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The Morning Dish – Thursday, March 9, 2017

March 9, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

The Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament opened Thursday in Brooklyn, N.Y., of all places, in order toe execute another money grab, er, “expand its ‘brand.’” And while the meat of the event is still to come starting today, the early rounds still featured teams presumably playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. And all of them have lost already.

On Wednesday, Wake Forest, Clemson and Syracuse all were eliminated in the ACC tourney second round. You might describe their respective chances to make the NCAAs as yes, no and maybe, though with the selection committee’s undying love for teams posting top 25-50 wins and major conference teams in general the past few years, it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if all three got in the tourney (yes, even Clemson). All three have distinct cases for-and against-their inclusion.

Wake was eliminated Wednesday night by Virginia Tech 99-90, unable to take advantage of an 80-foot one-handed throw by Greg McLinton that gave the Demon Deacons a 44-37 halftime lead. The Hokies singed the Wake D in the second half to the tune of 62 points.

Wake Forest is essentially this year’s version of Texas Tech 2016, a team with a mediocre conference resume that is actually being propped up by good fortune in its non-conference schedule. More than its 3-8 record against the top 50, the Demon Deacons are being helped by non-conference wins over teams like College of Charleston, Bucknell, Richmond and UNC Greensboro, the latter two on the road. Charleston and Bucknell both rank in the RPI top 65 and all four are in the top 100. Because of games like that, the Deacs have the 13th-ranked non-conference strength of schedule in the country. At 19-13 overall, Wake is probably in good shape for the tourney, though again, a 27.3% success rate against top 50 teams isn’t much to recommend it.

Syracuse opened the day with a 62-57 loss to Miami (Fla.), dropping to 18-14 overall. And for the second straight year, it will be one of the most curious cases on Selection Sunday.

Syracuse is Syracuse. As usual, the Orange played as few non-conference games on the road as possible, and as a result have done little on the road all year while essentially daring the selection committee to penalize them for not playing non-conference road games unless they’re mandated by television. As usual, the Orange have also proven they are dangerous, as evidenced by six top 50 wins. Again, all at home.

(Regardless of what happens to Syracuse in the postseason, it already has given us one of the most colorful exchanges of March, which was started with Jim Boeheim’s devil-may-care comments about liking the ACC tourney in Brooklyn and exactly what he thinks of it being held in Greensboro, N.C.,  and finished by Greensboro itself with this instant clasic tweet.)

If Wake is this year’s Texas Tech, Clemson is Wake Forest Light. Like the Demon Deacons, the Tigers have a bunch of close losses, the latest a 79-72 defeat by Duke. Clemson’s 17-15 record is two games worse than Wake’s, though, and would seem to give them almost no shot at the NCAAs, except there’s this: it still has four of those top 50 wins, the same as Michigan had a year ago when it was somehow selected after posting a 4-11 mark against the top 50 (and 4-12 vs. the top 100). Moreover, two of those four wins are on the road-at South Carolina and at Wake Forest, a team the Tigers swept in the regular season.

We certainly wouldn’t be advocating for Clemson in the field with 15 losses, or even Syracuse with 14. But the committee has shown it (inexplicably?) holds teams like this in high regard in recent years. If that holds this year, any surprises on Selection Sunday just might favor teams like these.

Side Dishes:

  • Bucknell is the 12th team to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth after the Bison used a second-half surge to top Lehigh 81-65 in the Patriot League final. With a legitimate post player in Nana Foulland and numerous guys who can shoot the 3, the Bison are capable of challenging for a win in the NCAAs.
  • The Big East Tournament opened Wednesday and furnished maybe one of the best play-in games ever contested in a 10-team tourney. Eighth-seeded St. John’s edged No. 9 Georgetown 74-73 only after the Hoyas missed two attempts to win in the final seconds. The game bore a distinct resemblance to the Big East of old days, with a hard foul by the Johnnies’ Amir Alibegovic in the second half leading to some pushing, shoving, technical fouls and even SJU coach Chris Mullin yelling at a Hoya player. Later at Madison Square Garden, No. 7 Xavier rallied after a slow start and moved on with a 75-64 win over DePaul.
  • The Big Ten tourney tipped with No. 13 Penn State holding off Nebraska 76-67 in overtime and 14th-seeded Rutgers getting a 66-57 win over Ohio State. The bigger news in the conference came from Michigan, as the Wolverines’ flight to Washington D.C. went off the runway, resulting in thankfully nothing more than minor bumps and bruises for team members but also keeping the team from flying out to the tourney as of late last night yet.
  • Conference USA opened with first round games. Texas-San Antonio pulled a light upset over No. 8 Western Kentucky 56-52, No. 5 Rice pulled away from No. 12 Southern Mississippi 86-75, seventh-seeded host school UAB edged UNC Charlotte 74-73 in overtime, and No. 6 Marshall handled Florida Atlantic 89-74.
  • In the Sun Belt Tournament, a major upset had 12th-seeded Louisiana-Monroe-with an 8-23 record coming in-stun No. 5 Arkansas State 73-70 in overtime, ending ASU’s very nice first year under Grant McCasland. Also. No. 7 Louisiana-Lafayette dumped 10 seed Arkansas-Little Rock 78-71. What a change in one year for UALR, from an NCAA win a year ago to a 15-17 finish this year.
  • Air Force raced out to a 21-point halftime lead and coasted to an 83-68 upset of No. 7 Wyoming in the Mountain West, the 12-20 Falcons advancing to a quarterfinal game against No. 2 Colorado State. Also, sixth-seeded San Diego State needed overtime to finally dismiss 11 seed UNLV 62-52, moving on to face 3 seed Boise State.
  • The top two seeds are through to the semifinals in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference after top seed North Carolina Central drilled No. 9 Bethune-Cookman 95-60 and No. 2 Norfolk State needed overtime to get by seventh-seeded South Carolina State 93-88. The final two quarters are played Thursday with the 4/5 game between Hampton and Maryland-Eastern Shore plus 3 seed Morgan State against No. 11 Howard.
  • We’ve had a number of features on this site in recent days. Hoopville czar Phil Kasiecki has a piece on CAA champion UNC Wilmington, plus his votes for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association awards. Ray Floriani reports on the Clemson/North Carolina State ACC Tournament game, and we wrap up our coverage of the MVC Tournament this past weekend with stories on Wichita State’s seamless transition this year, plus Illinois State facing life on the fence this week.

Today’s Menu. Almost every remaining conference tourney left with the exception of the Ivy League is in action over the next three days. Among the offerings Thursday, which are too many to list game-by-game:

  • Quarterfinal action in the ACC, Big East, Big Sky, Big 12, Big West, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, Southland and WAC.
  • Second round games in the Atlantic 10, Big Ten and SEC.
  • First round games in the American, including sixth-seeded tourney host Connecticut opening against No. 11 South Florida.

Enjoy your final Thursday before the NCAA Tournament.

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