Beltway Basketball Beat: A whirlwind weekend of March Madness

How are everybody’s brackets (yes, we acknowledge that some people play multiple sheets) faring? Yeah, me too. That’s what happens with the miracle of March Madness in the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament.

Is it perfect? Not exactly. But after not being able to dance last year, 2021 makes things feel a little bit normal — at least as normal as they can be.

Thoughts on the first 52 games

First Four Placement: I actually enjoyed having the four Opening Round/Don’t Call These Games “Play-in” matchups held the night before the Round of 64 began. I’m all for less stretching things out and I also liked how they were in proximity to the rest of the First Round sites.

I’ve always felt that despite Dayton loving hosting the “First Four,” it’s better to have the teams head straight to the site of their First Round matchup. Especially for the 16 seeds who earned their way in by winning a conference championship that get to feel as if they’re part of the tournament instead of a playoff.

Conference Call, or Big Ten Blues: The league that sent nine schools to the NCAA Tournament has just one Sweet 16 representative: a Michigan team that seemed shaky due to Isaiah Livers’ injury.

The carnage began when Michigan State lost in overtime to UCLA in the First Four. Little did we know that Ohio State and Purdue would flame out in the first round while Illinois and Iowa would slip in second-round games to lower seeds. Wisconsin, Maryland and Rutgers couldn’t continue their March magic after pulling first round upsets (technically, by seeding). The Scarlet Knights loss was extremely painful, as Houston finished the game on a 14-2 run over the final 4:30.

Meanwhile, the Pac-12 went 9-1 and has four teams in the regional semifinals for the first time since 2001. The ACC? Syracuse and Florida State are two “new money schools” if you ask around Greensboro. The SEC? Alabama and Arkansas earned straight A’s over the weekend. The Big 12? Only big dog Baylor after multiple flameouts.

And the Big East sends two teams crippled by injuries: Villanova and a Creighton team that lost by 25 to Georgetown in the tournament championship.

Late Late Late: Was anyone mentally done with hoops when either 9:40 p.m. game started Sunday or Monday?  We understand the Turner folks need to be fed and CBS needs its “exclusivity window” for its afternoon triple-header, but would it be the worst thing ever if they swapped the 9:40 p.m. start for a 4:40 p.m. tipoff?

In an ideal world, the last game would tip off at 8 … but I’d settle for the lack of the late game.

Local woes

Mount St. Mary’s (12-11) led Texas Southern 30-20 at halftime in their First Four game before the Tigers came out of intermission with a 11-0 run. They’d take the lead for good with a 15-4 run later in the half and hold the Mountaineers to a pair of baskets in the final seven minutes of regulation. The 60-52 loss ends what was a magnificent March for coach Dan Engelstad’s team that had four freshman and can potentially return 11 players next fall.

Virginia Tech (15-7) was the first team to fall in Friday’s First Round, but the Hokies extended Florida into overtime on a 3-pointer by Nahiem Alleyne with 1.7 seconds left. The Hokies eventually came up short 75-70 after the extra session. Year two under Mike Young saw a team picked in the bottom third of the ACC finish third in the conference and reach the NCAA Tournament a year ahead of schedule. It’s morning again in Blacksburg.

Georgetown (13-13): After its dream run through the Big East Tournament received a rude awakening Saturday afternoon in their 96-73 first round loss to Colorado. The Buffaloes stampeded thanks to 61% shooting while seniors Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair shot a combined 5-19 from the field. But with a highly touted recruiting class on the way to D.C., the Hoyas will be talking silver linings as opposed to touches of gray this offseason.

Virginia (18-7) saw their season end in the first round Saturday night with a 62-58 loss to Ohio. After taking a 38-31 lead with 14:35 remaining in regulation, the Cavaliers made just 4 of their 21 shots the rest of the way while going over 10 minutes without a basket. They were also out-rebounded by nine, meaning their misses mostly resulted in one and done possessions on the offensive end.

Jason Preston (no relation) tallied 11 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists for the Bobcats. UVA has run the March gamut recently, from losing to UMBC in 2018 to winning it all the following season, to winning eight straight entering the 2020 ACC Tournament that was shelved, to having to withdraw from this year’s ACC Tournament and having minimal practice heading into their first round game.

VCU (19-7) saw its season end in an unorthodox manner. The Rams were sent home after multiple positive COVID-19 tests within the program. Many (myself included) had coach Mike Rhoades’ team making noise against Oregon, and unfortunately, March ends in just as cruel a manner as 2020 did.

Maryland (17-14) ran into a buzz saw by the name of Alabama. The second-seeded Crimson Tide shot 16-33 from 3-point range in their 96-77 win over the Terps. What was a brief 18-12 first half lead evaporated thanks to a stretch where the Tide made 6-7 shots (and 3-4 from outside the arc).  Aaron Wiggins finishes with 27 points while Darryl Morsell likely closes his Terps career with 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists. Now the attention moves on to the offseason, and a pending contract extension for coach Mark Turgeon.

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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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