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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, December 21, 2016

December 21, 2016 The Morning Dish No Comments

Arizona and New Mexico are two teams that should be playing on a regular basis, even if the result Tuesday night from their first game in 17 years indicates otherwise.

The Wildcats jumped all over Lobos, winning 77-46 in Tucson. Chase Comanche came off the bench to score 14 points and add eight rebounds and a very thin team right now had five score in double figures and held UNM to 26.2% shooting.

The game was a far cry from how competitive and hot this series was when it ended in 1999. It ended with New Mexico winning the last two meetings, while then-Wildcats coach Lute Olson announced he would never schedule the Lobos again after some controversy in a loss in 1998. The last contract ran out the following year, and it unfortunately ended a series that was one of the best in the West at the time.

Arizona and New Mexico are natural rivals. Both are major state flagship universities with (usually) rabid fan bases and distinct home court advantages, and both schools sink considerable money into their programs. Thankfully, Wildcats coach Sean Miller seems to get it, as he had some insightful comments about getting the Lobos back on the schedule. Miller spoke specifically of scheduling New Mexico as being something Arizona wanted to do, and that it wasn’t an act of charity. He believes the games are good for his team.

Miller also realizes the importance of regional competition, which is something that should be extolled. It’s good for schools to play like teams in their region, and it’s refreshing to see a coach who acknowledges this, rather than falling back on the traditional lazy excuses in scheduling that so many seem to take as facts of life.

The Southwest is a unique part of the country for college basketball. New Mexico and New Mexico State play a regular home-and-home out of conference every year, and NMSU also faces Texas-El Paso twice a year. There’s a strong regional component to these teams’ schedules, and the rivalry games are always heated. Arizona and New Mexico also once was too-some of the games between these teams were classics, and incidences like a coach vowing to cancel the series because of officiating, and then following through, only add to the legend.

As far as the Lobos, it goes without saying they need to pick up their level quickly. It’s no secret that coach Craig Neal is starting to come under fire as attendance at the usually wild Pit has dwindled. The expectations in Albuquerque are too high to let 31-point losses like this become a norm. With the resources there, NCAA Tournament appearances are the goal, and UNM currently looks far, far from that.

Side Dishes:

  • On a night where a number of ranked teams in action played guarantee games in the comfort of home, the best game may well have been in New Jersey. Monmouth outlasted Princeton 96-90 in a game that went back and forth all night. The Tigers were deadly from deep with 14 three-pointers, and Steven Cook was terrific with 30 points, but the Hawks kept coming back and also hit 14 triples. Je’lon Hornbeak hit six of them and scored 25 points and Justin Robinson led Monmouth with 27. Quality game that deserved a national television audience.
  • Creighton remained undefeated with a road win at Arizona State, winning 96-85. The Jays have won 12 straight to start the year, and Greg McDermott’s formula of welcoming transfers with open arms, mixed with some solid recruiting of freshmen, seems to be working out quite well.
  • The battle for the Peach State was a convincing decision for Georgia, which won at Georgia Tech 60-43. The Bulldogs won at Tech for the first time since 2010, taking a cold-blooded victory in front of a sellout crowd.
  • After Northeastern’s win at Michigan State, the Huskies’ next game at one-loss Oakland suddenly became one of the more anticipated games of Tuesday, and it did not disappoint. Northeastern won 61-59 as T.J. Williams had a jumper at the buzzer, another exciting moment in a season that is rapidly being defined by them-this was the Huskies’ eighth game decided by four points or less. Not all was lost for the Golden Grizzlies, though, as coach Greg Kampe was a definite winner of the ugliest of ugly sweaters this Christmas season.
  • By the way, Kampe also is part of a terrific article in the Lansing State Journal today, one that should be required reading for all NCAA men’s basketball committee members. Kampe calls out their obvious bias in recent years.
  • After getting hammered by Florida by 41 points on Saturday, one had to expect UNC Charlotte would come out inspired on the road in its next game at Maryland, and the 49ers did, leading at halftime. The Terrapins asserted control in the second half, though, and won 88-72 to improve to 12-1.
  • UNC Wilmington is now 11-1 after an 81-71 win over former CAA rival East Carolina. Should the NCAA selection committee for any reason decide to lighten up its treatment of non-major football schools this year, the Seahawks could be a team that can work their way into an at-large spot in March if needed.
  • Iowa handled North Dakota 84-73, but the bigger news to come from the game came right at the end, when Iowa coach Fran McCaffery refused to shake hands with the UND coaches or team and ordered his players off the floor too immediately after the game. McCaffery was frustrated by a North Dakota player stealing the ball from Iowa in the final seconds that led to a layup at the buzzer, as well as a few other small incidents. At first this sounded like a gross overreaction by McCaffery to something that should’ve been a mild irritation at best, but after hearing postgame comments by him and UND coach Brian Jones, let’s just chalk this one up to the heat of competition, and maybe even enjoy a little bit that we’ve got coaches who can add a little spice to the sport.
  • Northern Illinois went on the road and defeated South Florida 59-48, completing a sweep of the Huskies’ two games in the state that also included a win at Florida International. The loss was only part of the bad news for the day for USF, though, as the school revealed Jahmal McMurray has received his release to transfer. McMurray was suspended for the Bulls’ first six games this season for an undisclosed reason, but he averaged 20 points per game in the three games he played in and was clearly the team’s go-to player down the stretch in its close loss Saturday to South Carolina.

Today’s Menu: It’s a busy day as teams squeeze in games before Christmas and the holidays.

  • The day starts early again with Jacksonville State at Tennessee-Chattanooga at 2 p.m. Eastern time.
    Fairfield takes on its second straight ACC team when it travels to Boston College (6 p.m., CBSSN).
  • Former Big East rivals meet again as St. John’s is at Syracuse.
  • The game of the night undoubtedly is Kentucky at Louisville (7 p.m., ESPN), one of the best rivalries in the sport right now. Congratulations on the Wildcats playing their first true road game of the season, and before Christmas!
  • Oakland plays for the second straight night, facing Michigan State (7 p.m., Big Ten Network).
  • The Braggin’ Rights rivalry game takes place with Missouri meeting Illinois again.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock is at Florida, as the Gators debut the refurbished O’Connell Center.
  • UAB plays at Texas in an attractive matchup of two teams looking desperately to get on track as the new year approaches.
  • Fresh off a win at Nebraska, Gardner-Webb takes a shot at another football school when it goes to Kansas State.
  • Big rivalry game in the Palmetto State as Clemson and South Carolina get together (9 p.m., ESPNU).
  • Intriguing non-conference game for much-improved Arkansas State as it goes against Alabama, this one in Huntsville. This would be another nice get for a Sun Belt team if the Red Wolves can handle the Crimson Tide’s size.
  • Finally, one of the best games of the night is one of the latest as Virginia travels to take on California (10 p.m., ESPN2), returning the Golden Bears’ trip to Charlottesville last year.

Have a great Wednesday.

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