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The Morning Dish – Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December 13, 2016 The Morning Dish No Comments

It’s never too early to start picking up quality wins, even when you compete in a conference as tough as the Big East. And there’s no better attention-grabbing win at this time of the non-conference season than to knock off an undefeated team.

Seton Hall entered Monday night’s game with South Carolina with a solid-but-unspectacular resume in the first month of the season, an 8-2 record with some wins that may or may not shake out to be very good (at Iowa, against California at a neutral site), a potpourri of middling (if not terrible) opponents in guarantee games, as well as an underwhelming performance in Orlando over Thanksgiving that included losses to Florida and Stanford. The Pirates pulled out a 67-64 win over the Gamecocks on Monday, though, in a game played at Madison Square Garden and that was easily the sport’s showcase game of the night.

Desi Rodriguez scored the go-ahead basket with 12 seconds left on a sweet face-up and drive from the right wing, and Seton Hall survived a three-point attempt in the final seconds by P.J. Dozier to pick up its best win of the season. South Carolina-which moved up to No. 16 in the rankings on Monday, its highest ranking since 1997-98-lost for the first time, leaving us with six undefeated teams left in NCAA Division I.

Despite a Big East tourney title last year, its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 10 years (and solidly as a 6 seed) and being the last team to defeat eventual national champion Villanova last year, Seton Hall is definitely still seen as something of a ‘prove it’ team by most nationally. The Pirates returned four starters this year, yes, but the one who did not return-Isaiah Whitehead-was the unquestioned star of last year’s team but left early for the pros. Add in the losses in Orlando, and this still was a team lurking off the national radar so far this season.

The Hall continues to get terrific production from those four key returnees, though-Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo are an excellent and experienced quartet-and sharpshooting Myles Powell has been an impact freshman, and was so again last night (11 points, seven rebounds). Beating a quality South Carolina team-even without suspended leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell-is a statement win, especially considering teams like Michigan and Syracuse were not able to beat the Gamecocks earlier this season.

The Pirates are looking to play in the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since making four consecutive trips from 1991-94. In that regard, don’t underestimate just what an accomplishment it would be for Kevin Willard to follow up last year’s success with another trip to the Big Dance. Seton Hall still has work to do to get there this year, but the Pirates are positioned nicely to get back there again, and took a solid step towards doing so Monday.

Side Dishes:

  • The undercard-and we do mean undercard-at Madison Square Garden actually turned out to be a pretty good game, as Boston College edged Auburn 72-71 on a tip-in by Nik Popovic with :00.2 left in the game. The Eagles responded after losing to Hartford in their last game, out-boarding Auburn 49-32.  Meanwhile, the Tigers now have the uncomfortable feeling of knowing they lost to a team that has lost to Nicholls State and Hartford this year.
  • It was nearly an awful night for the AAC. First, Central Florida was dumped at home by Pennsylvania 58-49 despite Tacko Fall having another dominant showing (17 points, 17 rebounds, 8-for-8 from the field). Good win for Steve Donahue and his building program at Penn. Then, South Florida appeared a certainty to lose to Bethune-Cookman, trailing 66-53 with less than 3 1/2 minutes remaining in regulation. The Bulls held the Wildcats scoreless for the remainder of regulation, though, pushed the game to overtime and won 79-73 to avoid a very grim loss and deny Bethune-Cookman of what would’ve been a sweet win.
  • Maryland won again, rolling past Jacksonville State 92-66, with six players scoring in double figures.
  • George Mason continues to play really well. The Patriots have won eight straight after a 97-60 win over Longwood where Jalen Jenkins came up one point short of Mason having all five of its starters in double figures.
  • Canisius is a solid 6-5 after handling Albany 77-64. The Golden Griffins nearly knocked off Monmouth in their second MAAC game and may be a surprise contender for a spot in the top half of the conference.
  • Missouri-Kansas City guard Martez Harrison was dismissed from the team Monday following what has been termed by the university as a “violation of athletic department policy” after a Title IX investigation. Harrison was averaging 16.5 points per game and is a former Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year award winner as a sophomore. UMKC is off to a 7-4 start that includes wins over Murray State and Bowling Green and a seven-point loss at Creighton in its opener.
  • Arizona State freshman swingman Sam Cunliffe has requested his release and is expected to transfer from the Sun Devils. Cunliffe was a prized recruit for ASU and had started every game this year, averaging nearly 10 points and five rebounds per game. He is a native of Seattle, and based on the comments in the Arizona Republic story, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he ended up landing at a school in that area.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • No better way to start off the night than with the Big 5, with Temple taking its best shot against top-ranked Villanova (7 p.m. Eastern, FS1).
  • Tough Cincinnati hosts well-traveled Texas Southern, which plays its 10th straight road game to start the season and is still more than a month away from its first home game. Remember that the next time someone tries to suggest an ACC or Big Ten team played the toughest non-conference schedule.
  • Always good to see Stony Brook and Hofstra continue their battle on Long Island, and the series continues with the Seawolves making the 45-minute drive west to Hempstead this year.
  • Monmouth’s schedule toughens up again, starting with a trip to Memphis.
  • A game worth keeping an eye on: North Carolina Central is at LSU. The Eagles already won at Missouri this year and are capable of the upset here.
  • New Mexico State is quietly 8-2 with wins over Air Force and in-state rival New Mexico, and the Aggies play the first game of a home-and-home with Texas-El Paso, the 210th meeting all-time between the schools.

Have a good Tuesday. 12 shopping days left until Christmas.

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