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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, December 7, 2016

December 7, 2016 The Morning Dish No Comments

Three distinct events, all exceptional and special in their own way, led the college basketball schedule Tuesday. They were unique, poignant, just fun, or all of the above, and it’s impossible to feature one but not the others.

On Dec. 7, though, any discussion has to start with Pearl Harbor, especially in this year marking the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Pearl Harbor Invitational is one of the sport’s best new events in just its second year. Fox Sports 1 has led the charge on this one, which is played in Bloch Arena at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in a tiny-but-character-filled bandbox that looks great on TV.

A two-day event this year, it opened Tuesday with California pulling away late to top Princeton 62-51, followed by Seton Hall fighting off stubborn Hawaii 68-57. The games are played in front of an audience consisting primarily of service men and women, and this is the rare new neutral court event in this sport that goes deeper than being a blatant entrepreneurial venture.

At a time when there are fewer and fewer living survivors from World War II and widespread war becomes a more and more distant idea to the younger, anything reminding us of such an important day in this country’s history and the sacrifice so many have made for it deserves applause. Over 60 million around the world were killed in World War II, including better than 400,000 Americans, and they should never be forgotten.

The Jimmy V Classic has long been a made-for-TV event with a cause, remembering the legacy of legendary former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano, who passed away from cancer in 1993, and also raising money and awareness in the ongoing fight against the disease. The event long has been backed by ESPN, Dick Vitale and many college basketball coaches, and the yearly airing of Jimmy V’s ESPY speech is still one of the best moments of TV in any year.

This year’s games featured a drubbing, with Purdue hammering Arizona State 97-64, and a challenge as Duke held off Florida 81-71. Again, though, these games were played at Madison Square Garden, the mecca of neutral court doubleheaders in the sport for 80 years.

The other event in the evening didn’t receive much notice, but the creativity behind it takes a backseat to no one. San Francisco-a one-time power in college basketball that was still a national player until dropping the sport briefly in the 1980s in the aftermath of scandal-returned to Kezar Pavilion for the first time since 1958, playing at the place that housed the Dons during their 1955 and 1956 NCAA title runs.

Kezar Pavilion was built in 1924 and similar to Bloch Arena in Hawaii is a classic old-school basketball facility, right down to the beams running from ceiling to floor in front of the grandstands. USF even wore throwback uniforms with short(er) shorts. The game was a stroke of genius, a brilliant idea for one of the more history-rich programs in the sport, and the Dons defeated NCAA Division II San Francisco State 91-59 to move to 7-1 this year, the team’s best start since 1999-2000.

Side Dishes:

  • Besides those events, the big story of the night was Florida Atlantic’s shining moment, as the Owls won at Ohio State 79-77 in overtime. Nick Rutherford hit a runner off the glass with one second left in the extra period for the winning points for a huge win in Michael Curry’s building program there. A great win for FAU and a loss that could haunt the Buckeyes for a while.
  • Big 5 games rarely disappoint, and Villanova’s first game ranked No. 1 was an entertaining one as La Salle pushed the Wildcats before falling 89-79 at the Palestra.
  • We challenge anyone to find a home and home series anywhere in the nation this season that has two better finishes than Belmont and Lipscomb did this year in their Battle of the Boulevard. The Bruins won 78-76 in overtime last night as Taylor Barnette hit a pair of three-pointers, including the winner with five seconds remaining, to rally his team from a four-point deficit in the final minute. Belmont also won the first meeting a week earlier when Evan Bradds threw a 90-foot pass to Dylan Windler for the winning layup just before the buzzer, just after Lipscomb had tied the game with two seconds left.
  • Notre Dame is now 8-0 after an 87-72 win over Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne. Bonzie Colson now has six straight double-doubles (17 points and 14 rebounds in this one).
  • Rhode Island shut down Old Dominion 51-39 for a solid win at home in a game where both teams struggled to score against good defenses.
  • On the other side of that were Central Michigan and Wisconsin-Green Bay, with the Chippewas outlasting the Phoenix 107-97 as Marcus Keene (40) and Braylon Rayson (30) combined for 70 points. Another wild one saw Tennessee-Chattanooga come back to defeat former Southern Conference rival Marshall 96-85, with Tre’ McLean scoring a career-best 35 points.
  • Michigan edged Texas 53-50 in another of those low-scoring games that we’re starting to see more and more of again. Expect the ridiculous cries for a shorter shot clock yet to get louder from TV heads soon. Also in the Big Ten, Minnesota moved to 8-1 with a narrow 74-68 win over NJIT, which continues to play Big Ten teams tough.
  • Marquette blew out to a big lead on Fresno State but then had to hold on for an 84-81 win.
  • Finally, Navy came back from 25 points down at halftime-25-to defeat Bryant 76-74. It’s being reported as the second-biggest halftime deficit overcome in NCAA Division I hoops history, surpassed only by Duke (of course) rallying from 29 down back in 1950 to defeat Tulane.
  • The first in-season coaching change has taken place, as Ray Giacoletti has resigned at Drake following a 1-7 start to the season, his fourth with the Bulldogs. Giacoletti posted a 32-69 record at the Des Moines school, and he will be replaced for the rest of the season by assistant coach Jeff Rutter. For those who have followed Drake this year, this comes as only a mild surprise. The Bulldogs have lost six games by single digits, the last two in excruciating fashion (losing a 15-point second-half lead at DePaul, then falling to Fresno State by two in overtime after rallying from 20 down). Unquestionably it’s been the type of season already that could wear on a coach, especially one struggling to make headway on a turnaround.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • Valparaiso faces a tall task, but the Crusaders have a chance to make a good impression if they can at least stay close at Kentucky. The Wildcats will unquestionably be motivated after losing at home to UCLA on Sunday.
  • After being flogged by Illinois, VCU must respond tonight when it hosts Georgia Tech (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU).
  • Butler has a tricky road game, while Indiana State has a golden opportunity for the MVC when it hosts the Bulldogs.
  • The Pearl Harbor Invitational’s only slight imperfection is that it is not an actual tournament and has predetermined second day matchups. As it is, California and Seton Hall (7 p.m., FS1) will play a de facto championship game tonight even as they were guaranteed to play tonight even before winning yesterday, while Hawaii and Princeton also will meet (9:30 p.m., FS1).
  • Air Force is at Army, and it’s fitting that two service academies are playing on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
  • It’s time to start paying attention to TCU, and the Horned Frogs really will be buzzing if they can win at SMU (8 p.m., ESPNews).
  • Creighton is at Nebraska. The Bluejays have dominated this series for going on 20 years now. Another state rivalry game has North Dakota at North Dakota State.
  • Xavier continues its grueling non-conference slate with a trip to Colorado.
  • The Battle of the Palouse resumes for the 272nd time with Idaho making the eight-mile trip to Washington State. The Vandals have won the last two meetings.
  • Finally, the night wraps up with some zing with Markelle Fultz and Washington on the road at former Husky Nigel Williams-Goss and everyone else at Gonzaga (11 p.m., ESPN2).

Have a terrific Wednesday.

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