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The Morning Dish – Thursday, December 15, 2016

December 15, 2016 The Morning Dish No Comments

We’re in that time of the non-conference season now where schedules are lighter and so are the television offerings. That doesn’t mean they have to be as light as they were Wednesday night.

Last night brought us ESPNU’s first annual SWAC/Big 12 Challenge, though there was of course no official recognition of this, nor was there a sharing of homecourt privileges. The featured teams for the night were Baylor and Oklahoma State; it was pure coincidence that both teams’ opponents hailed from the Southwestern Athletics Conference, that hard-trying league whose squads spend pretty much all of November and December on the road, giving it their best while players are gassed by ridiculous travel schedules.

To the surprise of no one-including, we presume, ESPN’s programmers-both games were blowouts. Fourth-ranked Baylor displayed again why it deserves to be noted as one of the most impressive teams of the early season and shredded an actually decent Southern team 89-59, while Okie State ran away from Arkansas-Pine Bluff 102-66.

As the network that in so many ways serves as a national flagship for this sport, ESPN needs to be called out for this scheduling, lest anyone be so foolish to think this is the best it could’ve done. This was a perfect chance for the network to have broadened its scope for a night, featuring some teams that it may not usually. It actually did so in its first game of the day, with Saint Joseph’s playing Princeton-at 5 p.m. Eastern time, with their contest finishing before prime time even starts. (SJU picked up a nice 76-68 win on the road over the depleted Tigers)

The night would’ve been the perfect time to feature a game like Middle Tennessee State at Belmont. MTSU most certainly has some brand recognition to even casual fans right now as The Team That Stunned Michigan State in the NCAA tourney this spring, and showing the Blue Raiders on the road at a quality Belmont program had a high probability of providing some entertaining viewing. Indeed, Middle posted a 79-66 win, but only after closing the game on a 10-0 run that doesn’t come close to fairly representing a fantastic second half that included eight lead changes and three more ties.

(We are thankful for the American Sports Network, which did offer this game in syndication, and we love love love ASN filling a role providing syndication to conferences that deserve more coverage than they receive, much like the old Creative Sports Marketing did years ago. We only can hope ASN’s outreach will grow more and more nationally.)

ESPN also could’ve called the Louisiana-Lafayette-Georgia game up to the big leagues from the SEC Network (UGA snapped ULL’s eight-game winning streak, winning 73-60, as Yante Maten-18 points, 15 rebounds-won a battle of big men and outdueled Bryce Washington, who finished with 11 points and 18 boards). Or it could’ve flexed a little bit of its ample power over the sport and arranged for some intriguing matchups.

Maybe it would’ve been pairing previous NCAA tourney darlings Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas-Little Rock, a fun matchup even if neither is quite at its level of a year ago. If the network needs to get teams more appearances to fulfill a contract, then maybe it’s offering a Big 12 team a bonus to play on the road at an MVC team like Illinois State or Northern Iowa, or an ACC team to travel to, say, Monmouth.

This was a prime opportunity to get creative; instead, as usual, ESPN punted, all but thumbing its noses at fans in order to throw yet another bone to the few conferences it has its biggest contracts with. It’s not just thoroughly lacking in imagination; it’s also not showing no foresight whatsoever. Any time the networks show games is another opportunity to showcase the sport, and televising games that should be good is an infinitely better strategy for getting fans to come back than choosing games that have a high likelihood of being blowouts. Instead, ESPN essentially said Wednesday night’s schedule was a throwaway, the price of securing deals for big games with major conferences. That may work out well for those conferences, but it’s a lousy strategy for growing the sport.

Side Dishes:

  • We certainly would be among the first to acknowledge that occasionally heavy underdogs do surprise in guarantee games. Chicago State very nearly pulled off the feat on Wednesday, pushing Northwestern to the limit, even bringing some frustration and snippiness out of the Wildcats before the hosts prevailed 68-64. The Cougars hit 13 three-pointers and outhustled the Wildcats on the glass, and it was enjoyable to see for a program that has dealt with so much uncertainty the past year, with questions about the school’s future.
  • Rutgers is somehow 10-1 now after an 82-69 win over Fairleigh Dickinson. No idea how good the Scarlet Knights really are-the schedule has been pillow-soft-but Steve Pikiell has still done a nice job in his first year.
  • Minnesota is even one game better-11-1 after a 76-66 win over plucky LIU. Dupree McBrayer and Nate Mason combined for 40 points.
  • One more Big Ten note: Wisconsin cruised to a 73-59 win over Wisconsin-Green Bay. Other ranked teams playing and winning included UCLA (102-62 Over UC Santa Barbara), Saint Mary’s (73-51 Against Western Kentucky) and Arizona, which got a battle but held off in-state foe Grand Canyon 64-54.
  • East Tennessee State won at Mississippi State 67-65 as Hanner Mosquera-Perea tipped in the winning points with a second left. No surprise at all, and the Buccaneers get another chance at an SEC next weekend when they host Tennessee-at home.
  • Arkansas State picked up another nice road win, trouncing Tennessee-Martin 87-68. Devin Carter scored 33 points and hit 10 three-pointers-TEN.
  • DePaul has been playing with fire at home this year, and the Blue Demons were burned this time, by the Illinois-Chicago Flames. UIC toppled DePaul 78-75 for the biggest win of Steve McClain’s short tenure so far, and did so despite losing star Dikembe Dixson to a knee injury in the first half. Dixson was seen on the bench in the second half with tears in his eyes; McClain reported after the game that he will be evaluated tomorrow, and we can only hope the news is better than it sounds right now.
  • An entertaining game in eastern Ohio saw Youngstown State outlast Niagara 101-97 in overtime. Cameron Morse is back after a brief absence a few games ago and he scored 27 for the Penguins.
  • Marquette announced that guard Traci Carter is transferring. Carter is the fifth player to transfer from the program since the 2014-15 season, a concerning note considering the short rosters the Golden Eagles have been playing with, though Carter was clear in saying he wants to transfer closer to home near his native Philadelphia.
  • Princeton lost to Saint Joseph’s as noted above, and the Tigers released more bad news as guard Henry Caruso is out for the rest of the season due to a toe injury. Caruso is the second Princeton starter out for the season now, joining Hans Brase, and both are significant blows in a season that started with so much promise but that has been marked by narrow losses and now injury so far. The Tigers still have enough to compete in the Ivy League, but their margin for error continues to dwindle.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • On a very sparse Thursday, the best game just might be Central Florida at George Washington. Tacko Fall and Tyler Cavanaugh in this provides a good bit of star power.
  • Murray State is at Mississippi. The Racers still are trying to find some consistency, but this should be entertaining nonetheless with some big-time backcourt play for both teams.
  • Coastal Carolina is at Auburn in what should be a fun nostalgia trip, as Cliff Ellis visits one of his old stomping grounds.
  • The rest of the schedule is mostly regional fodder with games such as Austin Peay at Wofford, Lipscomb at Tennessee and Nebraska-Omaha against Missouri-Kansas City among the better ones.

Have a very nice Thursday.

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