NCAA

10 college players to watch across the Mid-Atlantic area in 2017-18

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USA Today Sports

10 college players to watch across the Mid-Atlantic area in 2017-18

Throughout the area, ranging from Delaware to southern Virginia, numerous teams have to deal with the loss of a star player this season. Of course this happens every year in college basketball and fortunately for teams like Maryland, VCU, George Mason other players are ready to fill in the void.

Other squads like Mount St. Mary’s, Morgan State, and Georgetown have players that are already the face of the program and ready to will their team to the NCAA Tournament in their final respective seasons.

Here are some of the best that are primed for incedible seasons in 2017-18.

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Justin Jackson – Maryland Terrapins

Already there has been a load of expectations put on the 6-7 forward. Earlier this week Justin Jackson was placed on the Naismith Trophy watch list along with being recognized on the Julius Erving Small Forward watch list and the Big Ten preseason watch list. However, last season Jackson did not even make the Big Ten All-Rookie Team although it was not because he did not deserve it.

Last season he had Melo Trimble out in the back court, able to both effectively distribute the ball and draw attention away from his teammates. There will still be star players to help ease the load, like Anthony Cowan Jr. and Kevin Huerter, but Jackson is clearly the best player on the Terps roster heading into the year.

A year ago he created his own shot, was able to move in and out of the post with ease. He returns as the Terrapins top scorer (10.5 ppg) and rebounder (6.0 rpg). Maryland is hoping that will continue and that without Trimble he is able to get even more touches on the ball and build on his game one step further.

Justin Tillman – VCU

Replacing on of the most iconic VCU Rams in the history of the program is never an easy task. Forward Justin Tillman is going to have to fill for the absence of Mo Allie-Cox in the paint and continue to be the dominant player he was a year ago. The Rams will be competitive this season but losing three of your starters will likely set them back in the opening half of the season.

Tillman at 6-7 will be one to steer the ship early on, but for VCU fans none of this is new. In certain aspects, Tillman was actually better in the post than Allie-Cox in the smaller, more guard-oriented Atlantic 10. His rebounding numbers were double of Allie-Cox’s last season and he was more effective shooting the ball with a wider range.

Already selected as a Preseason Atlantic 10 First Teamer, Tillman will be a favorite for player of the year in a position he will likely dominate all season long.

Otis Livingston II – George Mason

Like many of the other players on this list, they will have to figure out how to play without one of their program’s best ahead of them. For Otis Livingston II at George Mason, that is no different having to follow up what Marquise Moore did last year for the Patriots.

Being the focal point is nothing new though for Livingston. As a freshman two years ago he was the starting point guard, he led the team in points, shots, and assists. With Moore’s break-out season, it appeared that Livingston had to adjust his game differently and didn’t quite succeed as he did the year prior.

Now a junior there is going to be a ton of weight on the 5-11 guard. With a depleted bench (only eight scholarship players), Livingston likely will have to be in for 35 min a night. The Patriots will ride or die with Livingston’s leadership. Mason cannot succeed when Livingston has an off-night, but that never seems to happen.

Anthony Cowan Jr. – Maryland

There are big shoes to fill for Cowan heading into his second year with the squad. With the absence of Trimble, Cowan’s play may be affected the most. In the backcourt the 6-0 Cowan was a great accent guard alongside Trimble averaging 10.3 points on 42 percent shooting. Cowan never had to be the go-to play maker or scorer to get his team going offensively. This season though both of those roles will fall squarely on him with some help from Jackson. On top of that he will now be guarded by the opposing team’s best guard defender.

None of this is to say that he cannot do it. The local guard is familiar with this role after playing for St. John’s College High School in the WCAC. He does have the ability to take over games; just this has not been seen at the college level yet.

Yuta Watanabe – George Washington

One of the wackiest looking guards you will ever see, the Colonials now have Yuta Watanabe as the face of their team. Standing at 6-9 but a mere 205 pounds, there is not much muscle mass for George Washington’s top returning scorer, rebounder, and defender. Always with a height advantage over his smaller opponents, he lead the team in blocks and steals, enough to put him on the Atlantic 10 All-Defensive team last year.

While he lives in the midrange and outside the arc, inside the paint Watanabe is easily able to pick up contact. The lighter body gives him the benefit of the doubt whenever he is contested down low. Still he is able to finish and get the and-ones.

