Basketball around the beltway: Decoding December with more breadsticks

WASHINGTON — College basketball’s opening month resembles casual dining at one of those “bottomless bread/biscuit/breadsticks” places: there’s nothing like multiple games against directional and hyphenated schools that are intended to prop up the bigger school’s win total while propping up the smaller school’s bottom line. Unfortunately instead of a roll here or a biscuit there we’re given a whole basket in November — and then seconds whether we like it or not.

For those who are still at the college football buffet, it can get really unappetizing. Maryland could’ve easily erased games against Central Connecticut State and Monmouth and nobody would’ve been the wiser (although they’d have to move the VMI game to the Friday after Thanksgiving, because I think it’s state law there has to be that “late-afternoon Black Friday non- conference game that serves as Tryptophan”). You could do that across the board and all you’d have would be less first-semester travel and more early- season practices, when a team actually needs them. Sometimes less is more — thank goodness final exams force schools to schedule just one game a week through December (for the most part). I knew the school part was good for something.

Now, there have been some intriguing matchups in the first month of the season. Virginia has played George Washington, Maryland and VCU, while Georgetown faces three ranked opponents in its first eight games. As I look around the beltway I try to avoid the carbs and focus on early season nutrition…

Georgetown (5-2) began their Bahama Tournament with the bang of a one point win over #18 Florida before falling to second-ranked Wisconsin and, in a strange twist of fate, Big East foe Butler. Four of their five wins have come by double digits and their losses to the Badgers and Bulldogs were one and two possession games. Joshua Smith appears to be the solid force in the middle (averaging 6.9 rebounds after notching just 3.4 per game last year) the Hoyas were looking for when he transferred from UCLA. Of coach John Thompson III’s talented five-man freshman class, 6-foot-8 L.J. Peak is the early leader in minutes and scoring while Paul White is the better rebounder and shooter (53% FG, 46% from 3). Wednesday, the Hoyas host #10 Kansas, a team that dismembered them last December. Other Big East tune-ups of note include Charlotte and Indiana.

#19 Maryland (8-1) lost at home to Virginia last week, but posted two huge victories in Kansas city at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, over Arizona State and #13 Iowa State. The concern about Evan Smotrycz’s injury has been replaced by the concern about Dez Wells’ injury: he’s expected back in about four weeks, meaning he’ll likely miss the Big Ten opener at Michigan State December 30. Melo Trimble has settled into the role a lot of people thought Roddy Peters, Seth Allen and even Nick Faust would fill over the last few years as a scoring point guard. The freshman leads the team in both points and assists per game (16.4, 2.9). With the injury history surrounding this program as of late, I’m hoping coach Mark Turgeon bubble-wraps Trimble before and after Wednesday’s game with North Carolina Central.

#6 Virginia (9-0) shouldn’t be this good, this early. The Cavaliers have won four games by 20 or more points, and have held teams to the likes of 26, 36 and 39 points. A lot of attention is rightfully focused on UVa’s second-in-the-nation defense (they held Rutgers to 8 second half points the same day the Scarlet Knights football team scored 24 after halftime at Maryland). But this team is ridiculously efficient when they have the ball — ranking 30th in the nation in shooting — and is dominant on the glass (42nd in rebounding) this fall. The biggest pre-ACC test is Harvard (don’t laugh, the Crimson were ranked in the preseason).

Virginia Tech (4-4) goes through the early growing pains a program encounters when there’s a major re-boot, and the Buzz Williams era got a major boot in the you-know-where when they lost to Radford. Hey, it happens. Even Maryland loses to an American or Morgan State once in a while — the key phrase being once in a while. The good news is that three of the four Hokies losses have been one-possession affairs, so with Justin Bibbs (12ppg, 55% FG, 64% 3PT) still finding his feet there’s optimism. At least as much optimism as you can have with a team that won 9 games last winter.

George Mason (2-6) has had a rough month of breadsticks and cheddar biscuits. The Patriots’ losses include a defeat to former CAA foe Old Dominion. Offensively, it’s been less than ideal: the team ranks 298th in shooting and 345th in assists. One bright spot so far has been the play of Shevon Thompson, a 6-foot-11 freshman from Jamaica who is averaging 9 points and 11 rebounds a game so far this season. Mason still has a few more games before A-10 play tips off: the Green Machine pep band hopes they get their first conference win of this season before February 8th (like last year).

George Washington (5-2) played a solid half in Charlottesville before coming undone after intermission, where they were just 1-for-8 shooting with 4 turnovers over the first seven minutes. Other than that meltdown, there’s a lot to be pleased with. Primary offensive weapons Kethan Savage and Patricio Garino are both healthy and that’s more than they could say last winter. The early standout though is Joe McDonald: the 6-foot-1 guard leads GW in rebounding (6.9) and assists (5.1). Yes — more boards than 6-foot-10 Danish import Kevin Larsen. Pre-Atlantic 10 tilts against DePaul (surprisingly 6-1) and Penn State (mystically 8-1, for some reason) await.

Maryland Womens’ Minute: The 14th-ranked Terps (7-2) have played well in the post-Alyssa Thomas era, with the exception of the team’s loss in Puerto Rico to Washington State (one day after beating #23 James Madison) on an afternoon the Cougars could do no wrong. The Big 10-ACC Challenge game against Notre Dame but in Fort Wayne saw the Terps turn the ball over 13 times in the first half — ball security will be a huge issue as the team enters league play. Laurin Mincy reached the 1,000 career point plateau against Towson Sunday. The senior from Newark put the team on her back in the come-from- behind win at George Washington last month and is just one of many weapons coach Brenda Frese has at her disposal. At this time the team has 11 players averaging at least 12 minutes a game — one wonders how those minutes will change once conference play arrives, but it’s nice to see depth on this roster. American comes to College Park Friday and there’s a trip to Coppin State as well this month before Ohio State arrives to tip off Big Ten Conference play.

American (5-4) should begin with a D: the Eagles held their first five opponents to under 50 points and currently rank 5th in fewest points allowed. That’s a good thing, because coach Mike Brennan’s deliberate offense ranks 349th in scoring. It reminds me of my high school team in Manchester, NH minus the mullets and players shaving numbers into their heads. The power trio of point guard Pee Wee Gardner and wing players John Schoof and Jesse Reed will be the focus again as the team tries to play its way through the Patriot League. AU’s month of breadsticks probably involved a lot of takeout: eight of ten games played between November 22nd and December 31st are on the road.

Howard (5-5, 1-1 MEAC) wonders if this is the year the streak of 20- loss seasons ends: this is the best start for the Bison since 2006-07, and that is fantastic news. The bad news is, that team lost 17 of their last 21 games to finish 9-22. This year’s edition features three guys scoring in double figures — all named James. James Miller (6-foot-4 sophomore) leads the team in scoring, James Carlton (6-foot-8 senior) paces the team in rebounding and James Daniel (5-foot-10 sophomore) leads the team in assists. Thank goodness Miller goes by “JT” and Carlton goes by “JC” — although it would provide a major matchup issue for opponents if they all went as “James” on the court. Major opportunity missed, coach Kevin Nickelberry. MEAC play is already underway and Howard has already faced perhaps the league’s best (North Carolina Central) and worst (NC A&T). For the Bison, the MEAC middle class is rarefied air.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPSports on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up