WTOP's Dave Preston analyzes the NCAA basketball games this weekend.
WASHINGTON — Charles Grice Driesell changed men’s college basketball in the D.C. metro area when he left Davidson for Maryland in 1969.
Since reaching the ACC Semifinals in 1965, the program had gone from seven to five to four to two conference wins. More than just the Atlantic Coast Conference’s “Siberia,” winter nights in College Park were an afterthought in the break between Redskins and Senators seasons in the Washington area. That all changed when “Lefty” declared he would turn the University of Maryland into “the UCLA of the east.”
While he didn’t win the NCAA Tournament — let alone reach the Final Four — in his tenure, Driessell turned the Terrapins from pretenders into contenders. All-Americans ranging from Len Elmore to the late Len Bias. Eight berths in the NCAA Tournament (six of those trips before the field expanded to 64) and five trips to the Sweet Sixteen. An NIT Championship when that tournament still fielded five schools in the top 20. And that elusive ACC Tournament finally captured in Greensboro in March of 1984.
Maryland became a basketball school when Driesell trotted out to the sounds of “Hail to the Chief” and has mattered ever since. Saturday, the school honors the coach who left under a cloud more than 30 years ago with a banner that will hang in the rafters. That it has taken over 30 years to honor the man who created “Midnight Madness” is unfortunate, just as the end of his tenure on the sidelines in 1986 was the unfortunate finish to 17 years of dreams and possibilities (plus a little aggravation directed toward tobacco road).
Gary Williams may have delivered that Final Four and National Championship, and Mark Turgeon may be getting the program in position to potentially return to the Final Four, but Lefty was the one who first dreamed big and recruited even bigger. To him, there was no ceiling to what the University of Maryland could accomplish. Thus, it’s only fitting that a banner bearing Lefty Driesell’s name is within spitting distance of the Xfinity Center ceiling. Hail to the dreamer.
Georgetown (13-12, 4-8 Big East) vs Marquette (15-9, 6-6). A clash of cold squads in at high noon: consecutive close losses to Seton Hall and Villanova (it was a two-point game with 3:49 left) have dropped the Hoyas into ninth place of the conference … while the Golden Eagles have lost three of four since upsetting then-#1 Villanova. No team shoots better from three-point range in the league than Marquette, and they took the previous meeting this winter in December thanks to solid shooting from guards Markus Howard and Jajuan Johnson. Another day where a lot will be asked from the Hoyas’ Rodney Pryor and L.J. Peak.
Richmond (14-9, 8-3 Atlantic 10) at LaSalle (13-9, 7-4). While the A-10 spotlight is on dominant Dayton and lucky-as-heck VCU, the winner of this game plays themselves into the conversation. LaSalle boasts a player who rivals Dayton’s Scoochie Smith for name value — and Pookie Powell can play, too. The Explorers lead the league in scoring and three-point shooting behind sharpshooter Cleon Roberts (49 percent from outside the arc) but have not beaten a conference foe with a winning record since Jan. 12. While the Spiders boast triple-threat T.J. Cline, ShawnDre’ Jones has been heating up as of late with a pair of 30-point efforts in his last three games.
American (5-19, 2-11 Patriot League) at Army (9-16, 3-10). AU has dropped six in a row to clinch a losing record in conference play and wraps up the regular season by playing four of their last five games on the road. They’re also near the bottom of the league in defending the three-pointer — and that’s not good. The Black Knights average a conference-high 9.4 threes per game, and hit 8 of 18 from outside the arc in a Jan. 14 win at Bender Arena.
#21 Maryland (20-4, 8-3 Big Ten) vs Ohio State (15-10, 5-7). In October, did anybody think the Terps would be 20-4? Think about that when confronted with the two-game losing streak the team currently has. Thanks to the scheduling rotation, the Terps are facing the last team they defeated. That 77-71 win in Columbus, Jan. 31 saw Jae’Sean Tate and Marc Loving both have big nights: Tate’s 20 points matched his high in a conference game this winter and Loving shot 4-for-5 from three-point range. One would think that Buckeyes big man Trevor T. Will Melo Trimble be able to recover from a less than ideal effort against Penn State (Eight points in his first seven minutes, only three thereafter)?
