Basketball Around the Beltway: And the nominees are…

WASHINGTON — It’s a privilege just to be nominated.  Honestly.

Unless your favorite film is not nominated, and then you shrug it off as “the Academy is so out of touch…” although let’s just say that “Pixels” may not exactly be award worthy. Welcome to a weekend where season-long awards won’t be handed out, but area teams are definitely honored to be noticed.

Best Game of the Year Nominee

#1 Kansas (#2 in the coaches poll) beats #2 Oklahoma (#1 in the coaches poll) 109-106 in triple-overtime. Some games match their hype, and some exceed it. This one made you yearn for the sequel.

Most Surprising Sweep

Iowa beats Michigan State twice. I guess the Hawkeyes are for real? Beating the top-ranked Spartans by double digits at home is impressive…but leading the #4 team by 22 points at the half in East Lansing? All eyes on Thursday January 28 when they visit Maryland.

Most Creative Acting by an Ensemble

Monmouth’s bench guys. Some have referred to these kids as “auxiliary cheerleaders,” but it’s all about the kids. Let them have their fun…at least until they lose two straight in the MAAC.

Best Transfer Impact

Friday at 7 p.m., George Washington (14-3, 3-1 Atlantic 10) at Dayton (13-3, 3-1). Tyler Cavanaugh (formerly of Wake Forest) leads the Colonials in scoring and is second in rebounding. Charles Cooke is doing the same for the Flyers after sitting out a year following his transfer from James Madison. The sophomore sat out Dayton’s win over Davidson with an oblique injury — they can ill afford his absence against GW.

Saturday’s games…and nominations:

Best Freshman Showcase

#3 Maryland (15-2, 4-1 Big Ten) vs. Ohio State (12-6, 4-1) — 12 p.m. , ESPN2

While Diamond Stone already has three double-doubles in conference play and is averaging 19 points and 8 rebounds against league foes, do not sleep on the Buckeyes’ JaQuan Lyle. Fresh off a triple-double against Rutgers, Lyle dropped 29 points on first-place Indiana. The winner keeps pace with the Hoosiers — the loser slips into Northwestern’s neighborhood.

Most Aggravating Hiatus

Howard (8-9, 2-1 MEAC) vs. Harvard (8-8, 1-0 Ivy) — 12 p.m.

The Bison are on their bye week from league competition and this will be the only complete game for James Daniel and company over a 14-day stretch after the Bison’s game at Delaware State was postponed due to clock issues in the second half. Not how you want to build midseason momentum.

Biggest Early Season Surprise

Virginia Tech (11-6, 3-1 ACC) at Georgia Tech (10-6, 1-3) — 12 p.m., ESPN3

The Hokies have already surpassed their conference win total from each of the previous two seasons. Saturday they can equal the combined total. How high is the ceiling for this team? While winning at Duke last weekend was beyond a stretch, the Yellow Jackets are not the Blue Devils. And a win for coach Buzz Williams here would transform his team from a surprise into a curiosity.

Best Duel

Georgetown (11-6, 4-1 Big East) vs #6 Villanova (15-2, 5-0) — 1 p.m., CBS

It’s not high noon, but Josh Hart and the Top 10 Wildcats are in town. And they’re looking to meet DVauntes Smith-Rivera at midcourt for an old-school Big East showdown. Can the Hoya senior protect his home court despite a supporting cast that would make Will Kane’s crew look consistent by comparison? Do not forsake me, oh my 3-pointer.

Most Underrated Rivalry

VCU (12-5, 4-0 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (10-6, 2-2) — 2 p.m., CBSSN

Two sides of the Commonwealth’s capital coin. Suburb school against the commuters in the city. The Spiders owned Cinderella status long before the Rams made their run to the Final Four, and they are still getting used to the two schools being in the same conference (let alone on the same level). Senior Melvin Johnson (19 points per game) and the Rams have recovered from some early-season hiccups under new coach Will Wade. Terry Allen has made a leap similar to Johnson from supporting player to lead (20 points and 8 rebounds per game) this winter.

Sunday’s showdowns:

Freakiest Freefall

American (2-14, 0-5 Patriot) at Army West Point (11-6, 2-3) — 12 p.m., CBSSN

Were the Eagles going to miss Pee Wee Gardner and the rest of the graduating nucleus from last year’s team? Of course. But nobody thought this team would fall this far, this swiftly. AU ranks 351st in Division I in scoring, 350th in rebounding and 336th in assists per game. The Black Knights are the first of three straight games against schools with losing conference records, so there may be hope…until you realize the Eagles have lost four straight by double digits.

Craziest Cocoon

George Mason (6-11, 0-4 Atlantic 10) at Saint Louis (6-10, 1-3) — 3 p.m., NBCSN

The Patriots were a perennial March contender a few years ago, and under first year head coach Dave Paulsen are attempting to put a foundation in place that will allow them to contend for conference crowns again. Unfortunately, they have to play games this winter while making that transition. Ever look inside a cocoon? Metamorphosis is not pretty. They visit a Billikens team that is also having a rough season, so there may be hope in getting that first conference win in the gateway city.

Roughest Road

#13 Virginia (13-3, 2-2 ACC) at Florida State (11-5, 1-3) — 6:30 p.m., ESPNU

The Cavaliers have plenty of talent and coach Tony Bennett has built a winning program in Charlottesville. The major issue this winter has been when they’ve left campus. The Cavaliers are 0-2 on the road to start league play, while the Seminoles boast two of the league’s top freshmen in Malik Beasley and Dwyane Bacon (each averages 17 points per game). Leonard Hamilton’s team has the feel of many of the Seminole NIT teams of recent vintage — initially threatening, but at the end missing that key ingredient to be a true threat. Can the Cavaliers build off their midweek win over #8 Miami?

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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