Without Tyler Cavanaugh who is now playing with the Atlanta Hawks, Watanabe is the tallest player for the Colonials.

Junior Robinson – Mount St. Mary’s

There is never enough to say about Junior Robinson. Last season Robinson led the Mountaineers to the NCAA Tournament after a 1-11 start to the season. First, he is only 5-5 and it is near impossible not to love a player that can ball out under six-foot. Additionally no matter who teams match-up against him, he cannot be stopped. He is quick, he is agile, and better yet he can shoot.

In the three seasons leading up to his senior year, he was been recognized by the Northeast Conference every year. Two Second Team selections and a Rookie Team selection has made him one of the best players in the Mount’s program history.  

Twelve freshmen on the Mountaineer’s roster means he will be the focal point yet again and it has already been noted that he cannot be stopped.

Jessie Govan – Georgetown

If there is one category that Georgetown would be good at in Patrick Ewing’s first year at the helm, one would assume it would be under the basket. Losing Rodney Pryor and L.J. Peak will give Jessie Govan the thumbs up to command down low. A majority of the offense will likely go through him at 6-10 to just get points, especially against some of their non-conference opponents.

As a big-man, he is not a stranger to sending the ball back outside when he is doubled. For the Hoyas, that will likely be how they will move the ball. The team is definitely going to need more rebounds from him (only 4.9 per game last year) and for him to stay out of foul trouble. If he can do both, Georgetown’s season may not be a dud after all.

Phillip Carr – Morgan State

A year ago, Phillip Carr was a rebound away from averaging a double-double. He was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year and made the First Team All-MEAC. Now he has another season under his belt and if he improved this off-season like he did last year, there is no question who the best player in the MEAC will be.

Traditionally the 6-9 Carr likes to play down low, but he does not limit his game. Last season he was 45 percent from behind the arc and led the regulars in every shooting category. For the Bears there should be one task for them this season, give Carr the ball. They play a decent non-conference schedule that will hopefully get him more regional attention. Even if he wasn’t playing in the MEAC, he would still be putting up these numbers.

Mike Morsell – Towson

The Towson Tigers believe that they can contend for the CAA Championship this year. If they do, they are going to rely on senior guard Mike Morsell to lead the charge. Throughout his time with the Tigers, Morsell has been a pass-first type of guard or take a pull-up three. As a coach that is typically what you want but in Morsell’s case sometimes he just needs to take over.

As a back-to-back All-CAA third-team selection, this should be the year that Morsell breaks out. A majority of his supporting cast from last year graduated and he accounts for over a fourth of the team’s returning offense. With the development of Deshaun Morman, he will be key if Morsell is able to take control this season. Morman has no issue playing in a secondary role and if he does it could be a big year for Towson.

Jarius Lyles – UMBC

Another local player from DeMatha is suiting up for his graduate season with the Golden Retrievers. Guard Jarius Lyles scored just under 19 points a game last season. This earned him America East Second-Team honors for the first time in his career. He accounts for over 14 shots a game and loves to play with or without the ball in his hand.

His quickness makes him nearly un-guardable and he is not afraid to crash the boards. Last season his shooting numbers ticked down slightly but with three fellow starters returning he should be in good shape.

This could be a banner year, not only for UMBC but for their conference as well. NCAA Tournament is not out of reach for his squad.

Bracketology Round-up: Who’s hot and ignoring the bubble

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USA TODAY Sports

Bracketology Round-up: Who’s hot and ignoring the bubble

Now is the time that teams need to make their late season push. Whether a team is in the tournament or otherwise, the games now matter more than ever.

Yet, it is the teams solidly in the field that have been slipping as of late. Rarely have we seen losses from teams on the bubble.

The last 10 days saw the four teams that many assumed were locks for a No. 1 seed all fall to an unranked opponent. None of the falls being quite as bad as Purdue’s who suffered through a three-game losing streak. Nearly across the whole board the Boilermakers only dropped to a No. 2 seed, but their margin for error is a lot smaller than many of the teams around them.

READ ALSO: VIRGINIA REMAINS No. 1 AS TOP 25 IS RE-SHUFFLED

Other Big Ten schools continue to rise with strong showings in conference play. Ohio State is now getting some love as a No. 4/ No. 5 seed and Michigan is not too far off either. The Spartans of Michigan State have begun to leapfrog teams that passed them in January as they are on the No. 2/ No. 3 seed line. 

