Feb. 18, 2010
By Anthony Oliva III
In February and March, it’s all about getting hot at the right time. Here is a look at a few teams that are nearing full stride as the season winds down.
Maryland (18-7, 8-3 ACC)
The Terrapins have won four of their last five and eight of their last 10 since Jan. 16. A road win against Florida State on Feb. 4 ranks as their most impressive win. Maryland already has two wins this week – against ACC rivals Virginia and NC State – and hosts Georgia Tech on Feb. 20.
If you need a reason for Maryland’s stellar play as of late, look no further than senior guard Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez is third in the ACC with an 18.8 scoring average, averaging 26.3 points in Maryland’s last four wins. In those games, he’s also averaged 7.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds.
Maryland is tied with Virginia Tech for second place in the ACC. The Terrapins look like a team that will qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and if they play like they have over the last month they could be a tough out.
Richmond (21-6, 10-2 Atlantic 10)
There’s a reason why Richmond is nationally ranked for the first time in 24 years. Winners of seven in a row and nine of its last ten, Richmond has a half-game lead over Temple and Xavier for the Atlantic 10 lead.
The A-10 is loaded this year, and will likely send multiple at-large teams to the NCAA Tournament. So, Richmond has had success against other postseason-bound teams, including a home win over Temple and a road win versus Rhode Island.
The Spiders are very much capable of earning an automatic bid in their wide-open conference, but if not, they seem like a lock for an at-large bid. The play of backcourt duo Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez gives the Spiders a dynamic 1-2 punch.
Utah State (21-6, 11-2 WAC)
Before Utah State’s Jan. 11 meeting with Hawaii, the Aggies were 10-6 and reeling from back-to-back conference losses to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. Utah State beat Hawaii by 44 that night, and the Aggies have won every game since. All in all, it’s an 11-game win streak, including redeeming wins against Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.
The Aggies have won at least 23 games in each of the last 10 seasons, and with four games left, it appears they will once again reach that plateau. They also have the inside track on another WAC title, with a game-and-a- half lead over second-place New Mexico State.
Despite the lack of one bona fide superstar, the Aggies have a balanced scoring attack. Their leading scorer, Tai Wesley, averages 13.3 a game, but Utah State has six players that score at least seven points a night.
UTEP (19-5, 10-1 C-USA)
The Miners lost three of four games to start 2010. They haven’t lost since. Leading Conference USA, UTEP has won nine straight, including wins over UAB, Tulsa and Marshall – second, third and fourth in C-USA, respectively.
Randy Culpepper has been an offensive force for the Miners, leading them with 17.6 points per night, and nowhere was the junior guard’s explosiveness more evident than on Feb. 13, when he scored 45 points against East Carolina. Junior forward Derrick Character has also proved to be a complete player, and has averaged 16.6 points and 11 rebounds in his last five games. Five UTEP player score in double figures.
Defensively, UTEP has added a dimension of stinginess as of late. In three of its last four games, the Miners have held opponents to less than 60 points. C-USA is a balanced league this year and will likely get multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament. With the way the Miners are playing, they look like one of them.
Virginia Tech (21-4, 8-3 ACC)
The Hokies, much like Maryland, are surprise players for the ACC title. Virginia Tech has used a five-game win streak to get within a game and half of first-place Duke. The Hokes have also won eight of their last nine.
Junior guard Malcolm Delaney fuels the Hokies’ attack. Averaging an ACC-best 20.2 points per game, Delaney scored 31 points in Virginia Tech’s most recent win over No. 23 Wake Forest. Delaney is a versatile scorer that gives the Hokies a chance to win any game when he is on.
Next up for the Hokies is a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Duke. This will be a big test for one of the ACC’s hottest teams. A team that is considered by some to be on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, the Hokies appear to be playing themselves in with this past month’s run.
Teams also considered:
Louisville - Having won five of their last seven, the Cardinals have improved their resume with a road win over Syracuse and wins over Cincinnati and Connecticut in that stretch.
Marquette - The Golden Eagles haven’t faced the toughest the Big East has to offer as of late, but they’ve won five in a row, and any time you can do that in the Big East it’s impressive.
New Mexico – The Lobos have won ten in a row and have beaten every one of its conference foes during that span, highlighted by road wins versus UNLV and Utah last week.
Northeastern - After starting 2-7, the Huskies have gone 16-2 and are tied with Old Dominion, who they beat on Jan. 30, for first place in the CAA.
Xavier - Tied for second in the Atlantic 10, the Musketeers have won 10 of their last 12, including a 12-point road win over Florida on Feb. 13.