WASHINGTON — How do you legislate spontaneity?
Court-storming is a tradition that rears its head every winter when teams pull upsets or last-second victories over ranked foes. For instance, when American won its first ever Patriot League Tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, they stormed the court at Bender Arena. In theory, the court-storming emphasizes big moments.
Wednesday night at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse “upset” No. 10 Duke, 78-75, on a last-second three-pointer by John Gillon. Naturally the students rushed the floor to celebrate the victory because that is evidently what you do in these situations.
But wait, aren’t the Orange less than a year removed from advancing to the Final Four? Didn’t they also storm the court after wins over Florida State and Virginia this season? Showing restraint and not running onto the floor after a big game doesn’t prevent said game from becoming an “instant classic.” It’s easy to say to 18-to-24 year old kids (I’m speaking to all students, even the six-year ones) to act as if you’ve been there before. Especially when many of them have in the last five minutes.
As an alumnus, I believe it makes us look as if we don’t belong on the sports’ greatest stage. But after two Final Fours this decade and a National Championship last decade, selfishly I think Syracuse does. But that’s just coming from a guy who left his seat in March 1990 for the floor when the Orangemen beat Georgetown in overtime to win the Big East regular season title.
Georgetown (14-14, 5-10 Big East) at St. John’s (12-16, 6-9). Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin this is not. In a league that values defense and rebounding, the Red Storm allow the most points and are the worst on the glass. They’re also last in the conference defending the 3-point shot. Yet somehow, the Hoyas, after four losses in five games, are looking up the standings at this team. Georgetown won the previous game this winter after holding St. John’s to 5 of 25 shooting in the second half and 28 percent for the night. The scary number was that the listed attendance was 5,158 at Verizon Center. Sleepy Floyd and Walter Berry this is not.
No. 18 Virginia (18-9, 8-7 ACC) at North Carolina State (15-14, 4-12). The Cavaliers in the last two weeks have gone from playing for a share of the conference lead to in the mix for the dreaded first round of the ACC Tournament. Yes, having 15 schools means there’s a 10 vs. 15 game unless somebody eats the poison pill and declares himself ineligible for postseason play (like Louisville last year and Syracuse in 2015). London Perrantes has shot 28 percent during the 4-game losing streak, and he’s not assisted by a consistently uneven frontcourt. The Wolfpack are coming off a 71-69 win against Georgia Tech that ended a 7-game losing streak. There’s the saying that even a dead cat bounces once.
While UVA is last in the ACC in scoring due largely to design (Tony Bennett’s deliberately precise pace focuses on quality instead of quantity), NC State allows the most points in the league and is 328th nationally due largely to ineffectiveness.
American (7-21, 4-13 Patriot League) at Loyola-Maryland (14-14, 8-9). The Eagles can avoid last place with a victory, plus a Lafayette loss at Colgate, while the Greyhounds are trying to turn around a stretch where they’ve lost four of five. Loyola ranks last in the conference in shooting; AU held Navy to 31 percent from the field and 18 percent from 3-point range in a win on the road Wednesday.
Greyhound senior Jarred Jones netted 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 68-66 win in D.C. Dec. 30. Eagles freshman Sa’eed Nelson scored 22 that night and is averaging 16 points per game this month.
Navy (15-14, 10-7 Patriot League) at Bucknell (22-8, 14-3). What happened to the “hottest team in the area?” The Midshipmen are taking major water with four losses in their last six games, including a Senior Night stumble to last place American. The conference-leading Bison are not the kind of team you get well against. Especially in Lewisburg where they’re 24-5 against conference foes the last three seasons. Causes for confidence? Navy can rebound (first in the Patriot League) and defend (they allow the second fewest points in the conference).
The Bison have four players who score in double figures, but the Mids held their leading scorer Zach Thomas to five points in the school’s first meeting. Problem was, Kimbal Mackenzie scored 22 and the Bison escaped Annapolis with a 4-point win that day.
