Bracket Recap: Sorting out the thrills and spills of March Madness for DC-area teams

How is everybody holding up after the first weekend? Was it Purdue falling to Farleigh Dickinson on Friday or defending champ Kansas slipping on Saturday to Arkansas?

My first Final Four team to fall was Duke: I didn’t see the Blue Devils going down in defeat to a banged-up Tennessee team that had skidded toward Selection Sunday.

But that’s the beauty of a single-elimination tournament played by 18-to-27 year olds (blame COVID for making “seven years of college down the drain” more than an Animal House riff). Let’s clean things up …

Maryland (22-13) trailed West Virginia by as many as 12 points in the first half after stumbling out of the gate (2 for 7 shooting but with six turnovers in the first nine minutes) before turning it on in a 67-65 win. Julian Reese led the way with 17 points and nine rebounds while Hakim Hart added 15 (including the dunk that put them ahead to stay with 3:44 left in regulation). Two nights later, the Terps lost 73-51 to overall No. 1 seed Alabama on a night where they shot 1 for 8 from 3-point range, and Reese’s foul trouble limited the forward to 20 minutes (he still led the team with 14 points). But make no mistake, these Terps exceeded expectations in year one under head coach Kevin Willard. One looks forward to what he’s able to do with a complete recruiting cycle as he continues to build the program.

Virginia guard Kihei Clark (0) makes an errant pass as Furman forward Alex Williams (24) defends in the final seconds of the second half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Virginia (25-8) saw their season slam shut in the first round with a 68-67 loss to Furman. The Paladins turned a steal at midcourt into a 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left. The Cavaliers also let the Southern Conference champs hang around way too long thanks to spotty shooting (2 of 12 from 3-point range). Kihei Clark — four years after being a part of a season-saving pass against Purdue — was the guy who attempted the worst possible pass under the circumstances in retrospect. But UVA will regroup under head coach Tony Bennett and will be back next season to compete again in the ACC.

Howard (22-13) fell to defending national champ and West Region’s No. 1 seed Kansas 96-68 after keeping pace with the Jayhawks (it was tied at 33 with 5:29 left in the first half) early. Despite the defeat, there’s reason to celebrate on the D.C. campus after the Bison’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in over 30 years. Head coach Kenny Blakeney also has a big part of his nucleus coming back, barring the transfer portal, and HU is on track to remain a force in the MEAC.

VCU (27-8) sputtered at the end of its first round game with St. Mary’s, making just one basket in the final seven minutes of regulation in a 63-51 loss. Notable for the Rams this March was their first double-play: 2023 was the first time they’ve won both the Atlantic 10 Regular Season and Tournament Championships.

Georgetown didn’t look too far for their new head coach, hiring Ed Cooley away from Big East foe Providence. In twelve seasons at the school his teams posted a 15-7 mark against the Hoyas (including sweeps in seven of the last nine seasons). Cooley averaged 20 wins a year with the Friars — but here’s a troubling number for a school that hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2007, he’s 3-7 in the NCAA Tournament with just one trip to the regional in seven tries.

Questions moving forward include how he’ll sell the program locally to a fan base that has eroded over the last ten years, how his recruiting in a much more talent-rich area will change and will he be able to keep his recruits once they get to campus (unlike his predecessor)? One more thing about his Providence exit: I can imagine games with the Friars will be a little salty over the next few years as one often doesn’t see a coach leave one conference school for another.

Women’s Tournament

Maryland head coach Brenda Frese talks to her team during the first half of a second-round college basketball game against Arizona in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 19, 2023, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Maryland (27-6) had lost to Pac-12 schools Washington and UCLA in the second round of the 2016 and 2019 NCAA’s at home, so those with long memories cause for concern halfway through the Terrapins’ game against Arizona Sunday. The Wildcats rallied from a double-digit deficit down to take a 33-32 lead at halftime, thanks to forward Cate Reese’s 12 first-half points, spotty shooting by Maryland’s Diamond Miller (2 of 9 over the first two quarters), and foul trouble limiting Shyanne Sellers to 12 first-half minutes.

But just as we’ve seen many times this season, the Terrapins turned the game in their favor with a powerhouse third quarter by shooting 11 of 14 while holding the Wildcats to 3 of 15 field goals with five turnovers. Miller broke out by going 6 for 6 in the quarter for 13 points, finishing 9 of 10 with 20 points in the second half to give Miller 24 points in her final game at Xfinity Center. The Terps’ 77-64 victory sends them to the Greenville Regional where they’ll face a Notre Dame team they defeated in December on a last-second shot. Should they beat the Fighting Irish, they’d likely face defending national champ and overall No. 1 seed South Carolina in the Regional Final.

Virginia Tech (29-4) is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999 after their 72-60 win over South Dakota State. The Hokies have won 13 straight, with five of their last six games coming by double digits. They play No. 4 seed Tennessee Saturday in the Seattle 3 Regional.

James Madison (26-8) led No. 3 seed Ohio State by 12 after one quarter and by three at the half before falling to the Buckeyes 80-66 in the first round. Kiki Jefferson led the Dukes with 17 points in defeat.

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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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