Basketball Around the Beltway: Bracket Racket I

WASHINGTON — Six days before Selection Sunday, welcome to bubble week in and around the Beltway.

The NCAA Tournament admits 30 conference champions (yes, the Ivy League is finally in the 21st century with a four-team tournament) plus 38 at-large schools.

There will be drama atop the bracket (Does a one-loss Gonzaga deserve a No. 1 seed?), and at the bottom (Does one take a .500 ACC school over a 20-win Big Ten school over a 27-win Illinois State?) … but not as much mystery in the area as previous years (one can’t ever hope to match Virginia Tech’s four consecutive NIT berths).

The Terps, Cavaliers, Hokies and Rams are virtual locks while the Spiders, Patriots and Colonials need to win the A-10 to make the field of 68. And Georgetown … make sure you’re sitting down when you read their entry.

Punching Tickets

Four schools are already in: Jacksonville State (Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon’s first head coaching job) wins the Ohio Valley Conference, Florida Gulf Coast takes the Atlantic Sun, Winthrop wins the Big South and Wichita State captures the Missouri Valley Conference title. While the Shockers and both Eagles have shown the ability to blow up NCAA brackets, it’s the first trip to the big dance for the JSU Gamecocks since they moved to Division I in the 1990s.

Locals, hopefuls and wistfuls

#25 Maryland (24-7, 12-6 Big Ten): The Terps wrapped up Big Ten play with a bang as Melo Trimble’s three-pointer was the difference in a 63-60 win over Michigan State. They enter the Big Ten Tournament with as many league and overall wins as last year’s super-hyped squad. Melo Trimble is the common factor as the only starter back … and the junior is scoring 2.1 more points while dishing out 1.2 fewer assists per game. He’s also shooting better from the field and three-point range this winter. Melo scored 22 the last time he played at Verizon Center … and that’s where the Big Ten Tournament will be held this March.  Could a run bump them to the 5-seed line?
CBS and USA Today have the Terps as a No. 6 seed, and ESPN rates them a No. 7.

Georgetown (14-17, 5-13 Big East): The Hoyas trailed No. 2 in the nation Villanova 49-43 with under ten minutes left in the second half before going belly-up. The Wildcats scored on 15 of their next 17 possessions, Georgetown shot 2-for-14 over the game’s final nine minutes, and Nova won going away 81-55. The shouts “Fire Thompson!” rang loud from the 400-level (I don’t believe they’re big donors though) and a school spokesman stepped in when John Thompson III was asked a question that wasn’t specific to the game. For the second straight year, the Hoyas are 14-17 playing on the first night at MSG. They’d need four wins to reach the NCAA Tournament and three to avoid a losing season; the team has won once since the end of January.

Virginia (21-9, 11-7 ACC): Three straight wins to end the regular season return the Cavaliers’ glass from half-empty to half-full. The team that scored under 50 points in consecutive games held No. 5 North Carolina and Pitt (two of the top six scorers in the ACC play for the Panthers) to under 50 points a piece. London Perrantes leads the way one final time in Charlottesville as the senior tallies 22 points in the 67-42 rout of the Panthers. Unfortunately the rest of the team shot 19-for-50 from the field, keeping my “London and four guys from the Y” theory alive. Off to Brooklyn and the ACC Tournament.
CBS, USA Today and ESPN have the Cavs a No. 5 seed.

Virginia Tech (21-9, 10-8 ACC): So much for entering the ACC Tournament on a roll. The Hokies fall at home to … Wake Forest? The Demon Deacons are one of two teams that have had to play in the dreaded first round in each of the four years that nightmare has existed. Defense and rebounding once again haunt the Hokies (they ranked 11th in points allowed and were last in the conference in rebounding this winter), as Wake shot 53 percent from the field while out-rebounding VT by seven. Barring Boston College winning for the second time since New Year’s Day, coach Buzz Williams’ team will face the Deacs Wednesday in the ACC Tournament.
CBS has the Hokies a No. 7 seed, while ESPN rates them a No. 8. USA Today hands Virginia Tech a 9th seed — plus a first round game against Williams’ former school Marquette.

George Washington (18-13, 10-8 Atlantic 10): The Colonials enter the A-10 Tournament on a roll with five straight wins … and Tyler Cavanaugh taking no prisoners. The senior is averaging 22 points and nine rebounds during the streak, while shooting 55 percent from the field. While an NCAA Tournament berth will only happen if GW can somehow win four games in four days, an NIT bid is definitely a possibility for the defending champs.

George Mason (19-12, 9-9 Atlantic 10): Even with Saturday’s loss at VCU, the Patriots are still in position to win 20 games one season after losing 21. Senior Marquise Moore led the A-10 in rebounding despite standing just 6-foot-2 while Jalen Jenkins made a league-best 62 percent of his shots. Mason also avoids the dreaded first round for the first time since entering the A-10. While one doesn’t expect coach Dave Paulsen’s team to reach the weekend, nobody expected them to finish .500 in the conference either.

Howard (8-23, 5-11 MEAC): The Bison play Coppin State in the first round of the MEAC tournament; the Eagles won the lone regular season meeting by nine in a game where freshman Dejuan Clayton scored 28 points. The league holds its men’s and women’s tournaments concurrently in Norfolk, meaning if they win Monday they’ll have until Thursday off. If they lose? It’s back to the drawing board for coach Kevin Nickelberry after a second straight season of promise was hijacked by injuries.

American (8-22, 5-13 Patriot League): The Eagles’ year ended in the conference first round at Army in a 74-58 loss Feb. 28, meaning AU’s season didn’t even get to March. Now that is madness. Coach Mike Brennan has a talented nucleus returning with Mark Gasperini and Sy’eed Nelson both being named to the all-rookie team. With Delante Jones coming back as well, one looks forward to next year’s recruits and a better season at Bender Arena.

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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