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The Morning Dish – Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November 24, 2015 The Morning Dish No Comments

With the Maui Invitational, Kris Dunn, Ben Simmons and a renewal of an old Big 8 rivalry, Monday night saw a number of heavy hitters in action. Incredibly, though, a school that has never been a household name just keeps forcing itself into the national conversation, too.

Texas-Arlington followed up its win this weekend at Ohio State with another road shocker, defeating Memphis 68-64. A bizarre game all around saw the Mavericks make just 26 of 78 shots from the field (33.3%) and commit 33 fouls, but UTA built a 10-point halftime lead and then rallied after falling behind by six midway through the second half.

The Mavericks finished with 20 offensive rebounds, had the best player on the floor in Kevin Hervey (22 points, 11 boards) and withstood serious foul trouble, with five players finishing with four fouls or more. All this from a team that went 16-15 last year, lost three starters-including one through college basketball’s version of free agency in guard Johnny Hill, who is now starting for Purdue-and was picked to tie for 8th of 11 teams in the Sun Belt Conference this year.

UT-Arlington has been an NCAA Division I member since 1971. In 44 years, the Mavericks have been to the NCAA Tournament once-in 2008, where they lost in the first round as a 16 seed to Memphis, ironically enough. The school itself is not tiny-the university has 51,000 students, which makes it a little less likely to be a media darling than, say, a tiny private college such as Monmouth or Valparaiso. For the longest time, though, UTA competed in but rarely was a power in the Southland Conference, which always has been one of the most anonymous leagues nationally on the college hoops scene.

Head coach Scott Cross has built a nice program at UTA, though, winning 156 games in nine-plus years and posting three of the top five best single-season win totals in school history. He’s done it with a fast-paced attack, even last year before the 30-second shot clock essentially mandated that almost everybody has to play that way now. It was striking how time and again in the final minutes last night that Cross’s team outhustled the Tigers to loose balls and long rebounds.

Even if Ohio State and Memphis are average at best this year, there will not be many teams to put together two better back-to-back road wins this year. Suddenly, UTA has to be considered a favorite in the Sun Belt. The Mavs have several more solid non-conference foes left but no other biggies save for one. Texas-Arlington will face Texas in Austin on Dec. 1. Win that one, and this big little school may become the darling of the nation yet.

Side Dishes

  • The Maui Invitational tipped on Monday, and the string of upsets early in this season continued. Wake Forest defeated Indiana 82-78 to send the Hoosiers to the consolation bracket. It’s a surprise that is maybe less of a surprise to some of us than others-it still feels like many forgot just how bad IU’s defense was last year, and they showed that again yesterday. Perhaps Indiana also paid for caving in to a shoe company and wearing special uniforms for the game, casting aside a look that is among the classic, signature, timeless uniforms in the sport. Also in Maui, Vanderbilt ripped St. John’s 92-55, Kansas blew out host Chaminade 123-72 and UCLA topped UNLV 77-75. All in all, another excellent day for what is always one of the best early season tourneys.
  • Kris Dunn had another of those games that seem to flow from him like water from a creek. The fabulous Friar wasn’t far from a quadruple-double, finishing with 22 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals in Providence’s 83-76 win over plucky NJIT.
  • Tulsa couldn’t work its way back from a big deficit for the third straight game. South Carolina jumped on the Golden Hurricane and held off another TU comeback attempt, winning the Paradise Jam with an 83-75 victory. Credit to Frank Martin’s team for a nice start.
  • The matchup between Missouri and Kansas State at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic was much anticipated, but the game was a rout by K-State, 66-42. The Wildcats now face former No. 1 North Carolina, which was shaky but handled Northwestern 80-69.
  • The Legends Classic had a duel between Diaper Dandies, and surprisingly Marquette and Henry Ellenson got the better of LSU and Ben Simmons, with the Golden Eagles winning 81-80. Simmons had 21 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists while Ellenson had 16 points and 11 caroms, but Marquette is in the final and now faces Arizona State, a 69-66 winner over N.C. State.
  • In the Gulf Coast Showcase, Murray State defeated Wisconsin-Milwaukee 66-63 when the Panthers’ tying three-pointer was ruled just after the buzzer. The Racers will now face Pepperdine, which topped Duquesne 84-70. Drake then edged Western Kentucky 81-79 in overtime behind the individual performance of the night-41 points from Kale Abrahamson. The Bulldogs now get Weber State, which slowed down Central Michigan in a 64-60 win. The Big Sky Conference is quietly putting together some nice wins early on.
  • Massachusetts scored an impressive win and another blow for the Atlantic 10, rolling over Clemson 82-65 at the MGM Grand Main Event in Las Vegas. The Minutemen now will face Creighton in the tourney final after the Bluejays dumped Rutgers 85-75.
  • Tennessee-Chattanooga has been another team like Texas-Arlington making noise on the road, but the Mocs met their match Monday, falling at powerful Iowa State 83-63. Impressive work by the Cyclones, taking care of business convincingly against a good team.
  • Things just don’t seem to be improving at Southern Mississippi, where the Golden Eagles lost to local Hattiesburg foe William Carey 84-78. Once again, underestimate NAIA schools at your own risk, but nevertheless this will not sit will at Southern Miss.
  • Finally, Illinois nearly became an upset victim-again-while Chicago State almost was the latest school to come from nowhere to pull off a stunner. The Fighting Illini recovered, though, and won it 82-79 at the buzzer after this shot by Jalen Coleman-Lands:

Today’s menu: The day is heavy on tournament action

  • The Maui Invitational continues, highlighted by semifinals including surprising Wake Forest against Vanderbilt and Kansas vs. UCLA in a clash of two of the sport’s all-time programs.
  • The Legends Classic and CBE Hall of Fame Classic both have their title games.
  • The Cancun Challenge semifinals include No. 2 Maryland against Illinois State (8:30 p.m., CBSSN) and Rhode Island vs. TCU (6 p.m., CBSSN).
  • The best non-tournament game has Valparaiso at Oregon State. The Crusaders continue a hellacious early season schedule. If they can win one of two at the Pac-12 schools in Oregon, call that a success.
  • With their struggle against Texas-Arlington this weekend, Ohio State’s home game with Louisiana Tech (8 p.m., BTN) becomes even more interesting. The Bulldogs are the only team that has handed a loss to…you guessed it, UT-Arlington.
  • Finally, St. Bonaventure is at Canisius in a Little Three matchup of western New York rivals.

Enjoy your Tuesday.

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