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DMV College Basketball Power Rankings: A new team at the top

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USA Today Sports

DMV College Basketball Power Rankings: A new team at the top

Time to get into the meat of the non-conference season. Of course this is always highlighted by the marque Big Ten/ ACC Challenge, but in the area it featured many local rivalries.

Teams are playing squads that are closer to their level of competition. Fewer smaller teams are traveling to, and getting demolished by, Power 5 teams. Mid-major squads are playing fellow mid-majors.

In the Mid-Atlantic, for the past week and a half throughout the rankings numerous local teams have gone up against regional rivals. Here is just a taste:

Richmond at Old Dominion
William and Mary at George Mason
Morehead State at Towson
Radford at Virginia Tech

For the first time all season, there is a shake up in the top four teams. Still, all of them are favorites to make the NCAA Tournament by seasons end. While they may have been some controversy last week about the No. 1 team in the area, this time there is no question that the University of Virginia is the top team in the region.

Oh and Towson became the only school this year to win two conference tournaments, in two separate countries.

RELATED: 10 LOCAL PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON THIS YEAR

These rankings are based on scores as of Thursday, December 7. All 29 Division I schools in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware are included in this rankings.

1. Virginia Cavaliers (ACC):
Record: 8-1
Last Week: #2 (+1)

Don’t hold it against me for not being entirely convinced by a team that had yet to beat a team that was a potential NCAA tournament team at full-strength. Especially don’t hold it against my boss, Troy Machir, you can find me right here.

Credit has to be given to Tony Bennett. Last year the Cavaliers was a defensive oriented team and heading into this season they lost their only scorer who averaged double-figures. Now he has two in Kyle Guy and Devon Hall.

The team is ranked in the AP Top 25 and is not going anywhere any time soon. They are still not a team that should be considered to win the ACC this season, but they will have a say in the race by season’s end.

While the win against Wisconsin in the Big Ten/ ACC Challenge is a win over a big name team, they have more impressive results over Rhode Island and VCU.

A golden opportunity was missed at West Virginia, a fellow top 25 team, being down two points with less than three minutes to go. Guy’s 18 points in that contest were all in the second half, sparking a comeback.

There defense is still holding tight though, they only allowed eight points in the paint at the Mountaineers and are the top defense in the country (allowing 52.6 ppg).

2. Maryland Terrapins (Big Ten):
Record: 8-3 (1-1)
Last Week: #1 (-1)

The reign as the No. 1 team in the Mid-Atlantic is over, for now, for the Terps. Still plenty of time and potential for Maryland as the season continues.

This week the Terrapins dropped two of four. One at Syracuse where they just fumbled away any opportunity they had at a comeback in the final minutes. The second was their conference opener, falling behind early to Purdue and making a last-ditch comeback.

Do not worry if you are a Terp fan though. While the three losses have been frustrating in how the team handed the end of game situations, they are all against teams that will be dancing in March, including St. Bonaventure.

In their win over Illinois, Anthony Cowan Jr. (16.5 ppg) scored a career-high 27 points. He nailed a game-winning free throw as well with only a second on the clock.

Still plenty of concern still in College Park, when it comes down to the final moments all forms of offense breaks down and it becomes hero basketball. And where is the dominating Justin Jackson that we saw last season?

Also a slight injury scare Bruno Fernando against Ohio appears to be nothing more than a scare.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies (ACC):
Record: 8-1
Last Week: #4 (+1)

Six-game winning streak for the Hokies finally push them past VCU and are on the back bumper of the Terps. Like their rival Cavaliers, they have wins over notable programs (Iowa and Ole Miss), neither of those are necessarily high quality teams.  

It took overtime for the Hokies to win on the road in Oxford, Mississippi. At one point they were down by 16 in the second half, but used a full team effort to force the extra period. They would outscore the Rebels 11-8 in overtime.

Since joining the team following a two-game suspension to start the year, senior Justin Bibbs has scored 11 points or more in all seven of his games. Against Radford on Wednesday, he had 20 points, going 8-10 from the field with four three pointers.

He leads an offense that is the best in the country, averaging 96.8 points a contest. They also are shooting better than everyone in the NCAA at 55.6 percent. Every starter is currently in double figures in terms of scoring. From behind the arc, they are hitting their marks 45.6 percent of the time. Every player that has played considerable minutes has also hit one from deep as well.

4. VCU Rams (A-10):
Record: 5-4
Last Week: #3 (-1)

Shaka Smart’s return to Richmond did not go the way Ram Nation was hoping for.

