As college basketball's 2013-14 regular season winds down and the NCAA tournament edges closer, it appears that the early weeks of March may be busier than the middle of the month for state teams.
Entering the second week of February, nine state teams were still contenders for the Division III postseason tournaments, which will begin March 5. That's more than in Division I, where eight of the men's and women's programs had a realistic chance at being on the court when the tournaments tip off March 18 (men) and March 22 (women).
Division I Men
Unless one of the teams in fifth place or lower as of Feb. 5 upsets its way to a conference championship, there are three men's teams that have a legitimate shot at an NCAA bid. Towson, the preseason favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association, carried a 16-9 overall mark (7-3 CAA) as of Feb. 11, tied for second in the nine-team league.
Coach Pat Skerry's club continues to rely on a senior-dominated lineup, led by forward Jerrelle Benimon, the team's leader in scoring (18.5 points per game as of Feb. 14), rebounding (11.3) and assists (3.8). Towson is on track for a high seed in the CAA tournament, scheduled for March 7-10 at the Baltimore Arena.
Morgan State and Mount St. Mary's are also in the hunt. With a 9-13 overall mark as of Feb. 14, the Bears had won seven of 10 league games and occupied second place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Mountaineers were 10-13 overall as of Feb. 12 and tied for third in Northeast Conference play with a 6-4 league record.
Division I Women
Three-time defending champion Navy was leading the 10-school Patriot League with an 18-5 overall record and a 10-2 league mark, which outpaced Army by one game, as of Feb. 11.
In fourth place in the Atlantic Coast Conference as of Feb. 6, Maryland ranked ninth nationally (in the Feb. 10 Associated Press poll) and was closing in on its ninth NCAA appearance during an 11-year span. Senior forward Alyssa Thomas (18.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists per game as of Feb. 8) should repeat as a first-team All-American for the Terrapins, 19-4 overall and 7-3 in ACC play as of Feb. 12. Thomas was in third place on the school's career scoring and rebounding lists as of Feb. 12.
A trio of mid-major schools could make a run at the postseason. Coppin State was 12-11 overall as of Feb. 14, holding second place in the MEAC with a 9-2 mark. Mount St. Mary's (13-11, 8-4 Northeast Conference as of Feb. 14) rode the production of senior guard Sydney Henderson to a second-place tie in league play. Henderson is the third Mountaineer in program history with more than 1,250 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists.
Towson (11-12, 5-5 CAA as of Feb. 12) was in a three-way tie for fourth place in the nine-team CAA. Senior guard Tanisha McTiller, the CAA's top scorer at 19.5 points per game as of Feb. 12, had moved into third place on the school's all-time points list with 1,471.
Division II Men
The race to the NCAA Division II tournament includes Bowie State. The Bulldogs, 12-11 overall and 5-1 in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association's Northern Division, held first place in the division as of of Feb. 11.
Division III Men
St. Mary's, which was ranked in the national top 25 earlier this season, held third place in the Capital Athletic Conference as of Feb. 11. The Seahawks, who carried a 15-6 overall mark and a 9-4 conference record as of Feb. 11, have relied on a talented lineup, led by junior guard Nick LaGuerre (15.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists per game as of Feb. 11).
Two local teams are in the thick of the Commonwealth Conference race. Hood (15-6, 9-5 as of Feb. 11) was in a tie for third place with coach Gary Stewart's Stevenson Mustangs (14-7, 9-5 as of Feb. 11) among 10 Commonwealth teams.
McDaniel and Johns Hopkins could represent the Centennial Conference during the NCAA tournament. McDaniel, 16-5 as of Feb. 11, is the conference's surprise team. The Green Terror were in second place in the Centennial, with an 11-3 league record as of Feb. 11. Johns Hopkins, at 13-8 overall and 10-4 in conference play as of Feb. 11, was tied for third.
Division III Women
Stevenson, Johns Hopkins and McDaniel lead the list of state contenders for the Division III women's tournament. The Mustangs, who finished 6-15 last year, rebounded to 12-9 as of as of Feb. 11. In a crowded race for the top seed in the Commonwealth Conference playoffs, coach Jackie Boswell's club was 10-4 against league teams and tied for third, one game behind league leaders Lebanon Valley and Messiah, as of Feb. 11.
Junior guard Kayla Kelly (12.3 points per game as of Feb. 11) was the Mustangs' only double-figure scorer. Kyarra Harmon, a junior forward, was adding 9.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game off the bench as of Feb. 11. But Stevenson's defensive performance, led by transfer point guard Ty Bender (2.5 steals per game as of Feb. 11), has been one of the differences during this turnaround season.