George Washington (12-11, 4-7 Atlantic 10) vs St. Bonaventure (15-8, 7-4). Can GW move on from the heartbreak of their last-second loss to VCU? It’s tough to go toe-to-toe with the league’s best only to have a last-second foul end your night on the wrong side of the scoreboard. They’ll have to bounce back — the Bonnies are one of six teams in the conference within two games of first place, and all four of their losses are two teams currently higher in the standings. Jaylen Adams leads the A-10 in scoring and assists, and three days after handcuffing VCU’s JeQuan Lewis for the first 35 minutes big things will be expected from the Colonials’ perimeter D again.
George Mason (16-8, 6-5 Atlantic 10) vs Fordham (10-14, 4-7). The Patriots are coming off a road win at Davidson and already possess more conference victories than they accumulated last winter, and they’re more than just double-double dynamo Marquise Moore (although it can’t be stressed enough that a six-foot-two kid currently leads a Division I conference in rebounding). Senior Jalen Jenkins scored 23 points against the Wildcats and has been a force inside all season, leading the A-10 in shooting at 63 percent from the field. The Rams rank last in the conference in opponent’s field goal percentage and come to Fairfax having lost three of four. But there’s always a caveat, right? Fordham owns a 3-1 road mark in conference play.
Howard (5-19, 2-7 MEAC) at Hampton (10-13, 7-3). The Bison are back on the precipice of a 20-loss season — just like from 2002-14. The Pirates are on the precipice of something special: With eight wins in their last eleven games, the defending champs are looking more like the team that gave Virginia a pesky fight in the first half of the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64 last March than the one that started 2-10. Sometimes a program’s overall momentum (three trips to the NCAA’s this decade) can kick in and save a season like this one for Hampton. Or a program’s history of hardship can take another hopeful winter off the rails like Howard’s.
Navy (14-11, 9-4 Patriot League) vs Lafayette (7-17, 3-10). The Midshipmen are officially the hottest team in the area with nine wins in ten games. The Mids have one player averaging in double figures this season but have clawed their way into contention thanks to a crew that rebounds (#1 in the conference) and takes care of the ball (#2 in turnover margin). The Leopards are at the bottom of the Patriot League in both categories. Junior Bryce Dulin scored a career-high 23 points in the first meeting between these two schools; that 37-point margin of victory was the Mids’ largest of the season.
VCU (19-5, 9-2 Atlantic 10) vs Davidson (12-10, 5-6). The Rams are coming off a pair of gifts where JeQuan Lewis came through in the clutch twice. A court-storming that generated a technical foul at St. Bonaventure with 0.4 seconds left in regulation allowed Lewis to send the game into overtime at the line, and an inbounds foul against George Washington with 0.4 seconds remaining gave the senior the opportunity to beat the Colonials with a pair of free throws. The Wildcats have lost two straight at home but boast the one-two perimeter punch that is Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge (two of the top three scorers in the league). Home court and havoc will be tested. And if I were Wildcats coach Bob McKillop, I’d be very wary of what JeQuan Lewis is up to anytime 0.4 seconds showed on the clock.
#12 Virginia (18-5, 8-3 ACC) at Virginia Tech (16-7, 5-6). The Cavaliers have five days off after a double-digit win over #4 Louisville, while the Hokies have dropped two straight-including a 23 point defeat in Charlottesville that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. UVA leads the nation in scoring defense and is the best shooting team in the conference (second best from three-point range). Buzz Williams’ bunch allows the fifth-most points per game in the ACC and is second to last in rebounding margin. Last winter the Cavaliers lost in Blacksburg during a stretch where they started 0-3 on the road in the league and missed out on a regular season title thanks to a 4-5 mark away from John Paul Jones Arena. I have a feeling that might get mentioned by Tony Bennett at some point.
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