Now two coaches removed from the incredible era that Smart gave to VCU basketball, some fans finally received some closure.

The team though did not seem to match-up against the Longhorns. Ending the game with a close score, Texas was more physical, played smarter basketball, and had fantastic on the ball defense.

Like all good teams, the Rams made a comeback. Fueled by Khris Lane, he hit four of five three-point attempts and capped a 25-5 scoring run near the end of the second half.

The bigger issue though is Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams, their top two returners cannot seem to stay on the court when the Rams need them the most. Whether it is foul trouble or endurance, they have to stay in the game.

The Rams also got a solid home win over fellow Commonwealth opponent, Old Dominion 82-75 inside of the Siegel Center.

5. Towson Tigers (CAA):
Record: 9-1
Last Week: #5 (+2)

It may have taken overtime to beat Morgan State, but the Towson Tigers have clearly established themselves as the top mid-major team in the Mid-Atlantic.

Everything is going right for the Tigers and here is a list of what they have accomplished so far this year:

-9-1 start (best record to start the year ever)
-Eight game winning streak
-Gulf Coast Showcase Championship
-Belfast Classic Championship
-AP top 25 vote

Everyone is in their element, Mike Morsell is thriving with others stepping up their game offensively. In addition to the MVP from the Gulf Coast Showcase, he also pulled out the win for the Tigers in Belfast.

They also couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season from sophomore Zane Martin. Reaching 20 points in four straight games, Martin leads Towson in scoring after coming off of the bench last year.

They did save their best for last in terms of their non-conference schedule, they host UMBC, travel to Oakland, and Pittsburgh before kicking off CAA play.

6. Old Dominion Monarchs (C-USA):
Record: 6-3
Last Week: #7 (+1)

Old Dominion continues a strong start to the season. They nearly doubled up Maryland-Eastern Shore at home, lost a close battle at VCU, and handily took care of the spiraling Spiders.

A 20-0 run to start the second half against Richmond put the Monarchs up for good after an auspicious start. B.J. Stith finished the night with an incredible stat line: 21 points, 4-6 from 3pt range, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Additionally, Ahmad Caver had a career-high 12 assists.

Their final three non-conference games should chalk-up to easy wins to hit conference play on a hot streak and one of the top marks in Conference-USA.

7. Georgetown Hoyas (Big East):
Record: 7-0
Last Week: #8 (+1)

They should have been walk-over wins for the Hoyas against Maine, Coppin State, and Howard, but somehow there was some room for doubt. Still three wins for them since the last rankings got released.

The only reason why they continue to climb is because they are undefeated and other teams below them have stupid losses.

However their decision to schedule a cupcake non-conference season appears to be paying off because someone dropped them a vote this past week in the AP Poll.

But here is my thought on that:

The team should easily make it to 8-0 before they play Syracuse at Capital One Arena on Dec. 16.

RELATED: GEORGETOWN RECEIVES VOTES IN LATEST AP POLL

8. William & Mary Tribe (CAA):
Record: 6-2
Last Week: #11 (+3)

Breaking into the top 10 for the first time this year, the Tribe have rebounded after a scary start to the 2017-18 season.

Winner of five straight, including a huge come-from-behind win over George Mason, William and Mary are putting up some of the best offensive numbers in the country.

They are 27th in overall offense (86.8 ppg), 20th from the field (50.8 percent) and 16th from behind the arc (51.2 percent).

For those unfamiliar for the Tribe, their offense is simple: four shooters and a big-man inside the paint. And that big man is one of the best at that system in Nathan Knight.

He is averaging 20.3 points a game with two games where he scored 31 points. Standing at 6-10, not many other mid-major schools can match-up against him since he can score from a variety of ways. Defensively he is keep the Tribe afloat with 25 blocks already through eight games.     

9. George Mason Patriots (A-10):
Record: 4-5
Last Week: #6 (-3)

George Mason has yet to play a full game this season. The Patriots have not outscored an opponent in two halves. It is a little bit of a shame too because Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer are putting up incredible numbers.

In eight of the nine games this year, Livingston has scored 13 points or more. Making 44.4 percent of all three-point baskets he takes and averaging 5.1 assists a game, he is playing at a historic pace.

Grayer on the other hand is right behind him at 15.1 ppg and flirting with a double-double every night.

The bigger question is what happened to Justin Kier? He averaged 15.3 points a game in the first three contests. He now has 4.5 in their last six.

They led by as much as 16 in the first half against William & Mary, but dropped their match-up with the Tribe with a five minute scoreless drought near the end of the game.