"We stress that if you play defense, you'll get more time on the floor," said Boswell, whose Mustangs were allowing 57.3 points per game as of Feb. 11. "We've forced a lot of turnovers. We need to improve our offensive execution, but we can't let down on our defense. That's what has gotten us here."
Johns Hopkins and McDaniel are competing for Centennial Conference honors. With a 15-6 overall mark and 13-3 league record as of Feb. 11, Johns Hopkins was first in the Centennial and seeking its first NCAA tournament trip since 2010. McDaniel, at 15-5 overall and 10-4 in league play as of Feb. 11, was in third place. The Green Terror are shooting for their first league title and NCAA bid in four years.
Salisbury has jumped back into contention in the CAC. The Sea Gulls, at 13-8 overall and 8-4 in league action as of Feb. 11, were tied for third in the 10-team league.
The Soccer Pinnacle
For the second consecutive season, Maryland's Patrick Mullins earned the top award in collegiate soccer. A senior midfielder on the 2013 team, Mullins won the MAC Hermann Trophy, becoming the first Terrapin and seventh player overall to win back-to-back awards.
Mullins led the nation in scoring with 46 points (19 goals, eight assists). He earned first-team All-America honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America for the second consecutive season, and also repeated as the Soccer America Men's Player of the Year. Mullins and former Virginia standout Claudio Reyna, who earned the honor in 1992 and 1993, are the only two-time winners of the Soccer America award.
A New Orleans native, who finished second on Maryland's career scoring list, Mullins was one of two Terrapin players taken during the first round of the Major League Soccer SuperDraft. The New England Revolution selected Mullins 11th overall. Six slots later, the Portland Timbers took Maryland sophomore forward Schillo Tshuma.
UMBC senior forward Pete Caringi III was a third-round choice of the Montreal Impact. One round later, the Chicago Fire selected Retriever midfielder Kadeem Dacres.
Caringi was the America East Conference's Striker of the Year each of the last two seasons. A semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Award, he led UMBC to NCAA tournament appearances in 2012 and 2013. A Calvert Hall graduate, Caringi was UMBC's top scorer in 2013, with 13 goals and three assists. Caringi finished fourth in goals (37) and fifth in total points (91) on UMBC's career scoring list.
Dacres, the 2013 America East Midfielder of the Year, totaled six goals and four assists during his senior season.
During the next several years, many college football coaches across the nation will change addresses. That may not be the case in Baltimore.
On Jan. 8, Rob Ambrose signed a seven-year extension to remain at Towson University through the 2020 season. Less than 24 hours later, Morgan State introduced Lee Hull as its new head coach.
In 2013, Ambrose guided the Tigers to the best season in program history. Towson reached the Football Championship Subdivision national title game, falling to North Dakota State. It was the Tigers' first appearance in an NCAA final since 1976, when they lost the Division III Stagg Bowl.
During the last three seasons, Ambrose's Towson teams have posted a combined 29-10 record, won two CAA championships and made two trips to the FCS playoffs. Towson, the unanimous winner of the Lambert Meadowlands Award as the top FCS team in the East, finished 13-3 in 2013.
Hull inherits a Morgan State program that has been competitive in the MEAC. The Bears, who will open the 2014 campaign Sept. 6 at Northern Iowa, finished with a 5-7 overall record in 2013. Morgan State had a 5-3 MEAC record and placed third in the MEAC during its final season under former coach Donald Hill-Eley.
Hull comes to Morgan State after six years as the receivers coach at Maryland. In College Park, he helped develop several players who went on to NFL careers, including Torrey Smith (Baltimore Ravens) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (Indianapolis Colts). At a school known for its running game, Hull plans to use a spread offense, he said.
"We're going to find out who are the five best playmakers, and we're going to put them on the field," Hull said. "We want to attack and dictate to the defense."
Hull said the Bears were not far away from a MEAC championship and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision tournament.
"Everybody is going to have roles, and each player will have to embrace his role," said Hull, who played at Holy Cross and was a wide receiver with the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts. "There will be an open competition, so everyone will have a chance to start. I want them to understand that in life, you have to compete and earn what you get. If we work hard, we will earn that conference championship."
The Capital Of Sports
At the conclusion of the fall sports season, two state schools were ranked in the top five of the Capital One Cup standings. Towson, buoyed by its FCS runner-up finish in football, and Maryland, led by its NCAA finalist soccer team, were tied for fifth place with Auburn among nationwide Division I men's programs. Florida State, North Dakota State and Notre Dame, who each won an NCAA title in football and soccer, were tied for first in the rankings. Michigan State was fourth, six points ahead of Towson, Maryland and Auburn.