Beltway basketball: The other guys

WASHINGTON — Talking about the beltway basketball landscape is always a
tricky thing. One recognizes the history of Maryland and Georgetown as well as
the resources and following each school has at their disposal. So when a
George Mason makes the Final Four, or George Washington goes 26-2, or American
leads Wisconsin in the first half…it’s a big thing. The question is, how do
you walk the tightrope of appreciating the “other guys” achievements without
making them feel like the Scottys and Sulus of the area college hoop scene?
Sadly, Howard has been the guy wearing the red shirt lately.

George Washington comes off a 24-9 season where coach Mike Lonergan
guided the Colonials to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.
They’ll miss the thunder of Isaiah Armwood and lightning of Maurice Creek, but
have a pair of players they can lean on in guard Kethan Savage and swingman
Patricio Garino. Both missed time last season with injuries and are expected
to bear the brunt of the perimeter scoring. Danish center Kevin Larsen — the
6-foot-10 junior was second on the team with 7 rebounds a game last winter —
provides presence in the post. An early test at #9 Virginia highlights the
non-conference schedule, while the Atlantic 10 expects to be its usual
cauldron again this winter. The season starts November 14 against Grambling

George Mason hopes its second winter in the Atlantic 10 is kinder than
the first. The Patriots dropped their first 8 conference games in painful
fashion — three were two-possession games, and three more were one-possession
affairs or went into overtime. Their 11-20 finish marked the first losing
record in Fairfax since Jim Larranaga’s first season in 1997-98. Topping that
off, coach Paul Hewitt loses his only double-digit scorers from last year.
There’s a vacuum to be filled, and it’s easy to see Patrick Holloway
developing into a perimeter threat a la Byron Allen while Eric Copes grows
into a larger role down low. Will Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal prove he
deserved more minutes in the ACC, or that he should’ve gone to the CAA? The
Patriots’ toughest non-conference test remains a December 31 trip to #19
Oklahoma. What sort of team will we see March 7 in the season finale at VCU?
The road to redemption begins November 14 against Cornell.

VCU is here to stay — there’s no question about that. Shaka Smart has
the team in the preseason top 20 again after the Rams made the NCAA Tournament
again last March. He has quality contributors coming back, with four of his
top six scorers returning. Treveon Graham proves to be a matchup nightmare as
he’s quicker than most bigs and stronger than most perimeter players in the A-
10. The pressure defense will give the Rams plenty of easy buckets as well.
The recent success on the national stage gives this program swagger that is
worth at least two or three conference games alone. The main question is: does
VCU qualify as a “regional team?” We give Virginia and Virginia Tech plenty
of play on WTOP, and they’re more than a short drive away. The season tips off
in Annapolis at the Quicken Loans Veterans Classic November 14 against

American made the NCAA Tournament in coach Mike Brennan’s first season
at the helm, and brings back just about everybody to a team that was wildly
efficient en route to the big dance: 7th in field goal percentage and 37th in
assists per game, while ranking 7th in fewest points allowed. Brennan returns
eight of his top nine scorers to Bender Arena, but how much will they miss 6-
foot-10 center Tony Wroblicky and his 7 rebounds per game? Junior Zach Elcano
and freshman Gabe Brown both loom large, but the best big man might be 6-foot-
8 senior Kyle Kager. The non-conference slate includes the traditional nearly-
a-month-away from Bender stretch from mid-November to mid-December, followed
by the rough and tumble Patriot League. While they were able to sneak upon
everybody else last year, this fall AU is the preseason favorite. The season
begins against Temple November 14.

Navy also resides in the Patriot League, and the Midshipmen begin with
a bang: November meetings with Michigan State, Notre Dame and Providence will
definitely help their RPI. Leading scorer Tilman Dunbar’s back, as are Worth
Smith and Brandon Venturini. Even with the experience, the Midshipmen are
picked to finish last in the Patriot League. The season tips off in Annapolis
at the Quicken Loans Veterans Classic November 14 against #18 Michigan State.

Howard plays the role of Don Quixote again. As coach Kevin Nickleberry
enters his fifth season, he’s facing not just a 31-94 record in D.C., but the
history of a Bison program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2001-02 and
has lost at least 20 games every year since. James Daniel returns after
leading the MEAC in scoring (21 ppg) as a freshman, and with senior Prince
Okoroh back as well, this could be the year that Howard contends to finish
over .500 at long last. The first windmill to be chased is November 14 at

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