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College basketball notebook: Weekend with the George's

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College basketball notebook: Weekend with the George's

Having spent Saturday night with Georgetown at Verizon Center before catching Atlantic 10 rivals George Washington and George Mason battle in Fairfax, here are some thoughts on those and other local men's college basketball teams with the madness of March just one month away...

* Georgetown coach John Thompson provided an important reminder amid the pain following the 73-69 Big East loss to No. 10 Providence.

"We’re at the halfway point," he said in reference to the conference schedule. "There’s a whole lot of basketball left to be played."

The Hoyas (13-9, 6-3), now tied with the Friars for third in the Big East standings, have nine games remaining. Plenty of chapters remain, as do enough games against RPI and strength of schedule helpful opponents to help with the NCAA Tournament at-large scenario. Previous wins over Syracuse and Xavier help the big picture cause. Even some of the surprising losses aren't true killers (no losses against teams outside the RPI top 175).

But there's another way to look at that halfway point comment. That is, overall, the Hoyas are actually 23 games into the season and it's still hard figuring out this team's identity. Are they about feeding big men inside or firing away from beyond the 3-point arc? Are they about speeding up the pace by putting a bevy of wing threats on the court or grinding out wins? The answer to all depending on the game, half or possession is yes.

Forget tactics for a moment. Let's talk personnel. Imagine this goal: simply put out the best Hoyas lineup for five minutes of loosely defined good basketball. Other than that unit including senior guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, it's not clear who else is out there or which players work best together.

Isaac Copeland's scoring punch disappeared throughout January. The offense in theory functions best with freshman center Jessie Govan's perimeter game in the lineup, but his interior skills are lacking. 7-footer Bradley Hayes provides low-post scoring and rebounding, but he's not exactly mobile, which becomes problematic defensively when guards allow consistent penetration. That's where L.J. Peak helps with his ferocious energy, but the swingman can't always control his own pace and decision-making in halfcourt sets. Tre Campbell scored 21 points against Xavier, but just 10 over the next three games.

This uncertainty contributes to the identity problem, as does a stated willingness to, when on offense, take what the opponent gives you. The ability to adjust is valuable, but dictating terms isn't a bad thing. For this season, the question is which players can help get that done. We're way more than halfway through the season as coach John Thompson still searches for the right combinations.

Next up: Winnable road games Tuesday at Butler and Saturday night at Seton Hall.

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* Sunday's matchup between George Mason and George Washington was striking because of specific similarities. The Patriots (7-14, 1-7 Atlantic 10) start three freshmen. While that probably wasn't coach Dave Paulsen's plan for his first-year with the program, roster issues dictated such tactics.

Based on where the Colonials are these days, that's a good thing.

Mike Lonergan knew he would take some hits with wins and losses when he started four freshman for chunks of the 2012-13 season. He also knew that early exposure would help mature those players. Since then, the Colonials reached the NCAA Tournament and NIT in consecutive seasons and are poised for another postseason berth in 2016. Three of those freshmen -- Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen, Joe McDonald -- remain starters.

Otis Livingston, the most impressive of Paulsen's kids, nearly led George Mason to an upset Sunday before GW held on for a 76-70 win. The freshman point guard had 18 points and seven assists without committing a turnover. His shot needs work, but the 5-foot-11 sparkplug knows how and when to find teammates with the pass.

Wing threat Jaire Grayer, the son of former NBA player Jeff Grayer, leads the Patriots with 33 3-pointers. Lengthy 6-foot-7 guard DeAndre Abram looks like a future matchup nightmare. Another freshman, Danny Dixon, played 10 minutes off the bench against GW.

"I said all week, we didn't practice like a 1-6 and now a 1-7 team," Paulsen said. "This group really embraced it, fought, competed, worked on getting better, so it's disappointing not to see our guys rewarded."

Lonergan was once on the building end of that scenario.

"They're going to get better," Lonergan said of Mason, "so we wanted to beat them now."

Next up: Mason plays at Richmond Wednesday before hosting Dayton Saturday.

* As for the Colonials (16-5, 5-3 Atlantic 10), it's fair to believe their next four games - Davidson (Wednesday), at VCU, St. Joseph's, at St. Bonaventure - will dictate which direction their season unfolds. Three of those four opponents are, along with GW, among the top five in the A-10 standings. Davidson is one game behind the Colonials. This stretch will boost GW's RPI and SOS, but too many losses can end its at-large chances, which is Lonergan implored his players to take their level up a notch.

* American (5-15, 3-6) escaped the basement of the Patriot League with three straight wins. Holy Cross (9-12, 4-6) visits Bender Arena Monday night.

* Howard guard James Daniel still leads the country in scoring, averaging 27.7 points, outpacing Oklahoma star Buddy Hield (26.2). Daniel and the Bison (10-11, 4-2 MEAC) play at UMES Monday.

