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The Morning Dish – Sunday, November 23, 2014

November 23, 2014 The Morning Dish No Comments

The weekend has featured several instances of something we don’t see often: BCS conference (or Group of Five, or whatever term you want to use) teams taking to the road against good non-BCS teams.

In the past two days, four teams that went to the NCAA Tournament last year went on the road to face non-BCS teams. For those who have paid attention to this sort of thing over the years, the results of these games were not surprising.

Friday late night saw Big West teams Long Beach State and Hawaii defeat Kansas State and Pittsburgh, respectively, as the latter two teams stopped off on their way to the Maui Invitational. Last night it was Rhode Island earning a nice 66-62 overtime win at home over Nebraska, while Wyoming issued a 56-33 whipping of Colorado. (The Cowboys and Buffaloes are neighbors and meet quite regularly, so the matchup wasn’t that unusual)

Some have inferred that the schools playing these road games screwed up, making bad scheduling decisions by daring to play teams these games on the road.

Truth is, all of these visiting teams should be applauded for playing the games. Loudly.

As fans, we want to see good teams challenge themselves and prove their worth consistently. Playing guarantee games is not challenging a team.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee also is smart enough to know the difference between losing a game a team should win at home vs. losing a tough game on the road. Winning on the road is difficult-anywhere. That’s why road wins are such a significant part of selection and seeding.

The committee should recognize these games for exactly what they are-road losses to solid, at least top 100ish (and maybe better) level teams. No more, no less. They shouldn’t be completely written off-as occasionally has been suggested by some in the past-but they should absolutely be recognized for making the effort to challenge a team in an uncomfortable situation that so many others chicken out of.

Kansas State, Pittsburgh and Nebraska all have ample opportunities to get into the NCAA Tournament. If they’re good enough to be in the NCAA’s, they’ll easily overcome this. The only difference is their record takes on an extra loss that they wouldn’t have absorbed if they had just tacked another home game against Prairie View or Sacred Heart.

Nothing more was harmed than that. The only other thing hurt was the mythology about BCS conferences that an uneducated few want to believe, that somehow any of those teams are automatically a minimum of 20 points better than any opponent they face from outside that realm. It’s not true, and it never has been, even in this time where football TV money has led to a brand name division in Division I conference.

There have always been far more good teams in the country than can be contained in 5-6 conferences. And home court advantage has always been a big, big advantage for college basketball teams. If fans are exposed to those truths just a little more, that’s not a bad thing.