Texas Tech rode a seven-game winning streak to now a emerge as a contender for the top-8 seeds in the tournament. Auburn has also snuck into that conversation as well.

The Virginia Cavaliers remained as the near-unanimous No. 1 overall seed from the following bracketologists. They rebounded with a solid road win at Miami this past week.

For these reasons, no one is worried about who is in and who is out of the tournament, unless of course your team is involved. The drama around the bubble, for now, is subdued.

For the mid-major fans, Wichita State (now in the AAC) is in the mix as well for a favorable seed. They grabbed their best win of the season at Cincinnati on Feb. 18 in a ‘prove-it’ contest for both teams.

But with all of the lesser Power 5 teams winning against top tier opponents, it is not helping many mid-majors that are floating around the bubble. St. Bonaventure, Temple, and even St. Mary’s basically all face win-out situations.

These projections are based on their latest bracket as of Feb. 19.

Joe Lunardi (ESPN):

East Region:
No. 1 Villanova
No. 2 Duke
No. 3 Cincinnati
No. 4 Ohio State

Midwest Region:
No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Purdue
No. 3 Clemson
No. 4 Tennessee

South Region:
No. 1 Virginia (No. 1 overall)
No. 2 Auburn
No. 3 Texas Tech
No. 4 Wichita State

West Region:
No. 1 Kansas
No. 2 Michigan State
No. 3 North Carolina
No. 4 Arizona

Last Four in: Baylor, Texas, St. Bonaventure, and Syracuse
First Four out: UCLA, USC, Washington, and Nebraska

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1: Virginia (South, ACC Champ) vs. No. 16 Nicholls St./ Savannah State
No. 10: Virginia Tech (West, at-large) vs. No. 7 Alabama

Dave Ommen (NBC Sports/ Yahoo/ Bracketville):

East Region:
No. 1 Villanova
No. 2 North Carolina
No. 3 Cincinnati
No. 4 Gonzaga

Midwest Region:
No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Duke
No. 3 Purdue
No. 4 Wichita State

South Region:
No. 1 Virginia (No. 1 overall)
No. 2 Michigan State
No. 3 Texas Tech
No. 4 Tennessee

West Region:
No. 1 Kansas
No. 2 Auburn
No. 3 Clemson
No. 4 Arizona

Last Four in: Washington, Baylor, St. Bonaventure, and Syracuse
First Four out: UCLA, LSU, Louisville, and Marquette

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1: Virginia (South, ACC Champ) vs. No. 16 Southern/ Savannah State
No. 9: Virginia Tech (Midwest, at-large) vs. No. 8 Oklahoma

Shelby Mast (USA-Today):

East Region:
No. 1 Villanova (No. 1 overall)
No. 2 Duke
No. 3 Cincinnati
No. 4 Ohio State

Midwest Region:
No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Purdue
No. 3 Texas Tech
No. 4 Clemson

South Region:
No. 1 Virginia
No. 2 Auburn
No. 3 Michigan State
No. 4 Wichita State

West Region:
No. 1 Kansas
No. 2 North Carolina
No. 3 Arizona
No. 4 Tennessee

Last Four in: St. Mary’s (CA), St. Bonaventure, Syracuse, and Washington
First Four out: LSU, Marquette, UCLA, and Utah

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1: Virginia (South, ACC Champ) vs. No. 16 Wagner
No. 9: Virginia Tech (Midwest, at-large) vs. No. 8 Michigan
Maryland (“On Life Support”)

Chris Dobbertean (SB Nation) – Updated on 2/16:

East Region:
No. 1 Villanova
No. 2 Duke
No. 3 Michigan State
No. 4 Tennessee

Midwest Region:
No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Kansas
No. 3 Clemson
No. 4 Gonzaga

South Region:
No. 1 Virginia (No. 1 overall)
No. 2 Purdue
No. 3 Cincinnati
No. 4 West Virginia

West Region:
No. 1 Auburn
No. 2 Texas Tech
No. 3 North Carolina
No. 4 Arizona

Last Four in: Louisville, UCLA, Texas, and Baylor
First Four out: St. Bonaventure, USC, Temple, and Syracuse

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1: Virginia (South, ACC Champ)
No. 10: Virginia Tech (at-large)
Maryland (also considered)

