The opening-round exits by American and George Washington from the NCAA men’s tournament should have been no surprise for local college basketball fans.
Not only were the 15th-seeded Eagles and ninth-seeded Colonials underdogs playing on the national stage for the first time under these coaches and with any of these players, but their failures to advance have become the rule of late for area schools.
Since 2001-07 when Maryland (twice), George Mason and Georgetown all reached the Final Four with the Terps winning it all in 2002, the seven Division I schools within 25 miles of the Beltway are a combined 5-13 in the NCAAs.
That miserable record stacks up this way: AU 0-3; GW 0-1; Mason 1-2 including a mild upset of Villanova in 2011; Maryland 2-2 including a mild upset of California in 2009; Georgetown 2-5. Howard and Navy haven’t gone dancing since the 1990s.
That 5-13 record is even worse than it appears because of the Hoyas’ incredible recent string of shocking NCAA defeats. Georgetown was eliminated by teams seeded: 10th (Davidson); 14th (Ohio); 11th (Virginia Commonwealth); 11th (N.C. State); and 15th (Florida Gulf Coast) during its five tournament appearances from 2008-13.
Contrast that 5-13 mark to the combined 27-12 record that Maryland, Georgetown, Mason and GW compiled from 2001-07. The Terps were a gaudy 14-4 with one of the defeats to national champion Duke in 2001. The Hoyas were 8-3 including a loss to Maryland in 2001. The Patriots were 4-2 including a loss to Maryland that same season. Seeded 11th in 2006, Mason upset teams seeded sixth (Michigan State), third (North Carolina), seventh (Wichita State) and first (Connecticut) en route to the Final Four where it lost to national champion Florida. The Colonials were 1-3 but didn’t lose a game in which they were favored.
Georgetown and Maryland didn’t lose to teams seeded more than one spot lower while the Hoyas upset teams seeded seventh, second and first and the Terps did the same to a third seed.
The seven seasons from 1982-88 were pretty sweet around here as well. The Hoyas qualified for the NCAAs each year, reaching three Final Fours, two national championship games and winning the 1984 title. The Terps made the tournament five times, winning six games. And Navy, led by its best-ever player, center David Robinson, went dancing in 1985, 1986 and 1987, chalking up four victories, half as many as it has won during its hoops history.
However, the 2001-07 period remains unparalled. Even the powerhouse schools along Tobacco Road (Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest) and Philadelphia’s Big Five (LaSalle, Penn, St. Joe’s, Temple and Villanova) have never had such a concentrated span of excellence. Three schools in the Final Four in seven years? Absurd.
Yet here we are seven years later and a D.C. team has failed to win an NCAA game two seasons running for the first time since 1979. That’s when the tournament was in just its fifth year of including teams that didn’t win their conferences and consisted of just 40 squads compared to the 68 that are invited today.
The turnarounds achieved this year by AU coach Mike Brennan – in his debut — and GW’s Mike Lonergan were certainly admirable, but the Eagles lost by 40 to second-seeded Wisconsin in the NCAAs, getting outscored by a staggering 65-18 after leading 17-10 while the Colonials wouldn’t have lost 71-66 to Memphis if guards Maurice Creek and Joe McDonald had made a few more than three of their 19 shots.
Meanwhile, Georgetown missed the tournament for the first time in five years even though its Big East Conference was weakened by the defections of Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse.
Maryland hasn’t gone dancing since 2010. If the Terps fail to qualify again next year after their move to the Big Ten from the ACC, they’ll match their longest absence from the NCAAs in more than four decades. That previous fallow period included three years on probation.
Mason plunged to its worst record (11-20) in 16 years after switching this season from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Atlantic 10.
Navy has recorded five straight losing seasons and 11 out of 13.
Howard, the only one of the seven area programs with a sub-.500 career mark, has endured 12 straight losing seasons and 24 out of 26.
Basketball matters in Washington. Our area has produced Hall of Famers Robinson, Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing and Adrian Dantley, one of college hoops’ legendary scorers, Austin Carr, and Kevin Durant, who has scored more points per game in the NBA than anyone except Baylor, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Kermit Washington is one of just seven players to average 20 points and 20 rebounds during his college career. And who knows how good Len Bias might have been in the pros if he hadn’t died just after being chosen with the second pick in the 1987 draft?
Georgetown’s John Thompson III is the only local coach to have won a tournament game at his school, but then he has been on the Hilltop for a decade, only seven fewer seasons than the other six bench bosses have been at their schools between them. It’s up to JTIII and his colleagues to get D.C. back on the college hoops map next season.
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.