Bracket Racket 5: Eras end at Georgetown and American, tournaments begin for Maryland and Virginia.

Goodbyes are never easy. And they’re often not so good. Wasn’t there a Seinfeld bit about how it should be “bad-bye”? How do you part ways with a legend from the past when the present isn’t working?

Georgetown moves on from Coach Patrick Ewing after the Hoyas posted a second straight last place finish in the Big East, plus a school-record 25 losses for the second straight season. The program hadn’t suffered consecutive losing seasons since the early 1970’s when Ewing took over almost six years ago. The Hall of Fame player led them to a .500 mark in year one and an NIT berth in season two. After a step back during the season ended by COVID-19, the Hoyas won four games in four nights to capture the Big East Tournament in 2021.

But while nobody thought they were going to make the leap forward, nobody foresaw the chasm the program tumbled down: first going 0-19 in Big East followed by a 2-18 league mark. After winning 13 games during the Big East Championship season, just 13 wins the last two winters combined. A change had to be made.

Why didn’t it work? That’s the easy question, though it isn’t so easy to answer. Ewing had more than a decade coaching as an assistant (albeit in the NBA) and brought a staff with college experience to the school. He recruited reasonably well. But for some reason it never clicked, with a ton of players transferring to the point it felt as though Ewing was trying to build a sandcastle during high tide.

Who’s next? Everyone from Iona’s Rick Pitino to Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry to Colgate’s Matt Langel will see their name mentioned. One has to understand that as bad as things have been here recently, this is a Big East bedrock program in Washington DC. And that counts for something.

American also makes a coaching change, parting ways with Mike Brennan after 10 years and a 125-166 record. AU advanced to the NCAA Tournament in his first season with the school and lost in the Patriot League Championship Game the following March, but before last week the Eagles hadn’t reached the conference tournament semifinals in seven years.

Unfortunately momentum is fickle in college hoops and AU wasn’t able to sustain his early success. This year’s team started strong (first win over Georgetown in 40 years and a 4-0 start in Patriot League play) before fading down the stretch in the regular season (1-7 finish plus getting swept by last-place Bucknell). Brennan does leave behind a decent nucleus (provided there aren’t mass transfers) and the talent base in the area plus the draw of a major metropolitan area can sustain a decent Patriot League program.

Thursday’s games saw the field of locals continue to thin out:

VCU (25-7) began its Atlantic 10 Tournament run by taking a nine-point lead over Davidson at the half on their way to a 71-53 win, shooting 57% and 9-21 from three-point range while holding the Wildcats to 37% and 3-12 outside the arc. Be wary of Rams reserve David Shriver, who scored 11 points on 4-7 shooting (3-6 from three): the senior transfer is hitting 39% from outside the arc this year and buried four big threes last Saturday in the second half of a win over George Washington. They’ll have a day to rest up for their semifinal showdown with Saint Louis as the A-10 has added a “gap Friday” to the schedule this year.

George Mason (20-13) wasn’t able to make Saturday’s semifinal a Commonwealth Clash. The Patriots were tied with Saint Louis at 25 with 6:50 left in the first half, only to shoot 1-5 with four turnovers the rest of the way before intermission as the Billikens built a 14-point halftime lead they’d maintain and build upon over the next 20 minutes in an 82-54 rout. Back to the build for Coach Kim English and his staff.

Virginia (24-6) led North Carolina by one at the half of their ACC Quarterfinal before scoring on 13 of their first 16 possessions after intermission on their way to a 68-59 win that pushes the Tar Heels to the far side of the bubble and likely the NIT after UNC was ranked No. 1 in the preseason. Jayden Gardner nets 17 points with 10 rebounds as the Cavaliers hold the Heels to 36% shooting and 8-27 from three-point range. UVa’s back in the ACC Semifinals for the seventh time in nine tournaments.

Maryland (21-11) is used to the March minefield of the Big Ten Tournament: they’ve been bounced by lower-seeded teams multiple times. This week in Chicago, the first five games were won by lower-seeded squads. But Maryland bounced back from a slow start (3-9 shooting with four turnovers) to beat Minnesota 70-54, holding the Golden Gophers’ top two scorers Dawson Garcia and Jamison Battle to 3-15 shooting. Donta Scott provided the early offense, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the first half (over 50% of the Terps’ points in the first 20 minutes). The Terrapins get another late night-and the last time Coach Kevin Willard had to coach the late game on consecutive nights he guided Seton Hall to the 2016 Big East Tournament title.

Friday’s games

MEAC Semifinals, Howard (20-12) vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore (18-12), 6 p.m., ESPN+

  • Due to the staggered quarterfinal schedule, the Bison will have the benefit of a day’s rest on the Hawks. These teams split the regular season series with each winning on its home campus. Ball security will be a priority as the Bison turned the ball over 23 times in the loss and 18 times in the win (the Hawks were more consistent with 20 turnovers in each game). UMES senior guard Zion Styles scored 15 points in each of the games, while Elijah Hawkins averaged 17 points with six rebounds and five assists for HU.

Big Ten Quarterfinals, Maryland (21-11) vs. Indiana (21-10), 9 p.m., Big Ten Network

  • The Terps beat the Hoosiers during the regular season at Xfinity Center in January on a night where Trayce Jackson-Davis delivered 18 points and 20 rebounds but his teammates shot just 13-43 and 3-11 from three-point range. IU’s 55 points that night was the lowest non-RAC (which is a tough place to play) total of the season for the conference’s best-shooting and second-highest scoring team. Jahmir Young scored 20 points against the Hoosiers in January and looks to bounce back from last night’s 3-13 shooting effort against Minnesota (for the record he did get to the line 11 times against the Golden Gophers).

ACC Semifinals, Virginia (24-6) vs. Clemson (23-9), 9:30 p.m., ESPN

  • The Cavaliers took the lone regular season meeting in Charlottesville by seven late last month and that loos was part of a 3-5 free-fall that took the Tigers from ACC contender to NCAA pretender. Right now they’re on the bubble thanks to a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 254th according to ESPN. But Clemson is the best ACC team from three point range and at the free throw line, while allowing the third fewest points per game. UVa is a program that can defend in their sleep, but this year’s team is not on par with the last decade’s greats.

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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