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Local Men's Basketball Teams Vying For NCAA Tournament Bids

February 9, 2018
With local mid-major Division I men's basketball programs getting ready for the NCAA Tournament, the only thing certain is that nothing is certain

While none of the seven area teams are leading its conference, several have a legitimate chance to make a run to an NCAA Tournament berth.

Mount St. Mary's and UMBC are hovering near the top of their respective conferences in second place, and no local team is more than one game under .500 in league play. The final three weeks of the regular season should provide a glimpse of the excitement that lies ahead in March. 

Here's a look at where each team stands:

Towson (17-9 overall; 7-6 in the Colonial Athletic Association)

After a four-game losing skid, Towson has won seven of its last 11 games. The Tigers are fifth in the conference, two games behind second-place Northeastern and a game behind William & Mary and Hofstra. Towson gets two cracks at Northeastern, Feb. 10 and 22, as well as a shot at third-place Hofstra Feb. 24. 

"Our league is extremely competitive," said Towson head coach Pat Skerry. "Seven or eight teams are legitimately capable of winning it. Charleston was picked first in the preseason, and we split with them. William & Mary was just in second place and we swept them, but we lost a couple of others that were close and we could have won. There are no easy ones. You can't take anyone lightly, because they're all good enough to beat you."

With sophomore guards Zane Martin (19.8 points per game) and Justin Gorham (9.0) leading the way -- and senior guard Mike Morsell (13.4, 4.0) providing scoring and leadership -- the Tigers should be a tough out in the postseason.

Mount St. Mary's (15-11; 9-4 in the Northeast Conference)

Defending NEC champion and 2017 NCAA participant Mount St. Mary's is sitting in second place in the conference. 

Led by 5-foot-5 senior guard Junior Robinson, the NEC scoring leader, the Mount has won five straight and nine of its last 11. The youngest team in Division I basketball with 12 freshmen, the Mountaineers prepped for the stretch run with a difficult nonconference schedule. The opportunity for younger players to garner key minutes during the first 26 games has Mount St. Mary's right on schedule, according to head coach Jamion Christian.

"We have [three great] seniors who were carrying us early," Christian said. "And if you look at historical data, analytically, our freshmen are about to figure it out. We are expecting a peak in their performance over the next few weeks because it's happened in past years for guys with about as much experience."

Mount St. Mary's is two games behind first-place Wagner (11-2), which it hosts Feb. 24 in the regular-season finale. If the Mountaineers stumble, St. Francis University, Robert Morris, LIU Brooklyn and Saint Francis Brooklyn are within two games. The Mount, which is 5-2 against those teams, hosts Robert Morris Feb. 22.

UMBC (17-9; 8-3 in the American East)

UMBC has won four of its last five and seven of nine to take over second place in the American East -- a half-game ahead of Hartford. The Retrievers have lost twice to first-place Vermont (10-0) but still get to play at fifth-place New Hampshire (6-5) Feb. 11 before hosting fourth-place Albany (6-5) Feb. 18 and concluding the season at third-place Hartford Feb. 27. 

"Our league is very strong," UMBC head coach Ryan Odom said. "There isn't a night off, which is what you really want in terms of a competitive balance. I don't think we've played our best basketball yet and hope that the best is still ahead for us."

Senior guard Jairus Lyles leads a potent Retriever offense that features three players who shoot better than 41 percent from 3-point range. Lyles, who leads America East in scoring, averages 21.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as one of four players scoring more than 10 points per outing.

Morgan State (9-14; 5-5 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference)

The season hasn't gone quite as planned for Morgan state, but the preseason MEAC favorites are dangerous thanks to the senior one-two punch of MEAC Preseason Player of the Year Phillip Carr (14.1) and all-conference guard Tiwian Kendley (26.1). 

Morgan finds itself in the midst of a three-game losing streak, but despite their struggles, the Bears are 1.5 games out of third place with six regular-season contests remaining. 

Coppin State (5-21; 5-6 in the MEAC)

After an 0-15, Coppin State has won four of its last six. The Eagles and Bears meet again at Morgan Feb. 26. Coppin won the earlier meeting, 80-73, Jan. 20.  

Navy (16-10; 7-6 in the Patriot League)

A balanced and experienced Navy team has won three of its last four to move into fourth place in the Patriot League. The Midshipmen are led by senior guard Shawn Anderson (13.2) and have five players -- three seniors and two juniors -- averaging 8.8 or more points per game.

Two games out of second place, Navy has road games against third-place Boston University (8-5) Feb. 17 and first-place Bucknell (11-2) Feb. 21. 

Navy head coach Ed DeChellis said it's important for his team to finish in at lease fourth place.

"One thing about the Patriot League Tournament is that each round is held at campus sites, so you want to get a top-four seed to get a home game in the quarterfinals," DeChellis said. "With the bottom-four teams having to play in the play-in round, if you get in the top six, you only need to win three to win it all." 

Loyola (8-16; 6-7 in the Patriot League)

Loyola has recovered from injuries and a difficult start and is right behind Navy in the conference. The Midshipmen host the Greyhounds to close out the regular season Feb. 24. 

Photo Credit: UMBC Athletic Communications