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The Morning Dish – Friday, March 6, 2015

March 6, 2015 The Morning Dish No Comments
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The nickname will live on, but as far as the team that earned the label for Florida Gulf Coast, it turns out the first we saw of “Dunk City” in the NCAA tournament in 2013 was also the last.

FGCU was knocked out of the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament on Thursday by South Carolina Upstate. In a game that lived up to expectations, the Spartans won 63-62 only after the Eagles’ Bernard Thompson missed the final of three free throws after being fouled attempting a three-pointer with less than two seconds left.

The smooth-shooting Thompson and entertaining point guard Brett Comer were the last links to that FGCU team that shot up from a 15 seed in the 2013 tourney, running and dunking freely past heavily favored Georgetown and San Diego State to make the Sweet 16. As much as the Dunk City tag has endured since then, that team will always be the genuine article, the first and the best.

Though Florida Gulf Coast could still get selected to the NIT or another postseason tourney, Thursday night had the feeling of the end of an era, especially with the gut-wrenching way that an outstanding contest ended. It’s unfortunate the nation didn’t get to see more of the Eagles since then, but it also wasn’t a surprise in a conference that seems to grow competitive young programs on trees.

FGCU against USC Upstate may not sound like a TV marketers’ dream, but for those with a broader view of college basketball, this was one of the most attractive matchups there will be in this first week of conference tournaments. Third-seeded Upstate won at Georgia Tech and Mississippi State this year and hung tough before losing by 10 to both Maryland and Memphis, and also features the A-Sun player of the year in Ty Greene. No. 2 seed FGCU, of course, is Dunk City, and little more needs to be said, but the Eagles were potent enough this year to win at Massachusetts and beat Summit League champion South Dakota State in what was essentially a road game.

Thursday’s result guarantees we’ll have a first-time entrant in the NCAA Tournament, as Upstate will face North Florida in the tourney final on Sunday. The top-seeded Ospreys defeated No. 5 Lipscomb 71-57 behind 36 points from Dallas Moore. Many will recall that North Florida is the same team that won at Purdue earlier this year.

Sunday is now set up for an exceptional championship game between two of the newer members of Division I. (It should also be noted: the 3 seed Upstate defeated the top seed UNF twice this year.) Of course, the A-Sun also has won in the NCAA tourney each of the last two years, as Mercer famously defeated Duke last year before moving to the Southern Conference this year. It goes without saying: once again, the winner of the Atlantic Sun will be a serious threat in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That the conference’s entrant will be making its first appearance in the Big Dance will only add to the flavor of the tourney. So while Dunk City may never be the same, in another way FGCU’s legacy as a D-I newcomer making it big will live on and could only be added to this March.

Thursday’s Action:

  • First off, a delightfully rapid game in the MEAC, where Delaware State won at Coppin State 104-92. Hornets’ gunner (term used affectionately) Amere May scored 40, which is only his second-highest scoring game of the season-he had 48 in December against St. Francis (N.Y.)-and teammate Kendall Gray added 33 points and an incredible 30 rebounds. DSU outscored the Eagles 70-63 in the second half. Coppin coach Michael Grant was clear when he took over the job before this season that his teams were going to run, and run, and run some more. Once again, more proof provided of exactly what can happen when teams are allowed to play, and the 35-second shot clock didn’t inhibit either team in the least.
  • Four other conference tournaments were at work on Thursday. The Patriot League quarterfinals were eventful, as expected. Top seed Bucknell needed a three-point play late in regulation from Chris Hass to get to overtime, and the Bison put away No. 8 Holy Cross from there 90-83. No. 6 American came in as the defending champion and is not done yet after a 68-62 win at No. 3 Lehigh. No. 2 Colgate (72-62 over No. 7 Navy) and No. 4 Lafayette (89-64 over No. 5 Boston University) also advanced.
  • The Metro Atlantic saw a big surprise in its nightcap, as No. 11 Marist eliminated No. 6 Quinnipiac 80-74. The Bobcats were considered a dangerous 6 seed, but instead it’s the 7-24 Red Foxes advancing to face defending champion No. 3 Manhattan. Also winning on Thursday were No. 7 St. Peter’s (63-33 over a Fairfield team that shot 22.7%) and No. 8 Siena, which topped Niagara 71-54.
  • The 25th anniversary of Arch Madness for the Missouri Valley in St. Louis is underway. No. 9 Southern Illinois won a pick’em over Missouri State 55-48 for the right to face top-seeded Wichita State. The second game went to overtime, with Bradley edging Drake 52-50 to move on to face Northern Iowa. We’ll be down at Arch Madness on Saturday for the semifinals and Sunday for the championship game.
  • The Ohio Valley semifinals are set. No. 5 Morehead State knocked out fourth seed Tennessee-Martin 76-65, a tough end for a team that was a pleasant surprise this year. No. 3 Belmont hammered No. 6 Eastern Illinois 97-64.
  • Regular season games now: Wisconsin wrapped up the Big Ten regular season title with a 76-63 win at Minnesota. Once again, Frank Kaminsky: 25 points. It should be noted, though, that Sam Dekker is becoming more and more consistent of late, and he had 20 here.
  • Arizona pummeled California 99-60. The Wildcats had six score in double figures and are increasingly looking primed for a deep run in March. Also in the Pac-12, Utah won at Washington State 67-59 despite reserve guard Kenneth Ogbe missing the game with a lingering groin injury, and Stanford took a bad loss, falling 67-62 at Arizona State. The Cardinal have slipped almost completely off the bubble now.
  • Temple got a very necessary 70-56 win at East Carolina. That win was even more important because one of the Owls’ presumed competitors for an at-large spot took full advantage of a national TV showcase. Davidson destroyed VCU 82-55, slicing and dicing the Rams all night with back cuts and three-pointers. For anyone who (mistakenly, from this view) believes in the eye test, the Wildcats should’ve clinched an NCAA bid with that performance, which was dominant in every way. Davidson also has won eight in a row, and while not a physically imposing team, the Wildcats absolutely are skilled enough to make a Sweet 16 run.
  • Whatever slim hope there was of Connecticut rising back into the at-large conversation is gone after Memphis won at UConn 54-53.
  • UC Davis has its first-ever Big West regular season title, and what a way to get it. The Aggies trailed by 16 in the first half, but 13 with less than nine minutes left in the second half, and never led until Corey Hawkins hit a jumper with 38 seconds left, and Davis survived cold shooting for a 61-58 win over UC Riverside.
  • The Sun Belt title now is down to one game on Saturday. Georgia Southern will go to Georgia State, with the winner clinching the league title and the top seed in the conference tourney. Georgia Southern took care of business against Texas-Arlington 76-64, while Georgia State won at Louisiana-Monroe 58-50 to knock the War Hawks out of the three-way tie for first heading into the night.
  • Louisiana Tech clinched the Conference USA title with a 72-61 win over Southern Mississippi. Also notable in C-USA: Old Dominion now has won five straight after a 67-50 win over Marshall. The Monarchs are still hanging on the fence with a chance at an at-large bid.
  • Stunning result in the Big Sky, where leader Sacramento State lost at ninth-place Southern Utah 69-65. The Hornets now slip back into a three-way tie for first with idle Montana as well as Eastern Washington, which won at Idaho State 85-81.

