D.C. teams aren't diaper dandies, but real deals

D.C. has long been a major city known for many things. The nation's capital, a political epicenter and a major news hub all come to mind. But a college basketball town? When did this happen?

Surprisingly enough, the biggest sports buzz surrounding the District isn't the latest Nationals fiasco (pick one) or even the Redskins' rumored interest in Terrell Owens. We may not be in the throws of March Madness just yet, but the capital is currently catching a college basketball-induced February fever.

And why shouldn't we be excited? The impending NCAA Tournament is one of the biggest and most-watched sporting events of the year, and the D.C. area could see four of its teams participating.

With two teams currently ranked (No. 7 George Washington and No. 20 Georgetown), one getting votes (George Mason, ranked No. 25 last week) and another looking to return to glory (Maryland), the hype just keeps escalating. Throw in the fact that MCI Center will be one of the regional semifinal hosts and you can pretty much guarantee that March Madness will dominate the city come tourney time.

So what are the chances of crowning a local team as national champion? While some might argue the D.C. contingent can't keep up with powerhouses like top-ranked Duke or No. 3 Connecticut, it's tough to ignore the feats they've accomplished so far this season. Plus, everyone knows in the tournament, absolutely anything can happen.

Take Georgetown for example. The Hoyas are starting to dust off some of their old-school magic, grabbing a big win over rival Syracuse last weekend and snapping a five-game losing streak to the Orange. They also made their presence known in a huge way earlier this year by handing Duke its first loss of the season.

George Mason could be a major sleeper, boasting major Cinderella appeal as the first team in the Colonial Athletic Association (of which AU was a part of until 2001) to be ranked since the David Robinson-led Navy team in 1987.

Though its tournament chances are slim at this point, Maryland could shock with a comeback as it looks to recapture some of its glory with a return to the tournament after missing it last year for the first time since 1993. The Terps gave a preview of their capabilities earlier this month by hanging tough with ranked teams like Duke and No. 15 North Carolina State, playing close games with near-wins against both.

GW seems to have the best chance at this point, seeing that its top-10 status makes it the highest-ranked of the D.C. teams. The Colonials also join Duke as the only two one-loss teams left in Division I this season. Despite the recent loss of senior forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu (out at least three games with a knee injury), the Colonials' speed and depth promise to make them a major tournament contender.

With the possibility of four local teams competing in the tournament, even the most casual basketball fan will be glued to the games. Die-hard tournament lovers in the area will obviously be pumped, and when D.C. plays host to the Sweet Sixteen, you might be surprised to find even the non-sports fans getting pulled in.

And if all the D.C. schools fall out of step before the Big Dance waltzes into town? No big deal. I'm sure everyone in the District will be too busy rearranging their brackets to worry about missing a beat.

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