- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 5, 2012

Well, that’s that. Another riveting football season is in the books.

The college game wrapped up four weeks ago, and even its offseason circus — national signing day — is over.

Since this is the Washington market, though, that didn’t matter anyway. Well, at least based on attendance figures at Byrd Stadium.

The pro season is over, too. And suddenly there’s a gaping hole.

Sure, there is an offseason for a league that casts a monolithic shadow over the rest of the sporting landscape. But despite its omnipresence, there’s only so much immediate return on free agency, a draft, minicamps and countless hours of yammering and pointless prattle on the Four Letter Network.

(Spoiler alert for supporters of the Local Eleven: Your team will contend for another mythical offseason championship. There will be lots of chatter about a quarterback. Irrational hopes a two-decade title drought could end surely will surface. And a franchise indigenous to last place for quite a while probably will wind up back there again next season. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.)

So what to do? College basketball — especially local college basketball — says hello.

Oh, it’s been here for the past three months, chugging along steadily and often unnoticed. But maybe now it’s time to start paying attention, even though it was ignored (as it so often is) in its early and middle stages.

It might not be the best season on record locally. There’s only one sure thing to be playing into the middle of March among D.C.-area teams. But there’s the start of interesting things nearly everywhere.

An especially adventurous fan could have caught three games inside the Beltway on Saturday. That doesn’t even include the latest high-wire act authored by George Mason (19-6, 11-2 CAA), which outlasted Old Dominion 54-50 in Fairfax on Saturday to remain in a three-way tie for the conference lead.

There’s also the perverse intrigue further afield in Annapolis, where Navy (3-19) on Saturday matched a school record with 15 consecutive losses and is without leading scorer J.J. Avila, who was suspended indefinitely last week.

Saturday, though, made it possible to check in on three locals at very different stages of their development — a basketball tripleheader delightfully devoid of the Wizards (though a preview of one of their future draft picks was possible thanks to the visiting team in College Park).

11 a.m.

This is probably too early to be playing much of anything. It didn’t stop Georgetown and South Florida from convening before midday for a contest of surprising importance in the Big East.

Not-so-surprising: The effective Hoyas continued churning out victories.

Georgetown (18-4, 8-3 Big East) is not a team of stars, but five players reached double figures as morning turned into afternoon.

It also is a team capable of strong defense when it is so inclined, such as a stretch of forcing nine straight turnovers.

The action, it turned out, wasn’t riveting. The score, however, was attention grabbing. Georgetown departed with a 75-45 victory, another sign the Hoyas might not be as vulnerable to the first weekend flameouts that plagued their 2008, 2010 and 2011 NCAA tournament appearances with a vastly different roster.

“They were more talented last year, a much better team this year,” USF coach Stan Heath said.

Not many transformations are more fascinating than that.

4 p.m.

Another packed crowd to welcome ACC royalty to College Park. Another feisty performance from Maryland.

Another loss to a more talented team.

It’s the reality facing the Terrapins (13-9, 3-5 ACC), who suffered an 83-74 setback to North Carolina.

Maryland led by as many as nine, still was up with 10 minutes to go and generally played well for much of the day. Tellingly, the Terps never trailed by double digits.

There’s a reboot in progress under coach Mark Turgeon, who succeeded the retired Gary Williams last year. Maryland hasn’t piled up especially noteworthy victories. It probably isn’t destined to play deep into March.

But the Terps are developing, which could make them an interesting commodity in the second half of conference play.

“I don’t look at 3-5, I really don’t. I’m going to look at the film and see how I can make them better,” Turgeon said. “You know what I need to do tonight to make myself feel better? I’ll pop in the Radford tape [from Dec. 23] and pop in this tape to see how much better we’ve gotten in a little over a month. The kids are growing up.”

7 p.m.

Turgeon isn’t the only new local coach finding his way. And compared to George Washington’s Mike Lonergan, his frustrations are mild.

The Colonials drew their second-largest crowd of the season. They actually scored at a decent clip.

And they still never got within a possession in the second half of an 86-75 loss to Massachusetts.

Every time GW (8-15, 3-6 Atlantic 10) got two stops, it couldn’t score. Every time it pieced together a couple of baskets, it couldn’t get a stop. So it went on another frustrating night in the first season of Lonergan’s homecoming to the area where he grew up, attended college and began his head coaching career.

“It’s like I told these guys, we’re not a really good team,” Lonergan said. “We showed signs of life lately. But it’s not too late to get better. We have to get a lot more out of our seniors. Aaron [Ware] and Jabari [Edwards] have to give us more. If that happens, it’s not too late for us to turn it around.”

And not too late for casual fans to take note of the local college hoops tableau, either — whether in packed ventures over a full day or just one-game doses. Don’t worry. There’s nothing football-related to miss on the horizon.