NCAA tournament 2011: For D.C. teams, same old song and dance

By Mike Wise
Monday, March 7, 2011; 8:28 PM

Big weekend for the locals, huh?

Georgetown can't win without Chris Wright, Maryland can't win with Jordan Williams and Mason Nation finally loses after 16 straight wins.

With all belief in regional men's college basketball lost over 48 hours, I ventured to American University early Sunday evening for two reasons: to see if the Eagles could further their cause of playing in the tournament for the third time in four years and also to hear cheesy '80s tunes.

The Bender Arena speakers indeed blared "Welcome to the Jungle" and the band pounded out "Eye of the Tiger," but AU lost a double-overtime thriller when a Lafayette kid named Jim Mower let fly a three-point rainbow from the left wing that swished through the net with a half-second left.

Ballgame. Season. For some, career.

On the night he scored his 1,000th point in just two seasons, Bucharest's own Vlad Moldoveanu could not lift the Eagles to play for another day. He and fellow senior Nick Hendra lost tears afterward, taking full responsibility for blowing a six-point lead with less than four minutes left in the second overtime.

Another Washington area school depressingly on the outside of the tournament looking in.

Oh, George Mason has had a phenomenal season. If the Patriots don't have to face a long, big, athletic team like North Carolina for a couple of rounds, they're polished and potent enough to somehow show in the Sweet 16 again, like 2006. But that's it.

The Hoyas were doomed the moment Wright broke his left hand.

Garyland suddenly has that crumbling feeling again, with Maryland about to embark on its fourth trip to the NIT in seven years. The Terrapins need to win the ACC tournament to earn their third straight NCAA bid.

AU is out. GW was never in; Karl Hobbs hasn't taken George Washington to the tournament since 2007 and the Colonials are a definite long shot in this week's Atlantic 10 tournament.

Geographically grasping for a local, Seth Greenberg's once lock of a Virginia Tech team now has to sweat it out, its two-loss hangover after dumping Duke a major concern for the Hokies.

This is not bang-up news for greater Washington hoops.

With about 10 days before America's greatest sporting event, a region with some of the nation's strongest young talent - one that in the past 10 years that has helped produce the NBA's Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert and Greivis Vasquez - is banking on a mid-major in Fairfax to carry the torch.

The Hoyas have an excuse because of Wright's injury - sort of. If Georgetown had one more capable big man on its roster, the Hoyas could withstand the loss of its starting senior point guard.

They have made huge gains since John Thompson III took over on the Hilltop, but since the 2007 Final Four run, the Hoyas have been knocked out by one very good player from Davidson in the round of 32 (okay, a very good NBA player), played in the NIT in 2009 and then were inexplicably shot down by a 14th-seeded Ohio team in the first round a year ago.

The pitchforks are about to be recycled in College Park, but it's a waste of anger and energy. Gary Williams's body of work is too voluminous. For every recruiting lapse, his ability to coach is still unquestioned. Now, if he's genuinely serious about coaching beyond 2014, when his current deal is up, he is going to need more than Jordan Williams returning for his junior year to endure the next couple of seasons.

Maryland has a couple of nice guards and a good incoming recruiting class, but it simply doesn't have the length or size to make it back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003.

All that said, it's still Gary; he finds a way.

AU, meanwhile, has been to the tournament as many times as Georgetown and Maryland since 2008. It's a major accomplishment, because unlike the Big East and ACC, the Patriot League does not automatically qualify its top five to eight teams every year. (Or in the case of the Big East this year, 10, 11.)

If a Patriot League team does not win its postseason tournament, it usually goes home. Personally, I don't understand why they just don't start the tournament in January in place of league play. I mean, other than a trophy and home-court advantage in the league tournament, what do you really win - double per diem after beating Bucknell on the road when the team bus stops at a WaWa in Harrisburg?

And memo to school officials: Why is spring break scheduled in the middle of the basketball team hosting two playoff games? AU needed more of a student section, a full house at Bender.

Even though Bucknell beat Pittsburgh and Syracuse in 2005 and 2006 and AU won at Maryland in December 2007, Patriot League ball isn't Big East or ACC or Big 12 ball.

Sometimes, that's actually good. Coaches such as Jeff Jones don't campaign incessantly for their league to get at-large bids. The recruiting warfare isn't as expensive or nasty. And players, even stars in high school, who ultimately realize they are not NBA-caliber players go back to the sacred tenets of the game: The idea that you can't do it by yourself, that five players in synchronization work so much better than one or two.

Moldoveanu and Hendra realized that Sunday on the last night of their college careers, crying like kids who knew as seniors their careers were over.

As men's college hoops go, it feels like a too-familiar scene in Washington these days.

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