Jerry Palm (CBS Sports):

East Region:
No. 1 Villanova
No. 2 Duke
No. 3 Cincinnati
No. 4 Gonzaga

Midwest Region:
No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Auburn
No. 3 Clemson
No. 4 Wichita State

South Region:
No. 1 Virginia (No. 1 overall)
No. 2 Michigan State
No. 3 Texas Tech
No. 4 Tennessee

West Region:
No. 1 Kansas
No. 2 Purdue
No. 3 North Carolina
No. 4 Arizona

Last Four in: Texas, Butler, Florida, and Syracuse
First Four out: Baylor, Utah, Washington, and Louisville

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1: Virginia (South, ACC Champ) vs. No. 16 Nicholls St./ Prairie View A&M
No. 9: Virginia Tech (West, at-large) vs. No. 8 Arkansas

Delphi Bracketology (Most accurate bracket projection of past two years – Updated 2/17):

No. 1 seeds: Virginia, Xavier, Villanova, and Purdue
No. 2 seeds: Kansas, Purdue, Duke, and Texas Tech
No. 3 seeds: Michigan State, Cincinnati, North Carolina, Clemson
No. 4 seeds: Tennessee, Arizona, West Virginia, Gonzaga

Last Four in: Texas, Baylor, Louisville, UCLA
First Four out: St. Bonaventure, LSU Temple, and Syracuse

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1 overall: Virginia (ACC Champ)
No. 9: Virginia Tech (at-large)

Local Rundown:

It is clear that Virginia’s loss to Virginia Tech will chalk up as just a blemish on an otherwise outstanding tournament resume. The Cavalier’s made that clear with their second half in Coral Gables on Saturday.

The top defensive team in the country does have some wiggle room as they close out the 2017-18 season with the madness from the teams behind them. A loss or two will not move them off the No. 1 line, and depending on which team, they might even maintain the top seed.

Virginia Tech, the team that beat the Cavaliers, is taking advantage of the upsets across the NCAA. Paired with their upset win, they went from a borderline bubble team to a No.9/ No. 10 seed. What does make things difficult for them is that their final four games are against three NCAA tournament teams and a bubble team in Louisville.

They honestly are going to need some other teams to fall or themselves to pull out some monster upsets to stay on the good side of the bubble.

With losses to Penn State and Nebraska, the Maryland Terrapins odds to get into the dance are all but vanquished. Only two bracketologists even mentioned the Terps in their analysis. However, they are not entirely out of it with their schedule and a small run in the Big Ten tournament. There remains a small chance, ever so slight. 

The rest of the Mid-Atlantic Region (Delaware, Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) is going to have to rely on upsets in conference tournaments to get more teams in. Keep an eye on these teams as they try and ride momentum into March: Old Dominion (21-5, 12-2 C-USA), VCU (15-2, 7-7 A-10), William & Mary (16-11, 9-7 CAA), Towson (18-11, 8-8 CAA), Radford (17-12, 10-6 Big South), and Mount St. Mary’s (16-13, 10-6 NEC), Navy (19-10, 10-6 Patriot).

Virginia stays at No. 1, Middle Tennessee enters Top 25 for first time ever

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USA TODAY Sports

Virginia stays at No. 1, Middle Tennessee enters Top 25 for first time ever

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Virginia strengthened its hold on No. 1 in the AP Top 25 while Duke jumped back into the top five after a pair of impressive wins.

The Cavaliers earned 42 of 65 first-place votes in the poll released Monday. That's 12 more than last week when they reached No. 1 for the first time since the Ralph Sampson era.

The top four remained unchanged, with No. 2 Michigan State earning 19 first-place votes after rallying from 27 down to beat Northwestern. Third-ranked Villanova got the other four first-place votes after winning at No. 4 Xavier.

Fifth-ranked Duke jumped seven spots after beating Virginia Tech and Clemson despite playing without injured top freshman Marvin Bagley III.

Middle Tennessee checked in at 24th, marking its first AP Top 25 appearance in program history.

Complete AP Top 25 Poll for Week 16:

1. Virginia (42)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
6. Texas Tech
7. Gonzaga
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Auburn
13. Wichita State
14. Arizona
15. Clemson
16. Ohio State
17. Michigan
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Nevada
21. West Virginia
22. Saint Mary's (CA)
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee
25. Florida State

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.