Saturday’s action

  • Rhode Island and Nebraska went back and forth all game, but the difference came on the glass, where the Rams hammered Nebraska 49-36, including 16 offensive boards. The Huskers’ Shavon Shields (25 points) and URI’s E.C. Matthews (26 pts) both hit big baskets to provide great theater, but the overtime hero was Jared Terrell, who hit back-to-back three-pointers to put the Rams in control.
  • Duke took care of Stanford 70-59 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic final. Hoopville’s Phil Kasiecki was there.
  • In the consolation game, a quick call to UNLV, which rebounded from a bad, bad loss to Stanford by defeating Temple 57-50. Phil Kasiecki also has more on the Rebels.
  • North Carolina rolled past Davidson 90-72. Kennedy Meeks did the most damage with 19 points and 12 boards.
  • Jerian Grant and Notre Dame both are looking renewed this year. The Fighting Irish defeated Massachusetts 81-68 in the Hall of Fame Classic in Connecticut, shooting 58.5%. In the second game, Providence may have been even more impressive, blowing out Florida State 80-54. LaDontae Henton is taking over the lead role this year, averaging nearly 20 ppg through the Friars’ 4-0 start, including 24 points and 10 rebounds yesterday.
  • Larry Shyatt-coached teams have shut opposing teams many times before. But his Wyoming team’s win over Colorado may be one of the most impressive defensive performances by his teams yet. The Buffaloes reached 90 in their last game against Auburn and have multiple offensive weapons inside and out. This also was an important win for the Mountain West Conference as a whole. And the ultimate question of all: when San Diego State and Wyoming meet this year, does either team reach 40?
  • Wisconsin blew out another team at home, this time Boise State 78-54. The Badgers have a ton of versatile offensive weapons and just do not miss many shots at home (55%). This is a top 5 team, or course, but they also have not played the type of physical team that will at least give them at least a challenge as the season goes on.
  • Appalachian State won at Virginia Tech, 65-63, as Frank Eaves (game-high 19 points) went coast-to-coast for the winning basket in the final seconds just after the Hokies had tied it. The bottom of the ACC is starting to pile up the bad losses early in the year, with Florida State, Clemson, Wake Forest and now Virginia Tech all losing games at home to teams they’re not supposed to, if the Big Football conferences are as great as TV networks always tell us they are.
    To be clear: VT is not particularly good right now, and that’s not surprising-that’s why Buzz Williams was brought in. But neither is Appalachian State, which was picked to finish 11th of 11 teams in its first year in the Sun Belt. Good win for Jim Fox, the former Davidson assistant in his first year at ASU. The Mountaineers led early, fought back after the Gobblers seemed to gain control, and finished +15 on the glass (42-27).
  • For the first time in four games, Utah State did not fall behind by double-digits in the first half and actually held a four-point halftime lead. Apparently out of their comfort zone, the Aggies fell to Mississippi State 72-63 for their first loss. Bulldogs are 3-0 and look to be improving.
  • Steve Wojciechowski did not take over an easy situation at Marquette this year. We’re starting to get a picture of just how tough his first season may be, as Nebraska-Omaha came into Milwaukee and dumped the Golden Eagles 97-89. This is actually a little bit less of an upset than some may think; the Mavericks gave some good teams fits last year. And boy, if someone is looking for a team that gets out and goes, UNO is their team. Lot of fun to watch.
  • Texas-El Paso and New Mexico State always seem to play good games, and that continued as the Miners rallied after trailing most of the game and then held on for a 77-76 win. Vince Hunter was big with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
  • Quinnipiac and Albany played a dandy, with the Bobcats pulling out the 76-73 overtime decision on the road. This one will sting a while for the Great Danes, who led by 16 in the first half.
  • Neither win was over a marquee opponent, but UC Davis quietly had a successful trip across the country, winning a pair of road games, including a 58-55 win at Furman on Saturday. The Aggies followed up a win at Eastern Illinois the other night and are now 3-0.
  • SMU defeated Eastern Washington 77-68. EWU continues to rain in three-pointers, hitting 11 more (the Eagles are averaging 11.8 triples/game through four games), while a very good development for the Mustangs was Keith Frazier scoring a career-high 17 points.
  • UNC-Wilmington outgunned VMI 110-93. An unusual occurrence in college basketball: three players scoring in double figures for the Seahawks-Freddie Jackson (26 pts), Cedrick Williams (23) and Addison Sprull (20).
  • A surprise from very early Saturday was Incarnate Word winning at Princeton 79-68. The Cardinals are transitioning from NCAA Division II, but veteran coach Ken Burmeister is building a nice program that is adapting to D-I quickly. UIW finished 9-5 against a partial Southland Conference schedule last year.
  • Finally, IUPUI won its second straight game, defeating Ball State 71-69 in overtime. P.J. Boutte hit a buzzer-beater at the end of overtime for the win.

Side Dishes

  • Ball State sophomore guard Zavier Turner has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Turner was the MAC Freshman of the Year last year.

Today’s Menu
Providence vs. Notre Dame
(2:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Hall of Fame Classic in Uncasville, Conn. Excellent early season measuring stick for both of these teams. Both have looked good early.
Connecticut vs. West Virginia (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic final. Really like the way WVU is playing early in the season, but the Mountaineers are lacking in the size department, which could be a problem against UConn.
Miami vs UNC-Charlotte  (9 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Charleston Classic final. The 49ers’ history says the money has to be on them to win a November in-season tourney for the third straight year. Reality is, UNCC will be the underdog in this one, but it should have enough size to keep better track of the Hurricanes around the three-point arc than previous opponents have done. Also, in a truly bizarre occurrence, these two teams are meeting again in two nights at Charlotte.
UC Irvine at St. Mary’s  Good matchups inside and outside in this one. Brad Waldow against Mamadou Ndiaye is a great duel in the paint. The Gaels don’t have anyone at 7-foot-6, but do have depth to match against him inside. This game deserves some kind of national cable audience.
Long Beach State at UCLA  We’ll give the 49ers another call after defeating Kansas State Friday night. This is a team that should continue to get better. Long Beach will fear no one, but turnovers and rebounding are two issues early this year, and the Bruins’ size could contribute to both being a difference in this one.
Yale at Kent State   Huh? Yes, this isn’t a bad-looking game. Handsome Dan and the Bulldogs couldn’t quite pull out a classic on the football field with Harvard yesterday, but they are an overtime loss to Quinnipiac away from being 3-0 on the hardwood. The Golden Flashes are 4-0, and if they can win this the schedule is light enough that they could at least double that to 8-0 or 9-0 before playing Kansas in late December.
Paradise Jam Semifinals  Gardner-Webb vs Seton Hall, Illinois State vs. Old Dominion  (6 p.m. & 9 p.m. EST, CBSSN) Not exactly the semifinals many thought they would see as Clemson and LSU both lost early. It’s time to start taking Gardner-Webb seriously as a threat whenever they’re facing bigger name teams-the Bulldogs defeated Clemson in the quarterfinals and also were within five points in the final minute before losing at LSU in their opener.

Have a wonderful and relaxing Sunday.

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