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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 28, 2015 The Morning Dish No Comments

Surprisingly, we haven’t heard a whole lot about Texas A&M as an NCAA Tournament candidate yet.

That should be changing very soon, because the Aggies are leaving us all no choice. A&M is playing its way into serious NCAA tourney consideration and is now 14-5 after a 71-61 win over fellow upstart Auburn Tuesday night.

A couple weeks back, it felt like just another one of those disinterested performances by Kentucky after the Wildcats needed two overtimes to beat Texas A&M. Now with the perspective of more results, we’re seeing that game for UK was indeed much tougher than thought at the time. The win at Auburn makes it five straight wins (including an impressive three of those on the road) for the Aggies, who also are 5-2 in the Southeastern Conference and really don’t have a bad loss other than a 21-point defeat at Alabama.

The turnaround has been quite a surprise, because just a year ago, Texas A&M was mediocre at times and not very good at all at others. The Aggies finished 18-16 overall, 8-10 in a considerably weaker SEC, and lost to teams like Missouri State and North Texas-the latter badly.

This year, the SEC is better, but so are the Aggies. Transfers have provided firepower. A&M received a lifeline when Danuel House was granted one of those bizarre NCAA waivers allowing him to become immediately eligible after the season started in late November after transferring from Houston in the summer, and he leads the team in scoring (14.3 points per game). SMU transfer Jalen Jones also is scoring 14.1 ppg. The rest of the team is mostly the same as last year, though, but is providing what is needed.

And it should only continue next year, as surprisingly-very surprisingly-Texas A&M has one of the top recruiting classes coming in. The Aggies will almost certainly be a trendy top 20 pick in preseason polls. An NCAA tourney bid this year would be an unexpected-but quite welcome-prelude to bigger things likely ahead.

Tuesday’s action:

  • If there was any doubt before, there shouldn’t be anymore. VCU is the team to beat in the Atlantic 10 after a 72-48 blowout of George Washington. The Rams got 38 points from their bench, led by Terry Larrier’s 15. The Colonials had more turnovers (16) than field goals (14).
  • Xavier has needed to show more on the road. The Musketeers did it in big fashion last night, winning in convincing fashion at Georgetown 66-53.
  • Oklahoma State did something few teams are able to do-out-rebound Baylor. The result was a much-needed 64-53 win.
  • Kansas State also did something few teams do-slow down West Virginia on the offensive glass. The Mountaineers finished with 10 offensive boards, eight below their average, but still won on the road 65-59.
  • Several surprising results in the Mountain West last night. Utah State knocked off Wyoming 56-44, dropping the Cowboys into a tie for first with San Diego State, which ground down Fresno State 58-47. Colorado State would’ve been in that tie, too, except Boise State finished the game on a 14-5 run in the final 2 1/2 minutes for an 82-78 win. Derrick Marks was fantastic in the second half with 26 of his 28 points.
  • Tulsa won its 10th straight and stayed undefeated in the AAC with a 62-55 win at Tulane. The Golden Hurricane have allowed no more than 58 points in nine of those 10 wins.
  • In the SEC, Arkansas held off Tennessee 69-64 while Georgia tipped Vanderbilt 70-62 and Florida edged Alabama 52-50.
  • Michigan topped Nebraska 58-44. John Beilein continues to get the most out of his team in conference play, while the Cornhuskers continue to be up and down.
  • The MAC had a busy night of conference play. Home teams went 6-0. Most notable: Kent State shut down Central Michigan 63-53 in a battle of division leaders.

Side Dishes:

  • Arizona State has lost freshman backup point guard Kodi Justice for the rest of the season due to a foot fracture that happened in the Sun Devils’ game against Stanford on Saturday. Justice was averaging 4.6 points and 1.6 assists on the season and had just scored his season-high of 16 points in the game before against California.
  • From yesterday, Phil Kasiecki checked in with Bucknell, which has worked its way into the Patriot League title hunt.
  • Don’t usually engage in self-promotion, but a humble plug for our story yesterday documenting how scoring in college basketball is actually doing just fine at the small college levels.
  • Just a note of an outstanding story by Gary Parrish of CBSsports.com on Saah Nimley, the diminutive spark plug leading Charleston Southern this year. Always good to see some quality profiles, especially ones few know much about.

Tonight’s Menu:

Duke at Notre Dame (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2)  The statistical comparison is scary, just how similar these two teams are. The head says the Blue Devils are the better team, but the location says this should go to the wire.
Mississippi State at Mississippi, Indiana at Purdue 
A pair of rivalry games, one better known for football, the other a bitter basketball clash in a basketball state.
Stanford at Washington (11 p.m. EST, ESPNU)
 Inquiring minds want to know how the Huskies will perform now without Robert Upshaw.
Albany at Vermont 
Key America East battle. The Great Danes can put 2 1/2 games between themselves and their nearest competition with a win here.
Loyola (Ill.) at Wichita State  The Ramblers have been dinged by injuries and have started to slide a bit in the MVC, while the Shockers are quietly hitting their stride.
Hofstra at William & Mary  The CAA is still wide open, with five teams within a game of the lead. The Tribe are one of three teams tied for the top.

Enjoy your Wednesday.

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