News & Politics

What You Need to Know About Washington-Area Teams in the NCAA Tournament

Virginia, Georgetown, Maryland, and VCU are in this year's contest.

Fans at a 2013 semifinal game in Atlanta. Photograph by Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Tribune Content Agency LLC/Alamy.

This season, four area teams–Virginia, Georgetown, Maryland, and VCU–made strong showings in their conferences and earned low seeds in the NCAA Tournament bracket. Washingtonian talked to newspaper writers and editors who have followed and traveled with the teams all season so even the most casual fan will know how to watch them in the most exciting month of college basketball. (Here’s a guide to area teams in the Women’s Tournament.)

University of Virginia Cavaliers: 2nd seed in the East Region.

First game: Friday at 3:10 PM versus 15th-seeded Belmont (truTV)

What to know about Virginia: The team is coached by defensive whiz Tony Bennett, son of legendary Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett. The Cavaliers play an “old school-style of basketball,” says Jerry Ratcliffe, a columnist for the (Charlottesville) Daily Progress who’s covered the team for 33 years. “The fan base has embraced that style of basketball, but there are others in the country who have strongly criticized them, saying their style is boring,” he says. “There’s a big division between whether you appreciate old school, fundamental basketball as opposed to wanting to see a team play NBA-style basketball.”

How to watch them: Since the team is known for “packing in” players to prevent the opposing team from taking good shots, “they would have to appreciate good defense,” says Ratcliffe.” Of 351 teams in Division I, UVA ranks near the bottom in offensive possessions per game. Yet the team also ranks near the top in offensive efficiency. “What they try to do is wear down the other team by trying to make them use the full 35 seconds on the shot clock,” Ratcliffe noted.

Not for the faint of heart: The team has been plagued by so many gory injuries–broken fingers and noses–this season that 6’8″ forward Anthony Gill has come close to fainting multiple times, Ratcliffe says.

What to say so you sound like you know what you’re talking about: “I’m wondering if Justin Anderson is going to get back into form for the tournament, because he broke his pinky finger against Louisville about six weeks ago.” OR “Why does Duke always get the 1 seed instead of us?”

Ratcliffe’s prediction: Beat 1-seeded Villanova in the Elite Eight to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis

Georgetown University Hoyas: 4th seed in the South Region.

First game: Thursday at 9:57 PM versus 13th-seeded Eastern Washington (truTV)

What to know about Georgetown: The team has been defined this season by its unpredictability. “You don’t know which team you’re going to get,” says Gene Wang of the Washington Post. In January, the Hoyas beat No. 1 seed Villanova by 20, and in November they took another No. 1 seed, Wisconsin, down to the wire before losing by just 3. But they also lost three times to unranked Xavier by a combined 32 points.

How to watch them: “You need a lot of patience,” says Wang. “They’re a better team as an underdog…. They’ve broken a lot of hearts when they’ve been expected to win.” The key will be center Josh Smith, who averages the second-most points on the team, but, according to Wang, symbolizes how shaky the team has been. Smith, a 6’10”, 350-pound senior, worked in a department store over the summer selling heels and boots.

What to say so you sound like you know what you’re talking about: “This isn’t your typical backdoor-cutting Georgetown team. It’s part of their game plan, but it’s not their complete identity.”

Wang’s prediction: Lose in the Round of 32 to 12th-seeded underdog Stephen F. Austin.

University of Maryland Terrapins: 4th seed in the Midwest Region

First game: Friday at 4:40 PM versus 13th-seeded Valparaiso (TNT)

What to know about Maryland: The team made its debut in the powerhouse Big Ten conference last year and is ranked the second luckiest team in America by college hoops statistics wizard Ken Pomeroy. They’ve won 11 games this season by 6 points or fewer. “It looked like the team was going to crumble and the team was headed south,” says University of Maryland senior Aaron Kasinitz, the sports editor of UMD’s independent daily student newspaper the Diamondback. But good coaching and athletic guards have exposed the obvious: “everyone knew they were a sleeping giant,” says Kasinitz.

How to watch them: “Look up videos of Dez Wells’ dunks,” Kasinitz says. The senior guard “throws down the kinds of dunks that make everyone in the crowd go crazy. He dunks over and through people.” The veteran Wells is a friend of Washington Wizards star John Wall, with whom he played basketball in high school. According to Kasinitz, Wells is such a presence on the Terps that star freshman guard Melo Trimble was nervous Wells wouldn’t recognize him when he came to campus.

What to say so you sound like you know what you’re talking about: “Isn’t it cool that center Damonte Dodd plays the drums in his free time, and forward Jon Graham writes poetry?”

Kasinitz’s prediction: Reach the Sweet 16 and lose to top-ranked Kentucky

Virginia Commonwealth University Rams: 7th seed in the West Region

First game: Thursday at 4:40 PM against 10th-seeded Ohio State (TNT)

What to know about VCU: Coach Shaka Smart helped coin the phrase “havoc” basketball to describe how the team plays. They pressure the ball, then pressure it some more, before the other team wears itself down. This is the fifth straight year the mid-major Rams have made it to the tournament. “For him, I think the game is played more between the ears than most coaches,” says Richmond Times-Dispatch sports editor Mike Szvetitz of Smart, who has his players participate in Navy SEAL programs to test their endurance. “They’re going to make you work for everything you get.”

How to watch them: “Watch the ball,” says Szvetitz of the team’s unusual method. “It’s a simple game to watch, because you’re just watching where the ball is.” And we aren’t the only ones looking at them: sometimes the team looks at itself in strange ways. According to Szvetitz, Smart had his dominant forward Mo Alie-Cox gain more confidence this season by bragging to himself in front of a mirror.

What to say so you sound like you know what you’re talking about: “Did you notice VCU’s pep band, the Peppas? They’re one of the best in the country.”

Szvetitz’s prediction: Reach the round of 32 and lose to second-seeded Arizona