10. George Washington Colonials (A-10):
Record: 5-4
Last Week: #12 (+2)

Somehow this team beat a good Temple squad in a revival of an old Atlantic 10 rivalry. Perhaps they just wanted to end their run at the BB&T Classic on a good run. That’s right, earlier this week it was revealed that the Colonials win not return to the annual D.C. hoops event next year.

Either way, George Washington shot 60.0 percent, 56.3 from behind the arc, to control the Owls from the onset of the game. The win vaults them into the top 10.

They also nabbed a win over Morgan State, a middle of the pack team in these rankings.

Jair Bolden is starting to consistently give the team 10+ points a night, taking a ton of a load off of senior Yuta Watanabe. They both average 14.8 points a night.

If they have truly turned a corner after a 2-4 start to the season, we will find out as they play at Penn State, host Miami and New Hampshire in the span of 11 days.

11. Liberty Flames (Big South):
Record: 6-3
Last Week: #9 (-2)

The Flames were rolling but finally got tripped up by UNC-Greensboro after three overtime periods. Neither team could shoot, combining for 31.3 percent from the field. Both teams racked up fouls, 57 in the game with five ejections. In the end a inside jumper gave UNCG a win 76-75.

The results were historic. It was the first time Liberty has ever gone to three extra periods and the extended minutes allowed Scottie James to record his third straight double-double ever.

Other than that it was a good stretch for Liberty. They got a win over Howard and a buzzer beater by Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz to beat Georgia State in overtime.

12. Navy Midshipmen (Patriot):
Record: 8-3
Last Week: #15 (+3)

Back-to-back wins over three teams in these rankings (Delaware, Morgan State, and Coppin State) will go a long way to boosting your position.

Senior Bryce Dulin had 30 points vs. Delaware, a career-high. Junior Hassan Abdullah had his first career double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) against Morgan State. And four scorers reached double-figures at Coppin State.

Navy continues to win the games they should, but keep in mind that in their losses they have gotten blown out by 20+ points in each.

Still a lot of question marks regarding this team that on paper has a strong record.

READ ALSO: LAST WEEK'S RANKINGS

13. UMBC Retrievers (A-East):
Record: 6-4
Last Week: #10 (-3)

Not much to report for the Retrievers. Their loss to Army essentially reaffirms doubts that crept up after the first two weeks of the season. 

Wins over the Citadel, where they nearly broke a hundred, and over Delaware State (the last team in these rankings) wrapped up the week.

They can score though. Their lowest point total outside of the first weekend was 70 in that loss to the Black Knights. On Dec. 9 the team travels to Towson for a battle of bragging rights within the state.

14. Richmond Spiders (A-10):
Record: 1-8
Last Week: #13 (-1)

No one should have expected for the Spiders to win a game this past week and a half. Each team they faced were heavy favorites heading into their contests and it was not because the Spiders only have one victory on the season. Vermont, Wake Forest, and Old Dominion are all contenders for the NCAA Tournament bubble this year.

When looking at their schedule and saying the Spiders could have started the year 1-8 is one thing, it is another thing to live it.

Those voices in opposition of Chris Mooney are starting to get louder. It doesn’t get much better before they start Atlantic 10 play. They have James Madison, which should be a win, followed by Bucknell and Boston College.

15. Morgan State Bears (MEAC):
Record: 4-5
Last Week: #14 (-1)

The Battle for Greater Baltimore did not go the way of the Bears. Towson won an overtime thriller despite 25 points and 10 rebounds from Phillip Carr. It was the fourth double-double of the season for the junior.

Despite some close losses, there last three were all by seven or less, they are continuing to battle and remain productive.

A chance to get one back against Manhattan before they have their finals break. 

16. Delaware Blue Hens (CAA):
Record: 4-5
Last Week: #16 (+0)

Three straight losses all in games that the Blue Hens could easily won.

This is another team in the middle of these Mid-Atlantic rankings that is just unclear on how their season will play out. They have lost every game that was against a similar opponent, but it was never a blow out or a really ugly game.

Still missing though is some consistent post presence.

17. Radford (Big South):
Record: 4-4
Last Week: #17 (+0)

Losing to Virginia Tech almost wraps up a tough stretch in the schedule for the Highlanders. All that is left is Nevada in their lone tournament at the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic.

18. Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (NEC):
Record: 3-6
Last Week: #21 (+3)

After falling to Morgan State in a close one, the Mount got the job done in overtime hosting Loyola, but couldn’t do it in overtime in Pittsburgh.

