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The Morning Dish – Monday, February 20, 2017

February 20, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

Through plenty of changes, including on the bench and in the league, Bucknell has been the Patriot League’s signature program for well over a decade. The Bison being contenders in the league has become one of life’s certainties, and they are on their way once again after clinching the top seed for the league tournament on Sunday and being on the verge of another outright title.

The Bison went to Boston and blew out Boston University 86-66 on Sunday, sweeping the second-place Terriers and going two games up with two to play. For the sixth time in seven years, the Bison will be the top seed in the league tournament, and the first five titles have been outright titles while the sixth appears to be a mere formality with two home games left. More than that, though, they have won 11 regular season titles in the Patriot League’s 27 years of existence, and no other school has more than five. During this seven-year stretch, no other school in the league has finished in the top half every single year.

During the last decade, for a while the Bison and Holy Cross had a great rivalry that included meeting in three straight league title games. They were all classics, and I was fortunate to cover two of them, with Holy Cross staging a nearly miraculous comeback that fell short in the first one. Those two schools dominated the league for a while, with Holy Cross winning four league titles from 2001 to 2007, but a testament to Bucknell’s staying power is that the Crusaders have finished in the top half of the league just half of the past decade since winning in 2007. Of course, they had the historic run in the league tournament last year, which came out of nowhere.

The Patriot League has certainly changed over its history; that tends to happen with all leagues. Fordham was a charter member before leaving for the Atlantic 10, and for several years the league had just seven schools until American left the CAA to join them in 2001. The most recent change, of course, was Boston University and Loyola (Md.) joining in 2013. The Terriers have been contenders often, winning the regular season title in their first year before losing in the championship game, while the Greyhounds aren’t there yet. The league also didn’t always offer scholarships, and at first, not all schools did.

The Bison have also been through a couple of coaches. Pat Flannery was a long-time winner who retired in 2008, then Dave Paulsen kept it going after a rebuilding year where the Bison were ravaged by injuries before going to George Mason. Now Nathan Davis, a one-time assistant at the school during their successful run, is continuing the tradition.

For all the Bison’s regular season success, they are still two tournament titles behind Holy Cross for supremacy there. They will once more have homecourt advantage in their quest to cut that down to one this time around.

 

Side Dishes

One team that hasn’t had the kind of dominance Bucknell has had is Oregon State, a team beset with injuries after hopes were high entering the season. The Beavers had not won a Pac-12 game until Utah visited on Sunday night, and behind 31 points from Stephen Thompson Jr., including every big basket late, Oregon State knocked off Utah 68-67. The Beavers were down by 13 with 11:30 left before rallying, and more important than this being their first Pac-12 win is that it’s a bad loss for Utah, whose NCAA Tournament resume has been borderline but did not have a bad loss until Sunday night.

The Big Ten had a couple of important games, though for different reasons, and in each case the home team came away with a big win. Wisconsin grabbed sole possession of first place with a 71-60 win over Maryland, and Minnesota beat Michigan 83-78 in overtime for their fifth straight win.

It’s been a very tough season at Michigan State, and it’s only going to get tougher now that Eron Harris will have season-ending surgery on his right knee. The school announced that on Sunday, and it ends Harris’ college career, an injury he suffered on Saturday after driving the baseline for a layup. The Spartans have already gone without Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter all year due to knee injuries as well, and Miles Bridges also missed some time due to injury. The Spartans are not an NCAA Tournament lock, and this makes them an even tougher team to evaluate than they already are.

Georgia forward Yante Maten, one of the SEC’s most underrated players, will be out indefinitely after suffering a sprained right knee during Saturday’s 82-77 loss to Kentucky. The SEC’s third-leading scorer – something that may surprise many who know first of J.J. Frazier on that team – he was injured early in the game and returned to the bench, but not the game as he had a lot of trouble trying to join a team huddle during a timeout.

After that game on Saturday, Kentucky head coach John Calipari made some comments worth elaborating on. Calipari defended his counterpart, as well as outgoing NC State head coach Mark Gottfried, during his press conference. Most notably, he said coaches should put in their contract a clause that the school has to pay them $3 million if they are fired during the season. Calipari credited Fox with keeping the Bulldogs in the game despite losing Maten early. It’s a big topic, one that we also discussed on our podcast a few days ago.

 

Tonight’s Menu

  • The ACC leads the way early as Florida State hosts Boston College and Virginia tries to get back on track against visiting Miami (7 p.m.)
  • The Sun Belt has a first place showdown as Georgia Southern hosts UT Arlington (7 p.m.)
  • In the latter part of the night, the Big 12 takes over as Texas Tech hosts Iowa and West Virginia hosts Texas (9 p.m.)

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