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D.C. Area College Basketball Struggling to Stay Elite

by David Elfin
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Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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This column was supposed to be about the rising Maryland basketball program which was poised to break into the top 25 for the first time since the final 2010 poll.

The column was still looking spot-on when the Terps led visiting Florida State by nine at halftime last night. However, Mark Turgeon’s young team melted down in the second half and fell 65-62, ending a 12-game winning streak that began after an opening loss to Kentucky.

“We had a lot of guys not make good decisions tonight,” said Turgeon, whose 10-man rotation includes four freshmen and three sophomores. “Give [Florida State] credit, that’s the first time we saw that kind of defense for 40 minutes, and we didn’t handle it well.”

If the Terps didn’t handle the Seminoles’ defense well, what words can describe 19th-ranked Georgetown’s offense in a 73-45 rout the previous night at the hands of visiting Pitt?

The punchless Hoyas (10-3) scored fewer than 50 points for the fourth straight game with no one reaching double figures. Georgetown shot only 35 percent and had more turnovers (17) than baskets (13) in the program’s worst loss in 28 years.

“It’s embarrassing,” lamented coach John Thompson III, whose seven-man rotation includes five freshmen and sophomores. “This group has not responded like we did today.”

Not handling it well and not responding have been true more often than not for the area’s college basketball programs which have been slip sliding away for more than five years.

From 2001-07, Maryland reached two Final Fours and won a national championship while Georgetown and George Mason also advanced to the Final Four.

Since then, no area team has advanced past the second round with Maryland, Georgetown and George Mason combining for all of five NCAA victories during those five years. George Washington, which made the tournament eight times in 15 seasons from 1993-2007 while winning four NCAA games, hasn’t even been chosen for the NIT since.

American finally cracked the NCAA barrier in 2008 and 2009 but lost at home to Buffalo last March in its opener in the third-rate CIT. Navy, which battled Duke for a spot in the 1986 Final Four, hasn’t been to postseason since its NCAA berth in 1998. Howard, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2002, last played beyond the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament in 1992. Virginia’s appearance in last year’s NCAAs was its first since 2007. Virginia Tech hasn’t been to the big dance since that same season but was picked for the NIT four years running.

Last night, Virginia Tech lost 86-75 at home to Boston College, the preseason choice to finish last in the ACC. The Hokies are 1-6 since winning their first eight games for rookie coach James Johnson, whose three most recent defeats before Wednesday’s had come by at least 23 points, a first in program history.
“We do it in practice… [but] it’s not translating in a game, “ said senior guard Erick Green.

Then there was Virginia, which shot just 36 percent and turned the ball over 17 times in a 55-52 loss at Wake Forest, which had won just five of its previous 33 ACC games.
“We were outplayed for the majority of that game,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, whose team has started 2-0 in the ACC just once since 1995. “We got out of the gates and turned the ball over at an alarming rate.”

GW provided a bright spot last night by thumping St. Bonaventure 78-59 at home to win its Atlantic 10 opener. However, coach Mike Lonergan’s Colonials are just 7-7 and compete in a loaded conference.

GMU, 24-9 in coach Paul Hewitt’s 2012 debut, is just 8-6 and lost at home to usual Colonial Athletic Association mediocrity Northeastern. But the Patriots did beat Virginia and played Maryland tough in the BB&T Classic at Verizon Center. CAA powerhouse VCU’s departure for the A-10 also made Mason’s road to March a little easier.

AU won’t be having fun this March after winning 20 games in four of the past five seasons. Coach Jeff Jones’ Eagles are just 5-10 and lost at home to Columbia, Cornell and Howard, which is 3-12 otherwise for coach Kevin Nickelberry. Navy and coach Ed DeChellis are 6-10 with home losses to Albany and Northern Kentucky while splitting with the wonderfully-named IPFW (Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne) in a pair of contests that didn’t exactly get the brigade as pumped as it would be for dates with Army and Air Force.

Georgetown figures to fall out of the rankings next week, leaving the formerly formidable Washington area without a top 25 team.

Despite the loss to Florida State, Maryland seems almost sure to return to the NCAAs for the first time since 2009. With its reputation and its upset of then-No. 11 UCLA and near-shocker of then-No. 1 Indiana, Georgetown could be playing in mid-March, too.

However, this could well be the sixth straight March minus a D.C. program in the Sweet 16, a streak of futility that hasn’t happened in more than 40 years back when the tournament consisted of not more than 25 teams and college basketball was a footnote not front page news.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.

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