The way things are going, the Hoyas will be the only team playing basketball in the Verizon Center this season. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Lil' E
With no good news to report on the NBA lockout, it’s time to set our sights on college basketball. Most of the area’s teams tip off their season this weekend. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from the Washington area’s Division 1 programs.
Season Outlook: The good news for Mark Turgeon is that fellow first-year head coach Randy Edsall has set the bar pretty low. A trip to the NCAA Tournament would make the season a success. For that to happen they’ll need Terrell Stoglin to come up big with Pe’Shon Howard shelved until January.
Projected Conference Finish: The Terps were ranked ninth out of 12 teams in the ACC preseason poll. The optimist in me thinks they can finish as high as fifth. Basketball Prospectus isn’t so confident, predicting Maryland to finish eighth with a 7–9 record in conference. If the Terps can finish at or above .500 in conference, Coach Turgeon will be a popular man at Bentley’s.
Key Matchup: Call it a one-sided rivalry if you must, but it doesn’t get any bigger for Maryland fans than when Duke comes to town. They visit on January 25, so mark your calendars, PG County Police.
Best Reason to Watch: The freshman class, of course. While you’ll have to wait on Alex Len’s US debut, Maryland’s own Nick Faust is ready to run. The six-foot-six wing is probably the highest-regarded recruit to land in College Park since Travis Garrison. Hopefully that’s the last time those two are referenced in the same sentence.
Season Outlook: It’s never easy to replace a pair of senior guards. It’s especially difficult when you’re losing guys like Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. Jason Clark is the one returning member of the backcourt, and they’ll rely heavily on his adept offensive game. After two straight early exits from the NCAA Tournament, they’re looking like an NIT team this season.
Projected Conference Finish: The preseason media poll pegs Georgetown to finish tenth in the 16-team Big East. Basketball Prospectus agrees, projecting them in the same spot with a conference record of 8–10. If they can get some significant production from Otto Porter and his fellow freshmen big men, they could find themselves in the top half of the conference.
Key Matchup: Neither Pitt nor Syracuse travel to DC in what could be their final year in the Big East. That means the must-see game of the year comes on February 1, when the Hoyas host the defending national champs from UConn.
Best Reason to Watch: It could very well be the best (only?)* basketball we see at Verizon Center all year.
Season Outlook: The pride of Fairfax lost beloved coach Jim Larranaga to the ACC, but most of the key players from last year’s excellent team are returning. Former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt is now the man in charge, and he’s stepping into an enviable position. Mason expects to be dancing once again come March.
Projected Conference Finish: By all accounts, Mason is the team to beat in the Colonial Athletic Conference. They won it last year, and most experts anticipate a repeat performance.
Key Matchup: ESPNU will be broadcasting live when Old Dominion pays their annual visit to the Patriot Center. It will be a battle between the last two regular-season conference champs.
Best Reason to Watch: They’re a consistent winner in an increasingly competitive conference. Another deep run in the NCAA tournament is always a possibility.
Season Outlook: Just another local team with a major change at the top. Coach Karl Hobbs is out after ten years, replaced by former Vermont (and Catholic) coach Mike Lonergan. With much of last year’s team returning, hopes are high around Foggy Bottom.
Projected Conference Finish: GW is probably the third best team in what’s generally considered to be a two-team conference. Xavier and Temple get the headlines, but if GW can put together a solid showing, there’s a chance the A10 could send three teams to the NCAA tournament.
Key Matchup: Xavier should be riding high when they come to the Smith Center on February 1. An upset for the Colonials would be a huge boost for their résumé as a potential at-large team in March.
Best Reason to Watch: Because there’s always a chance their creepy mascot will take a stray basketball to the head. I’m not sure why, but I really don’t like that guy. Why so surly, George?
Season Outlook: Your guess is as good as mine. American lost most of the talent that carried them to a 22-win season a year ago. It’s probably going to be a long season for the Eagles.
Projected Conference Finish: After going 11–3 in the Patriot League last year, they’re projected to finish fifth in the eight-team conference this year. At least they’ll get to beat up on the woeful service academies.
Key Matchup: Bucknell is the team to beat in conference. They don’t come to Washington until February 23. By that time, AU figures to be out of contention for the regular season title.
Best Reason to Watch: Buckhantz and Chenier, baby! I’ll take my “Daggers” wherever I can get them these days.
Season Outlook: I’m not going to lie—it isn’t good. In fact, it’s about as not good as it gets in Division 1 basketball.
Projected Conference Finish: The Bison will be fighting to stay out of the MEAC cellar. Second-year coach Kevin Nickelberry was able to secure some recruits from the well-stocked DC area, and he’ll need them to contribute if they’re going to do much better than last year. Basketball Prospectus projects them to finish tenth in the 12-team conference.
Key Matchup: Howard’s biggest rival is conference power Hampton, but I’d recommend watching some WCAC basketball instead. That said, they should be commended for not shying away from competition. The Bison will take on some serious out-of-conference challenges from teams like Kansas, ODU, and Georgetown.
Best Reason to Watch: Let’s just hope for some halftime performances from the drumline and/or dance team.
*The Washington Mystics will, of course, be playing all season.