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The Morning Dish – Thursday, February 26, 2015

February 26, 2015 The Morning Dish No Comments
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Coming off one of its best seasons ever, the Atlantic 10 has flown under the radar this year. The league won’t be getting six teams in the NCAA Tournament again, and it’s fair to say it: 2014-15 has not been as good for the conference as 2013-14 was.

It was always going to be hard to top last year anyway, though, so what the league is doing this year is no slouch. Hitting the stretch run, no conference is more intriguing at the top than the A-10, and that was proven in spades Wednesday night.

The series between Virginia Commonwealth and Richmond continues to quickly ascend near the top of the list of rivalry games nationally, and the two teams played a memorable game with the Spiders holding on for a 67-63 double-overtime win. Davidson and Rhode Island also squared off in a battle between two teams elbowing for position in the NCAA tourney selection pecking order, and the Wildcats earned a critical 60-59 win on the road.

Dayton also eased past George Mason 76-63, while indomitable St. Joseph’s won on the road at Massachusetts 82-71. The result of it all is we now have four teams-VCU, Davidson, Dayton and Rhode Island-tied for the top of the conference at 11-4, while two more-Richmond and UMass-are two games back at 9-6.

The end of regulation and both overtimes of the VCU-Richmond game were all packed with drama. Treveon Graham hit a three-pointer with 3.7 seconds left in regulation to tie the game and send it to overtime, but only after ShawnDre Smith’s three-point attempt at the buzzer hit the rim three times before falling off. The teams then traded off engaging in the silly strategy of fouling with three-point leads at the end of the overtimes (don’t care about the percentages: trust your players to play defense and let them play). It backfired on VCU in the first overtime when the rebound on the Spiders’ second free throw attempt was batted out of bounds by the Rams, and T.J. Cline got free for a tying layup on the inbounds play. It nearly blew up on Richmond, too, when the Rams forced a jump ball to get possession back after a missed free throw, but Terry Allen saved the day by blocking Graham’s shot with two seconds left, giving the Spiders a sweep of both games with their city rivals.

Davidson, meanwhile, earned a huge road win as Jack Gibbs hit a three-pointer with 13 seconds left for the deciding points. The Wildcats rallied late after blowing a double-digit lead and are now 5-4 against the RPI top 100 with a deciding victory over a team that shared a very similar profile coming in. There’s also the injury factor from the month Gibbs missed before returning recently, and while it should not matter to the committee-for Davidson or any other team-the fact is, if the committee is considering it for other teams, it most definitely should for the Wildcats, too.

Side Dishes:

