Archives for posts with tag: Wolverines

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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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“Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.”

Have you ever tried to re-heat a souffle?  It can’t be done.  And along those lines while it’s easy to go home again for visits it’s nearly impossible to recreate the magic of what once was.  For one brief shining moment last decade, the University of Connecticut was a player in big-time football.  Look it up.  A 33-19 record over a four-year span from 2007 to 2010.  Sharing the Big East Conference championship twice within a four year stretch.  A trip to the Fiesta Bowl.  Even with the qualifier “Big East Football” in the mix,  the Huskies had come a long way from competing in the Yankee Conference and being the decidedly fourth rung on the school’s sports ladder (behind men’s and women’s basketball as well as men’s soccer).

Randy Edsall had created a BCS conference contender out of a I-AA program (yes, it was classified as that during the pre-FCS days) before answering the siren call of the University of Maryland;  a position that he said was his “dream job”.  Only the reality was less ideal than the dream, and Edsall was gone after four and a half seasons with a 22-34 record.

As disappointing as his tenure in College Park may have been, things got worse in Storrs. Paul Pasqualoni was flushed out after going 10-18 and his eventual replacement, Bob Diaco, departed after an 11-26 mark that may have included a bowl berth but will forever be known for creating the infamous “Civil ConFLiCT” trophy.

So after the dust cleared it only seemed natural to bring back the man to rebuild what was once built-if anyone can make UConn work, it’s Randy Edsall.  Only things haven’t been that easy in round two:  the Huskies are 6-26 and this year have drawn fewer than 20,000 fans in three of their four home games thus far.  He addressed the challenge during one of his weekly press conferences last year.  “We did it before, and we’re working to do it again,” Edsall said. “And it’s hard. And it’s harder now than what it was then because our generation has changed, society has changed.”

Yes, society has changed. It does every year and the kids of 2019 are nothing like the kids from 2000 when he began his first run with the Huskies, but the winning coaches adapt instead of pointing fingers.  “It’s today’s generation. It’s frustrating because there’s been no accountability in a lot of households and there’s been no accountability with these kids growing up,” Edsall said at a press conference last month. “They’ve never had it tough. They’ve never known how to work. They’ve never known how to sacrifice and be disciplined. And that’s the tough thing. And we’re trying to change all those things.”

Meanwhile, in the bad optics department, Edsall gets bonuses not just for victories but for statistical achievements.  The Hartford Courant published an article last November detailing his bonus structure, one that includes $2,000 payouts for scoring first and leading at the half.  Earlier this year when the Huskies lost 56-21 to UCF (no trophy was in play), Edsall collected $2,000 because UConn had a “better red zone scoring percentage” than the Knights.  Scoring two grand in a 35-point loss.  Now that’s accountability of a different sort.

College football is a long game when one is building a program; just look at how long it took Edsall to get things going at UConn in his previous tenure.  And recruiting classes can help things turn on a dime sometimes.  But the Huskies re-joining the Big East in their other sports places this program at a crossroads-not unlike the crossroads they were at when the school elected to make a play for the big time and hired Edsall in 1999.  Will the rain hold off until after sundown this time?

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are actually favored this week against Boston College, and unless they beat the Eagles this will likely be the last time they’ll be favored in 2019.  SU’s currently 0-4 in the ACC, and their most recent conference win came at BC last November. That victory was a fun one for yours truly as I got to hang out with my roommate from freshman year Bob Goeldner and also run into a friend from high school Lynn Morganstern LeVeille. Her daughter now cheers for Syracuse.  The wins and losses fade but the smiles and good times endure.  Except for the excruciating losses–those stick with me forever.

 

Friday’s Game-

Navy (6-1, 4-1 AAC) at Connecticut (2-6, 0-4), 8 p.m. (ESPN).

