How will local teams do in the big dance?
It's that time of year when some surprise everyone, some outperform their capabilities and some break down and cry.
No, not finals week — it's almost time for March Madness, also known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament.
It's when Devils dunk, Jayhawks jam and Wildcats win — well, sometimes. And amid this impending whirlwind of half-court buzzer-beaters and victorious coaches cutting down the nets in jubilation, teams are doing everything they can to earn what is ultimately in and of it itself a momentous accomplishment — one of the tournament's 65 bids.
For five local teams, the biggest college basketball tournament of all is within their grasp. Here are their chances, based on remaining schedules and past performances.
Maryland Terrapins (24-7, 10-6)
After a close Feb. 6 loss to Virginia, the Terps appeared to be headed for a third-straight NCAA Tournament miss with a feeble 3-6 conference record. However, emboldened by a dominant home victory against the Duke Blue Devils five days later and a subsequent victory on Feb. 28, the team has won seven straight games. What has really set this year's team apart from underperforming squads in the recent past is freshman spark-plug Greivis Vasquez.
Even though Vasquez is only fifth on the team in scoring, his season-high 18 points was key in Maryland's first defeat of the Blue Devils. Though Maryland is a solid bet for the tournament, earning a high seed hinges on their performance in the perilous Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament. First up is Miami (FL), the league's worst team.
Georgetown Hoyas (23-6, 13-3)
When you're the 9th-ranked team in the country, you're a shoo-in on the "drive to 65." At this point, Georgetown isn't worrying so much about making the tournament as about living up to the legacy of the great Georgetown teams of the 1980s.
Ironically, this year's squad is built very similarly to the championship squads of yesteryear, with a dominant big man patrolling the paint. In fact, Georgetown has two — juniors Jeff Green (13.7 points per game) and 7'2" giant Roy Hibbert ( 12.8 points per game).
If guard Jonathan Wallace can remain effective on the perimeter in order to pull some of the defense, the Hoyas could be a legitimate title contender.
Virginia Cavaliers (20-9, 11-5)
At the other end of the spectrum from the Hoyas, who tend to focus on the interior, is a Virginia squad led by guards Sean Singletary (18.4 points per game) and J.R. Reynolds (18.2 points per game). The surprise co-champion of the ACC, Virginia has nonetheless taken a few hits with a stumble against Miami on Feb. 21 and a disappointing loss to Wake Forest on Mar. 3.
Their slot in the tournament secured, Virginia is looking to establish senior forward Jason Cain as the post presence who can help the Cavaliers contend with other elite teams. Singletary and Reynolds should continue their stellar seasons and should be proud to have a tournament berth to add to their resumes.
George Mason Patriots (18-14, 9-9)
How does an underdog team follow up a dream season? Answer: It falls flat on its face. Maybe all that hype about George Mason being the "next great basketball school" was premature — the Patriots have turned the loss of three starters from last year's improbable national semifinalist into a lost season. Silver Spring native Folarin Campbell ( 14.3 points per game) can't carry the team alone, and four other teams in the Colonial Athletic Association, a league likely to get two or three bids, have better conference records by a long shot.
If the Patriots are able to borrow some of the fairy dust from their 2006 run for the conference tournament by taking down Virginia Commonwealth in the final, they have a shot at returning to the national spotlight. Otherwise, a season filled with collapses against six-win teams (UNC Wilmington) and other lowlifes will end in wrenching disappointment.
George Washington Colonials (20-8, 11-5)
Four straight conference losses in early February severely damaged the chances of the Colonials, who fell out of the Top 25 this year following the loss of power forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu and uptempo guard Danilo Pinnock.
This year, more passive post play has the squad thinking that a conference tournament victory is the only ticket to March Madness. For that to happen, senior guard Carl Elliott has to seize control of the offense and radically increase his assists per game ( 5.1) in an effort to get more open looks. It's unlikely, however, that the Colonials will get past Xavier or Massachusetts, two conference foes who finished 13-3 to win the Atlantic 10.
The bottom line
As in years before, the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area has teams that are serious contenders for the NCAA's top prize. However, almost more noteworthy are the abysmal regular seasons of George Mason and George Washington following marquee seasons for those programs. A late-season run to the NCAA Tournament could rescue these lost campaigns, but the lesser two Georges seem destined for the inferior National Invitation Tournament this time around.
Jason Meer. Jason Meer is a RISING SENIOR who needs to get more sleep. When awake, he finds time to facebook, watch SportsCenter and World Poker Tour, and listen to varied musicians from Chamillionaire to Sigur Ros to Kelly Clarkson. If you see a red-haired guy walking … More »