Beltway Basketball Beat: Georgetown ‘on notice’ while the unbeatens are no more

The 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers that finished the season 32-0 as the last team to finish the men’s college basketball season unbeaten can rest easy a lot earlier this year.

Last April, Gonzaga didn’t lose until the National Championship game to Baylor, while this year, No. 1 Baylor and No. 5 USC were the final two unbeaten teams to stumble Tuesday night. There are no more winless teams, although there are a few local teams that are winless in conference play.

Maryland is 0-4 in the Big Ten for the first time since joining the league (Maryland last started 0-4 in the ACC in 1992-93) after Sunday’s 70-69 loss to then-No. 23 Wisconsin, where interim Coach Danny Manning’s team rallied from 21 points down in the first half to lead the Badgers with 6 1/2 minutes remaining in regulation.

“No moral victories. But to play the way we did after being down 21 to one of the better teams in the country, I feel we’re close to turning the corner,” Manning said. “We have to clean up some areas for sure.”

The Terps visit Northwestern on Wednesday, one month after losing to the Wildcats at home in Manning’s first game at the helm following the surprise departure of Coach Mark Turgeon.

Georgetown also is winless in its league, and even though it’s just 0-1 in the Big East, the sting of last Friday’s 92-64 loss to Marquette had the intensity of multiple burning suns.

“As a player who helped build this program, I am disappointed in my team’s performance. This is not what Georgetown basketball is about,” Head Coach Patrick Ewing said after the bludgeoning. “This is not what I’m about, this is what my team is about. So everybody is on notice: If they want to play they’re gonna have to friggin’ play.”

The Hoyas play four games over a 10-day span starting Thursday, when Butler comes to Capital One Arena. The Bulldogs have lost consecutive 15-point games in league play.

This week’s Starting Five:

Up top: Baylor and USC weren’t the only Top 10 teams to tumble recently. Saturday, then-No. 2 Duke fell at home to Miami (the Hurricanes turned around were downgraded to a tropical storm after losing to Florida State Tuesday) while Purdue slipped from No. 3 after tumbling to Wisconsin earlier in the week. Lying in wait: current No. 2 Gonzaga, No. 3 UCLA and No. 4 Auburn. Toughest omissions on my AP ballot this week: Illinois, Seton Hall, Oklahoma and Davidson.

Going inside: George Washington began Atlantic 10 play with a pair of double-digit defeats, losing 83-58 to Dayton Saturday in Foggy Bottom and 85-57 at the Siegel Center to VCU. Both games saw scoreless stretches torpedo the Colonials hopes: A 13-0 run gave VCU the lead for good while Dayton had a 14-0 run in each half. “We’ve got to get it right,” Coach Jamion Christian said after the loss to the Flyers. “We’ve had some opportunities to step up this year — we’ve played good teams — and this has kind of been the outcome of not stepping up at the level we’ve needed to.” Their next opportunity is Monday, when George Mason visits the Smith Center. While G.W. had a 26-day hiatus before beginning conference play, the Patriots have played just one game since Dec. 21 (a New Year’s Day loss at Kansas).

On the perimeter: VCU (10-4, 3-0 Atlantic 10) was picked fourth in the Preseason A-10 poll and has jumped out to an early first-place tie with Davidson. Coach Mike Rhoades’ team is doing things on defense, allowing a league-low 57.1 points per game while leading the A-10 in stopping the three. Vince Williams (11.3 points per game) is the only player averaging in double figures and Rams are the lowest-scoring team in the conference (63.4 points per game). Williams and company will face co-leader Davidson twice before the end of the month, but will be tested Friday when they visit preseason favorite St. Bonaventure.

Who’s open: Wednesday’s game between Virginia Tech (8-6, 0-3 ACC) visits Virginia (9-6, 3-2) with more than simply regional pride on the line. Both are on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Hokies can ill afford to begin conference play 0-4 while the Cavaliers are coming off a double digit loss to North Carolina. In that game, U.Va. allowed 29 points to Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot on 12-18 shooting. Is that Keve Aluma’s cue? The Hokies 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 22 points on 52% shooting in league play.

Last shot: November and December basketball, even in non-pandemic years, should often be taken with a grain (or perhaps in some cases pillars) of salt. But one was impressed with the play of George Mason (7-6 including wins at Power Six schools Maryland and Georgia) and Howard (6-6 with wins over Bradley and William & Mary) under Coaches Kim English and Kenny Blakeney. Unfortunately, whatever momentum each team had around the holidays has been put in hold with the Patriots having one game since Dec. 21 and the Bison haven’t played a game since that day. I’ve seen other local schools come back from long layoffs this winter and it hasn’t been pretty. Hopefully these two seasons sidelined temporarily by COVID-19 will restart sooner rather than later, and each team will be able to carry over some of their 2021 play to the new calendar year.

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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