Bracket Racket 2: Towson, Hofstra meet March sadness in DC, while Hokies try to rekindle last year’s magic

Conference Tournament week is part coronation, part coronary, because schools that dominate January and February in conference play are placed in the same single-elimination world as the rest of their leagues. And it’s much tougher being the chased than the chaser.

Witness Towson, which, as regular season champs last year in the CAA, was pushed to overtime in its quarterfinal game before falling in the semis to eventual tournament champ Delaware. While the Tigers got their first-ever NIT bid last March, months of maneuvering toward Selection Sunday was all for naught due to an ill-timed subpar 40 minutes.

This year in D.C.’s Entertainment and Sports Arena, it was Hofstra’s time to see its hopes go down the tubes. They snagged the regular-season title from preseason favorite Towson and Top 25 regular College of Charleston, losing just once during January and February.

But Monday in the semifinals, the Pride fell to UNC-Wilmington 79-73 in overtime, shooting 0-for-5 with three turnovers in the extra session. Five bad minutes at the worst moment for head coach Speedy Claxton’s team and now, they’ll be a spectator on Selection Sunday, wondering if they can get back in position next March.

Meanwhile, the rest of the remaining contenders for NCAA berths march on.

Last night’s game:

Towson (21-12) rallied in the second half to take a late lead over the College of Charleston, using a 23-9 run to pull ahead with 1:48 left in regulation, only to finish the night by shooting 1-for-6 as the Cougars prevailed 77-72. Cameron Holden scored 21 points in defeat while Nicolas Timberlake is held to 6 of 18 shooting (and 3 of 12 from three).

The Tigers more than held their own in three hard-fought games against the 30-3 Cougars (first team in Division I to reach 30 wins this season): an overtime stumble at home, a road loss where they led by 10, and last night’s defeat to a better team despite giving them everything they could handle. Sometimes in a one-bid league, you just suffer when there’s a supernova in your midst (witness the West Coast Conference and Gonzaga this century).

Bids claimed last night:

Sun Belt: Louisiana beat South Alabama 71-66 behind 13 points and 16 rebounds from Jordan Brown. The Rajun’ Cajuns qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. They’ve been a double-digit seed in all five of their appearances since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, including a lucky number 13 three times.

Southern: Furman edges Chattanooga 88-79 to punch the Paladins’ first NCAA Tournament ticket since 1980. What’s amazing in the modern world of the conference carousel (Rutgers for example has been in five leagues since 1980), Furman was in the Southern 53 years ago when they last went dancing.

Tuesday night’s bids:

CAA, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network.

UNC-Wilmington plays the College of Charleston. The 30-3 Cougars swept the 24-9 Seahawks during the regular season, winning by two on the road and by 32 at home. UNCW has won nine of 12 and got 21 points and 11 rebounds from Tarazien White in their win over Hofstra. The Cougars are led in scoring by senior guard Dalton Bolon, who vaguely resembles Kiefer Sutherland from his turn in “The Lost Boys”. Good time tonight…

Horizon, 7 p.m., ESPN2.

Some of these games are just more evenly matched than the others: Northern Kentucky and Cleveland State are both 21-12 and each went 14-6 in conference play. They also split the regular season series, with each school winning at home by one. Flip a coin.

West Coast, 9 p.m., ESPN.

No. 9 Gonzaga faces No. 16 Saint Mary’s after each won their semifinal games; that’s right, the WCC is either scared of its top seeds getting upset in the quarterfinals or likes the squid image of the modified bracket. Somehow, this rigged system of overly protecting its top seeds screams of a one-bid league’s machinations.

Summit League, 9 p.m., ESPN2.

Oral Roberts was the only school in Division I to go unbeaten in conference play this year, and would you believe the Summit made the Golden Eagles play in a quarterfinal game? ORU faces North Dakota State, a team they beat by eight at home and by 23 on the road.

Games to Watch:

MAAC First Round, Mount St. Mary’s (12-19) vs. Canisius (10-19), 5 p.m., ESPN+: The Mountaineers went 8-12 in their first season competing the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (from a profile standpoint it gives the school one letter in the league abbreviation) and swept the regular-season series, but the Golden Griffins enter the tournament having won five of six. Coach Dan Engelstad led the Mount to the NCAA’s two years ago out of the Northeast Conference and has six players on the current roster from that team.

ACC First Round, Virginia Tech (18-13) vs. Notre Dame (11-20), 7 p.m., ACC Network: One year after cutting down the nets in Brooklyn, the Hokies play in the dreaded first round for the fourth time in 10 seasons while the Fighting Irish play on the first day for the fourth time in six years. Tech shot 57% en route to taking the regular season meeting 93-87 in South Bend Feb. 11. That wasn’t just part of a season-ending resurgence by head coach Mike Young’s team (the Hokies closed 7-5 after losing seven straight), but part of a free-fall that saw Notre Dame lose eight of its last nine (five were two-possession games). The Irish can shoot (they make the third most three’s per game in the ACC) but have issues if they miss (ND owns the worst rebounding margin in the conference). Player to watch: Nate Laszewski led the team in scoring and rebounding and put 33 on the board in the game against the Hokies last month.

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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