Beltway Basketball Beat: Rough roads for Maryland and Georgetown

Saddiq Bey, Jagan Mosely
Villanova’s Saddiq Bey, right, goes up for a shot against Georgetown’s Jagan Mosely during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

It’s tough to avoid who you are in men’s college basketball, especially away from home.

You can flip the script for a game or two, but once you reach January and conference play, the collection of game-performance snapshots begins to become the mosaic that will be your season.

Maryland (13-3, 3-2 Big Ten) and Georgetown (11-6, 1-3 Big East) both went on the road last weekend, and each school suffered a conference loss where their preseason question marks were answered, and not in a good way. Maryland entered the year with questions surrounding its offense, and in the team’s 67-49 loss at Iowa, the Terps made just 17 shots (33% rate) while turning the ball over 17 times.

After emphasizing in the offseason how much they needed to improve defensively, Georgetown allowed Villanova to make 15-of-29 from three-point range in an 80-66 loss to the Wildcats. While the Hoyas return to D.C. for a midweek matchup against Creighton, the Terps’ road continues with a stop at Wisconsin. It’s a long road to Selection Sunday, and an even longer one to the NIT.

Wow of the Week

Virginia Tech (12-4, 3-2 ACC) rallied from 11 points down to win at Syracuse 67-63 before beating N.C. State 72-58 Saturday. Defense was the difference in both victories: The Hokies went on a 21-4 run to push past the Orange and held the Wolfpack to 31% shooting.

With Hokies freshman Landers Nolley II (29 points against N.C. State) playing older than his class, coach Mike Young’s team isn’t leaving the room of NCAA contention just yet. One quarter through the conference season, they’re one of nine schools either 3-2, 3-3, or 2-3 in ACC play. But they’re not slated to play a ranked team until February.

Player to Watch

Howard is 2-15 under first-year coach Kenneth Blakeney, which is a shame because four-year starter Charles Williams continues to produce despite regime changes and departures (2019 MEAC Player of the Year R.J. Cole transferred to UConn in the offseason).

The 6-foot-6-inch senior reached the 2,000 career point plateau this winter and has been the one consistent presence in a program that hasn’t posted a winning season since 2002.

League Look

The Big Ten is in its second season of playing 20 conference games, and this winter has already gotten a little muddy. Every school has played at least five games, and two of the five schools that are currently ranked sport losing conference records (Michigan and Ohio State).

Michigan State was the last team to lose a league game, and did they ever: The 71-42 loss was the Spartans’ worst-ever defeat as a top 10 team. ESPN’S Joe Lunardi has 10 of the Big Ten’s 14 schools (I know) making the NCAA Tournament this March. Even Rutgers (12-4, 3-2) is good this winter.

Yes, I just wrote that.

Ballot Battles

It’s muddy in the Top 25 as well, and it’s not just Big Ten schools sliding down college basketball’s elite mountain. Defending National Champion Virginia lost consecutive games and slipped out of the Top 25 for the first time since November 2017 (that team wound up entering the NCAA Tournament No. 1).

Mid-majors like Duquesne and Akron snuck into this week’s rankings for me, while Gonzaga stayed No. 1 ahead of Duke and Baylor. Toughest choice was Stanford at No. 20. The Cardinal are 14-2 and unbeaten in the Pac 12, but their strength of schedule is 249.

Weekly Starting Five (five games with impact for local schools)

Tuesday: VCU at No. 13 Dayton. The Rams are coming off a loss to Rhode Island, and they face the Atlantic 10’s highest ranked team with the league’s best big man. Obi Toppin averages 19 points with 7 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9-inch sophomore scored 8 and 15 points in two losses to VCU last season.

Wednesday: Georgetown vs. No. 25 Creighton. The Hoyas are already slipping in Big East quicksand, and the conference’s most generous defense faces a Bluejays offense that ranks second in the league in shooting and scoring.

Also Wednesday: George Mason at George Washington. The Orange Line Duel has the Colonials looking for their first Atlantic 10 win of the season, while the Patriots are still figuring out where in the A-10 middle class they reside; Justin Kier scored 18 points in the team’s win at La Salle after averaging nine points on 40% shooting in Mason’s three straight losses.

Thursday: William & Mary at Delaware. Could this be the year? The Tribe are one of four original Division I members (established in 1948) that have yet to reach the big dance. But first-year coach Dane Fischer has W&M atop the CAA at 5-0 in league play — a stretch that includes an 11-point win over second place College of Charleston. The Blue Hens aren’t world-beaters this year, and it’s just as important to see how the Tribe handles second-tier schools. Especially on the road.

Saturday: No. 17 Maryland vs. Purdue. The Boilermakers are fresh from blowing out Michigan State, while the Terps come home searching for offensive consistency and fast starts. Anthony Cowan was a freshman when the 17th-ranked Terrapins hosted Purdue on a Saturday afternoon in 2017; after coming up short that day, the team went into a 4-7 tailspin that was punctuated by early exits in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.

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