Beltway Basketball Beat: Maryland, Georgetown and others navigate COVID waters

Welcome to 2022! The appetizer portion of the men’s college basketball season is in our rearview mirror as most of the locals will be solely playing conference games from here on out.

But while we step into the new year, the season still isn’t out of the COVID-19 woods that benched the 2020 NCAA Tournament and drastically altered the 2020-21 season.

Georgetown has yet to tip off its Big East season as the Hoyas have had four games postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, while Maryland has had to switch out opponents (Brown for Loyola-Maryland last week) and tighten up requirements for fans 12 or older (must be vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test).

American, George Washington, George Mason and Howard have had games wiped off of the slate. But the season plods on and, hopefully, the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.

This Week’s Starting Five

Up Top: Defending National Champ Baylor has been No. 1 since early December, taking over for Purdue after the Boilermakers lost at Rutgers (let the record show — the RAC by any other name is a tough place to play). Duke, in its final season under Coach Mike Krzyzewzski, is No. 2 and back from a pandemic break of their own. Gonzaga and UCLA- teams from last year’s Final Four- are in the Top 10 as well.

Going Inside: Maryland (8-5, 0-2 Big Ten) is coming off of an 80-78 loss at Iowa, and the schedule doesn’t lighten up from there. A game against an Illinois team that’s tied for first in the conference Thursday is followed by a home game Sunday against No. 23 Wisconsin. The Terps currently rank near the bottom of the league in shooting (13th) and from three-point range (12th) while they’re also third-worst in the Big Ten at defending the three. And Eric Ayala can only do so much: the senior may be averaging 20 points over his last four games (shooting 52%), but has had scoring droughts (3-for-21 during December losses to Virginia Tech and Northwestern).

On the Perimeter: Navy is off to a 9-4 start and leads the Patriot League after a pair of double-digit conference wins, most recently an 83-71 victory over preseason favorite Boston University where John Carter Jr. scored 23 points (hitting 5-of-6 from three point range). Defense travels, especially in conference play, and the Mids allow the fewest points per game in the Patriot League, lead the league in rebounding margin and are tops at defending the three-pointer.

Who’s Open: Georgetown (6-5) finally begins Big East play Friday when Marquette comes to Capital One Arena. The Golden Eagles are in their first season under Shaka Smart and is fresh from an 88-56 thumping of No. 16 Providence. Baltimore native Justin Lewis notched a double-double that night (23 points and 11 rebounds), but I’ll also have my eye on former Maryland guard Darryl Morsell who is currently second on the team in scoring and assists. How will the Hoyas contain Morsell and Lewis, and what sort of rust will Coach Patrick Ewing’s team have after not playing since December 18?

Last Shot: Another intriguing season is underway in the Commonwealth as Virginia (9-5, 3-1 ACC) and Virginia Tech (8-6, 0-3) have begun league play. ECU transfer Jayden Gardner is paying immediate dividends in Charlottesville, averaging 15 points with eight rebounds while shooting 58% (and 38% from three). It’s early January but the Cavaliers allow the fewest points per game in the conference while the Hokies rank second. Each team has road tests on the horizon: U.Va. visits North Carolina Saturday while Virginia Tech travels to Virginia next Wednesday.

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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