Beltway Basketball Beat: Howard’s season ends, Maryland’s bubble residency begins

Bye-bye, Bison. The Howard University men’s basketball program canceled the rest of its 2020-21 season on Tuesday after the program had been in pause for over a month and a half — the team hasn’t played a game since Dec. 23.

The highly-anticipated winter where five-star prospect Makur Maker was going to change the landscape as the Bison big man winds up ending with a five game appetizer instead of a meal. Will he return for a sophomore season?

Sadly, over the years we’ve seen plenty of talent depart the District, from the nation’s leading scorer James Daniel III transferring to Tennessee, to MEAC Player of the Year R.J. Cole bolting for UConn. Meanwhile, Maryland is seeing its season of opportunities in the country’s best conference (although there are those who will say the Big 12 is better than the Big Ten) begin to shrink.

Six games remain pending postponements or reshuffles of the schedule, with only one against a ranked foe: naturally, it’s a Rutgers team that’s won four straight. At this point, the Terps are on the underbelly of the bubble in most NCAA Tournament projection models, and while they do play in a loaded league, their 4-9 conference mark needs serious dressing up. At least for Coach Mark Turgeon’s team, there will be an opportunity to prove themselves over the next month.

Wow of the Week: Virginia bounced back from a double-digit loss to post a pair of ACC victories. As is the case during the Tony Bennett era, they’re much more steak than sizzle, and in a year where the blue bloods are bleeding (Duke and North Carolina are both unranked) the Cavaliers are the familiar face atop the conference standings at 9-1. Securing a number one seed isn’t out of the question as long as this team continues to grind and win.

Player Spotlight: Bones Hyland captured Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honors after averaging 23.5 over two wins while hitting the game-winning three with five seconds left in regulation. The sophomore has boosted his scoring from nine points per game last season to 19 a game this winter, and while he leads the team in scoring, he’s also tops in steals, second in three-point shooting and third in rebounding and assists.

League Look: The Patriot League is dividing itself into three divisions this winter: the North (Colgate leads with a 7-1 mark), Central (Lafayette is tops at 6-4), and South (Navy’s 8-1 mark is the one to beat) have allowed schools to play in mini-bubbles to a point. As is the case with many one-bid conferences, seniors dominate as Lafayette’s Justin Jaworski leads the Patriot League in scoring (21.2 points per game), Holy Cross’s Austin Butler is tops in rebounding (8.9 boards per game), and Colgate’s Jordan Burns is number one in assists (5.6). Seniors also pace the conference in blocked shots, three point and free throw shooting. While the Midshipmen are beginning to think this is the year the NCAA Tournament drought (1998 their last trip to the Big Dance) American (2-2) remains trying to get ready to resume its schedule.

Ballot Battles: Much like I was uncomfortable with an idle Villanova last month, I’m anxious to see Top 5 Michigan back on the court. Houston dropped in my poll not just because they lost at East Carolina but also because they scheduled “Our Lady of the Lake.” Was Little Sisters of the Poor otherwise occupied? My whiff of the week was keeping Boise State in at No. 23 after two losses to Nevada instead of promoting Colorado State or Utah State. Also getting non-Power 5 high fives: Belmont, Loyola (IL), and VCU.

Starting Five (Games of note involving local schools):

Friday

VCU (14-4, 7-2 Atlantic 10) vs. St. Bonaventure (10-2, 8-2 2), 7 p.m. (ESPN1). First place in A-10 is up for grabs in the Commonwealth. The Rams are coming off of a 76-67 win at Dayton thanks to 19 points from Bones Hyland and Vince Williams Jr. as the duo combined to hit 8-13 from three-point range. The Bonnies bring a balanced attack with five players averaging in double figures and are led by Kyle Foster’s 15 points with five assists per game. They also won the Jan. 20 matchup in Olean 70-54 after beginning that second half on a 20-3 run and then finishing regulation with a 16-1 closing kick. The Rams turned the ball over 19 times that evening and are tied for the most per game (15.2) in the conference.

Saturday

No. 18 Virginia Tech (14-4, 8-3 ACC) vs. Louisville (11-4, 6-3), noon (ACCN). How good are the Hokies? Are they more like the team that beat Virginia by double digits or the one that lost to Pitt by double digits? The Cardinals took the Jan. 6 meeting by two in part because they limited Keve Aluma to 3-10 shooting (0-3 from three-point range). There is an added wrinkle to the rematch: Louisville coach Chris Mack will not be courtside after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Instead, Dino Gaudio (61-31 in three years at Wake Forest from 2007-10 and 1-3 against the Hokies in that time) pinch hits for the Cardinals.

Georgetown (5-10, 3-7 Big East) vs. Butler (7-10, 6-8), 1:30 p.m. (CBSSN). It’s the battle of the Bulldogs and a school that uses a bulldog as its mascot. The Hoyas went 1-2 in its three-game gauntlet against ranked foes, and now have just one game against a Top 25 foe on their schedule (No. 5 Villanova February 17). The Bulldogs are coming off of an overtime win over St. John’s that does severe damage to the Red Storm’s NCAA Tournament hopes. Butler ended a Georgetown four-game winning streak at Hinkle Fieldhouse in January as D.C. native Chuck Harris scored a team-high 18 points for Butler. The freshman is looking to bounce back from a 2-9 (and 1-6 from three-point range) shooting effort against the Red Storm.

No. 9 Virginia (13-3, 9-1 ACC) vs. North Carolina (12-6, 7-4), 6 p.m. (ESPN). Celebrating after a win over Duke? In ordinary times, understood. Celebrating a win over a .500 Blue Devils during a pandemic? Should be somewhat dialed down. Not so for this year’s Tar Heels, whose lack of discretion forced Sunday’s game against Miami to the list of the postponed. The Cavaliers are laser-focused on the court, leading the ACC in scoring defense as well as shooting from the field, three-point range and the line. Are we surprised that this UNC team is second to last in turnover margin and dead last in free throw shooting? They’re also spotty at defending the three. But their talent is enough to cause foes plenty of headaches over 40 minutes.

Sunday

Maryland (10-10, 4-9) vs. Minnesota (12-7, 5-7), 7 p.m. “Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable” — Wizard of Oz. The Terps’ hearts haven’t been broken, but back-to-back losses at Penn State and at home against No. 4 Ohio State haven’t been encouraging to a team that has beaten four ranked teams this season. Both schools have been snakebitten by the pandemic in that each has had a game against last-place Nebraska get postponed (hey, the Cornhuskers are the only guaranteed win this winter). The Terps never trailed in their Jan. 23 win in Minneapolis while holding the Golden Gophers to 30% shooting and a season-low 49 points. Marcus Carr scored 25 points for Minnesota that day and the junior from Toronto has been the team’s leading scorer in their last two games.

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).

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2021 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up