Bracket Racket 3: Cougars punch their ticket, Hokies ride the March roller coaster

March isn’t easy. Getting to the Tournament is no small feat, and even surviving the Dreaded First Round can take every ounce of a team’s existence.

Tuesday night in D.C., the College of Charleston wrapped up the CAA Tournament by rallying past UNC-Wilmington, 63-58, outscoring the Seahawks 18-5 over the final 6:05 of the second half.

The Cougars had been in and out of Top 25 this winter. Now, they can sleep a lot easier the next few nights and wonder what seed they’ll get, which team they’ll face, and where they’ll be sent. However, UNC-Wilmington — who sent home regular season champion Hofstra the night before — now heads home themselves one step shy of the field of 68.

Meanwhile, in Greensboro, North Carolina, Virginia Tech kept its season alive by beating Notre Dame 67-64 in the first round of the ACC Tournament. The defending champs also rallied late, outscoring the Fighting Irish 11-4 over the final 3:30 of regulation.

Grant Basile led the way with 20 points while Justyn Mutts adds 18 with 13 rebounds and recorded the go-ahead layup with 32 seconds left. The season that has already seen a fantastic start (11-1 and a Top 25 ranking), an incredible crater (seven straight ACC losses), and a roller coaster recovery (7-5 to finish the regular season) lives to see another 40 minutes.

Which in a March filled with minefields is all you can ask for some nights, whether you’re in D.C. or Greensboro.

Bids claimed last night

CAA: The College of Charleston’s win gives the Cougars their first tournament berth since 2018 (they lost as a No. 13 seed). Charleston last won an NCAA Tournament game in 1997 when they beat Maryland.

Horizon: Northern Kentucky (22-12) beats Cleveland State 63-61 to post its fourth tournament title in seven years and earn its first NCAA trip since 2019. The Norse turned the Vikings (throw out your loot and pillage clichés here) over 17 times en route to avenging their only loss since February 10.

West Coast: No. 9 Gonzaga (28-5) made a major statement in its 77-51 rout of No. 16 Saint Mary’s (26-7). Unlike most of the other conferences taking care of business in the early part of Championship Week both were safely in the field as at-large teams, and that’s a good thing for the Gaels because this game was never in doubt. The Bulldogs led by 18 at the half and even though they aren’t as ballyhooed as their last two teams, super-senior Drew Timme is a player with a wealth of NCAA experience.

Summit League: Oral Roberts (30-4) rips North Dakota State 92-58 behind 26 points and 11 assists from Max Abmas for the school’s second NCAA berth in three years. Abmas was the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer in 2021 when they reached the Regional Semifinals as a No. 15 seed.

Tonight’s Bids

Southland, 5 p.m., ESPN2

  • Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (22-10) won the regular season by one game over Northwestern State (22-10) thanks to the Islanders sweep of the Demons. A&M took the tournament last March under first-year coach Steve Lutz and is trying to become the first repeat champ since Stephen F. Austin won three straight from 2014-16.

Patriot League, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network

  • Colgate (25-8) swept the regular season series from Lafayette (11-22) and has lost just once since Christmas Day, a 61-60 loss at American. The Leopards have won two straight to advance to their first title game since 2015 after winning just two of their final regular season games. Raider to watch: guard Tucker Richardson averaged 16 points in the two games with Lafayette this winter.

Big Sky, 11:30 p.m., ESPN2

  • Northern Arizona (12-22) won five games during conference play and is 40 minutes away from posting a fourth win in the tournament to claim the automatic bid. They already have regular season champ Eastern Washington in their wake and came within one point of beating tonight’s foe Montana State (24-9) in their gym.

Games to Watch

Atlantic 10 Second Round, George Mason (19-12) vs. Richmond (15-17), 2 p.m., USA Network.

  • The Patriots swept the regular-season series by taking a pair of nail-biters. First team All-A10 selection Josh Oduro posted a double-double in each game while A10-Second Teamer Tyler Burton averaged 19 points and 5 rebounds against the Patriots. The key was perimeter production, with Ronald Polite scoring 22 points in the Fairfax meeting and Davonte Gaines netting 23 (including the go-ahead layup) at the Robin Center.

Atlantic 10 Second Round, George Washington (16-15) vs. Saint Joseph’s (15-16), 5 p.m., USA Network.

  • The two teams split their regular-season series with each school winning on its home floor. GW needed overtime to beat the Hawks in Foggy Bottom (that was a stretch where the Colonials won four games between Jan. 25 and Feb. 22 — each in overtime) while losing by 12 in Philly. This is a matchup of the top two scorers in the A-10, with GW’s James Bishop (21 points per game) making First Team all-conference and the Hawks’ Erik Reynolds being voted to the second team. Each has had help this winter, from Third Team selection Brendan Adams and Rookie of the Year Maximus Edwards for the Colonials to Lynn Grier (31 points in the OT game against GW) for Saint Joe’s.

MEAC Quarterfinals, Howard (19-12) vs. South Carolina State (5-25), 6 p.m., ESPN+

  • The regular season champion Bison (first time they’ve had the No. 1 seed since 1992 — their most recent NCAA appearance) swept the Bulldogs but turned the ball over 20 times in a four-point February win. And crazier things have happened in Norfolk: a three-win Howard team upset SC State in this tournament during head coach Kenny Blakeney’s first season at the school. All eyes will be on sophomore guard Elijah Hawkins who not only directs the offense and leads the conference in assists but also is the defensive catalyst for the team.

MAAC Quarterfinals, Mount St. Mary’s (13-19) vs. Iona (24-7), 7 p.m., ESPN+

  • The Mountaineers rallied from a 14-point deficit to force overtime against Canisius in the first round and got a Dakota Leffew jumper with 1:35 left in OT to pull ahead of the Golden Griffins 67-66. They were swept by the Gaels in the regular season, and Rick Pitino’s team led the conference in scoring as well as turnover margin.

Big East First Round, Georgetown (7-24) vs. Villanova (16-15), 8 p.m., FS1

  • While the Wildcats are in an unfamiliar place taking to the floor on the first night of the tournament, the Hoyas have made a home in the first round with this being their fifth appearance in six years under head coach Patrick Ewing. They’ve also struggled in this series, going 2-11 against Nova in Ewing’s tenure. But then again this year’s team has struggled against everyone, ranking last in the conference in points allowed, field goal defense, as well as three point shooting and defending the three. Wildcat to watch: Caleb Daniels averaged 18 points in two wins over the Hoyas this winter.

ACC Second Round, Virginia Tech (19-13) vs. NC State (22-9), 9:30 P.M., ESPN2

  • The famed “9:30 p.m. game” is always amusing as it’s often not tipping off before 9:45. The Wolfpack took the only matchup of the regular season 73-69 in Blacksburg Jan. 7, jumping out to a 14-point halftime lead and holding the Hokies to 5-18 from three point range. But the ACC has been nothing if not a roller coaster this season, and the Pack arrive at Greensboro with a two-game losing streak and haven’t played in over a week.
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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