I should have expected this. Did I not cover a football season where schedules were scrambled, games postponed after teams traveled and big chunks of seasons were just wiped out?
COVID-19 has benched multiple teams the last few weeks, with Georgetown seeing three games get postponed, Maryland’s long-anticipated tilt with Nebraska was nixed, and George Washington pauses its program due to a positive test in its traveling party.
We’ve seen some really good matchups get shelved this month, from Virginia-Virginia Tech on Jan. 2 to last Saturday’s scheduled VCU-Richmond duel.
The only two Pac-12 teams really worth watching (No. 21 Oregon and No. 24 UCLA) saw their Tuesday night game get benched and the best team in the Big East (No. 3 Villanova) is finally back after a 27-day hiatus (the Wildcats survived a tough test against frisky Seton Hall).
Even my “Starting Five” feature in this space is far from immune, with two games last week getting postponed after one was wiped out the week before.
Wow of the Week
No. 13 Virginia is the ACC’s last remaining unbeaten team, taking advantage of Duke and North Carolina both having down years at the same time. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels are both unranked for the first time since Dec. 28, 1982. This was before UNC would recover from a 3-3 start to win the ACC behind sophomore Michael Jordan and junior Sam Perkins.
The Cavaliers smoked then-No. 12 Clemson 85-60 in the Littlejohn Coliseum last Saturday. Granted, home court may not be what it usually is, but traveling to South Carolina is no picnic from a logistics standpoint. Coach Tony Bennett’s team looks like the one that finished last season on an eight-game winning streak.
One is beginning to write off their loss to No. 1 Gonzaga on Dec. 26 as nobody’s in the Bulldogs’ class and almost even rationalize their defeat to San Francisco as a combination of opening week issues/day after Thanksgiving hangover. UVA plays its next two games at home before visiting No. 16 Virginia Tech to wrap up the month. While the Hokies have enjoyed a decent season, they’re still the challenger on the Commonwealth court.
One of the reasons why Virginia Tech is in the top 20 has been the play of 6-foot-2 guard Tyrece Radford. Even in a down year for Duke, netting 18 points with 12 rebounds and 5 assists in a win over the Blue Devils is no small task. The redshirt sophomore led the team in rebounding last winter and is averaging the same (6.2 per game) this winter. Shades of George Mason’s Marquise Moore (who tallied 10.9 boards as a senior in 2016-17 despite being just 6-foot-2).
And on nights when leading scorer Keve Aluma has issues (5 points and 4 turnovers on 1-6 shooting against Wake Forest), Radford produces 20 points in a two-possession win. This weekend, Radford leads the Hokies into the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse.
The Atlantic 10 had one of the best stories last season with Obi Toppin leading Dayton to a No. 3 ranking and a potential top seed in the NCAA Tournament before the Big Dance was shelved. At this point of the season, No. 25 Saint Louis is the only A-10 school ranked, and the Billikens haven’t played since Dec. 23. They’re 0-0 in conference play but face league-leading St. Bonaventure (6-1, 4-1) Saturday.
Two schools hanging around the early-season NCAA bubble are familiar faces. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s “Bracketology”, Richmond is among the first four teams out while VCU is one of the next four out. Meanwhile, one-half game separates the top six schools in the standings (keep in mind the A-10 has 14 teams). Brace yourself for another interesting conference race for seeding, double-byes, and avoiding the dreaded first round (right now George Mason would be playing the first day while George Washington wouldn’t).
For the record, I scored a 710 on my math SAT’s. I appreciate the transitive property. So when Texas Tech beats Texas but loses to Baylor and Kansas loses at Oklahoma State, who has also lost to Texas, and West Virginia, who has its games postponed, it’s tough to sort out the Big 12. Especially when there’s always another Oklahoma or TCU shoe that’s dropping.
This week’s whiff had me ranking Louisville No. 13 despite their loss at Miami (the Cardinals beat Virginia Tech so I didn’t feel good putting them below the Hokies). New schools in my Top 25 are Ohio State and Minnesota (back in with that blowout of Michigan). Non-Power Five High Fives still go to Boise State, Belmont and Drake. Tough omissions include Alabama and Winthrop, plus about ten other worthy candidates.
Starting Five (local games of note that I’m hoping won’t be postponed after posting previews)
Saturday: Loyola (0-2 Patriot League South) at American (0-2), 12 p.m. (ESPN+). These two schools finally got their seasons underway last weekend and even though both the Greyhounds and Eagles came up empty, they have a lot to build upon. Loyola dropped a pair of two-point games to Lafayette while AU took Navy to overtime in their opener. They’ll flip-flop sites on Sunday, but this is the first home game for Coach Mike Brennan’s team in almost 11 months. They went 10-3 in the regular season last winter at Bender Arena before dropping a Patriot League quarterfinal showdown with Bucknell in D.C.
Maryland (8-7, 2-6 Big Ten) at No. 17 Minnesota (11-4, 4-4), 2 p.m. (Big Ten Network). The Terps fell behind No. 7 Michigan early in their 87-63 loss and had trouble matching their size. The Golden Gophers beat the Wolverines by 18 at home last weekend and have a 7-foot center named Liam Robbins who averages 14 points and 7 rebounds. Cause for confidence: Minnesota ranks last in the Big Ten in overall shooting and from 3-point range while also owning the league’s worst rebounding margin. Marcus Carr (21 points and 6 assists per game while shooting 34% from 3-point range) will attract the Terps’ attention on the perimeter just a few days after they were burned from the outside by Michigan (Wolverines hit 12 of their 24 3-point attempts).
Howard (1-4, 0-0 MEAC North) at Morgan State (6-4, 2-2), 2 p.m. (ESPN+). The Bison make their league debut after not playing since Dec. 18, with six of their last eight games being postponed or canceled. There was optimism surrounding five-star prospect Makur Maker when the center committed, but a groin injury limited the big man to 48 minutes over two games played. Smacks of when they had the nation’s leading scorer in James Daniel III only to see the senior suffer injuries and then transfer to Tennessee. The Bears have split both of their league weekends this winter and are led by 6-foot-9 forward Troy Baxter who averaged 14 points with 7 rebounds against the Bison last season.
Navy (9-1, 6-0 Patriot League South) vs. Army (8-3, 4-2 PL League North), 2:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network). The Midshipmen are the last remaining unbeaten in conference while the Black Knights are coming off of consecutive double-digit wins at Boston University. Cam Davis (19 points per game) is coming off of his worst offensive performance of the season (2 points on 1-8 shooting against American). He scored 26 and 28 points against Army last season but the Mids lost both games, including an overtime affair at West Point. That was the first regular season sweep in the series since 2014-15. A sweep for either side in 2021 might be a tall task as they’ll play four times this winter.
VCU (10-3, 3-1 Atlantic 10) vs. Dayton (8-3, 4-2), 4:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network). Both teams are adjusting to recent schedule shifts, as the Rams saw the first leg of the Capital City Classic benched and the Flyers’ Wednesday night game with George Washington was wiped out. There’s a contrast in point guards, with senior Jalen Crutcher (20 points and 5 assists per game) running the show for a Dayton offense that ranks 13th in the A-10 in turnover margin. Meanwhile, freshman Adrian Baldwin (5 assists and 2 steals per game) is the offensive sparkplug for VCU. Last year, Obi Toppin may have been the best player on the floor in a Flyers’ sweep, but this year, it appears as though Na’Shon “Bones” Hyland (18 points and 2 steals per game) will take that honor. Will that help the Rams prevail?