Basketball around the Beltway: Carnation call

WASHINGTON — Valentine’s Day means happy times for couples, sad times for singles and awkward moments for just about everyone.  Back at Manchester High School in the 1980s, you could send different colored carnations: white for sympathy, green for friendship and red for something more (I remember having to backpedal on multiple occasions: “I know we’re just friends–I MEANT to check green on the order form.  My mistake…”). Which area schools get which colors this year?

#19 Maryland (20-5, 8-4 Big Ten) — After years of getting the “Let’s BEE Friends” Valentines (with a BEE on the card!), the Terps are getting red carnations this year. Wednesday’s 68-66 win over Indiana was the school’s 20th victory of the season – just the fourth time since the National Championship season that the program has posted 20 regular season triumphs.  That’s a major corner turned.  With Melo Trimble leading the way, the Terps are all but assured to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.  Causes for concern:  the last three games have on the road have been semi-blowout losses while their last three home games have been nail-biting wins (two of which were against non-factors like Penn State and Northwestern).  The Terps won’t break our hearts on the road Saturday night against the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, will they?

Georgetown (16-8, 8-5 Big East) — Red, with plenty of caution.  You want to have deep feelings for these Hoyas. From their smackdown of Villanova last month to a fantastic freshman class that drips of potential, you can’t ignore the possibilities.  The schedule is even generous down the stretch:  5 of 6 remaining games are against schools with losing conference records.  One should really be into this team – but their inability to take care of the ball (2nd most turnovers in Big East) and Joshua Smith’s recent backslide (he’s totaled 24 points and 14 rebounds while tallying 17 fouls over the last four games) put this team securely in the “friend zone.”  After a weekend off the Hoyas have a date with longtime foe St. John’s Tuesday night…

Cruising the Commonwealth — Continuing with the “best of times, worst of times” tale of two campuses theme:  how massively dysfunctional were the romances in just about every one of Charles Dickens’ works?  Bill Sikes kills Nancy, Scrooge neglects Belle and even David Copperfield winds up leaving Claudia Schiffer to practice magic.

#2 Virginia (22-1, 10-1 ACC) — Sometimes the red carnation has a broken stem and doesn’t hold up as well.  The Cavaliers’ loss of Justin Anderson for 4 to 6 weeks with a broken pinkie robs UVa of their second leading scorer and best three-point shooter…but also takes a 6-foot-6 guard who can rebound out of the lineup.  In their first game minus the junior, they shot 37 percent from the field and 2-11 from three-point range.  Thank goodness the Cavaliers play stellar defense:  three of their last five foes have been held to exactly 47 points.  Thank goodness Coach Tony Bennett’s team doesn’t face a school with a winning conference record until March.  Sometime you can tape the stem and nobody notices…especially Saturday when UVa faces Wake Forest.

Virginia Tech (10-14, 2-9 ACC) — White carnations by the dozen.  Plenty of sympathy is in store for a program that’s rebuilding and a coach who perspires profusely.  A 65-63 win over Georgia Tech keeps the Hokies out of the conference cellar, but with a three game road trip and dates with #4 Duke and 2nd ranked Virginia, Adam Smith and company may find their way back to 15th place.  Thank goodness the game against the Blue Devils isn’t at Cameron, where air conditioning is an afterthought.

George Washington (17-7, 7-4 Atlantic 10) — Going green for the buff and blue:  a 78-62 clunker at 7-14 Duquesne drops the Colonials 16 places in the RPI and severely smacks their at-large profile.  The best rebounding team in the A-10 needs to more than rebound from a stretch where they’ve lost three of four. Coach Mike Lonergan admits that team defense has slipped during the current slide.  They won’t get any breaks Saturday against a VCU team that’s trying to end their own slide.  For those who’ve tried to forget, GW lost by 24 last month in Richmond.

George Mason (7-16, 2-9 Atlantic 10) — Gets a rock.  As in the 263rd best shooting team in Division I has had scoring issues all season, and they’re not going away.  Even when they do shoot the ball well, they cough up 92 points to Davidson.  Freshman center Shevon Thompson (7 double-doubles) is having a fine season but it’s been an adventure this winter to even get the Jamaican big man the ball.  GMU ranks last in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.  A home game Feb. 18 against Fordham is a must-win to stay out of the A-10 cellar.

#20 VCU (18-6, 8-3 Atlantic 10) — This may be the classic red carnation now only to realize I should have sent a green one (“honest mistake–they’re next to each other on the form.  I’m not hung up on you or anything-we’re cool, I promise…”).  The Rams were steamrolling the A-10 until they lost Briante Weber two weeks ago, and since then they had to rally past 13th place George Mason before losing to St. Bonaventure and LaSalle.  Weber’s presence at both ends of the floor (85 assists, 78 steals) can’t be duplicated. Sophomore JeQuan Lewis may have a 2 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but doesn’t come close to matching Weber’s sticky fingers defensively.  VCU plays all other five contenders in the A-10 over the next three weeks. While right now they’re in most experts’ fields brackets, there’s no guarantee they won’t find their way out of the field of 68.

American (13-12, 6-7 Patriot League) — Gets a green carnation, as the Eagles could use a friend after a fifth loss in seven games.  The NFL’s deflate-gate had nothing on AU’s pace of play:  the school’s 43.5 shots per game–lowest in Division 1.  Jesse Reed has been the barometer during Patriot League play. He’s averaged 18 points in their six wins and 11 points in their seven losses.  AU may be tied for 4th in the conference, but the team stands just one win out of last place, and they wrap up play against teams they’re 1-4 against this winter.  At least four of the five are at Bender Arena.

Howard (12-12, 6-4 MEAC) — The Bison are getting a red carnation.  I don’t care if they’ve lost two straight and play the next four away from home.  It doesn’t concern me that they don’t have a player not named James on their roster averaging over 5 points a game.  It doesn’t matter if the moon’s pull creates the tides as well as Howard’s annual collision course with 20 losses.  On Valentine’s Day weekend, the heart does what it does…and after watching Howard reside deep in the underbelly of the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference for the last decade I’ve got faith that this is the March Kevin Nickelberry’s team makes its move.  I’ve got to think that the James Gang — Carlton, Daniel and Miller — will be able to steal a win or two at Coppin State or Savannah State to remain in the MEAC mix.  

Love means never having to say you’re sorry–and hoops hope means never having to make rational assessments.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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