NCAA

Six DMV teams featured in Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology

Six DMV teams featured in Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology

BY TYLER BYRUM

Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Maryland are no brainers that if they keep up the pace that each team is on, they will be dancing in the NCAA tournament come March. In Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology (released on Jan. 19), he has also included three other DMV teams, two hailing from the Atlantic 10, Richmond and VCU, and Morgan State

All six are contenders for their respective conference championship, but according to Lunardi, only Richmond and Morgan State from the list of six would need to win the automatic berth to make the big dance. Every team has a different reason to be in the tournament and it is looking more likely than not that at least five of these teams will be able to maintain their standing. 

If all six can make it another month an a half, it will surpass last season's four teams (Maryland, VCU, Virginia, and Hampton) to make the tournament.

Virginia (#4 seed, ACC):

The Cavaliers (14-3, 4-2) not only have the benefit of being in the best conference in college basketball, but also have made quite a name for themselves the past handful of seasons. With no losses to sub-50 RPI teams, No. 16 Virginia is a near lock to be in the NCAA tournament, barring a huge end of season collapse. In the ACC, they sit at fourth in the conference standings, where it is anticipated that a total of 11 teams in that conference will be in the tournament.

Maryland (#7 seed, Big Ten): 

Quietly the No. 25 Terrapins are becoming one of the best team's in the country after there was some skepticism to start the season. Maryland (16-2, 4-1) has taken advantage of their moderate schedule and has seven top-100 RPI wins, but so far lack the signature win that solidly puts the team in the tournament. Next week the team will get into the heat of conference play where for the remainder of the season will have home and aways against Minnesota, Ohio State, and road games in Wisconsin and Northwestern. A key for the Terps going forward will to continue to win the games they are supposed to win and hopefully squeak one out against the aforementioned teams. 

Virginia Tech (#10 seed, ACC):

Another benefactor of the dominant ACC, Virginia Tech appears to be on track for their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 when they lost in the second round. Winning all the games the Hokies (14-4, 3-3) were supposed to win in the first half of the season, and then pulling out a shocker at home against then No. 5 Duke, Virginia Tech is looking solid at this point in the season. The team still has a loaded ACC schedule to get through, including two games against Virginia and a road trip to Chapel Hill, but if the team can finish at or above .500 in conference play they should remain in. Enough has been done early on to prove the team's worth. 

Richmond (#14 seed, Atlantic 10):

The Spiders (11-6, 5-0) do not have a strong at-large resume. Earlier in the year the team had a terrible loss to Oral Roberts, currently at 228 in the national RPI, and did not get a big win to combat the loss. In fact the program's best out-of-conference win this season was over Boston College, which stands at a 165 RPI. Since though, the team has gotten hot in Atlantic 10 play winning five straight and four of those wins being their best on the season. The team does not necessarily have to win the conference championship to make the tournament, but need to continue their stretch in conference and get a couple wins against the top teams, Dayton, Rhode Island, and VCU. 

VCU (#11 seed, Atlantic 10):

Listed as on of the 'last four in,' VCU (14-5, 4-2) took a big hit in their NCAA aspirations after a devastating buzzer-beater loss to Fordham on Wednesday. Their best win is at home against Middle Tennessee, but fell short against Baylor, Illinois, and Georgia Tech to gather another strong victory. Last week the team was looking like a near lock to the big dance, but back-to-back sub-100 RPI losses has the team's outlook for the rest of the season uncertain. If the Rams can avoid anymore upsets, they should remain on the good side of the bubble at the end of the year.

Morgan State (#16 seed, MEAC):

There is no possible way for the Bears (7-10, 4-0) to make it without winning the MEAC championship and even that will be a tall task for this team. From their undefeated conference record, none of the wins came against one of the conference's top five programs. It does not appear likely they will still be on this list a week from now, but a team to keep an eye one once the conference tournament comes around for an automatic berth.

Other possible tournament teams:

From an at-large bid perspective, no other team's in Virginia, Maryland, or Washington D.C. are within striking range. With the strength of their respective conferences, George Washington, Georgetown, and George Mason have outside shots if they were to run the table, or come close to it, and get in the bubble conversation. For all teams though, that seems highly unlikely.

Two other schools have the best chance of making the list seven or eight teams with UMBC and Old Dominion possibly winning their conference championship, the America East, and Conference USA respectively.

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March Madness Revisited: Richmond returns to the Sweet 16 in 2011

March Madness Revisited: Richmond returns to the Sweet 16 in 2011

The 2011 Richmond Spiders, a relatively unexperienced tournament team, were huddled up in the tunnel leading to the court at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Guys were chanting, players were taking their turn dancing in the circle as Richmond was set to warm-up for only the second Sweet Sixteen game in their school’s history.

Their opponent was the seasoned Kansas Jayhawks, who were the top-seeded team in the South Region and making their fourth Sweet Sixteen appearance in five years. 

As Spiders’ head coach Chris Mooney described to NBC Sports Washington: "For as giant as the place is, they have one tunnel to go in and out to the locker room.”

Kansas players wanted to scoot by to take the court and then some light shoving ensued. 

