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The Morning Dish – Thursday, January 12, 2017

January 12, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

Don’t we seem to write this same story every year for Michigan State? And, for that matter, Richmond too?

They’ve seemed to become two rituals of the college basketball season. The Spartans absorb some thoroughly puzzling losses early, while slightly outside the spotlight, the Spiders also get off to a slower start. And yet, in the end, there they are as usual: MSU right back near the top of the Big Ten and a Final Four contender in March, and Richmond causing havoc in the Atlantic 10, damaging others’ NCAA Tournament chances.

Michigan State seems to have been written off a couple times already this year-shoot, most recently as five days ago, when the Spartans were losing to Penn State at the Palestra. And yet, Tom Izzo’s team is now the only one at 4-1 in the Big Ten after a 65-47 destruction of Minnesota at home on Wednesday, completing a regular season sweep of the Golden Gophers over the last two weeks.

Miles Bridges was back in form for the Spartans with 16 points, and MSU held Minnesota to 33.3% shooting for the game. It wasn’t a particularly pretty win-State only shot 42.6% itself, and other than Bridges, Joshua Langford (13 points) was the only Spartan in double figures. Suffice to say, though, that this is a team that won’t be going away in the Big Ten this year, even if its youth likely will lead to more regular season losses along the way.

Richmond, meanwhile, continued to surge with its fourth straight win, topping St. Bonaventure 78-61. The Bonnies played without star guard Jaylen Adams, out with a sprained ankle, a huge loss, but the Spiders have been trending upward since after Christmas anyway and are off to a 4-0 start in the A-10.

T.J. Cline is the leader, and is as valuable to his team (and enjoyable to watch) as any player in the country, and he had 17 points last night. Freshman De’Monte Buckingham has emerged over the last month, though, scoring in double figures his last seven games after not reaching that benchmark in his first nine games, and he totaled 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Bonnies last night.

One thing both have in common is they annually both play very challenging non-conference schedules. Michigan State’s is annually among the toughest of all major schools and has more glitz, filled with made-for-TV matchups against bluebloods. Even with games against teams like Northeastern and Oakland, there are few breathers on the Spartans’ schedule, an admirable quality about Izzo in a world where other similar teams readily use non-conference play as an excuse to play the lightest fare from Division I.

The Spiders, meanwhile, regularly take chances on the road that no Big Football program would. (How many ACC or Big Ten teams would play on the road at Bucknell, James Madison or Oral Roberts? Richmond played all three this year; sure enough, it lost two of them.) Richmond also missed some chances at home against Wake Forest and Texas Tech in December while still gelling. Don’t be so sure those results would be the same if the teams played at the Robins Center right now, though.

Side Dishes:

