Moving Month is winding down as teams wrap up their regular seasons. For more than a few locals it actually means restarting paused basketball campaigns. American has played only six games this winter while George Washington recently returned from a 35-day hiatus. While Georgetown won four of its first six games after a pandemic-mandated three-week break, Virginia Tech, after a 17-day gap, struggled in a loss to Georgia Tech.
Maryland has yet to enter the land of limbo that hijacked the school’s football season, while Virginia saw the front end of its annual series with Virginia Tech get wiped off of the slate. Time to cross one’s fingers and knock on wood.
Last week, I focused on unbeatens Gonzaga and Baylor’s drive to make history. Tuesday night, the No. 2 Bears trailed by as many as 16 and almost fell for the first time all season at home to Iowa State before prevailing. A loss would have been loomed larger because the Cyclones entered the game 0-13 in the Big 12 and 2-16 overall. They’re part of the other side of college basketball’s coin as the only Power Five Conference school to be winless in league play.
Yes, even Boston College and Nebraska have league victories this winter. Just like it’s a major challenge to finish unbeaten in conference play, it’s equally difficult to be winless in one’s league this late in the season. But Iowa State isn’t alone — here are this February’s “Frustrated Five” with their “closest almost,” best chance and what ails them (edited for time).
Iowa State (0-14 in the Big 12 and 2-17 overall): The Cyclones didn’t trail until there was 4:26 left in regulation, and this isn’t their only near-miss. They lost by four at home to West Virginia Feb. 2 and came within three points at TCU the following Tuesday. Their best chance for a conference victory is a March 6 trip to Kansas State (3-13 in the conference and 7-18 overall). They lost to the Wildcats by nine in December. As befits a team winless in league play, ISU has had issues scoring (297th in Division I according to ncaa.com), defending (302nd) and rebounding (331st).
Idaho (0-16 in the Big Sky, 0-19 overall): The Vandals came closest to victory on the road as well in an 85-80 defeat at Southern Utah on Jan. 7. Since that day they’ve lost every game but one by at least 14 points. Their best remaining shot is at Montana (5-9 in the league and 9-12 on the season) March 4 and March 6. My mother’s Alma Mater (don’t tell her I’m dissing her school) ranks 335th in scoring, 338th defending the 3-pointer, and 333rd in turnover margin. I know what you’re thinking: Idaho is focusing too much time on its rebounding which ranks 313th in Division I.
Portland (0-11 in the West Coast Conference and 6-14 overall): The Pilots actually had a game with Idaho that was on the schedule before getting canceled. Their closest game in Gonzaga’s sparring partner league (Portland lost 116-88 to the Bulldogs Jan. 9) was an eight-point decision Jan. 23 to San Diego. They led once at 3-2. Best chance for that elusive “one” in the left column will be Feb. 25 when they visit the Toreros. The Pilots pull off an amazing triple play: The team ranks 335th in scoring defense, opponent’s field goal percentage and rebounding margin.
Delaware State (0-7 in the MEAC North, 2-12 overall): Don’t blame the Hornets — they’ve seen four games with Howard canceled after the Bison opted out of the season while two other games have been postponed. They’ve also lost a pair of four point games: at Coppin State Jan. 5 and at home in overtime to Norfolk State Jan. 30. The Hornets get two more shots at Coppin State (6-4 in the league, 7-12 overall) this Saturday and Sunday with both games in Dover. DSU allows the third-most points per game in Division I while also offering up the deadly combination of poor shooting (317th) and poorer rebounding (325th).
South Carolina State (0-5 MEAC South and 0-15 overall): The Bulldogs haven’t played since their closest game of the year, a 64-63 loss at North Carolina Central on Feb. 2. Barring any more cancellations, they have three games this weekend against Florida A&M (4-3 in the conference and 5-9 overall) and all three games will be played in Orangeburg. Security has been a sore spot for S.C. State this season: they rank 329th in securing rebounds and are 340th (last in Division I) in the ball security category of assist-to-turnover ratio.
Wow of the Week: Maryland was 4-9 in the Big Ten and the thought of the program’s first overall losing season since 1993 wasn’t far away. But four wins over eight days puts the Terps in NCAA Tournament contention. Barring a slide they’ll find their way into the Big Dance for the fifth time in six years* (not counting 2020, a March where they would have been a top-four seed). They’re doing so minus the dynamic players who have piloted previous runs (from guards Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan to wings Dez Wells and Jake Layman to bigs Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith). They’re doing so on the strength of the culture and foundation Head Coach Mark Turgeon has built in his 10 years at the helm. And while we know March can be miserable for Maryland, the Terps are at least playing their way there.
Player Spotlight: George Mason sophomore Josh Oduro tallied a career-high 27 points on 8-11 shooting in the Patriots’ 79-76 overtime win at Atlantic 10-leading VCU. That performance was good enough for the Gainesville, Virginia, native to get voted A-10 Player of the Week. After averaging 16 minutes per game last winter, the 6-foot-9 forward leads Mason in rebounding, ranks second in blocked shots and is third in scoring. Coach Dave Paulsen’s team should be ready to make the leap next winter.
