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The Morning Dish – Monday, February 1, 2016

February 1, 2016 Columns No Comments

In the last year and a half, Dana Altman has reminded the college basketball world that he’s a very good basketball coach. Just in case we all forgot that.

Maybe we did. It happens sometimes. We sometimes miss things happening away from the limelight, and Altman had that for a while in an unlikely fashion – at a mid-major, albeit a consistently very good one – before going to relative obscurity.

Altman won big at Creighton in 16 years, winning at least 20 games in 11 straight seasons and reaching 13 straight postseasons. Along the way, the Bluejays went to seven NCAA Tournaments, winning first round games twice, and they were a big part of the rise of the Missouri Valley Conference into the middle of the last decade. He was then infamous for taking the head coaching job at Arkansas in April 2007, only to back out a day later.

After two more postseason appearances, Altman actually did leave – this time for Oregon. And he’s continued to win. But it’s not as simple; while early on, the Ducks under Altman were full of graduate transfers, to the point where that was basically the program’s identity. They won the CBI in his first season, reached the NIT quarterfinals a year later and have been an NCAA Tournament mainstay since.

Last season might have been his best coaching job ever. The Ducks had a terrible off-season with player incidents and departures, so beyond a few holdovers like eventual Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young, they were an unknown. You needed to get a program. That didn’t matter to the Pac-12 Coach of the Year, as they finished second in the conference and got to the championship game in the conference tournament, losing to Arizona. Altman guided them masterfully, getting the most out of Young’s support cast to be an unexpected contender.

After Sunday’s 91-74 win at Arizona State, Oregon leads the Pac-12 this season at 7-2, and it’s again an unexpected run at that. Young is gone, and so are a few other key contributors. Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis, expected to be a key player as a veteran with an otherwise young backcourt, has missed most of the season due to injury. Tyler Dorsey has led the way on the perimeter as a freshman, while the frontcourt has carried them, with Chris Boucher being the star on Sunday with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

The Pac-12 has shown its strength this season from top to bottom, as well as balance. Behind the Ducks are four 6-3 teams, and none of them are named Arizona or UCLA, two mainstays of the conference, or California, a trendy pick before the season with their influx of freshman talent to go along with solid, underrated veterans. Oregon is in many ways symbolic of the conference this season, as Dana Altman reminds us once more that he can coach a little.


Side Dishes

Villanova beat St. John’s 68-53 on Sunday, and the Wildcats were without big man Daniel Ochefu due to a concussion. The senior suffered the concussion in practice during the past week, and leads the team in rebounding with 8.3 per game.

The Big Ten had no real surprise results on Sunday with a busy slate. Iowa took care of Northwestern 85-71 in Iowa City behind 26 points from Peter Jok, while Maryland went to Columbus and beat Ohio State 66-61. Michigan State blasted hapless Rutgers 96-62, and Wisconsin went to Illinois and beat the Illini 63-55.

Wichita State continued to put some distance between themselves and everyone else in the Missouri Valley on Sunday. First, they beat one of the teams chasing them, Evansville, 78-65 behind 32 points from Fred VanVleet. Then they got some help from Northern Iowa, who beat Southern Illinois 67-58, the first road loss of the season for the Salukis. The Shockers lead Evansville and Southern Illinois by three games.

Boston University‘s 75-73 win over Lehigh wasn’t going to grab much attention all by itself, but noteworthy is that the Terriers won on a tough leaner by John Papale at the buzzer.

And finally, a story that had a positive event on Sunday involves Colorado State forward Emmanuel Omogbo. The junior recently lost his parents and twin niece and nephew in a house fire, but came out earlier in the week to score 11 points and grab seven rebounds in 20 minutes against San Jose State. Then on Sunday, he shared a video message he received from Kobe Bryant, where the retiring NBA star says, “This is Kobe, I just wanted to take the time to let you know that I’m thinking about you in my prayers, and you will continue to be in my prayers. Your strength and courage is a true inspiration. Just wanted to tell you I’m there for you man, keep your head up.”


Tonight’s Menu

The new month gets started with a pretty good slate of games for a Monday night.

  • In ACC action, Lousiville hosts North Carolina in a big opportunity for the Cardinals, while Florida State hosts an NC State team that is fresh off a big win over Miami.
  • Baylor hosts Texas in a nice Big 12 matchup.
  • SMU hosts Houston in the lone American Athletic Conference game.
  • A big game in the MAAC is on tap as Siena hosts Monmouth.

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