Another aspect of Edsall’s bonus structure is a $10,000 payout if the Huskies at the end of the season rank in the top half of the AAC in major offensive categories;  there is little threat of him collecting as UConn is currently 10th in rushing and passing efficiency, 11th in scoring and 12th in yards gained and third down conversions (I know what you’re thinking-they’re too focused on pass protection that ranks 9th in the conference).  Despite a second half defensive fade against Tulane, the Midshipmen clinched bowl eligibility for the 15th time in 17 seasons with last week’s win over the Green Wave.  It’s a good thing for the academy that head coach Ken Niumatalolo doesn’t collect on similar bonuses:  the Mids are tops in the AAC in rushing offense and defense, as well as total and scoring defense.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move closer to a division title with a 45-13 win.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) at No. 14 Michigan (6-2, 3-2), noon (ABC).

Somehow this is Homecoming; excuse me?  Aren’t homecomings reserved for the likes of Indiana/Illinois/Rutgers/Purdue?  Taking the Rutgers win out of the equation, the Terps are allowing 46 points per game in conference play.  The Wolverines come to College Park fresh off of a season-salvaging 45-14 rout of then-top ten Notre Dame.  They also bring a defense that ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 25 sacks and is third best in the conference at getting off of the field on third down.  That’s bad news for a quarterback carousel that includes one player who’s day-to-day with a leg injury, another who’s still recovering from an ankle injury, and a third who’s a true freshman.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 41-17.

 

Virginia Tech (5-2) at No. 15 Notre Dame (5-2), 2:30 p.m. (NBC).

The Hokies are coming off of their bye week; they probably needed more time after the six-overtime triumph over North Carolina.  They probably also could have used an opponent less angry than a Fighting Irish team that saw its playoff hopes go up in smoke when they got manhandled by Michigan last weekend.  It was Ian Book’s worst game statistically since he became a full-time starter;  but something happens when he suits up in South Bend this fall.  The senior is completing 64% of his passes for 317 yards per game at home with an 11-0 touchdown to interception ratio at Notre Dame Stadium.  Good news for the Hokies:  redshirt sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker is healed up from the leg injury suffered against the Tar Heels.  Bad news for the Hokies:  there’s no way one can heal a defense that allows 33 points per game in regulation to FBS foes.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies can’t handle the Hulk, falling 34-24.

 

Virginia (5-3, 3-2 ACC) at North Carolina (4-4, 3-2), 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

The ACC’s Coastal Division is on a collision course where all seven schools could finish 4-4;  while that’s not likely given Georgia Tech’s issues it’s completely conceivable the division winner goes 5-3 in the conference and advances to the Championship Game thanks to a tiebreaker or two.  UVa’s season of possibilities took a major hit last week with a seven-point loss at rebuilding Louisville-their closest game of the season.  This week’s foe is no stranger to tight games:  UNC has seen seven of their eight games decided by a touchdown or less, including a six-overtime extravaganza in Blacksburg.  The Tar Heels have issues getting to the quarterback and stopping the run, good news for a Cavaliers offensive line that remains a work in progress.

Kippy & Buffy know seasons and tailgates are made in November, and thus they enter college football’s “closing month” with a bottle of 2013 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon.   On the nose: “hints of cherry, earl grey, lavender and dry herbs lingering on black currant, white pepper and saffron.”  On the palate: “big round entrance evolving on dark fruit jam, currant and blackberry lingering on acidity and cherry.”   

Presto’s Pick: on the field- another offensive effort on offense. Cavaliers come up short, 20-16.

 

Georgetown gets by Colgate, Howard falls to North Carolina Central, William & Mary falls to Elon, Richmond beats Stony Brook, Towson tumbles to Delaware, Morgan State slips to Norfolk State.

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This was supposed to be the season for Michigan.  Jim Harbaugh came to Ann Arbor in 2015 after the Wolverines had swung and missed with Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. Unlike Bo Schembechler leading Michigan to a Rose Bowl in his first season on campus, this rebuild was going to take time.  And year five meant that every player in the program was one brought on campus by Harbaugh.  Not to mention that Urban Meyer’s no longer coaching at Ohio State.  The path to the playoff was there, and “was” may be the operative word.