Against the Panthers, Junior Robinson (averaging 22.7 points a contest) had a game-high 24 points but was 8-21 from the field. He was just short of a double-double with nine assists. Jonah Antonio aided him with 14 points, reaching double figures in six straight games.

It was 24 fouls that did the Mountaineers in during overtime. Pittsburgh scored 23 of their 82 points at the charity stripe.

They still have a handful of games before they look to defend their NEC championship.

19. Hampton Pirates (MEAC):
Record: 4-6
Last Week: #18 (-1)

A couple more non-Division I opponents for the Pirates help them rack up two more wins on the season. Against teams in Division I, they are 1-6.

They almost trounced Coastal Carolina at home, never letting the Chanticleers pull away. A last ditch comeback was thwarted with Coastal Carolina hitting five of their six free throws in the final 30 seconds.

Kalin Fisher got his first career start as a sophomore and had the best game of his short career. Totaling 29 points on 10-17 shooting, he led the Pirates on one of the Pirates best offensive games on the year.

20. James Madison Dukes (CAA):
Record: 3-7
Last Week: #19 (-1)

The Dukes are not that far away from turning it around. They lost by one to Radford on the road, lost to Mason by four, and beat Charlotte at home.

Just they couldn’t close the deal against The Citadel.

They’re right on the precipice of reeling off a couple of wins against fellow mid-majors. If only their defense could stop teams late in contests.

Traveling to Richmond they have a chance to pull out a sneaky win at the Robbins Center on Dec. 9.

21. VMI Keydets (SoCon):
Record: 3-5
Last Week: #24 (+3)

Another victory for the Keydets this week, this time over Charleston Southern. Austin Vereen scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half, along with freshman Bubba Parham who had 17 in the second half, powered the team to another non conference win. 

Their winning ways may continue, Longwood and Southern Wesleyan are up next.

22. American Eagles (Patriot):
Record: 2-6
Last Week: #20 (-2)

A three game losing streak to three bad teams, including Maryland-Eastern Shore, drops the Eagles down after two-game turnaround.

23. Loyola Greyhounds (Patriot):
Record: 1-7
Last Week: #22 (-1)

Loyola missed their chance to get a win over a Division I opponent before conference play opens up. Losing to Dartmouth and The Mount have them just trying to piece it all together and now may have to wait until January for their first D1 victory.

24. Norfolk State Spartans (MEAC):
Record: 0-8
Last Week: #23 (-1)

If there was one team I was incredibly wrong about this season, it was the Spartans (although I would not be alone in that regard). They are still winless in a balanced schedule through a month into the season.

Good news? They host Mid-Atlantic Christian on Dec. 14.

25. Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (MEAC):
Record: 3-6
Last Week: #26 (+1)

Outscoring American 37-25 in the second half got the Hawks their first home victory over a Division I opponent this season. Although it wasn’t pretty, they stayed out of foul trouble, limited turnovers, and won the rebound battle. They also took advantage of nearly every second half chance the Eagles gave them. Miryne Thomas had his first double-double of his career to lead the team.

26. Howard Bison (MEAC):
Record: 1-9
Last Week: #25 (-1)

Howard got their first win of the season over Central Pennsylvania College this week thanks to a combined 43 points by Charles Williams and R.J. Cole.

Williams would go on to lead all scorers against Georgetown with 28 as well.

Another local team on the horizon for them at American for another buy-in game.

27. Longwood Lancers (Big South):
Record: 3-5
Last Week: #27 (+0)

The Lancers continue to get wins in the win column but none against Division I opponent. Interesting contest for them up ahead at VMI.

28. Delaware State Hornets (MEAC):
Record: 2-8
Last Week: #28 (+0)

Nearly stealing one from a vulnerable East Carolina, who had their coach step down, the Hornets were the closest they had been all year at topping a Division I team.

29. Coppin State Eagles (MEAC):
Record: 0-9
Last Week: #29 (+0)

In only nine games, Coppin State has been outscored by 213 points.

Former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill joins Hokies football staff to help Justin Fuente, not replace him

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Former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill joins Hokies football staff to help Justin Fuente, not replace him

Virginia Tech is coming off a come-from-behind victory over FCS opponent Furman, they have an opening loss against Boston College which was just blown out by perennial punchline Kansas and, because they are playing two FCS opponents this year, they have to find a way to earn five more wins this season to keep the vaunted bowl streak alive. That was the background for Monday’s announcement from head coach Justin Fuente.

