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The Morning Dish – Saturday, December 31, 2016

December 31, 2016 The Morning Dish No Comments

When conference play gets going, you start to find out which teams are for real and which ones aren’t. While it is early yet, the first impressions teams make will have you wondering about their non-conference resume.

Enter this season’s USC Trojans, who got thumped by Oregon 84-61 on Friday night thanks to a second half to forget. We’ve talked about Oregon before, a team that fell off a lot of radars in non-conference but re-asserted itself with wins over two previously undefeated teams. Let’s talk about USC.

Give Andy Enfield credit for doing a nice job with this season’s team. The Trojans figured to take a step back after losing Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic early to the NBA Draft. Thus far, though, that hasn’t happened, as they ran out to a 14-0 mark to start the season. They were among the pleasant surprises in college basketball this season.

Then last night, they ran into Oregon in Eugene. It was a good game for a half; the Trojans even led at times after a nice start by the Ducks. But the second half was all Oregon, blowing the game open. The Ducks handed USC their first loss, and a big one.

USC ran off to that start with just one top 50 win, which came against SMU. They have two other top 100 wins, both against teams that almost certainly wouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament if it began today in Texas A&M and Wyoming. The former might be worth a little more later on. But eight of the Trojans’ 14 wins came against teams outside the RPI top 150, only a couple of which might be worth more later on.

Take nothing away from the Trojans starting off better than pretty much anyone expected; winning games matters. The 14-0 start no doubt helped them build some confidence they might not have had against a tougher slate. They may be a Pac-12 contender yet; Oregon looks very much like the conference favorite they were thought to be before the season. But right now, they look more like pretenders than contenders, and fortunately, they have plenty of time to reverse that impression.

 

Side Dishes

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Arizona got a nice 67-62 win at Cal in a place where no visiting team won a year ago. This is the second straight home loss for the Golden Bears after Virginia went there and beat them a week ago. Allonzo Trier is still not back, though he was with the Wildcats in street clothes, which may be a good sign. UCLA bounced back from their loss at Oregon with a 76-63 win at struggling and injury-riddled Oregon State. Arizona State also won on the road, beating Stanford 98-93 in Palo Alto behind 30 points from Torian Graham.

It was a good day to be a road team in the Big 12, as Kansas won at TCU 86-80 despite a big game from TCU’s Vladimir Brodziansky (28 points, nine rebounds, three blocked shots), Baylor remained undefeated by blowing out host Oklahoma 76-50 behind a double-double from Jonathan Motley (19 points, 13 rebounds) and West Virginia handled Oklahoma State 92-75 in Stillwater. Iowa State was one home team that took care of business, coming back to beat Texas Tech 63-56 by outscoring the Red Raiders 38-21 in the second half, while Kansas State sent Texas below .500 with a 65-62 home win.

Michigan State may be battered and bruised, but the Spartans are 2-0 in Big Ten play after beating Northwestern 62-51.

 

Tonight’s Menu

A busy Saturday is on tap, though without quite as full a slate as ones to come. A couple of football games will also grab a lot of the attention of college sports fans.

  • In a non-conference game of note, Louisville and Indiana square off in Indianapolis (12:30 p.m.)
  • In the American Athletic Conference, East Carolina hosts SMU (noon), UCF hosts Temple (4 p.m.)
  • In ACC openers, Virginia Tech hosts Duke, Wake Forest hosts Clemson, Georgia Tech begins a very tough stretch as they host North Carolina (all at noon), Pittsburgh hosts Notre Dame and Florida State heads to Virginia (both at 2 p.m.), and Miami hosts NC State in an underrated matchup (4:30 p.m.)
  • Big East play starts with Xavier at Georgetown (11 a.m.), then one more team will no longer be undefeated after Creighton hosts Villanova (1 p.m.)
  • In the Mountain West, a pair of challengers to San Diego battle as Fresno State hosts Nevada (7 p.m.)
  • Elsewhere, the CAA opens up its slate with UNCW at Towson (noon) leading the way, while West Coast Conference contenders Gonzaga (at Pacific, 8 p.m.) and Saint Mary’s (hosting San Diego, 9 p.m.) are in action.

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