Saturday’s 35-14 loss by the No. 11 Wolverines to No. 13 Wisconsin saw the Badgers take a 28-0 halftime lead and make Michigan look like Rutgers.  Saturday’s loss puts the 21 points allowed to Middle Tennessee and Army in a different context, and the turnover-prone offense (seven lost fumbles in three games) that can’t get out of its own way looks all the more suspect.  Michigan’s only dipped its toe into one tough schedule:  three of their four October games are against ranked foes (including a non-conference tilt with Notre Dame) and November includes Michigan State and Ohio State, two schools that have had plenty of success against the Wolverines this decade-even after Harbaugh’s heralded arrival.  Once again, it looks as though Michigan end the season having gone to as many Big Ten Championship Games as Rutgers and Maryland.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange and I have an interesting relationship this autumn.  Because the game was on the ACC Network, I missed their season-opening shutout of Liberty.  I was in the press box for their painful pounding by Maryland so I got to see that defeat up close.  The following week’s loss to Clemson (homecoming?!) was on ABC and I saw the tail-end of that mess after covering the Navy-East Carolina game.  So when I caught last Saturday’s contest with Western Michigan, I was pleased to see they were up 21-0 in the second quarter.  Enter the defense that will help opposing skill position players get drafted a round or two earlier.  The lead was trimmed to 38-33 when I had to run errands and I later learned the Orange wound up winning 52-33.  So after four weeks, when I am watching or listening SU has been outscored 120-37 while they’ve handled foes 65-17 when I haven’t been able to monitor the team.  I apologize for being a hex this fall.

 

No. 21 Virginia (4-0) is off to its best start since 2004, but they certainly kept the Scott Stadium crowd on the edge of their seats as they trailed Old Dominion 17-7 at the half.  But just like they won the second halves against Pitt and Florida State, the Cavaliers were not to be denied in their 28-17 triumph. Seasons are not made in September, but as we’ve seen across the country they can definitely be ruined and while there are more than a few tough tests ahead UVa’s season of possibilities continues.

Cavalier Congrats: the legend of Bryce Perkins grows with another night where he led the team in rushing and scored a touchdown through the air and on the ground.  The offense also enjoyed a turnover-free night.  Charles Snowden notched 15 tackles with two sacks to pace a defense that handcuffed the Monarchs after halftime (66 total yards on 36 second half plays).

Cavalier Concerns: the offense had issues sustaining drives all evening, converting just 1 of 11 third downs.  Blame a running game that gained just 87 yards on 27 carries after accounting for sacks.  Special teams were not that special, as the Cavs had a field goal attempt blocked while averaging 36 yards per punt.  UVa was also whistled seven times for 70 yards.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Notre Dame.

 

James Madison (3-1, No. 2 in FCS) was tested on the road at Chattanooga as the Moccasins put 14 points on the board in the first quarter.  But the Dukes defense dominated the rest of the way in a 37-14 rout.

Duke Do’s: Percy Agyei-Obese rushed for a season-high 114 yards while Ben DiNucci completed 19 of 25 passes for 264 yards.  Ethan Ratke connected on all three of his field goal attempts.

Duke Don’ts: a costly special teams fumble in the first quarter let Chattanooga pull even after trailing 14-0.  The pass rush generated just one sack.

Next:  Saturday at 2 p.m. against Elon.

 

Towson (3-1, 1-1 CAA) fell in overtime to Villanova (No. 18 in FCS) 52-45.  Although the Tigers will take a tumble down the rankings (they were 5th entering the game against the Wildcats), the conference race has just begun.

Tiger Triumphs: Tom Flacco passed for 304 yards while rushing for 110 more, but Yeedee Thaenrat proved to be the money man in the red zone with three rushing touchdowns.  Coby Tippett tallied 13 tackles to pace the defense.

Tiger Troubles:  the defense allowed 295 yards rushing while allowing the Wildcats to convert on 12 of 19 third downs. Third down was an issue for the Towson offense as well, as they moved the chains on 4 of 13 tries.

Next: Saturday at (gulp) Florida.