The Georgetown men's basketball team returned to the NCAA tournament last season. American and George Washington are hoping to get back to March Madness after making the field during the 2013-14 campaign. A new coach has arrived at George Mason, and improving programs at Howard and Navy are looking for breakthrough seasons.
The college basketball season tips off during the weekend of Nov. 13-15, and the next chapters for the Washington, D.C., area's Division I men's programs are about to be written.
(For Maryland men's basketball coverage, click here.)
American won the 2013-14 Patriot League title, but it couldn't duplicate the feat last season. The Eagles still finished with a winning record at 17-16 (8-10 in the Patriot League) and took eventual champion Lafayette to the wire during a 65-63 loss during the conference title game.
The Eagles will have to replace two pillars of their recent success in John Schoof (12 points, 3.2 rebounds per game) and Pee Wee Gardner (10.5 points, 3.9 assists). But head coach Mike Brennan can turn to a pair of experienced juniors, guard Jesse Reed (14.3 points, five rebounds) and guard/forward Charlie Jones (eight points, 3.8 rebounds).
American won't be enjoying the comforts of home during the early season. The Eagles will play seven of their first eight games on the road, beginning with the Nov. 13 season opener at Rhode Island.
Georgetown put together its fifth 20-win season in six years, finishing at 22-11 overall and 12-6 in the Big East. The Hoyas defeated Eastern Washington during an NCAA tournament round of 64 game before falling to Utah.
Head coach John Thompson III will welcome back a first-team All-Big East player and two members of the conference's All-Rookie team. Senior guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who averaged 16.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, is one of the Big East's most complete players. The sophomore duo of guard L.J. Peak (7.9 points, 2.3 rebounds) and forward Isaac Copeland (6.8 points, 3.8 rebounds) played key roles during Georgetown's emergence as an NCAA-caliber team last year. Their progress will be an important factor for a Hoyas squad that lost center Joshua Smith (10.8 points, 5.8 rebounds), guard Jabril Trawick (9.1 points, 3.6 rebounds) and forward Mikael Hopkins (5.8 rebounds).
With an early-season schedule that is one of the nation's most challenging, Georgetown should get a quick read on its potential. After its Nov. 14 opener against visiting Radford, the Hoyas will travel to No. 3 Maryland Nov. 17 before a Nov. 20 visit to Madison Square Garden to face NCAA runner-up Wisconsin in a 2K Classic semifinal. The Georgetown-Wisconsin winner will take on either defending national champion Duke or Virginia Commonwealth during the Nov. 22 title game.
George Mason made a coaching change after another second-division finish in the Atlantic 10. The Patriots, who finished at 9-22 and 4-14 in the conference, hired Dave Paulsen to revive the program. Paulsen, who led Bucknell to two NCAA tournament appearances and two National Invitation Tournament bids in seven years, will try to turn around a program that has endured significant growing pains since moving to the Atlantic 10 prior to the 2013-14 campaign.
George Mason, which hosts Colgate during its Nov. 13 season opener, must replace guard Isaiah Jackson (8.7 points, 4.4 rebounds per game). But Paulsen, the Patriot League's 2014-15 Coach of the Year, will inherit an experienced group of regulars. Senior center Shevon Thompson (12.5 points, 11.3 rebounds) is one of the conference's most productive big men. Thompson will be joined by senior guard Patrick Holloway (10.9 points), junior guard Marquise Moore (9.5 points, 3.1 assists) and junior forward Jalen Jenkins (eight points, 4.4 rebounds).
George Washington didn't make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. But the Colonials, who posted a 22-13 overall mark and 10-8 record in the Atlantic 10, still earned a bid to the NIT. George Washington beat Pittsburgh during the first round before falling to eventual NIT semifinalist Temple.
With four of their top six players returning, the Colonials should be successful again. Head coach Mike Lonergan lost starters Kethan Savage (11.7 points, 4.8 rebounds per game) and John Kopriva (6.7 points, 3.7 rebounds). But an experienced core will help George Washington compete for the Atlantic 10 title and an NCAA tournament berth. The returnees include two seniors who have scored more than 1,000 career points, guard/forward Patricio Garino (12.4 points, 5.3 rebounds) and center Kevin Larsen (10 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists). Senior guard Joe McDonald (9.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists) and sophomore forward Yuta Watanabe (7.4 points, 3.5 rebounds) will also be critical to the Colonials' outcome.
George Washington, which hosts Lafayette during its Nov. 13 season opener, will get its stiffest early-season test from perennial NCAA participant Virginia, which visits the Smith Center Nov. 16.
Howard showed significant improvement, going from an 8-25 record during the 2013-14 campaign to a 16-16 mark last winter. The Bison, coached by Kevin Nickelberry, finished fourth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with a 10-6 record.
Howard will have to take the next step without first-team All-MEAC forward James Carlton (15.9 points, 7.8 rebounds per game). But the Bison backcourt of juniors James Daniel (16.7 points, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals) and James Miller (11.5 points, 2.7 rebounds) should continue the program's progress. Daniel is the first men's basketball player in school history to surpass the career 1,000-point mark during his first two seasons.
The Bison will begin their 2014-15 season against host University of Massachusetts Nov. 14 and Rutgers Nov. 15 during the opening round of the MGM Grand Main Event tournament.
Navy continued to make progress during the 2014-15 campaign. The Midshipmen posted their most wins since the 2009-10 season, finishing at 13-19 and 8-10 in Patriot League play.
But the task will get tougher this season. Head coach Ed DeChellis will have to replace two career 1,000-point scorers and team leaders. Forward Worth Smith (14.5 points, 5.9 rebounds per game) and guard Brandon Venturini (12 points, three assists) were the driving forces behind Navy's steady improvement during the last three seasons. Senior guard Tilman Dunbar (9.1 points, 3.3 assists) is Navy's top returning player. While Dunbar will stabilize the backcourt, the Midshipmen should be strong up front with the return of senior center Will Kelly (6.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks) and junior center Edward Alade (5.3 points, 3.4 rebounds).
Navy will face a prominent opponent during the season opener, when it hosts Florida Nov. 13 in the nightcap of the second annual Veterans Classic at sold-out Alumni Hall. The Classic's first game features North Carolina, the nation's No. 1 team, according to the preseason Associated Press poll, against a Temple squad that reached the NIT semifinals last season.