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The Morning Dish – Sunday, December 21, 2014

December 21, 2014 The Morning Dish No Comments

Saturday’s college basketball day had all kind of major storylines featuring many of the sport’s biggest name schools. Kentucky and North Carolina winning big made-for-TV games. A pair of former Big East rivals putting on a show. Louisville, VCU and SMU getting quality road wins. Illinois defeating Missouri at the buzzer in their annual Braggin’ Rights game. And that was just during the daytime.

Would like to take a moment, though, to recognize a league at the other end of the spectrum, maybe as far from the biggies as can be in NCAA Division I. The Southwestern Athletic Conference is frequently a punching bag for schools like the aforementioned, regularly racking up the losses in November and December while playing ridiculous non-conference schedules.

Using data from CBSSports.com, entering Saturday the SWAC ranked 30th of 32 conferences in the RPI, which sadly is actually an improvement of its frequent ranking of 32nd in past years. The conference was 8-79 against Division I competition. Of course, it also has played a grand total of 10 of those 87 games at home, with the rest at neutral sites or, mostly, on the road.

This week, though, the SWAC has been fighting back. Arkansas-Pine Bluff won at Houston on Wednesday. Jackson State blew out Southern Mississippi on Thursday. Both, naturally, were on the road. Neither of those compared to what happened on Saturday.

Texas Southern has had a number of fairly close calls this year, playing competitively before falling at teams like Tennessee (by 12), SMU (by 13) and Indiana (a 19-point loss that was closer until the final minutes). The Tigers broke through on Saturday, though, defeating Michigan State 71-64 in overtime for one of the most stunning results yet in a season that has had its share of them already.

The way this one played out was nothing less than shocking. The Spartans led at halftime (by five), were ahead by eight with seven minutes to play in regulation, and still should’ve been prohibitive favorites to win when the game went an extra five minutes. An underdog like Texas Southern may have a shot at winning at Michigan State in regulation, but if they can’t do the job in 40 minutes, their chances of doing it in 45 are next to none.

Texas Southern is now 2-8 on the season. That record, like so many in the SWAC at this time of the year, is deceiving. The Tigers have played one home game in their first 10. On the road they’ve faced Eastern Washington, Indiana, Tennessee, Norfolk State, SMU, Baylor, Florida, Gonzaga and Michigan State, not a light touch in that bunch. With a schedule like that, 2-8 might be overachieving.

The difference between the best teams in Division I and the worst, on the court and in power ratings, is often magnified based on where games are played, and isn’t reflective of reality if games were played under more equitable conditions. SWAC teams aren’t always 40 points worse than Big 10 teams so much as they always play them on the road and are worn out by doing so.

Of course, it’s hard to prove that theory when these teams so rarely get a chance to play under more comfortable scenarios, and that’s the reality of being a low-budget Division I conference. But it also makes it even more special when teams like Texas Southern get wins like this.

Saturday’s action/Side Dishes:

  • Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin is out indefinitely after being diagnosed with an unruptured aneurysm. Doctors are determining how to treat the condition but until they do are keeping him off the sideline. Cronin told his players just before their game against VCU on Saturday, and the Bearcats did not respond well, falling 68-47 to the Rams.
  • Phil Kasiecki has a recap of Saturday’s action here. A couple more notable happenings and notes from the day:
  • Western Kentucky always seems to give Louisville a tough time and did again Saturday before falling 76-67 to the undefeated Cardinals. The Hilltoppers this time frustrated All-American candidate Montrezl Harrell into a shoving match that resulted in him being assessed a Flagrant 2 foul and getting ejected from the game for throwing a punch in the first half.
  • TCU is still undefeated, 11-0 now after routing Texas-San Antonio 88-57.
  • New Mexico swept the season series against its in-state rival, edging New Mexico State 69-67 in Las Cruces Saturday night. The Lobos are quietly 8-3.
  • BYU badly needed to beat Stanford, and did so 79-77. It’s a tough loss for Stanford, but other than a win over Wofford and a blowout of UNLV, the Cardinal really haven’t shown much at all in the non-conference season.
  • Late Saturday night, the Pac-12 took another rough loss as Lehigh defeated Arizona State in overtime 84-81 in Tempe. Brett Reed has put together a talented team at Lehigh, while this hurts for ASU.
  • Incarnate Word continues to force itself into the spotlight. The Cardinals won again Saturday night, going to triple overtime against Missouri-Kansas City at historic Municipal Auditorium before coming out with a 110-104 win.
  • Murray State seems to have found its stride after an ugly start. The Racers had four score in double figures in an 89-77 win over Illinois State. Murray State has now won six in a row.
  • USC Upstate continues to impress. The Spartans won at Mississippi State 53-51. Playing big-name opponents hasn’t been too big for this team at all. If it can get past Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun, wouldn’t be a shock at all if Upstate kept the A-Sun’s run of years with NCAA Tournament wins going.
  • So does UC Davis. The Aggies won at Air Force 81-75 to move to 8-1 this year, one win shy of their win total all of last year when they finished 9-22.

Today’s Menu: Overall a fairly lackluster slate, but a couple good ones.

Harvard at Virginia (Noon EST, ESPNU) An NCAA Tournament second round or Sweet 16-quality matchup. This would be a major win for the Crimson, the type that could be the difference in a couple seed lines in March.
Maryland at Oklahoma State (2 p.m. EST, ESPNU)  Even given the usual guarantee games on their schedules, betting there’s not a person out there who would’ve expected these two to be a combined 19-2 at this point of the season.
Seton Hall at Georgia (6 p.m. EST, ESPNU) 
Another road game for the Pirates and another chance to keep building their credentials against a solid team, but also one that is beatable.
Oregon State at Quinnipiac  Interesting road trip for the Beavers, traveling to Hamden, Conn., for a single road game against a tough team known for its rebounding. (The game is the second of a three-year contract between the two schools from opposite coasts) A tough game, one OSU could easily lose, but also the type of road game that builds character just before conference play starts.
North Dakota State vs. Kent State  Part of the venerable Don Haskins Sun Bowl Tournament hosted by UTEP. Stretching to find a fifth game for this list, but we’ll give a nod to these two. NDSU has been up and down, as to be expected after losing so much from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, but the Bison did just beat Akron.

Have a terrific Sunday.

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