Bracket Racket 4: Late night for Maryland, early exit for Georgetown

Fire up the coffee.

Three days before Selection Sunday we enter the stretch where the Power Six leagues each reach the quadruple-header stage of their tournaments, and now that we’re finished with the “Dreaded First Round” at each of these leagues, we can focus on bubble teams trying to boost their cases for NCAA inclusion.

This year’s bubble includes everybody from bluebloods like North Carolina to upstarts like Utah State, and while a win like the Tar Heels’ over Boston College last night won’t put them in the field a victory against No. 13 Virginia will go a long ways towards doing so.

Quadruple-headers not only means noon (or 11:30 a.m. if you’re the Atlantic 10) tipoffs, long lunches and “sales calls” in the afternoon, but Thursday’s four-packs mean the famed late games that are scheduled for 9 p.m. or 9:30 and often don’t get underway until 9:45.

Sometimes, it’s scintillating (think Syracuse’s six-overtime win over UConn in 2009) while other times it’s downright painful (last night’s Virginia Tech-NC State game that was over by the half where ESPN’s announcers used all of their “blowout game material” after intermission).

Maryland head coach Kevin Willard is no stranger to the “late late game,” having coached in the Big East’s nightcap quarterfinal four times over a seven-year span (a fifth late tipoff was wiped out by COVID-19 in 2020) while at Seton Hall.

For him, the waiting isn’t exactly the hardest part. “It’s a little bit different in conference tournament play because you get the advantage of watching all the games during the day which is kind of fun,” Willard said. “I love watching all of the other games, so I think that kind of eats up a lot of your day unlike a normal 9 p.m. game on a Tuesday night (during the regular season).”

The late nights didn’t derail his team in 2016 when the Pirates won back to back 9:30 tipoffs en route to winning the school’s most recent Big East Tournament title.

“The biggest thing is adjusting to the next: if you win your game at being able to adjust and what to do with your guys and how to get them recovered, how to get them prepared, how to put your scouting report in, how to put your game plan in (during) a very short period of time,” Willard said.

Wednesday games provided another mixed bag for the locals

George Mason (20-12) beat Richmond (15-18) 62-57 as Josh Oduro delivered a double-double for the third time against the Spiders this season while Ronald Polite sunk a go-ahead three pointer with 47 seconds left in regulation. Tyler Burton tallied 23 points in defeat for UR, who never seemed to have everything in place this winter after making the NCAA Tournament last March.

George Washington (16-16) saw its season end with an 87-76 loss to Saint Joe’s. James Bishop records 25 points with eight assists while Ricky Lindo posts 20 points with 10 rebounds, but the A-10’s highest scoring and best shooting team made just 4 of 13 attempts with two turnovers over the final 6:46 of regulation. The mixed bag of a season appropriately ends with a .500 mark.

Howard (20-12) wins 20 games for the first time since 2002, routing South Carolina State 91-55 behind 51% shooting while turning over the Bulldogs 20 times. Elijah Hawkins records 10 points with six assists. Now they wait for the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between Maryland-Eastern Shore and Morgan State in Friday’s semifinal.

Mount St. Mary’s (13-20) lost in the MAAC Quarterfinals 74-54 to top seed Iona as Jalen Benjamin was the only Mountaineer to finish in double figures, recording 27 points. MSM ends its first year in a new conference with plenty of optimism.

Georgetown (7-25) saw its second straight last place finish end with another first round exit in the Big East Tournament, slipping to Villanova 80-48. The Hoyas were held to 34% shooting while hitting just 3-20 from three-point range. Primo Spears nets 17 points in defeat as the school has to address the future plans regarding head coach Patrick Ewing’s tenure.

Virginia Tech (19-14) instead of building on the momentum of their first round win ran into a runaway train by the name of NC State. The 97-77 drubbing saw the Hokies cough up 53 points in the first half as they had no answers for the Wolfpack’s Terquavion Smith (30 points). One year removed from winning the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, waking up in Greensboro has a different feel.

Last Night’s Bids: meet the new champs, same as the old champs

Southland: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (23-10) beat Northwestern State (22-10) 75-71 to secure the Islanders’ second straight tournament title in two seasons under Coach Steve Lutz. They made the trip to Dayton last March, losing in the First Four.

Patriot League: Colgate (25-8) beat Lafayette 79-61 after leading by 17 at the half as Tucker Richardson tallied 14 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for the Raiders. Colgate advances to its third straight and fourth NCAA Tournament in five years. Their only loss to a conference foe this winter was at American last month.

Big Sky: Montana State (25-9) ended Cinderella Northern Arizona’s (12-23) run with an 85-78 victory as Raequan Battle led the Bobcats with 25 points. Head coach Danny Sprinkle’s team makes its second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament (they’re 0-4 all-time including a trip in 1951 as an NAIA team used to pad the heavily regionalized field).

Tonight’s Bids

Zero. When you get to this part of the week most leagues are having a quadruple header of some sort (either the quarterfinals like the Big East/Atlantic 10/ACC or the round to get to the quarters like the Big Ten) so there’s limited real estate for the single-bid leagues. Although I’d like for there to be an automatic bid awarded each day just to keep the trickle of March Madness in gear.

Thursday’s Games:

Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals, VCU (24-7) vs. Davidson (16-15), 11:30 a.m., USA Network.

  • The Wildcats are just one year removed from an NCAA Tournament berth after reaching the A-10 Finals last March. The Rams won both matchups in January, including a two-point win made possible by Adrian Baldwin’s jumper with 16 seconds left. Davidson has won five of six, including their second round win over St. Bonaventure.

Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals, George Mason (20-12) vs. Saint Louis (20-11), 2 p.m., USA Network.

  • The Billikens took the regular season meeting 63-62 on a Yuri Collins free throw with one second left in regulation. Speaking of Collins, the guard led Division I in assists for the second straight season.

ACC Quarterfinals, Virginia (23-6) vs. North Carolina (20-12) Boston College (17-16), 7 p.m., ESPN.

  • The Cavaliers took the lone regular season meeting by seven in Charlottesville, and the Tar Heels are in need of a quality win. A loss would likely make UNC the first preseason No. 1 to miss the NCAA Tournament since NC State in 1974 (only two teams per conference were allowed to make the then-32 team field that year).

Big Ten Second Round, Maryland (20-11) vs. Minnesota (9-21), 9:45 p.m., Big Ten Network.

  • The Golden Gophers squeaked by Nebraska 78-75 in the first round thanks to 18 points and 13 rebounds from Dawson Garcia. The league’s last place team found the Big Ten cellar by ranking 13th in points allowed, 13th in rebounding margin, 13th in field goal defense, and dead last in turnover margin. The Terps took both games in the regular season, posting 81 and 88 points (the only time they broke eighty over the last nine games of the regular season).
  • Player to watch: Julian Reese averaged 19 points and nine rebounds while shooting 17 for 21 against Minnesota this winter and has a habit of getting better against each foe each time he faces them. Something worth staying up late for.
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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