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The Morning Dish – Friday, January 27, 2017

January 27, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

Thursday night meant one thing among all others in college hoops: Cincinnati vs. Xavier. The Crosstown Shootout. The best non-conference rivalry in college basketball, and (in this opinion) one of the top three rivalries in the sport right now.

A game that always provides plenty of that “buzz” the NCAA men’s basketball committee so badly wants was relegated to ESPN2 (a somewhat minor note, but never let someone tell you perceived issues in this sport aren’t self-inflicted), but it was still every bit the biggest and best game of the night that its history regularly suggests it will be. While ESPN’s decision to show a pretty good matchup on its mothership with North Carolina hosting Virginia Tech was a relative flop (the Tar Heels breezed to a 91-72 win), Cincinnati fought back for an 86-78 win to defeat its bitter city rival for the first time in four meetings and in what was incredibly just the third-ever meeting between the two when both were ranked.

The No. 19-ranked Bearcats had to earn this one, battling back from an eight-point halftime deficit after the Musketeers controlled the game’s first 20 minutes. Cincy outscored 24th-ranked Xavier 50-34 in the second half, displaying its newfound offensive prowess this year, and Jarron Cumberland in particular played a big role with 13 of his 15 points off the bench in the final 20 minutes.

Cincinnati won despite an out-of-this-world performance by Trevon Bluiett, who scored 40 points and hit nine three-pointers (and 12 of 15 shot attempts in all) for the Musketeers. Twenty-six of those points came in a nearly flawless first half when he made all eight of his shots, including six from three-point range, nearly single-handedly carrying Xavier to what looked like would be the signature win it increasingly looks like it needs.

X struggled in the second half, though, shooting just 26.7%, and the Bearcats likely would’ve won even more convincingly if they had hit better than 18 of 37 free throw tries. Still, in a battle of two brawny rebounding squads, Cincy won the glass 42-33 and scored a whopping 30 second-chance points against a team that came in as one of the best in the country at limiting offensive putbacks.

As usual, this one lived up to all of the billing, and Cincinnati is now a pretty quiet 18-2, with the win over the Musketeers ranking as the best of their season. Xavier, meanwhile, has swung and missed in all five of its chances against RPI top 25 teams (it’s still early, but we’ll mention it anyway) and increasingly can’t afford any slip-ups against the DePauls and St. John’s types of the Big East if it is going to continue to plod against better teams. The Muskies are still in a position for an NCAA bid (have you seen some of the chaff showing up on bubble watches??) but were in much better position Thursday night until their rivals posted a spirited comeback.

Side Dishes:

    • The wildest happening of the night didn’t come at the Crosstown Shootout, though, but in Conference USA, where Louisiana Tech and UAB engaged in a bench-clearing brawl that resulted in a 20-minute delay in the game and a whole host of ejections. So many were dismissed from this one that the Blazers finished the game with just six players, but that was still two more than the Bulldogs, who played the final six-plus minutes with four. That’s right. This picture says it all:

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Louisiana Tech’s four actually outscored UAB 20-16 the rest of the game, but the Blazers still finished with the 79-70 win.

  • Oregon won its 17th game in a row while Utah just missed on a big chance at home as the Ducks used a big second half to pull ahead and then weathered a late Utes run to prevail 73-67.
  • UNC Wilmington is now 20-2 after an 87-76 win at James Madison. The Seahawks continue to take care of business in the CAA.
  • Middle Tennessee State is 18-3 after a 72-56 cruise past Southern Mississippi, and this won’t be the last time you hear this stat, but the Blue Raiders are responsible for one of those two ‘L’s for UNCW. An interesting development for MTSU was freshman point guard Tyrik Dixon scoring a career-high 21 points to lead the Blue Raiders Thursday night.
  • Northwestern keeps on taking care of business, defeating Nebraska 73-61 at home to move to 17-4. The Wildcats are putting themselves in prime position for an NCAA bid, and they’re not backing their way into it.
  • Another Big Ten result saw Michigan dismantle Indiana 90-60. This gives some more legitimacy to the Wolverines showing up in some bracket projections (also combined with Marquette’s recent surge), but for the Hoosiers…what was that? A team that earlier this year beat Kansas and North Carolina increasingly looks nothing like an NCAA Tournament squad, and sorry, but O.G. Anunoby being out doesn’t explain it all.
  • In the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga remained undefeated with a 79-43 destruction of San Diego. For those thinking the Zags are just beating fodder…the Toreros aren’t great, but they’re not that bad, either (USD beat BYU and stayed within 21 of both UCLA and USC). Saint Mary’s got a challenge from rival San Francisco for more than a half, but the Gaels pulled away in the second half for a 66-46 win. Also, Santa Clara continues to play well under Herb Sendek, defeating BYU 76-68.
  • The Big Sky provided us a buzzer beater, as Quinton Hooker hit a pull-up with a second left to give North Dakota a 91-89 win at Southern Utah. UND continues to hang with leaders Weber State (idle on Thursday) and Eastern Washington (an impressive 72-60 winner at Montana) in a good conference race.
  • Hoopville’s Phil Kasiecki has a piece about Duke and its adventures this season, the latest of which included yesterday news leaking out that Mike Krzyzewski has stepped in and taken away the team’s locker room privileges, an old school move used by many a coach in the past.
  • Finally, Phil and Ted Sarandis recorded their latest Hoopville Talking Hoops podcast, which you can check out right here.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • For a Friday night it’s a slightly larger schedule than normal with 11 games. The biggest one is in the Atlantic 10 where Dayton is at VCU (9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2), with the Rams looking to create a three-way tie for first between these two and Richmond. Five teams enter the weekend within a game of the first-place Flyers.
  • Quinnipiac goes to Monmouth for a MAAC TV date (7 p.m., ESPNU), but the biggest game of the night in the league may be between ascending Iona and Siena, both of who have been picking up steam of late.
    Wisconsin-Green Bay travels to suddenly struggling Oakland (9 p.m., ESPNU), with the Phoenix now a game ahead of the Golden Grizzlies in the Horizon League standings.
  • An Ivy League Friday has three games, the best of which should be Brown at Yale in a rematch of a terrific game just a week earlier.

Enjoy your Friday and your weekend.

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College Basketball Tonight

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