Former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill has been added to the Virginia Tech football staff as a special assistant to the head coach, Fuente announced. With the lackluster start to the season, Monday’s announcement led to plenty of speculation from Hokie nation as to what this meant for Fuente’s future.

Make no mistake, however, Kill is headed to Blacksburg to assist Fuente, not replace him.

"Jerry Kill will serve as a tremendous resource for our football program," Fuente said in a statement. "Coach Kill possesses over three decades of expertise and will be great addition to our staff. In addition to over 20 years of experience as collegiate and high school head coach, he's served as a coordinator on both sides of the ball. He can dissect the game from virtually every angle and will be able to provide his unique perspective on everything from recruiting, to personnel and facilities.

"After Coach Kill spent some time with our staff during preseason camp, it was apparent that he possesses a passion for being involved with a football program on a daily basis," Fuente continued. "I have all the respect in the world for Coach Kill. I'm excited that he'll be an integral part of our program at Virginia Tech and can't wait for him to get on campus."

Kill was the head coach of Minnesota from 2011 to ‘15 and took the team to three bowl games. He also was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2014. His epilepsy, however, forced him to step down. The rigors of coaching consumed Kill to the point that he was not taking care of himself or adequately managing his condition. He suffered multiple seizures while at Minnesota, many of which came during games.

Since then, Kill has served as an associate athletics director at Kansas State, the offensive coordinator at Rutgers and the athletics director for Southern Illinois.

During this time, however, the desire to coach and be involved with a football team never went away. That was really the genesis of how he ended up at Virginia Tech.

According to Andy Bitter of The Athletic, Fuente invited Kill to watch a few of the team’s August practices and Kill provided feedback on what he saw. Originally , his relationship with the Hokies was not expected to go beyond that and Fuente did not intend for a job to come from that, but Kill’s desire to get back into football was enough for him to leave his job as an AD to join Virginia Tech.

"While it was a difficult decision to leave so many wonderful friends and colleagues at Southern Illinois, I am thrilled for the opportunity to join Coach Fuente and his staff at Virginia Tech," Kill said in a statement. "I've long appreciated and admired Justin as a coach and teacher of the game. I respect his penchant for identifying talent and helping young men reach their potential. He has assembled a fabulous coaching staff and roster of talented players at Virginia Tech. I can't wait to help the Hokies in any way I can."

The timing of this announcement may lead to speculation, but Kill’s health will not allow for him to get back into coaching. This is just a situation in which Fuente had the opportunity to help a fellow coach follow his passion and, in turn, Kill will help the Hokies.

Tony Bennett turned down a pay raise because his staff needed it more

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Tony Bennett turned down a pay raise because his staff needed it more

Tony Bennett is one of the few people in sports to be offered a raise and turn it down.

Instead of adding dollars to his current contract, the Virginia men's basketball head coach would rather that money be used for other purposes. He wants additional funding, that would be used for a raise, to be given to his assistants or to help other aspects of the program. 

“I have more than I need,” Bennett said in a release. “I’m blessed beyond what I deserve.”

This past season Bennett lead the Cavaliers to their first NCAA men's basketball national championship. Rewriting UVA's history books, of course, warrants Bennett to be rewarded with a new deal and with it an increase in pay. But in a meeting with athletic director Carla Williams and university president Jim Ryan, where a "substantial raise" was discussed, he turned it down.

“This just does not happen in our industry,” Williams said in the release.

He did, however, add another year to his contract. It keeps Bennett in Charlottesville for seven more seasons.

Additional salary money for his assistants is definitely a huge boost to the program is trying to build. Every year several of the top 'Power Five' assistant coaches are the sought out targets of new head coaching candidates and lower programs. For example, Dennis Gates moved as an assistant at Florida State to the head coaching spot at Cleveland State this offseason. Year-in and year-out, a coach has to expect to deal with staff turnover.

In his 10-year tenure with the Cavaliers, Bennett has turned Virginia into national contenders. Since 2014, the Cavaliers have earned a No. 1 seed into the NCAA Tournament four times, including the past two years. They've also won two ACC tournament championships and three regular-season titles in that span.

Currently, all three of his assistants from last year's championship team are staffed for the upcoming season. His top assistant, Jason Williford, has been with Bennett ever since he took over the program.

This practice of requesting money being diverted to assistants is not new. Jim Larranaga left George Mason for Miami because of his request to pay assistants more money was declined. 

Bennett is even showing further support for the program. He has donated $500,000 toward a career-development program in place for current and former players of the program.

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