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The Morning Dish – Saturday, January 28, 2017

January 28, 2017 Columns No Comments

For the Atlantic 10, Friday night produced the best possible result. No one in the conference office would ever admit it, but the conference isn’t loaded with great NCAA Tournament resumes, and Friday night’s result helps that.

VCU came into the night with the second-best NCAA Tournament resume in the conference, and that remains the case now. But the Rams have a quality win on it that they lacked before the night after they knocked off visiting Dayton 73-68.

VCU won this game a little differently than they have often won in recent years. They won the possession battle, but rather than turnovers, it was by dominating the boards by a 41-24 margin. Justin Tillman led the way with 18 points and nine of those rebounds, going 9-13 from the field to help offset an off night from leading scorer JeQuan Lewis, who was just 2-10 from the field.

Before Friday night, Atlantic 10 teams had a scarcity of top 50 wins, though rankings will continue to fluctuate. The only top 25 win in the entire conference is the gift that keeps on giving, Rhode Island’s win over Cincinnati in Connecticut back in November. The conference has six other top 50 wins, but three are by teams who won’t be sniffing the NCAA Tournament unless they win the conference tournament in Pittsburgh (UMass, Fordham and Duquesne). And realistically, there are three teams with serious hopes of making the NCAA Tournament right now: Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island.

Dayton has the best RPI, though Friday night’s game brings VCU right on their heels. The Flyers have no top 50 wins (URI, who they beat earlier this month, is No. 57), but are 8-1 against the top 100. Wins over Alabama, Rhode Island and Vanderbilt may become even more valuable as the season goes on. They do have a loss at UMass that will hurt a bit.

VCU now has two top 50 wins, but this one will have a little more staying power as the other came against Middle Tennessee. While Middle Tennessee is having another fine season, it’s not a given that the Blue Raiders will remain in the top 50 given the overall weakness of Conference USA, especially at the bottom. They also have to overcome losses to Davidson and Fordham that are outside the top 100. The unfortunate thing is that wins over UNC Asheville and La Salle – both top 100 wins – may not gain much value – and they only have two games left against Dayton and Rhode Island, both on the road. Their win over Princeton, just outside the top 100, may become more valuable as the season goes on.

Then there is Rhode Island, which has that win over Cincinnati but needs more. The Rams scheduled well, and they have had their chances, but are just 2-6 against top 100 teams. Their win over Belmont may remain a top 100 win, and Saint Joseph’s might become more valuable, but that is it. They have no bad losses, though losing at Richmond doesn’t help. The rest of the way, they have two good opportunities, and fortunately both are in South Kingston – Dayton on Feb. 10 and VCU on Feb. 25.

The X-factor in all of this is the lack of quality mid-majors this year, as well as clear mediocrity in a lot of the field. That could help either of these three teams should they continue on their current path.

So while much remains to be determined, Friday night’s outcome was perhaps a best-case scenario for the Atlantic 10. For now, anyway.

 

Side Dishes

With Miami coming to town for a visit on Saturday, North Carolina will once again be without Theo Pinson, who rolled his right ankle in Thursday night’s win over Virginia Tech. Pinson already missed the first 16 games of the season due to a broken fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot. It is not yet known if he may miss more games after Saturday.

Conference USA took swift action on the melee between UAB and Louisiana Tech on Thursday night, largely because both teams play on Saturday. The conference suspended Tech guard Jacobi Boykins and UAB guard Hakeem Baxter from their respective teams’ game on Saturday because of their part in the fight, which left Louisiana Tech with just four players for more than six minutes to finish the game because the entire bench was ejected for leaving the bench. UAB had four players ejected for leaving the bench, and both teams had assistant coaches ejected.

Monmouth beat Quinnipiac 95-76 to retain their big lead in the MAAC, while Harvard improved to 3-0 in early Ivy League play with a 77-71 win at Cornell. Valparaiso and Green Bay both won to stay atop the Horizon League, and Weber State is now 7-1 in Big Sky play after beating Idaho State 96-74.

 

Tonight’s Menu

A busy slate features a series of non-conference games with the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

  • The SEC/Big 12 Challenge starts with Texas A&M at West Virginia (noon), then Oklahoma hosts Florida, Texas Tech hosts LSU and Tennessee hosts Kansas State (2 p.m.) A little later, Oklahoma State hosts Arkansas, Georgia hosts Texas and Vanderbilt hosts Iowa State (4 p.m.) then TCU hosts Auburn and Baylor goes to Ole Miss (6 p.m.) The most highly-anticipated game is Kentucky hosting Kansas (6:15 p.m.)
  • ACC play starts with Notre Dame making what has lately been a very challenging trip to Georgia Tech and Syracuse hosting Florida State (noon), with North Carolina visiting Miami (2 p.m.), Wake Forest hosting Duke (3 p.m.)
  • An America East showdown is on tap with Vermont visiting a Stony Brook team it leads by a game in the standings (7 p.m.)
  • In Conference USA, a key matchup is on tap with Old Dominion hosting Louisiana Tech (6 p.m.)
  • First place is on the line in the Mountain West as Nevada heads to New Mexico (4 p.m.)
  • Two key Southern Conference matchups are on tap: Furman’s visit to UNC Greensboro (2 p.m.) and Chattanooga’s trip to East Tennessee State (4 p.m.)
  • A late game of interest is Santa Clara hosting Saint Mary’s (11 p.m.)

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