As part of the CBS Sports Network team that covered the Patriot League tournament, Evan Washburn witnessed No. 8 Loyola Maryland's run to the tournament championship for the second time in three years. Washburn, a former defenseman at Delaware, will provide analysis of the Big East tournament semifinals at Denver on Thursday and then cover No. 10 Duke's road game at Boston University on Sunday. Washburn, who can be followed on Twitter via @EvanWashburn, offered his thoughts on some storylines making waves nationally.
Were there any surprises from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament that No. 5 Syracuse won?
I've kind of learned that with the ACC tournament and the ACC in general, it's week-to-week and game-to-game. So I wouldn't say that anything shocked me. I was mostly surprised by the weather yesterday afternoon and them having to finish that game on what looked like a secondary field. That was probably my biggest shock. But I guess I would say that what's going on with [No. 7] Notre Dame is surprising. They're a team I felt pretty good about being a Philadelphia participant and probably at one point my pick to get over the hump and win the national championship. But to see where they've been the last two weeks – now these are games against [No. 13] UNC and Duke and they're quality opponents in games that were tight and could have gone either way – when you lose games like that at this point in the season, it does make you question as an outsider, which is what I am, as to what is going on with this group heading into the most crucial part of the year. They get Army next week to try to clean some things up. Being tested against the best the past couple weeks, they haven't been at their best, and that has to be a bit of a concern heading into the NCAA tournament.
Do you expect Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina and Notre Dame to qualify for the NCAA tournament?
I do. I see the ACC as a four-bid league. Obviously, Syracuse grabs the automatic [qualifier], but I do see the rest of them getting in. and I see the majority of them probably having home games.
Is No. 1 Denver the overwhelming favorite in the Big East tournament?
I'm in the midst of watching the [No. 19] Marquette-Denver game and they showed flashes. But I would say that I feel confident in Denver winning this thing. Being at home is a huge advantage. The weather is supposed to be nice, so it won't be a conditions thing. It's just having the comfort of playing there with the success they've had there. That being said, I think Marquette and [No. 16] Villanova can give them a run, especially because of the way Villanova can play offense and at times Denver's defense has not been as clean as a Bill Tierney defense would like to be at this point in the season. So the long answer to your short question is, I think Denver wins the Big East, but I wouldn't be surprised if Villanova or Marquette gave them a quality game in the championship.
Which team is your favorite in the Ivy League tournament?
I just think [No. 2] Brown at this point is really humming along and playing as good as you can hope. They had the big wins against Cornell a couple weeks ago and [No. 6] Yale. I think it's those two teams and then the rest of them. But I really feel good about what [Bears coach] Lars [Tiffany] has Brown doing right now, and they're another team that if I had to be pinned down about a Final Four candidate outside of maybe Maryland and Denver right now, I do feel good about Brown.
Can No. 15 Stony Brook upset No. 4 Albany in the America East tournament?
I'll be honest, I haven't watched a ton of Stony Brook. I've watched some of Albany and from what I can see, Albany is a head above a team like Stony Brook. I think if Stony Brook gets to the championship game, then it becomes an interesting thing. Does the America East get into that conversation for an at-large berth? I think Albany has secured a spot, but if Stony Brook wins, the America East could be the one that wrecks the party for a lot of these bubble teams. I think Albany is a head above what Stony Brook could bring, but the fact they are conference opponents so that there's a familiarity and there won't be an intimidation factor could be helpful. Still, Albany has been impressive.
Does it feel weird knowing that by virtue of a 7-8 record, Virginia, a program that has captured four NCAA titles including one as recently as 2011, has already been eliminated from consideration for the NCAA tournament?
It really does. I had UVA at Georgetown a couple weeks ago. I've talked to [Cavaliers coach] Dom [Starsia] a bunch over the years, and this was the time you get to really sort of break down a team as you prepare for a game. And to hear him say that this group, while talented, didn't have a guy, especially on the offensive end, that has played at an All-American level, a guy they can go to in crucial moments, that was shocking to me. It spoke to what you see on film or in person. That's a rarity for a team like UVA. If you think about the tradition of that program – whether it's Matt Ward or Steele Stanwick or Kyle Dixon – the offensive guys they've relied on in those championship years or even when they made runs to the Final Four, they had nothing like that. The struggle they had to manufacture goals against a beat-up Georgetown team was shocking to me. So yes, it is surprising to see. I have to imagine they'll be able to rebound because that program still has so much tradition, and if I was a high school senior – or maybe in this landscape, a high school freshman – who was really good, I would still want to go to UVA. But they need to start to get some guys to come in who are big-time recruits and act like it and maybe become first-team All Americans.