VCU (23-5, 13-2 Atlantic 10) at Rhode Island (18-9, 10-5). This will be the only meeting between these Rams in the regular season. And for the record, there was also only one game between both schools and the Fordham Rams. Is that by design? VCU has won nine straight, the last four by double digits. Senior JeQuan Lewis is having the season you want from your offensive and defensive catalyst (among the A-10 leaders in points, assists and steals).
URI has won two straight to climb back into the mix for the coveted double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament after losing at home to Fordham. There’s that Ram-on-Ram thing again.
Richmond (16-11, 10-5 Atlantic 10) at Fordham (13-15, 7-8). Despite following up a 5-0 league start by splitting five of its last ten games, the Spiders are in great position to land the coveted double-bye in the A-10 Tournament as they wrap up their regular season with three straight games against foes with losing conference records.
Fordham may be under .500 on paper (or computer screen), but these Rams have won three in a row (each by double digits) and lead the Atlantic 10 in steals per game. The well-traveled Javontae Hawkins (previous stops at South Florida and Eastern Kentucky) is scoring 19 points during the three game winning streak, but was held to 10 points in a Jan. 4 loss to the Spiders. Richmond’s DeMonte Buckingham scored 22 that day. He may have hit the “freshman fade,” as the guard is averaging seven points on 36 percent shooting over his last five outings.
Virginia Tech (19-8, 8-7 ACC) at Boston College (9-19, 2-13). Could the Hokies get to 20 wins before Virginia? Don’t tell anyone in Charlottesville.
Buzz Williams’ team won the matchup between these two schools in Blacksburg despite getting out-rebounded by nine. That’s one of the few things the Eagles do well.
BC is 14th in the ACC in points allowed, shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio while ranking last in turnover margin and field goal defense. I know what you’re thinking, they’re focusing too much on an offense that ranks 12th in the ACC in scoring. Seth Allen is enjoying quite a senior send-off with game-winning shots against Virginia and Clemson this month. They shouldn’t need to call on him here.
No. 24 Maryland (22-6, 10-5 Big Ten) vs. Iowa (15-13, 7-8). Beware the February fade. Last season the Terps fell from No. 2 in the nation to a fifth seed in the South Regional. This year, the team’s lost four of six to find itself no longer in control of the Big Ten race (and don’t tell the Terps faithful they’re also in danger of losing the coveted double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament).
Last month’s 84-76 win in Iowa City saw plenty of good (57 percent shooting and 23 assists on 30 made baskets) while plenty to be worried about (21 turnovers, -3 in the rebounding column).
The Hawkeyes’ Peter Jok hit just 4 of 12 shots in that game, but the Big Ten’s leading scorer was troubled by a back injury. Not that there is added pressure, but the 2001 Final Four and 2002 National Championship teams will be on hand, making Danny Miller likely the most awkward person in the building.
Howard (7-21, 4-9 MEAC) at Norfolk State (14-14, 11-3). A second-half rally came up short against league-leading North Carolina Central Monday, and the Bison’s reward was a trip to face the second-place Spartans. Not just any Norfolk State team that had won ten of eleven, but a team that saw its 10-game winning streak snapped by a subpar Bethune-Cookman team. They’ll have their hands full with Jonathan Wade, who scores just under 20 points per game.
George Mason (18-10, 8-7 Atlantic 10) at George Washington (15-13, 7-8). Sometimes neighbors aren’t that welcoming. Since the Patriots joined the Atlantic 10, the Colonials are 7-0 against their friends in Fairfax. Even with this winter’s resurgence, Mason lost by 19 at home to GW, and the game wasn’t that close. Perimeter production was a pivot point in that showdown: the Colonials hit 11 of 19 from outside the arc while the Patriots were one for eight from downtown. Tyler Cavanaugh led GW with 20 points and seven rebounds that night, while Marquise Moore notched 15 points and 10 rebounds for GMU. Don’t be surprised if the seniors shine one more time Sunday.