With conference play starting to heat up, let's take stock of how the four local college hoops teams are doing entering this critical stretch of the season.
We're now well into January, so it's a good time to take stock of the local college basketball scene. All in all, it's probably been better than most expected, with Georgetown in particular exceeding expectations in the non-conference season. But now, it's time for conference play, when we'll really know how good these teams actually are.
So with that in mind, let's take a look at all four of the key local teams.
The Hoyas have obviously been the surprise of the local scene, racing through a difficult non-conference schedule with only one loss. Things continued to look good early in conference play, as the Hoyas picked up a critical road win at Louisville to begin Big East play. But recently, the Hoyas have stumbled, raising the same old questions about whether they can actually succeed against conference opponents used to playing their style.
Monday's loss to Cincinnati followed a similar script. The Hoyas continue to run their idiosyncratic Princeton offense, but while it succeeds in many ways, it has failed in getting the Hoyas easy opportunities at the free-throw line. The Hoyas shot just 10 free throws in the entire game, which seems like an anomaly until you consider they also only shot 10 in a 49-40 win over Providence. Against West Virginia, they were bullied inside, with the Mountaineers taking 11 more free throws (31 to 20). This is a common problem with the offense, and it's starting to bite the Hoyas.
Things may improve once the Hoyas face smaller teams -- West Virginia and Cincinnati are two of the rougher clubs in the conference -- but it's a trend to watch. The Hoyas aren't as bad as they've shown in the last two games, but they probably aren't as good as they seemed in the non-conference season.
The Terps haven't been overwhelmingly impressive, but they have started to become a team that has taken on Mark Turgeon's identity. A five-point loss to North Carolina State on the road really isn't the end of the world, and there's plenty for the Terps to build on from the game.
The biggest development? Alex Len is the real deal. In four games, Len is averaging 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds while hitting 77 percent of his shots. He had 12 and 11 against North Carolina State, showing he can do it against ACC squads. If anything, the Terps don't feed him enough. He took only seven shots in the loss to North Carolina State, whereas guards Pe'Shon Howard, Terrell Stoglin and Sean Mosley combined to take 36. That balance has to change for the Terps to be successful.
Ultimately, this is a team without much depth that'll go as far as Stoglin and Len take them. We knew that Stoglin would be the main guy, but Len joining him is a positive development.
The Patriots are 4-0 in the CAA, which is a really good thing, but they shouldn't get too comfortable. The win at Old Dominion was nice, but Old Dominion isn't Old Dominion this year. Topping upstart Georgia State at home is also good, but that game was definitely too close for comfort. Paul Hewitt's squad simply can't get too comfortable, even though they have won five games in a row.
One positive development, though, has been the play of Mike Morrison. The big center is starting to come into his own, posting a double-double against Georgia State. He's controlled the backboards and been a big key in George Mason's strong defense. If he can continue to do that, the Patriots will win the CAA title.
Easily the most disappointing team in the area. After last season's strong finish, many, including me, expected big things from the Colonials, especially with all their players coming back. Instead, they've been among the worst teams in the Atlantic 10.
Clearly, there's a culture that needs to be changed here. New coach Mike Lonergan has already spoken out about the number of distractions surrounding the program he inherited. It appears that he's tried to put his stamp on the program, but has a number of players used to something else. That's my only real explanation for understanding how a team with so much returning talent has regressed.
The Colonials are a strong reminder that it often takes time for a new coach to turn a program around. Once Lonergan gets his kind of recruits in, the Colonials should improve. Until then, there will be growing pains.