Beltway Basketball Beat: Bracket Racket 3 — Big dreams, bigger nightmares

It’s four days before Selection Sunday sees the scene shift from Tuesday in Greensboro to Wednesday afternoon at MSG and Wednesday evening in Indianapolis.

As Maryland tips off tomorrow, we’ll hold off on the Big Ten until then, even though their dreaded first round takes place this evening. Apologies to Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and Minnesota — four teams that have combined for 17 of the 28 first round berths since the conference expanded.

Instead, we’ll tackle the Big East Tournament that has seen its all-time winner Georgetown (seven championships and 13 finals appearances in the 40+ year history) struggle lately. The Hoyas are playing in the first round for the sixth time in eight years since the league realigned and last got to the semifinal round in 2015.

The previous eight years saw Georgetown reach the semifinals six times, winning the 2007 title while falling in the finals twice. They haven’t won a tournament game since 2016, when they took the 8/9 game before getting routed by Villanova.

Speaking of the Wildcats, coach Jay Wright’s program gets the No. 1 seed for the seventh time in eight years (and the outlier season saw Nova go on to win the 2018 Nationals Championship). Even with their late-season fade (three losses in six games), the current bully on the block is the favorite to emerge at Madison Square Garden this week.

Bids Claimed Tuesday: Five more spots were sewn up, beginning with Mount St. Mary’s beating Bryant 73-68 Northeast Conference Tournament finals. Damian Chong Qui nets 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists to help lead the Mountaineers to their first NCAA bid since 2017. Drexel is back in the NCAA’s for the first time in 25 years after edging Cinderella Elon (the Phoenix had upset regular season champ James Madison and defending champ Hofstra to get to the finals) for the CAA championship. Oral Roberts takes the Summit while Cleveland State wins the Horizon. And No. 1 Gonzaga rallies from 12 points down at halftime to beat BYU 88-78. The Bulldogs will enter the NCAA Tournament a perfect 26-0.

Bids up for Grabs: Sadly, no conferences will be holding their championship games today or tonight. In fact, the next bid awarded will be Saturday. Call it a byproduct of the major conferences getting their tourneys underway. But can’t they have at least one league holding its title tilt each night? Much like the NFL stringing us along and staying in the narrative, handing out an NCAA automatic bid each night would continue the narrative.

Today’s game:

No. 8 Georgetown (9-12, 7-9 Big East) vs. No. 9 Marquette (13-13, 8-11), 3 p.m., FS1). The Hoyas’ only path to the NCAA Tournament is four wins in four days. They’ve won only four Big East Tournament games over the last 10 years.

Both teams enter the tournament off strong finishes: While the Hoyas have won four of six, the Golden Eagles have taken four of five down the stretch. Both teams have trouble taking care of the ball, with Georgetown ranking 10th in the conference in turnover margin, while Marquette is in last place. The Hoyas’ road to the quarterfinals may be outside: The team leads the Big East in three-point shooting, while the Golden Eagles rank 10th in defending the three.

Marquette won the regular season matchup 64-60 on Jan. 2, thanks to a career-high 25 points from senior Jamal Cain on 10-15 shooting (and 4-5 from three-point range while the rest of his team was 1-17 from outside the arc). Jahvon Blair scored 20 points off the bench in the loss, and they’ll need big games from Blair and fellow senior Jamorko Pickett if they want to extend their stay in the Big Apple.

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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