Side Dishes:

  • Coaching changes have begun as Liberty has let go Dale Layer after six years. Layer-who formerly was at Colorado State for seven years-had an 82-113 record with the Flames and made an NCAA Tournament in 2013. Despite being in the Big South, Liberty is a school that for years has never been shy about having big ambitions in college sports, so this move is not a surprise.
  • Virginia’s Justin Anderson was on schedule to return Saturday against Louisville, but he remains out after having an appendectomy on Thursday. His status for next week’s ACC Tournament is still up in the air.
  • Georgia Tech’s Marcus Georges-Hunt has a broken bone in his foot and will miss the upcoming ACC Tournament. Georges-Hunt has been one of the bright spots and was the leading scorer (13.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) in a Yellow Jackets season that started with some promise but turned dismal. Tech is 12-18 overall and went 3-15 in the ACC regular season.
  • Finally, a classy tribute by the Missouri Valley Conference, which announced yesterday that it will honor the late Bryan Burwell by naming its interview room at Arch Madness in his name.  Burwell wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before passing away in December at the age of 59 due to cancer, and he was a regular covering Arch Madness. A fitting honor for one of the all-time greats in the field.

Today’s Menu:

  • A lot of conference tournament action highlights the day. Highlighting the day are semifinals in the OVC and quarterfinals in the Big South and Missouri Valley. The OVC semifinals have No. 1 Murray State against Morehead State and No. 2 Eastern Kentucky facing Belmont in a rematch of last year’s championship. The Valley gets going with nationally ranked Wichita State and Northern Iowa playing their openers, plus quality quarterfinals with Illinois State and Evansville in the 4/5 game and No. 3 Indiana State against No. 6 Loyola (Ill.). The Big South should be one of the most competitive of all the tourneys this year, and it’s no stretch to say the 2/7 game (High Point vs. Gardner-Webb), 3/6 (host Coastal Carolina/UNC-Asheville) and 4/5 (Radford/Winthrop) are all toss-ups.
  • The day also includes second round games in the Horizon League and first round tilts in the CAA, Southern Conference and WCC. Cleveland State against Detroit is an intriguing 4/5 game in the Horizon. Hoopville’s Phil Kasiecki will be at a CAA tourney in Baltimore that promises to be wide open.
  • Regular season games take place in the Ivy League and MAC. Bowling Green is at Buffalo, with the winner clinching at least a share of the MAC East title. Kent State can also claim a share if it can beat Akron at home (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2). The huge one in the Ivy is Yale going to Harvard, with the league title very likely on the line. Both are tied at 10-2 in league play. A win by the hosts will send the Crimson to the NCAA Tournament again.
  • Baylor is also home to host Texas Tech (9 p.m. EST, ESPN2) in a rare Friday night Big 12 game.

Have a terrific Friday, and enjoy all the great conference tournament action this weekend.

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