Beltway Basketball Beat: Bracket Racket 4 — Quadrupleheader heaven

Three days before Selection Sunday brings us to what Conference Championship week is at its best: The Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East both reach the quarterfinal rounds, while the Big Ten has four games on tap as well with its second round.

The Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC also deliver quadruple headers. And we get a three-hour window where the Maryland men and women, as well as Georgetown and Virginia, are all in action. Calling out for a “long lunch,” maybe even an “afternoon of sales calls and prospecting.”

Unlike the ACC or Big East, the Big Ten Tournament is relatively new to the mix — it started in 1998. Only the Pac-12 (2002, although they held a tournament from 1987-90) and Ivy (2017) held out longer in determining the championship by regular season record.

The arrival of the tournament coincided with the rise of Michigan State under Coach Tom Izzo: The Spartans have a league-high six tournament titles, and have appeared in seven championship games (only Ohio State with nine has more title tilt appearances).

For years, Indiana Coach Bob Knight was against a conference tournament, and perhaps he was right in that his Hoosiers have only made one championship game (a loss to Iowa in 2001) after being the dominant program (11 regular season titles from 1973-93) for most of the latter part of the 20th century.

After reaching the semifinals in each of its first two years in the conference, the Terps have been one and done since 2016 — losing to a lower seed each time. Last year’s team was primed to rewrite history when COVID-19 benched the Big Ten and then the rest of college basketball.

This year’s Big Ten is the best conference in the country, with four teams currently residing in the AP top 10. And the rest of the pack is pretty good too, from No. 20 Purdue to suddenly hot Michigan State. That’s right: The ninth seed has won five of seven to zero in an NCAA bid.

Brace yourselves for a long morning and afternoon.

Today and tonight’s games:

Big Ten Second Round- No. 8 Maryland (15-12, 9-11 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State (15-11, 9-11), 11:30 a.m. (BTN). Hold on, 11:30 a.m.? At least that’s not as bad as the Big Sky Tournament which has their first game starting at 11, but in Boise (so it’s 9 a.m. local time). The Terps have lost two straight games to sub-500 in the conference teams to slide back toward the NCAA bubble, while the Spartans have beaten three top five teams in the last three weeks. But MSU dropped the Feb. 28 matchup in College Park 73-55 after sporting the Terrapins an 11-0 lead. Aaron Wiggins scored 22 points that day and Maryland shot 50% from three-point range. The Spartans rank last in the Big Ten in turnover margin and are second-to-last in scoring (Terps are dead last) while junior guard Aaron Henry is the only Spartan to average more than 10 points per game.

Big East Quarterfinals- No. 8 Georgetown (10-12, 7-9 Big East) vs No. 1 Villanova (16-5, 11-4), noon (FS1). The Hoyas looked good in their 68-49 thumping of Marquette in the first round, where they led 32-14 at the half hand held the Golden Eagles to under 30% shooting for most of the game. After winning a game for the first time since 2016, G’town now tries to post two victories for the first time since 2010. The Wildcats took both games in the regular season series, rallying to win at McDonough Arena in December. But this will be a vastly different team than the one that swept the Hoyas as guard Colin Gillespie (14 points and five assists per game) was lost to a torn ACL last week and backcourt mate Justin Moore (13 points with three assists) is doubtful with an ankle sprain. Can the Hoyas exploit the Wildcats from downtown? Georgetown is the second-best team in the conference shooting the three, while Nova ranks second-worst in defending it.

ACC Quarterfinals-No. 1 Virginia (17-6, 13-4 ACC) vs No. 8 Syracuse (16-8, 9-7), noon (ACCN). Unlike the Big Ten (Purdue in 2018, Indiana in 2016) and Big East (Villanova in 2014) the ACC’s top seed is relatively bulletproof. Only twice has the regular season champ fallen in the quarterfinal round (NC State in 1989, Duke in 1997). The Cavaliers won the regular season meeting 81-58 thanks in part to blistering three-point shooting (14-31 from outside the arc). Sam Hauser and Jay Huff each tallied 21 points that afternoon and the most efficient offense in the conference (first in shooting, three-point shooting and assist-to-turnover radio) looked the part against SU’s vaunted 2-3 zone (it’s not only called the 2-3 because of positioning, but because the announcers will discuss the 2-3 zone, 2-3 times each game broadcast). While the Cavaliers have dropped three of five, the Orange have taken six of eight to move into NCAA Tournament consideration, including Wednesday’s 89-68 rout of NC State where they led most of the way.

No. 3 Virginia Tech (15-5, 9-4 ACC) vs No. 6 North Carolina (17-9, 10-6), 9 p.m. (ACC Network). This is the highest seed the Hokies have had in this tournament since 2007. The regular season matchup between the two schools was one of the many claimed by the coronavirus pandemic this winter. UNC routed Notre Dame 101-59 Wednesday to advance, but they’ve looked consistently uneven all winter: Their win over then-conference leader Florida State came just a few days after losing to Marquette at home. The Tar Heels lead the conference in rebounding margin but are third to last in turnover margin and second to last in three-point shooting. Tech has played just a pair of games since Feb. 6 and needs to get back to the form that saw them defeat eventual regular season champ Virginia by double digits.

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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