Future NBA prospect Omer Yurtseven transfers to Georgetown from NC State

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USA TODAY Sports

Future NBA prospect Omer Yurtseven transfers to Georgetown from NC State

The pieces are starting to come together for Patrick Ewing.

On Monday the Georgetown Hoyas picked up perhaps the biggest (literally and figuratively) target of the transfer market, Omer Yurtseven.

From North Carolina State, the transfer from Istanbul Turkey will have two years remaining of eligibility. Due to NCAA transfer rules, he is not allowed to play for the 2018-19 season.

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Standing at 7-0, the center helped power the Wolfpack to an NCAA tournament bid this past season. Averaging 13.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a contest, Yurstseven earned All-ACC Third Team honors in the 2017-18 season. He also touted a 58.3 shooting percentage and was not afraid to pull it up from deep either (22 made three-pointers).

NC State lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 8 Seton Hall, but he was limited due to foul trouble with only two points and two rebounds in 14 minutes of play.

Initially, he is the option to fill the void that Jessie Govan will leave, whether that is during this offseason or next. Already the team has lost power forward Marcus Derrickson

Yurtseven will just be another frontcourt talent for Ewing with the Hoyas.

It was widely reported that he was considering playing options, both in the United States and abroad before this announcement. Easily he has the talent to go in first round of the NBA Draft whichever year he declares.

On the same day, the Hoyas also announced the signing of four-star guard James Akinjo.

After historic season, Virginia's Tony Bennett named AP Coach of the Year

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USA TODAY Sports

After historic season, Virginia's Tony Bennett named AP Coach of the Year

SAN ANTONIO -- Virginia coach Tony Bennett isn't going to waver from his foundation, whether it's the philosophy that built the Cavaliers into a contender or the big-picture perspective that helps him handle the sting of a historically improbable loss.

Both ends of that approach are fully on display now as he is named The Associated Press men's college basketball coach of the year.

Bennett won the honor Thursday after his Cavaliers set a program single-season record for wins, dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference and reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time since the Ralph Sampson era. Yet that wildly successful season ended abruptly in the most unexpected way: with the Cavaliers falling to UMBC to become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history.

"They experienced things a lot of guys don't," Bennett said in an interview with the AP. "That kind of success? Oh my gosh. And then that kind of loss? ... But again, their body of work deserves to be celebrated.

"And then so much of what society looks at -- it begs the question -- is it just about how you do in March? Or is it about the whole thing? It's a fair debate (on) what matters. But I told them: I wouldn't trade this team for anything. Even the experiences, as hard as they are, this is part of the process."

Bennett was the runaway winner for the award, which is being presented at the Final Four. He earned 50 of 65 votes from AP Top 25 writers with ballots submitted before the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee's Rick Barnes was second with five votes after leading the Volunteers to 26 wins and an NCAA bid despite being picked to finish 13th in the 14-team Southeastern Conference. First-year Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann was third with four votes.

This marks the second time Bennett has won the award, the other coming in 2007 when he was at Washington State.

In Bennett's ninth season, the Cavaliers (31-3) went from being picked to finish sixth in the ACC to winning the regular-season race by four games -- the first to win the ACC by that wide a margin since 2000. It then won the ACC Tournament to complete a 20-1 run against league opponents.

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Virginia also reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time since December 1982 and stayed there the final five weeks of the regular season, the last two unanimously.

And yet, the 48-year-old coach knows much of the focus will be on how things ended: that 74-54 loss to the Retrievers while playing without ACC sixth man of the year De'Andre Hunter.

Dealing with a roster of players in pained disbelief, Bennett said he has told them that they have "an unbelievable captive audience" waiting to see how they would handle it.

"I said how you respond to this will matter to your mom and dads, to your brothers, your sisters, your friends," Bennett said. "If they see that you're not fake about it, that yeah, of course you're going to be discouraged and down after a loss like that, but that you're OK. You can live with it.

"I said: you don't know the power that that's going to have in their life and in your life."

Bennett said he appreciated other coaches offering support, which included Syracuse Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim noting: "If I could hire a coach in this country and I could get Tony Bennett, there would be nobody in second place."

He said he's still reviewing what worked and what didn't, but "certainly you don't overreact" by changing everything that had brought the Cavaliers to this point.

This is, after all, a program that has been a 1-seed three times in the past five seasons with three ACC regular-season titles.

And Bennett won't be deterred from chasing more, even if it means stumbling a few more times on the way to reaching his goals.

"You better have something beyond the opinion of man or just how you feel, because this stuff is fleeting," Bennett said.

"So that's where obviously my faith is everything to me. You hear people talk about their faith in the lord and the relationship with the people that they care about, their family and their trusted friends. Those things stand the test of time. And that's what you have to draw from. And then you move on."