“It was just a pregame little scuffle, trash-talking,” Richmond’s Dairen Brothers told NBC Sports Washington. “We were already ready to come out and they were coming in behind us. Everybody is in the back jumping around, and the other team wants to come in and try and be tough.”

The skirmish didn’t translate to the game. Led by twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, the Jayhawks did what No. 1 seeds do and took care of business against the No. 12 seed Spiders. Kansas jumped out to an early advantage with some hot shooters and didn’t look back.  

“I’m sure if anything [the scuffle] probably helped Kansas, because they’re used to being in that situation, playing on that second weekend and maybe this was a little extra motivation to concentrate, but I think it was probably irrelevant,” Mooney said when asked if either team gained an edge from the altercation. 

You see, Richmond wasn't used to that situation. The Spiders aren’t a constant presence in the NCAA Tournament. The Spiders have only had their name called nine times on Selection Sunday in the past 40 years. 

But just because Richmond doesn’t get to wear their dancing shoes often, doesn’t mean that other programs aren’t familiar with their pedigree. Of those nine appearances, five of them had Richmond advancing past the first round. All five being upsets.

The Richmond program is one of the noted ‘giant-killers’ in March Madness. They made history in 1991 by becoming the first team to ever receive a No. 15 seed and advance to the second round. The Spiders have secured wins over No. 2, 3, 4 and 5 seeds while always being seeded in the bottom half of the bracket. Beating a No. 1 seed was the only upset left for the program to accomplish.

That year Richmond won their first, and to this day only, Atlantic 10 Tournament title. A late-season touch football game after a loss to Temple sparked a nine-game winning streak that would run into the NCAAs. 

“[Touch football] was just a way to exhale,” Mooney said describing the stress of being on the bubble. “When you’re on that bubble, especially for a team in the A-10 because you have so many opportunities in the ACC, if you lose a game it’s no big deal. Anyway, it was just a way to exhale, relax and say ‘Hey, let’s enjoy this.’”

On Selection Sunday they were able to enjoy it from Philadelphia's famed Chickie's and Pete's sports restaurant when knew their ticket was punched after balancing on the bubble all season. Vanderbilt was the fifth seed as their opponent and ripe for an upset. 

That season they weren’t just upset-minded. Richmond wanted to progress to a point of acceptance. 

“We were kind of more trying to say, look we’re not quite as much the giant killers as we’re on equal footing,” Mooney said. “We were trying to embrace who we were at that moment.”

That was evident with how they handled their 12 vs. 5 upset over the Commodores. Kevin Anderson, the team’s second-leading scorer, went off against the Vanderbilt zone in the second half. He scored 16 of his 25 points in the final 20 minutes of a 69-66 win. Postgame there was no gigantic celebration like the one elsewhere when No. 13 Morehead State upended No. 4 Louisville just before tip-off. There was simply a handshake line and the Spiders moved on. 

The win propelled Richmond to one of the rarest second-round matchups in college basketball: The No. 12 vs. No. 13 seed game. They had a chance at an elusive second win of the tournament for the first time since 1988. 

“We had that confidence. Once you win a game in the NCAA Tournament, it gives you a confidence boost,” Brothers said. “Everybody’s feeling good, your shots are going in, your conditioning level is up, you’re energetic.”

“The coaches met in my room to start watching tape of Morehead State and I can just remember midway through the second game thinking ‘You know, it’s really going to be hard for Morehead State to beat us,’” Mooney said. 

The Spiders handled the Kenneth Faired-led Eagles in what would be the final game of his collegiate career. A week later the team lost to Kansas, capping their run and matching the furthest the program has gone in March. 

Did that second victory prove the Spiders were on equal footing as the sport's very best teams? Probably not. Since then Richmond has been looking for an opportunity just to get back in the field. But had the tournament transpired this season, and not been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, there were good odds that the streak would have been broken. 

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Maryland star Jalen Smith officially declares for 2020 NBA Draft

Maryland star Jalen Smith officially declares for 2020 NBA Draft

In an expected move, Maryland's star forward Jalen Smith has officially declared for the 2020 NBA Draft ending a successful two-year career at College Park. 

The Baltimore native tweeted the news from his own account Tuesday thanking Terp nation for the last two seasons. 

"Thank you to TERP NATION," Smith wrote. "We were 16-1 at home due to your support and energy you guys brought every game. I'll cherish forever celebrating the Big Ten Championship with you. FEAR THE TURTLE.

"I am thankful and grateful for the opportunity to consult with my family and coaches in reaching the decision that the time is right for me to move forward to the next phase in my basketball career and declare for the 2020 draft," he said. 

Smith was a highly productive freshman in 2018-19, but this season he broke out to earn a first-team All-Big Ten selection was third-team AP All American. He averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game while shooting 53.8% from the floor and 36.8% from three on 2.8 attempts per game. 

Along with senior Anthony Cowan Jr., Smith helped lead the Terps to a 24-7 record and a share of the Big-Ten regular-season title. We'll never know how well the team would've done in the NCAA tournament, since the coronavirus pandemic led to March Madness getting canceled.

There's a lot to be determined before the NBA Draft in June, but as of now, Smith projects as a late-first round pick. However, he could vault into lottery territory if a team falls in love with his rare skill set as a big man. 

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