name that accurately refers to the amount of schools in its membership.  Utah at 10-1?  The 13-member committee snickers at the thought.  One thing’s for sure, Pac-12 love stinks.

 

Alma Mater Update- dreams of another Pinstripe Bowl banner went up flames with a 56-34 loss at Louisville.  Everything we knew about this season showed its face, from an offense that put up decent stats but converted just 6 of 15 third downs to a defense that allowed over 600 yards.  The Orange will wrap up their lost autumn by hosting Wake Forest;  the decade that saw three head coaches comes to a close the the verdict out on the Dino Babers era.

 

Virginia (8-3) came off of their bye week and took a while to find themselves before pulling away from Liberty, retaking the lead with two quick scores late in the first half to enter the locker room by ten before rolling 55-27.  The season of possibilities leaves them 60 minutes away from a Coastal Division crown.  We’ll worry about the ghosts of Octobers past later in the week.

Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins throws for two scores and runs for a third, while PK Kier nets 82 yards and a touchdown rushing.  DeVante Cross tallies two interceptions, returning the picks back for 35 and 52 yards to set up a pair of TD’s. Aaron Faumui notches a sack and a half.  Seneca Milledge shines on special teams, averaging 32.5 yards per kickoff return.

Cavalier Concerns:  the defense that began the season by holding three of its first four foes to under 20 points has allowed 29 points per game over the last month.

Next: Friday at 3:30 p.m. against Virginia Tech. Actually, it’s not to early to worry.

 

Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) continues to play the tortoise to UVa’s hare, setting up a showdown in Charlottesville for the Coastal Division crown with a 28-0 shutout of defending division champion Pitt.  That’s back to back shutouts for the first time since 2005, or the first year they won the Coastal.

Hokie Highlights:  can we salute retiring Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster one more time?  The defense held the Panthers to 2.2 yards er carry, 39% passing, and 3-15 on third down.  Rayshard Ashby notched 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks.  Norell Pollard returned a fumble for a touchdown.  Hendon Hooker completed 10-13 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns while freshman sparkplug Tayvion Robinson had a 32 yard run and a 71 yard catch.

Hokie Humblings:  the running game ran aground, gaining just 110 yards on 48 tries.  Even adjusted for sacks, the ground attack averaged 3.0 yards per carry which contributed to moving the chains on 3 of 12 third downs.  Seven penalties for 54 yards certainly won’t go unnoticed by head coach Justin Fuente.

Next: Friday at 3:30 in Charlottesville against Virginia. Many Hokies fans count this as a home game.

 

Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) had two weeks to prepare for a slumping Nebraska team that had lost four straight while allowing 35 points per game during that slide.  But the Terps never got in gear, as two lost fumbles put 10 first quarter points on the board and the Cornhuskers would score on four of their first vie drives en route to a 54-7 rout.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Javon Leake scored the Terps’ lone touchdown on a 58-yard scamper for a score. Nick Cross kept even more Nebraska points off of the board with an interception in the end zone.  Keandre Jones led the defense with 10 tackles and Colton Spangler averaged 41.8 yards per punt.

Terrapin Tumbles:  Javon Leake lost three fumbles while freshman quarterback Lance LeGendre lost a fumble as well; the freshman QB’s drop occurred on the same play he injured his non-throwing shoulder.  Three other quarterbacks would see action, with the quartet completing 7 of 21 passes for 57 yards while getting sacked six times.  Josh Jackson also got banged up.  The defense allowed 305 yards rushing while permitting the Cornhuskers to complete 63% of their passes.  Special teams saw a fumbled kickoff and a leaping penalty during a punt;  each led to Nebraska scores.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 5-6 Michigan State.

 

Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) may have finished 6-0 at home this year, but they certainly kept the home fans on the edge of their seats this fall.  While the comeback in the final minute against Air Force avenged last year’s loss in Colorado Springs and the field goal in the final seconds to top Tulane made them bowl eligible, the 35-28 win over No. 21 SMU put the Midshipmen in position to win the AAC West.  If they’re able to win at sub-500 Houston and Memphis falls to 9-1 Cincinnati, the Mids advance to their second AAC title game in four years.

Midshipman Medals:  Malcolm Perry rushes for 195 yards and two touchdowns (including the 70-yard game winning scamper) while also completing 9 of 15 passes for 162 yards and a TD.  This was the expanded passing game we were told about in August, and it picked the perfect time to show itself.  the Mids rush for 378 yards while maintaining possession for over 39 minutes.

Midshipman Miscues- a pair of big plays kept this one close:  the defense allowed a 61 yard touchdown pass while special teams surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD.  The offense converted just 6 of 17 third downs. Five penalties for 31 yards doesn’t seem like a lot, but they were flagged more than the Mustangs.

Next: Saturday at 7 p.m. on the road against 4-7 Houston.