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

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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.


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.

How Justin Fuente’s two gambles at quarterback may have saved Virginia Tech’s season

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How Justin Fuente’s two gambles at quarterback may have saved Virginia Tech’s season

Before the calendar turned from September to October, Virginia Tech was already left for dead. Coming off a bye week, the Hokies were handed a 45-10 blowout loss at home by Duke. That left Virginia Tech at 2-2, 0-2 in the ACC and their only wins coming against Old Dominion and FCS Furman. Needing seven wins to reach bowl eligibility this season due to having two FCS teams on the schedule, it was hard to look at the eight games remaining on the schedule and find where those five remaining wins could come from.

And then something happened. A Virginia Tech offense that could get nothing going against Duke the week beforehand somehow managed to put up 42 against Miami in a 42-35 upset on the road. That game proved to be a turning point for the offense and the Hokies have now won three straight including a six-overtime victory over North Carolina.

What changed? The answer is the coaching staff finally realized the missing ingredient the offense needed in order to work: a dual-threat quarterback. That realization just may have saved Virginia Tech’s season twice already.

Sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker started the game against Miami, taking over for the incumbent Ryan Willis. Hooker added a running threat that the team did not have with Willis and, while he did not have the best performance through the air with 10 completions on 20 attempts, the threat of the run opened up the offense. Hooker threw for three touchdowns and ran for 76 yards and another touchdown.

Prior to Saturday’s win, it would have been easy to say the difference was the move to Hooker by itself. A new quarterback sparked the offense. As well as Hooker had played, however, it was the realization of the coaches that it was that running threat that made all the difference, not necessary Hooker himself. That realization proved critical against North Carolina as head coach Justin Fuente made a huge gamble and it paid off.

Just two games after the win over Miami, Virginia Tech hosted North Carolina and Hooker left the game with an injury in the second quarter. Willis came on in relief, initially, completing all three of his pass attempts for 55 yards and a touchdown.

But after a drive in which Willis was sacked twice including a 12-yard loss on an intentional grounding call that took Virginia Tech out of field goal range and forced a punt, Fuente made perhaps the most important call of his tenure in Blacksburg.

On the next drive, third-string, freshman quarterback Quincy Patterson was in at quarterback.

“Quincy hasn’t taken as many reps in the past couple of weeks as the top two guys - but we made the decision there pretty quicky to move along and bring Quincy in,” Fuente told the media after the game. “Obviously, it changed what we looked like a little bit. To me, he did a great job of running hard, taking care of the ball, and he made a few good plays in the passing game.”

Patterson had only one college completion in his career. Yet, he came into the game and was able to pass for 54 yards, rush for another 122 and score two total touchdowns. He also ran in the game-clinching two-point conversion in the sixth-overtime.

“Part of it is his threat of running the football, it can give you some advantageous looks to throw the ball,” Fuente said of the advantage Patterson brought to the offense.”

It takes guts to decide to replace your former starter, who had already thrown for a touchdown, with a freshman quarterback who has virtually no experience.

Ultimately the results speak for themselves.

With Willis as the starter, Virginia Tech went 2-2. They turned the ball over 11 times in those four games and the offense was getting progressively worse. The Hokies managed 442 total yards in the season opener against Boston College. That was down to 403 the week after, 350 in Week 3 and finally 259 against Duke.

With Hooker and Patterson as the primary starters, Virginia Tech has turned the ball over only twice. The total yards have climbed each week from 337 to 485 to 490. Perhaps most critically, a Virginia Tech team that was averaging only 148.8 rushing yards per game was has averaged 210.3 rushing yards in the past three wins. The Hokies are also average 39.7 points per game, up from 23.3.

Think those points were inflated by the overtime win? Not really. If you take away the 12 points Virginia Tech scored in those six overtimes, their scoring average would still be 35.7.

Even with three straight wins, Virginia Tech still has a tough hill to climb to get back to protect its treasured bowl streak and contend for the Coastal Division. The Hokies have five wins and must find two more in their schedule at Notre Dame, Wake Forest, at Georgia Tech, Pitt and at Virginia.

But you can’t count them out just yet. The offense has pulled the team back from the precipice after Fuente’s two gambles at quarterback paid off.


Maryland, Virginia and VCU ranked in college basketball Preseason AP Top 25 Poll

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Maryland, Virginia and VCU ranked in college basketball Preseason AP Top 25 Poll

For the first time since the start of the 2015 season, the Maryland Terrapins men's basketball team is ranked in the Associated Press' Preseason Top 25 poll. 

Fresh off of a Second Round appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season, Mark Turgeon's squad will start the year ranked seventh in the country. 

Aside from losing Bruno Fernando to the NBA Draft, the team will be one of the most experienced in the NCAA. Everyone other notable player returns on the Terps roster. The team will be led by 2020 Cousy Award Watch Listee Anthony Cowan Jr. 

They'll be in a loaded Big Ten conference as they are one of four teams to make it into the Top 25. Michigan State, who made it to the 2019 Final Four is the top-ranked program. 

The defending National Champions, the Virginia Cavaliers, will start their title defense ranked No. 11 in the poll. They lost a huge crop of their championship team as DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy all were drafted into the NBA. Tony Bennett, however, still has several quality contributors that know how to run his style on the court.

One other Mid-Atlantic team was noted in the Preseason Poll. VCU from the Atlantic Ten nabbed the last spot at No. 25. Last year they returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time under head coach Mike Rhoades. They welcome back their leading scorer from that campaign and Atlantic 10 First-Team selection Marcus Evans.

2019 AP Preseason Top 25 Poll

Team, 2018-19 record (first-place votes)

#1 Michigan State, 32-7 (60)
#2 Kentucky, 30-7 (2)
#3 Kansas, 26-10 (3)
#4 Duke, 32-6
#5 Louisville, 20-14
#6 Florida, 20-16
#7 Maryland, 23-11
#8 Gonzaga, 33-4
#9 North Carolina, 29-7
#10 Villanova, 26-10
#11 Virginia, 35-3
#12 Seton Hall, 20-14
#13 Texas Tech, 31-7
#14 Memphis, 22-14
#15 Oregon, 25-13
#16 Baylor, 20-14
#17 Utah State, 28-7
#18 Ohio State, 20-15
#19 Xavier, 19-16
#20 Saint Mary's (CA), 22-12
#21 Arizona, 17-15
#22 LSU, 28-7
#23 Purdue, 26-10
#24 Auburn, 30-10
#25 VCU, 25-8

Others receiving votes: Washington 164, Colorado 152, Tennessee 78, Marquette 68, Florida St. 36, Davidson 34, Harvard 24, Illinois 14, Missouri 13, Mississippi St. 12, Houston 11, Georgia 11, Cincinnati 8, Notre Dame 7, Creighton 4, Syracuse 3, NC State 3, Vermont 2, Alabama 2, Southern Cal 2, Liberty 2, Michigan 2, Dayton 1, Colgate 1, Providence 1.

The 2019-20 men's basketball season tips off on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Two of the opening night premiere matchups will be No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 4 Duke and No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Kentucky.