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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, December 14, 2016

December 14, 2016 The Morning Dish No Comments

There’s really no other way to put it: Villanova is a machine right now.

The Wildcats just keep on setting them up and knocking them down, navigating a sticky non-conference schedule loaded with traps and doing so in clinical fashion. Villanova’s latest achievement came Tuesday night, when it shut down Obi Enechionyia on the way to defeating Temple 78-57 to clinch the Philadelphia Big 5 title for the fourth straight year.

Enechionyia has been one of the hottest shooters anywhere much of the early season for the Owls, entering this game averaging 18.6 points and hitting nearly 50% from three-point range. Against Villanova, he had nearly as many turnovers (six) as points (eight) and never got to the free-throw line, either, essentially rendered a non-factor.

It was all in just another night’s work for the Wildcats. Josh Hart was again superb-26 points, Villanova played its typical excellent team defense, holding Temple to 36.7% shooting, and the top-ranked team in the country slowly pulled away to improve to 11-0 this year.

It’s hard to pick out what the best feature is of the Wildcats. Is it their experience? Is it their defense? Is it having a player in Hart who is on the short list for player of the year honors early on?

All we know is that Villanova has been tested time and again in its non-conference schedule, even before it faces a grueling 18-game Big East schedule. The Wildcats have won at Purdue and improving Pennsylvania, swept all four games against their Big 5 brethren, defeated Notre Dame on a neutral court even without their best defensive effort for 20 minutes, and have withstood challenges from teams like Western Michigan and La Salle who elevated their games and gave them a run, only to fall short in the end.

Villanova is playing with the confidence and self-assurance of a team that is the defending national champions. Even being a team that has limits in size and depth, nothing phases the Wildcats, and it’s a joy to watch them do their work.

Side Dishes:

  • Compared to all the damage it inflicted last season around this time, Monmouth has been quiet the first month of this season. No more. The Hawks rallied from 12 points down in the second half on the road to win at improving Memphis 82-79, as Justin Robinson hit the go-ahead free throw with 15 seconds left. Monmouth needed a win like this after falling at the buzzer in overtime at South Carolina and getting handled at Syracuse in its first two shots against brand-name opposition, and this one over an improving Tubby Smith-led team is an impressive road conquest.
  • Who knew Cincinnati could be an offensive juggernaut? The Bearcats ran away from Texas Southern 96-58, shooting 56.3% while limiting TSU to 30.4%. Jarron Cumberland scored 18 off the bench and Cincy committed just two turnovers and got terrific overall production from its bench: 51 points, 28 rebounds and 14 assists, including nine from Justin Jenifer.
  • The battle for bragging rights on Long Island was a mauling as Hofstra slammed Stony Brook 96-58, the same score as Cincinnati’s win. Justin Wright-Foreman scored 22 points off the bench to lead six players scoring in double figures, and the Pride outrebounded the Seawolves by a whopping 59-30.
  • New Mexico State is now 9-2 after a convincing 79-68 win at UTEP. Jemerrio Jones chipped in 18 points and 13 rebounds off the bench.
  • Clemson pulled away from South Carolina State 93-65 as Jaron Blossomgame starred with 29 points. LSU also got an outstanding lead performance from Antonio Blakeney, who scored 27 and needed them all in the Tigers’ narrow 70-66 escape from stubborn North Carolina Central.
  • Another team that needed a step-up performance and got it was Oregon, as Chris Boucher finished with 23 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots to lead the Ducks to an 81-67 win over Montana.
  • Eastern Washington edged Morehead State 88-86 in overtime as Bogdan Bliznyuk scored a career-high 34 points for EWU in the battle of Eagles. Morehead’s Eagles dropped to 2-7 and lost their seventh straight in what is rapidly becoming a nightmare season for the program and school. It was reported yesterday that suspended Morehead State coach Sean Woods is facing a misdemeanor battery charge in Indiana after two of his players accused him of assault during a game at Evansville earlier this year. According to the charges, he backhanded one player in the chest at halftime and shoved another during a timeout and again later in the locker room, both during a game at Evansville earlier this year. Especially in the case of the incident on the court, it will be interesting to see if there is video available of the incident. Woods has not coached since Nov. 22 when he was suspended after the school announced an investigation.
  • Another prominent transfer we missed yesterday: Georgetown junior Isaac Copeland plans to transfer at the end of the semester, per coach John Thompson III. Copeland is one of the seemingly never-ending list of Hoyas that was being awaited on as a breakout star, but never has broken out. This year he has averaged 5.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • Start it off with Princeton getting a chance at home against Saint Joseph’s (5 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU). Though this wouldn’t make up for lost chances on the road against the likes of BYU and VCU, it would be a start in the Tigers getting some momentum rolling before Ivy League play.
  • Louisiana-Lafayette has quietly won eight straight games after starting the season 0-2, and we’ll get a gauge on how good the Ragin’ Cajuns are when they go to Georgia. Enjoy the inside matchup featuring ULL’s Bryce Washington against the Bulldogs’ Yante Maten.
  • Fairleigh Dickinson has fought injuries in a disappointing start, but the Knights can get some positive vibes going if they can win at Rutgers.
  • Fourth-ranked Baylor hosts Southern, another of those over-traveled SWAC teams much better than its record (7 p.m., ESPNU).
  • One of the best games of the night has Middle Tennessee State, which has looked very good this year but faces a tough road test at Belmont.
  • Fresh off beating St. John’s, LIU now takes a trip to the Midwest to face much-improved Minnesota.
  • Arkansas State is at Tennessee-Martin in a matchup of solid Sun Belt and OVC teams.
  • Wisconsin-Green Bay goes to Wisconsin (9 p.m., BTN) in a matchup of a pair of NCAA tourney teams a year ago. Another in-state game has Illinois-Chicago at DePaul for a crosstown rivalry (8 p.m., FS1).
  • Western Kentucky just dumped Indiana State after the Sycamores had won at Butler, and now the Hilltoppers head west to take on Saint Mary’s.
  • Grand Canyon gets a shot at state foe Arizona (11 p.m., ESPNU).

Enjoy your Wednesday.

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