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The Morning Dish – Monday, December 22, 2014

December 22, 2014 The Morning Dish No Comments
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In an age where flash dominates sports, where no-look passes and high-flying dunks capture fans’ attention, and where future NBA talent is talked about so much in the college game, Virginia stands out.

And on a weekend where a Kentucky team that has been much-talked about annihilated a UCLA program that has plenty of history all its own, Virginia stands out in its own way. And the Cavaliers have been doing that since the start of last year, for that matter, even if very few people have noticed.

Harvard took notice on Sunday. They had no choice to, as they were there to witness it. The Crimson were the latest victim, losing 76-27 in Charlottesville.

Though Harvard is not a juggernaut, especially offensively, the Crimson are good. They are favorites in an Ivy League that is as good as it’s ever been. They’re not as good as they were a year ago, but last year’s team was one of the best the Ivy League has seen in some time and this is the team to beat there. They have one of the most complete players in America in Wesley Saunders, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year who is playing even better basketball this season. They are capable of beating a good team from a conference like the ACC. On Sunday, however, to say they met their match would be a big understatement.

A game like this is almost always a case of one team playing very well and the other team playing very poorly. You see a few games like this every year, and it doesn’t really tell you much about the two teams relatively speaking. Just as Kentucky is probably not 39 points better than UCLA, Virginia is probably not 49 points better than Harvard.

The numbers are staggering from this one. Harvard shot 8-50 from the field for the game – 16 percent. They made an NCAA record-tying one field goal in the entire first half en route to eight points – a new record at Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena. In fact, Virginia’s Mike Tobey outscored them all by himself just in the first few minutes, scoring the team’s first nine points. Virginia out-rebounded Harvard 45-25, and while the Cavaliers shot 59.6 percent from the field, that doesn’t register the same way the defensive numbers do.

Virginia doesn’t have a wealth of McDonald’s All-Americans like Duke does. They don’t have a potential top NBA Draft pick like Duke does. They don’t have a legendary coach or one who’s noted for his personality in some way (Tony Bennett is a terrific coach and an understated man). In fact, there’s a lot they don’t have. Still, this team is defending its ACC title, and as conference play beckons, they look poised to do it well. Many are talking about Duke, and understandably so given what the Blue Devils have done thus far. But Virginia has been pretty impressive thus far, too.

How impressive? Their 11-0 mark includes wins over George Washington, at Maryland, at VCU and now over Harvard. Only one win – a 64-56 win over La Salle in the Barclays Center Classic – was by a single-digit margin. Maryland is the only team to score over 60 against them. Virginia is also the first team since Bucknell in 2004-05 to hold two Division I opponents under 30 points in the same season (Rutgers managed just 26 points against them late last month). Opponents are shooting 31 percent from the field, including below 28 percent from long range, and Virginia out-rebounds teams by 14 per game. The offensive numbers – nearly 50 percent from the field, over 39 percent from deep and 14 assists against 10 turnovers per game – are pretty good, too.

Virginia lacks everything by which we normally market teams for TV games. But they certainly don’t lack substance, and their play thus far shows it. With that in mind, don’t be surprised if it is the Cavaliers, not the Blue Devils, that take home an ACC title and more.

Side Dishes

The ACC suspended Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell for the Cardinals’ next game, which is against Cal State Northridge on Tuesday. The junior was ejected after getting a flagrant foul 2 on Saturday for swinging his arm at a Western Kentucky player, but it was not deemed to be for fighting, which would have carried an automatic suspension.

Maryland continued their fine start, beating Oklahoma State 73-64 behind 21 points and 11 rebounds from Jake Layman.

USC is almost done with non-conference play, and they picked up a good road win at Boston College 75-71 behind a perfect shooting game from Elijah Stewart. The freshman scored a career-high 22 points on 10-10 shooting from the field as the Trojans bounced back from a slow start in this one.

Georgia coasted to a 65-47 win over Seton Hall, holding the Pirates below 30 percent shooting and out-rebounding them 50-31.

Quinnipiac picked up a notable home win as they knocked off Oregon State 60-52 behind 24 points from Zaid Hearst. Alabama, meanwhile, got a scare from Appalachian State but won 60-59 in Tuscaloosa.

As the Diamond Head Classic gets set to tip off in Hawaii on Monday, the tournament announced the field for 2015 on Sunday. It will consist of Auburn, Brigham Young, Harvard, Hawaii, New Mexico, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma and Washington State.

Tonight’s Menu

It’s the last big day before Christmas in terms of games, with over 80 on tap involving Division I teams. Among the notable games:

  • The Diamond Head Classic gets going with four quarterfinal games: Ohio vs. George Washington, DePaul vs. Colorado, Loyola Marymount vs. Wichita State and Nebraska vs. Hawaii.
  • The Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Classic takes place in the Barclays Center with Manhattan vs. Fordham to start, then Miami taking on Providence to close out the night.
  • The Continental Tires Las Vegas Classic features Southern Utah vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff and South Carolina State vs. Abilene Christian early, then Loyola (Ill.) vs. Texas Tech and Boise State vs. Houston to close it out.
  • Wisconsin travels to Berkeley to take on California in what should be a very good matchup of 10-1 teams.
  • Temple hosts Kansas in another tough contest for the Jayhawks.
  • Big Ten teams Michigan State and Ohio State try to bounce back from Saturday losses as they host The Citadel and Miami (Ohio), respectively.
  • Another tough test is ahead for Long Beach State as they travel to St. John’s.
  • Saint Mary’s hosts Northeastern in a battle of good mid-majors in Moraga.
  • Former CAA rivals clash as William & Mary heads east on I-64 to visit Old Dominion.

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