  • Kentucky moved to 28-0 with a fairly easy 74-56 win over Mississippi State. Maybe the story is more interesting to others, but from this view the Wildcats’ quest for an undefeated season at this point mostly induces a yawn. Dominant as it is, UK hasn’t faced a conference schedule anything close to that in a league like the Big 12, Big East, ACC or even Big Ten. This team’s real test will come in March; for now it’s just cruising, and that’s about all it needs to do.
  • On the other hand, everything is aligning for the SEC to max out its NCAA bids this year, and we do mean everything. Georgia won at Mississippi 76-72 on Wednesday, giving the Bulldogs a quality road win. The Rebels are still fairly comfortably in the field. After three straight losses, UGA has rebounded now with a last-second win at Alabama and now a win on the road against an Ole Miss team that is about as poor of a home team as an NCAA tourney-caliber team can be.
  • Wichita State and Northern Iowa both survived challenges on Wednesday and now are set for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown for the MVC regular season title. The Shockers posted a 63-53 win on the road against an Indiana State team that is tough at home, while UNI controlled Evansville 68-57. It seems like someone different almost every night for the Panthers, and in this one it was Deon Mitchell leading the way with 17 points. Saturday’s game in Wichita should be one of the great atmospheres of this entire season.
  • Surprisingly, one of the best games of the night was at Virginia Tech, where the Hokies singed Duke’s defense all night and took the game to overtime before falling 91-86 to the Blue Devils. Jahlil Okafor returned from an injured ankle to score 30 while Quinn Cook scored 26 with six three-pointers, including a huge one in overtime.
  • Baylor looked like it was going down at Iowa State. Then, the Bears got on a shooting tear, hitting five straight threes over just over 2 1/2 minutes for a stunning 79-70 win in Ames. Taurean Prince hit four of the Bears’ 14 triples and scored 20 off the bench. This is a team that can go a long way in March.
  • Northwestern did it again, beating Indiana 72-65 for its fourth straight win. It’s time to start taking the Wildcats seriously; the schedule has been friendly with three of the last four at home, but this is now wins over Iowa and Indiana both over that stretch.
  • Speaking of the Hawkeyes, they’re teasing us again. Iowa has now won three straight after a key 68-60 win over Illinois. Aaron White scored a career-high 29 points. This is about the time now where the Hawkeyes will go on the road and lose to Penn State on Saturday.
  • Tulsa and Cincinnati earned stay-the-course wins in AAC play Wednesday. The Golden Hurricane blew out Tulane 76-55 to tie SMU for the top spot in the league, while Cincinnati handled Central Florida 83-60.
  • Larry Nance, Jr. returned to the lineup for Wyoming, but the Cowboys lost to Fresno State 64-59 in Laramie. Wyoming has had a nice season, but it’s almost certainly one that ends in the NIT barring a Mountain West tourney title.
  • Miami (Fla.) edged Florida State 81-77, but the story was FSU’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes. The freshman scored 35 points, but 30 of those came in the final 4:38 in one of the greatest scoring outbursts in recent memory.
  • Oregon continues to take care of business, as the Ducks went to California and earned an 80-69 win. Also, UCLA easily handled Washington at home, 88-66.
  • It’s starting to look like no one wants to win the Horizon League. Valparaiso had a chance to wrap up the regular season title but lost to Detroit 63-60. The Crusaders appeared to tighten up late, forcing a terrible shot on their final possession and then committing a bad foul on Juwan Howard, Jr.’s fall-away turnaround three-point attempt with 1.3 seconds left, after which Howard hit the three deciding free throws.
  • North Florida is now a game away from its first-ever Atlantic Sun regular season title. The Ospreys went to Florida Gulf Coast and came away with a huge 76-62 win to sweep the season series with the Eagles. UNF and FGCU are tied at 11-2 in the A-Sun with one game to play, but the Ospreys hold the tiebreaker.
  • UNC-Wilmington and William & Mary are tied for the top spot in the CAA after the Seahawks handled James Madison 74-54 and the Tribe dismissed Towson 65-50. One of our favorite players, William & Mary’s Terry Tarpey scored a career-high 24, while Marcus Thornton set the school career scoring mark.
  • It looked like Bucknell was going to wrap up the Patriot League regular season title, but hold on a bit. The Bison were drilled by Lehigh 84-65, while Colgate won at Lafayette 95-83 in a game that featured 107 second half points. The Raiders are now just a game behind the leaders with one regular season date remaining in league play. Colgate won both regular season games against the Bison, so it would clinch the top seed in the conference tourney if it can tie Bucknell for the regular season crown.

Tonight’s Menu: A busy night, but very few games matching up two teams at the top of their conferences

Texas-El Paso at Louisiana Tech (8 p.m. EST, FS1)  The Miners have caught fire of late and now have a shot to take over sole possession of first in Conference USA.
SMU at Memphis (9 p.m. EST, ESPN2) 
The Mustangs look to stay a step ahead of Tulsa and everyone else in the AAC.
Minnesota at Michigan State (7 p.m. EST, BTN)  As expected, Spartans have firmed up their postseason plans, but the Gophers are a team good enough to at least win the NIT again, which makes this one MSU can’t overlook.
Oregon State at Stanford  The Cardinal cannot afford a home loss here.
Northeastern at Elon 
The Huskies attempt to keep up with UNC-Wilmington and William & Mary at the top of the CAA.
Wofford at Mercer  The Terriers still lead Tennessee-Chattanooga by a game in the Southern Conference but face a stiff road test here against Bob Hoffman’s always-prepared Bears.
Charleston Southern at Gardner-Webb  CSU is tied with High Point for first in a Big South that includes five teams separated by a total of one game. This is the type of tricky game that could lead to the Buccaneers dropping from first to fifth in the league.

Enjoy your Thursday.

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