Beltway Basketball Beat: Georgetown is back, while the best take a break

Man, does No. 4 Michigan look good! Have you seen the Wolverines play lately?

If you didn’t catch their 70-53 win over Purdue last Friday, you’ll have to wait a while. The entire University of Michigan Athletic Department has shut down for 14 days after positive COVID-19 tests, much like No. 3 Villanova had a 27-day intermission.

The Wildcats looked rusty returning to action last week and one can only imagine how the Big East’s first place team will fare in the nation’s toughest conference after 14 days away.

Georgetown returns after an extended hiatus with a vastly different view (the Hoyas are tied for last place in the Big East), while Maryland had its matchup with Wisconsin moved from this weekend to this Wednesday. Adapting a game plan is one thing, adapting a schedule is the 2021 thing.

Wow of the Week: Maryland went on the road Saturday and beat No. 17 Minnesota 63-49, holding the Golden Gophers to 30% shooting while winning the battle of the boards by eight. I’ve long maintained that teams should just get 50 points for rolling the balls out à la the SAT, but that’s not my point here. The Terps have now posted three road victories against ranked teams this winter (a program record).  And this was the kind of game previous teams at Maryland would lose after a rough road defeat at Michigan.

Player Spotlight: American guard Jamir Harris scored 23 points in American’s one-point victory over Loyola last Saturday, and then upped his game by hitting 9-15 three-pointers en route to a 33-point performance in a triple overtime triumph over the Greyhounds on Sunday. The Eagles weren’t expected to contend in the Patriot League this winter — but if they do, it’ll be behind Harris’ hot shooting.

League Look: Conferences are often perceived by how their blue bloods are faring. North Carolina and Duke are having unusual seasons, as the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are both unranked for the first time since December of 1982. But don’t despair — there’s plenty of good basketball beginning in Charlottesville (No. 8 Virginia is the last remaining unbeaten in confidence play) and continuing in Tallahassee (No. 16 Florida State has won four straight).  ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the ACC getting five NCAA Tournament bids, with schools like Pitt and Syracuse joining UNC and Duke on the wrong side of the bubble. No. 20 Virginia Tech has looked great in spots, but lost by 18 at the Carrier Dome last weekend. Clemson was once ranked 12th in the nation but has lost three straight to slip under .500. Two games currently separate sixth and 12th place in the league. Plenty more scrambling to follow.

Ballot Battles: For those who thought Alabama was merely a football school, think again. The ninth-ranked Crimson Tide are 9-0 in the SEC and have swept Kentucky for the third time in program history. They’re in my Top 25 for the moment, but there will be tough tests ahead against Oklahoma and Missouri. I could really use that December Virginia/Villanova game that was canceled to determine who’s third and who’s fourth this week. And even though the Monday games will go toward next week, it was reassuring to have my No. 10 team West Virginia beat my No. 15 team Texas Tech the night after the poll was released. Non-Power Five High Fives go to Boise State, Belmont, Drake and Winthrop. Difficult omissions include St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis, Oklahoma and Colorado.

Starting Five (local games of note)

Wednesday

Maryland (9-7, 3-6 Big Ten) vs. No 14 Wisconsin (12-4, 6-3), 9 p.m. (BTN). The Terps are still looking for their first home conference victory, but their program-record three wins over ranked foes began with their Dec. 29 triumph in Madison. Eric Ayala scored 17 points in the 70-64 win over Wisconsin, and scored 21 in Saturday’s win at Minnesota. D’Mitrik Trice led the Badgers with 25 points that evening, and is one of seven seniors on the veteran roster. Wisconsin allows the fewest points per game in the conference and leads the league in turnover margin. The Terps have had offensive issues all season, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in shooting, 13th in scoring and 14th in three-point shooting.

Saturday

Georgetown (3-8, 1-5 Big East) vs. Providence (8-7, 4-5), noon (FS1). Cue up “Roundball Rock” as the Hoyas are back after a three-week absence. Before they took their COVID-19 hiatus, Patrick Ewing’s team had lost five in a row. There’s no telling how they’ll be against a Providence team that’s fresh off a Wednesday night game against Marquette. The Friars have an upset win at No. 11 Creighton and boast one difficult duo to deal with in guard David Duke (19 points and five assists per game) and center Nate Watson (19 points and seven rebounds per game).

American (2-2 Patriot League South) vs. Lafayette (5-3 Patriot League Central), 2 p.m. (ESPN+). The Leopards bring the conference’s leading scorer to D.C. in Justin Jaworski (22 points per game) but are coming off getting swept at home by Boston University last weekend. AU is coming off two wins over Loyola of Maryland by a combined three points. Was last weekend the start of something special or simply the mirage that happens when one meets a winless foe?

Morgan State (8-4, 3-2 MEAC North) at Coppin State (6-9, 5-1), 3 p.m. Both programs are enjoying a bit of a resurgence: The Bears haven’t had a winning record since 2013 and the Eagles haven’t finished over .500 in league play since 2011. And while Coppin State Head Coach Juan Dixon is a household name as a member of Maryland’s 2002 National Championship team, Morgan State’s Kevin Broadus has been an assistant for the Terps as well as Georgetown, George Washington and American. The two teams split their series two weeks ago, with each team posting a double-digit victory. Coppin State’s Anthony Tarke averaged 17 points with 14 rebounds and six assists that weekend while Malik Taylor (26 points and 12 rebounds on 66% shooting) was the player to watch for Morgan State.

No. 8 Virginia (11-2, 7-0) at No. 20 Virginia Tech (11-3, 5-2), 6 p.m. (ACCN). The two Commonwealth schools’ Jan. 2 game was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. They’ve both posted wins over Notre Dame, Clemson, and Wake Forest, but in the last week the Hokies lost 78-60 at Syracuse, while the Cavaliers routed the Orange 81-58. U.Va. leads the conference in scoring defense, but they’re also top in field goal percentage as well as three-point shooting. Virginia Tech won’t have the suspended Tyrece Radford, so they’ll be leaning more on Keve Aluma (14 points and seven rebounds per game) as well as Jared Cone (11 points and 37% from three-point range).

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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