Beltway Basketball Beat: Bracket Racket VI — Commonwealth rivalry takes center stage as dreams end for others

Two Days until Selection Sunday.

There were over 340 schools eligible for the NCAA Tournament at the start of this month, and while technically any school can be named as an at-large team when the field of 68 is announced, the reality is the bubble field is just a handful of teams.

And for those schools who need to win conference tournaments to make the field, falling short of that goal places a period at the end of their hopes.

Multiple area teams saw their final hopes fade Thursday

Maryland (15-17) saw its 28-year streak off winning seasons end in the Big Ten Tournament with their 76-72 Second Round loss to Michigan State. The Terps played the Spartans three times this winter, and each time, they had to rally back from double-digit deficits before coming up short, the only difference Thursday was the deficit was 20 points instead of Sunday’s 22-point crater.

Unfortunately, a Fatts Russell three with 12 seconds left fell off the mark and a season that began in the Top 25 takes its final bow in the Indianapolis night. Now the coaching search begins in earnest and it will be interesting to see who winds up at Xfinity Center for the introductory news conference this spring.

George Mason (14-16) falls to Fordham 54-49 in the Atlantic 10 Second Round despite leading by as many as 11 in the second half. Unfortunately the Rams rallied by hitting 11 of their final 17 shots and the Patriots offense dried up, going without a basket for the final 4:59 of regulation.

“As disappointing a loss as we’ve had all season. Embarrassing loss, embarrassing ending but fitting,” Coach Kim English said. “You don’t often get what you deserve in life-you get what you earn. For too many times this season we haven’t had the right habits, the right toughness in moments to consistently earn wins.”

The Patriots went 3-9 after the end of January to finish English’s first season at the helm, but this winter saw plenty of glimpses of what could happen in Fairfax.

George Washington (12-18) gets outscored by UMass 99-88 in the Atlantic 10 Second Round. The Minutemen shot 56% from the field and from three-point range in the first half, posting 56 points by the break. They also tallied 21 points on 12 first half turnovers (31 on 18 for the evening).

GW sliced the deficit to 11 with 4:44 left in regulation, but was unable to get the game into the single-digits. “They played a lot better than us. Made a lot of plays that we didn’t make in the first twenty minutes,” Coach Jamion Christian said. “Disappointed that our season has ended, ecstatic that we took a step this year and excited to continue to build with this group of guys.”

Christian returns the bulk of his roster and after finishing seventh in the A-10 when his team was picked to finish 13th, there’s good reason to think that there will be another leap next season.

Virginia (19-13) started slow in its ACC Quarterfinal game with No. 25 North Carolina and trailed 33-13 at the half before falling 63-43.

The Cavaliers season saw plenty of tough losses, from an opening night defeat against Navy to a Senior Day shocker (for UVa’s benefit we’ll retitle it a “Fourth Year Fadeout”) against Florida State, but there were also a few double-digit blowouts (at North Carolina AND NC State in January) to stomach this winter.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as one of the “Next Four Out” after the defeat, meaning they’re going to be dealing with three initials (NIT) instead of four (NCAA). One is looking forward to the continued growth of sophomore defensive dynamo Reece Beekman this month and next season.

Bids awarded and up for grabs: Nothing until Saturday, when 15 automatic berths will be claimed.

Friday’s Games

VCU (21-8) takes on Richmond (20-12) in the Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. The Rams, currently listed by as one of the “First Four Out” and one of the “Next Four Out” by ESPN, likely need to reach Sunday’s final to have any hope of an at-large berth.

They’re also 3-0 in the A-10 Tournament against their crosstown rival since joining the conference, and this fourth meeting almost didn’t happen. The Spiders trailed by as many as 15 in the second half, and that was after turning the ball over seven times while missing seven of nine free throws before intermission.

But a 17-4 finishing run delivered a 64-59 triumph as a free throw by Grant Golden (yes, he’s still with the program and no, he’s not 30 years old) with 3:25 left in regulation gave UR their first lead of the night (Golden finished with a team-high 19 points).

The Spiders lost by two to VCU at home and by 20 on the road, while shooting a combined 21% from three-point range in those losses. No offense to Virginia-Virginia Tech, George Mason-George Washington, Navy-American, or even Coppin State-Morgan State, this is the best local in-conference rivalry. I’m looking forward to being courtside for this one.

Virginia Tech (21-12) plays North Carolina (24-8) in the ACC Semifinals at 9:30 p.m. Sadly the Tar Heels wouldn’t cooperate and give us Virginia Tech-Virginia for the third time this season. But the Hokies more than took care of their side of the bargain, never trailing Notre Dame on a night where they led by as many as 16 before the Fighting Irish rallied late.

But just like a three-pointer by Storm Murphy doomed Notre Dame during the regular season, Murphy put the Fighting Irish away in March by hitting four free throws in the final minute of regulation to seal the 87-80 victory.

The win didn’t push them into the field according to, but they’re currently one of the “First Four Out” in that model. That’s the good news. The bad news is they got swept by the Tar Heels during the regular season and weren’t able to contain Armando Bacot (13 points and 18 rebounds per game against the Hokies). Could the third time be the charm?

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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