League Look: The Big East looks to have plenty of drama on Selection Sunday. Not only do they have a contender for a No. 1 seed in Villanova (right now ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi has the Wildcats as a No. 2 seed in the third region), but there are three schools straddling the bubble, according to Lunardi. Seton Hall (still smarting from a Saturday loss to Georgetown) gets one of the last four byes. Xavier is one of the last four schools in the field and U.Conn. is one of the first four out. St. John’s appeared as if it was going to make the leap in year two of Coach Mike Anderson with its double-digit win over Villanova, but three losses in four games (including a 23-point defeat at the Wildcats) downgrades the Red Storm to a Mauve Squall. There’s also jockeying ahead with three First Round games instead of two (thanks to U.Conn.’s return). I prefer the old nine-team bracket of my youth but this beats the days of Rutgers-DePaul in the 12-13 game any day.
Ballot Battles: My top four stayed the same with No. 1 Gonzaga dominating its mid-major league and No. 2 Baylor on COVID-19 pause. No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State played one heck of a game Sunday that could have gone either way. During a bitter winter for bluebloods, Kansas has returned to the rankings thanks to five straight wins (albeit a pair against the previously maligned Iowa State). The whiff of the week had me rating Houston perhaps 2 to 3 spots higher than I should have after being won over by the 30+ point victory over Cincinnati. Non-Power Five High Fives go to San Diego State, Belmont, Loyola of Chicago, and Winthrop. Difficult Omissions included BYU, Drake, Toledo and Texas Tech.
Starting Five (Games of note involving local schools):
George Washington (4-9, 3-3 Atlantic 10) at George Mason (10-8, 6-6) 6 p.m. The Colonials came back after five weeks off to beat Rhode Island 78-70 Sunday. We’re going to be cautious because GW has put up gaudy numbers but also offers up a limited sample size. For instance, James Bishop’s 28 points were enough to propel the sophomore from Baltimore into the A-10 scoring lead at 21 points per game while Jamison Battle’s 19 a game ranks fourth in that category. Maryland transfer Ricky Lindo Jr. is just beginning to flex his muscles (averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds in all of three games wearing the buff and blue). The Patriots have missed time over the last month but are coming off an overtime win at VCU that still resonates.
Virginia (15-5, 11-3 ACC) vs. NC State (10-9, 6-8), 6:30 p.m. (ACC Network). Could we see a shooting clinic? U.Va. leads the conference in field goal percentage while State is second in that category. The Cavaliers won the Feb. 4 meeting between the two schools 64-57 despite 23 points for Wolfpack forward Jericole Hellems. That game was during a stretch where State lost four of five. They’ve since won games at Pitt and Wake Forest and also have a road victory at Boston College. I know none of those three venues is as intimidating as John Paul Jones Arena, but they beat U.Va. in Charlottesville last year. After two straight losses reveals a thinner resume than initially thought, this is a get-back-in-gear game for the Cavaliers.
James Madison (13-5, 8-1 CAA) vs Drexel (8-7, 3-5), 4 p.m. The Dukes can make history as a victory wraps up its first outright conference regular season title since 1991 when Lefty Driesell was their head coach. Getting the top seed would be an added bonus with the CAA Tournament moved from Washington, D.C.’s Entertainment & Sports Arena to the Harrisonburg. They boast the league’s highest scoring offense behind CAA leading scorer Matt Lewis (20 points per game) while staying sharp defensively (JMU is tops in field goal defense as well as defending the three). The Dragons bring the duo of Camren Wynter outside (18 points and six assists per game) and James Butler inside (14 points and 9 rebounds per game while shooting 58% from the field).
Georgetown (7-11, 5-8 Big East) at DePaul (4-10, 2-10), 12 p.m. (FS1). Fire up “Roundball Rock” by John Tesh! The Hoyas had offensive issues against U.Conn. (36% and 4-19 from 3-point range) while getting out-rebounded by 16 and committing 15 turnovers. Bring on a Blue Demons team that’s fresh off bursting the bubble of St. John’s but ranks 10th or 11th in the Big East in scoring, shooting and three-point shooting (percentage as well as threes per game). Georgetown’s issues this winter have been defending (10th in the Big East in points allowed) and ball security (334th nationally in turnover margin). Enjoy the postgame deep dish.
Maryland (14-10, 8-9 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State (12-9, 6-9), 2 p.m. (CBS). Even during a subpar season in East Lansing, the Spartans have bite. Wins at Indiana and over No. 5 Illinois bring the Preseason Top 25 team back from the brink and on the bubble. Tom Izzo’s team has multiple opportunities to puff up its profile over the last few weeks with two dates against No. 3 Michigan and a home game with No. 4 Ohio State. Does that make matchups with Indiana and at the Terps potential knockoff games? MSU is the best team Maryland will face the rest of the way (no offense, Northwestern and Penn State) and they’re playing their best basketball of the season — especially on the defensive side of the floor (holding four of their last six foes to under 60 points). Enter a Spartan squad that doesn’t shoot well (10th in the Big Ten in field goal percentage and 11th from 3-point range) nor take care of the ball (last in the conference in turnover margin). We exit February in fine fashion.