Beltway Basketball Beat: Bracket Racket V — one thrilling Thursday

Two days until Selection Sunday there remains hope on the hilltop in Northwest D.C., renewed enthusiasm in College Park, elation in Charlottesville and question marks in Blacksburg. March has a way of doing that.

In the span of less than one hour Thursday afternoon, we saw the following:

  • Maryland hold on to complete its rally past Michigan State 68-57 and cement its hold on an NCAA Tournament at-large berth;
  • Virginia nip Syracuse 72-69 on a last-second shot from freshman Reece Beekman (his first made basket of the day);
  • Georgetown upset Big East regular season champ Villanova 72-71 on a pair of free throws from freshman Dante Harris with 4.7 seconds left.

While the next few weeks will provide plenty of thrills, chills and spills, we’ll be hard-pressed to equal the early afternoon electricity.

Virginia Tech’s 81-73 loss to North Carolina Thursday night felt anti-climactic, and not just because it was a stand-alone game due to Duke’s withdrawal from the ACC Tournament after a positive COVID-19 test. With the Blue Devils’ Athletic director saying that the team’s season is over, the NCAA Tournament will be minus Duke AND Kentucky for the first time since 1976.

March has a way of making the unlikely happen sometimes.

Friday’s Games:

Big Ten Quarterfinals — No. 8 Maryland (16-12) vs. No. 1 Michigan (19-3), 11:30 a.m. (Big Ten Network). The win over Michigan State should solidify the Terps’ NCAA hopes. Once again Eric Ayala (21 points and 9 rebounds) and Aaron Wiggins (19 points with 6 boards) did the heavy lifting, especially at the line (a combined 17-20 from the charity stripe). The Wolverines won both regular season meetings by double digits, shooting over 50% in each game. Fritz Wagner (younger brother of Wizards forward Mo) averaged 17 points in those two victories while DeMatha graduate and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Hunter Dickinson dropped 26 with 11 rebounds on the Terps in Xfinity Center. Could we see a defensive duel? The Terps allow the second fewest points per game in the league while the Wolverines rank third (Michigan leads the Big Ten in defensive field goal percentage, holding foes to 39% shooting).

Big East Semifinals — No. 8 Georgetown (11-12) vs. No. 5 Seton Hall (14-12), 6 p.m. (FS1). From 2014 to 2020 the Hoyas won just a pair of Big East Tournament games. The Hoyas’ victory over regular season champ Villanova gives them two wins in two days. Even though Coach Patrick Ewing was asked for his credential at Madison Square Garden, this has been a winning week for a program that hasn’t posted a winning record since 2015. Can the Hoyas reach the finals for the first time since 2010? They split the season series, with the backcourt tandem of tandem of Jared Rhoden and Myles Cale combining for 56 points on 20-35 shooting during a December win in D.C. while the pair shot 7-24 and combined for 17 points during the February loss in New Jersey. The Pirates also boast 6-foot-11 big man Sandro Mamukelashvili who’s posted five double-doubles in his last seven games and paces the team with 18 points and 8 rebounds per game.

ACC Semifinals — No. 1 Virginia (18-6) vs. Georgia Tech (16-8) – CANCELED due to COVID-19. The top two shooting teams in the conference— Virginia and Georgia Tech — had been scheduled to get together Friday evening after each had to rally in the second half to avoid upset.

“The cancellation follows a positive test, subsequent quarantining, and contact tracing within the Virginia men’s basketball program,” a news release issued Friday morning from the ACC said.

With the cancellation Georgia Tech advances to the ACC Tournament championship game and will play the winner of the Florida State vs. North Carolina game that will now tip at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

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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