  • Creighton made another statement Wednesday night, jumping all over Butler in the first half and cruising to a 75-64 win. Is this the Bluejays’ best team yet under Greg McDermott? It’s certainly a question worth pondering as this season continues.
  • A great nugget was shared by TCU last night after the Horned Frogs’ 64-61 win at Texas. The last time TCU won at the Longhorns, Jamie Dixon had 18 points and nine assists. That was 1987, Dixon’s senior year at the school and part of the Horned Frogs’ last Southwest Conference championship team, the most successful at the school in close to 50 years. Texas is struggling, but still a very meaningful win for TCU.
  • Louisville held a 24-point second half lead but still had to hustle to hold off Pittsburgh 85-80. The reason was Jamel Artis exploding for 43 points for the Panthers. Give Pitt credit for not giving up down the stretch here after looking bad against Syracuse on Saturday and getting thumped for more than a half in this one.
  • Marquette got a big overtime win at home, defeating Seton Hall 89-86. The Golden Eagles are maybe the Big East’s best chance for a sixth team in the NCAA Tournament (that is, assuming the Pirates are No. 5) but need to take advantage of games like this, so this was important.
  • Give Loyola (Ill.) some credit. The Ramblers were fearless in pushing MVC bully Wichita State on the road, finally falling 87-75 after cutting a 19-point deficit to four late.
  • Also in the Valley: Illinois State won at Southern Illinois 60-53. The stage is set for a big-time matchup Saturday now, with Wichita State going to Bloomington-Normal to face the Redbirds. THIS is why nothing beats double round-robin conference races.
  • A number of teams had potential trap games Wednesday night, but among those stepping through safely was South Carolina, a 70-60 winner over Tennessee. Sindarius Thornwell was big again with 22 points.
  • Also unable to get through a road trip unscathed: Memphis. Frank Haith deserves some credit for making Tulsa a tougher out this year than many expected, and the Golden Hurricane topped the Tigers 81-71 behind 23 points and 13 rebounds from Junior Etou.
  • VCU was mighty impressive in drilling George Washington 85-55. The Colonials had no answer for the Rams’ pressure, and Justin Tillman had 20 points and 13 rebounds. VCU has won eight straight since its home loss to Georgia Tech.
  • Dayton’s trip to Massachusetts had all the lookings of a tricky one, and it proved to be exactly that, with the Minutemen scoring a 67-55 win.
  • Talk about a bad, bad loss: Nicholls State and Hartford are both teams that won at Boston College this year, yet North Carolina State could not, falling 74-66 to the Eagles last night. B.C.’s Jerome Robinson (26 points) continues to be a player you should get to know in the ACC, but clearly the Wolfpack have a lot of work to do on the road, where they are now 0-3 in league.
  • North Dakota State edged South Dakota 70-69 in the Summit League in a battle for first place. The Bison are the only team 4-0 in conference.
  • Lehigh got a big win on the road, vanquishing Bucknell 82-71 to leave Boston University as the lone unbeaten in the Patriot League now.
  • Nebraska didn’t play Wednesday, but the Cornhuskers shared bad news Wednesday as Ed Morrow is out “indefinitely” with a foot injury. Morrow is averaging over 10 points and nearly eight rebounds per game and had started all 16 games. He is the leading rebounder on an otherwise mediocre rebounding team, and his loss will hurt the Huskers.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • Ohio State is a team in bad need of a signature win. A win at Wisconsin certainly would qualify (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2). Also in the Big Ten, Purdue-fresh off a big win over the Badgers-now has a road game at Iowa (9 p.m., Big Ten Network).
    Miami (Fla.) is one of many teams in the ACC that needs to distinguish itself from the pack sometime between now and March. The Hurricanes get a chance for an attention-grabbing win tonight at home against Notre Dame (7 p.m., ESPN).
    La Salle has won four of five, but the schedule toughens up now starting with a trip to Rhode Island (7 p.m., CBSSN).
    A good one in the CAA has improving William & Mary at UNC Wilmington.
    Marshall will try to impose its freewheeling style against Middle Tennessee State.
    A key game in the Southland has preseason favorite Sam Houston State on the road at New Orleans, the lone undefeated team in the league four games into the schedule.
    Maybe the game of the night is in the American, where SMU and Cincinnati meet in a showdown for supremacy (9 p.m., ESPN). These two have played a number of defense-oriented games the past couple years.
    USC lost a Pac-12 road game against California on Sunday, and now the Trojans make the Rockies swing starting with Utah. Also, UCLA must beware: the Bruins have the trip to Colorado, which also will be no picnic and is a golden opportunity for the Buffaloes (11 p.m., FS1).
    The WCC has an intriguing night. San Francisco early on appeared to be the best contender to break through the league’s top three, and the Dons get a chance to make a dent when they go to BYU (9 p.m., BYU TV). Undefeated Gonzaga hosts Loyola Marymount, while Saint Mary’s can’t look ahead to its trip to The Kennel on Saturday-the Gaels are at Portland tonight (11 p.m., ESPNU).
    Finally, a big one in the WAC is the first meeting this year between Grand Canyon and New Mexico State, this one in Las Cruces in a Should-Be-On-TV-But-It’s-Not special.

Enjoy your Thursday.

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