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The Morning Dish – Thursday, March 23, 2017

March 23, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

The underdogs are alive and well in the college basketball postseason. One just has to look a little bit beyond the NCAA Tournament to find them.

The National Invitation Tournament semifinals are set, and not a single one of the teams making up the quartet was ranked higher than fourth in the tournament coming in. The group includes two 4 seeds, a 6 seed and the surprise of all surprises, 8 seed Cal State Bakersfield, which continued its improbable roll Wednesday night.

The Roadrunners won their third straight NIT game on the road, this time upending sixth-seeded Texas-Arlington 80-76. A team considered fodder for a top seed entering the tourney, Bakersfield now has clinched a trip across country to New York City to play at Madison Square Garden, a tremendous story.

The Roadrunners followed a familiar formula against UTA, building a big lead in the first half with some outstanding three-point shooting. Damiyne Durham in particular hit a couple deep balls from seemingly Oklahoma on his way to 18 points-one of five CSUB players in double figures-and Bakersfield then held on in the final minutes against the banged-up Mavericks, who shot just 35.5%.

Say what you want about the NIT, but this is still some achievement for Cal State Bakersfield, a three-time NCAA Division II champion in the 1990s that moved up to Division I in 2007 and just reached its first D-I NCAA tourney last year. Former Mississippi coach Rod Barnes has done an outstanding job with this program, taking a struggling D-I program and turning it into one that fears absolutely no one.

It’s also a proud moment for the Western Athletic Conference, the league considered to be on life support not long ago that has had an excellent postseason and deserves to enjoy every bit of it. Both Bakersfield and the WAC will get some hard-earned exposure from this run, which now will continue with a game against Georgia Tech from the vaunted ACC.

On top of that, it’s just a great story, and a needed one in a postseason that had been searching for some distinguishing features. Favorites and easy upset winner picks advancing in the NCAA Tournament isn’t wrong, but March with Cinderella is just better.

The Roadrunners (can’t get enough of that nickname) won’t be the only NIT MSG debut, either. Also making its first trip to NYC for the NIT semis will be Central Florida. The Knights held off a late charge by Illinois to win 68-58 in front of a sellout crowd at home, and now will face TCU in the semifinals. UCF joins the Horned Frogs as the highest-seeded teams remaining in the field, and the Knights have a very real chance to win the whole thing, which would be a considerable commentary on the work by Johnny Dawkins in his first year there (and on the talent former coach Donnie Jones left him).

In fact, all four of the teams in the semifinals have greatly exceeded expectations this year. In that regard, it’s an easy foursome to like, whether the names are big or small.

Side Dishes:

  • Another WAC team saw its bid for a postseason tournament title ended in the CBI semifinals as Utah Valley fell at Wyoming 74-68. The Cowboys now will face Coastal Carolina in the tourney’s best-of-3 finals after the Chanticleers handled Illinois-Chicago 89-78.
  • The CIT quarterfinals are set now after Texas State eliminated Idaho 64-55, and quarterfinal matchups were announced soon after. The Bobcats now will host St. Peter’s in what will be a terrific matchup of defensive-minded teams.
  • Count Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon, California’s Ivan Rabb, Duke freshman Jayson Tatum and Syracuse big man Tyler Lydon among those entering the NBA Draft after all announced their intentions yesterday. All are expected to remain in the draft, unlike those testing the waters such as BYU’s Eric Mika and Seton Hall’s Khadeen Carrington, two players who have not hired an agent and do not plan to at this time.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • The NCAA Tournament returns with the Midwest and West regional semifinals. Michigan takes on Oregon (7:09 p.m. Eastern, CBS) in Kansas City, and that will be followed by Kansas getting what is very much a home game against Purdue (9:39 p.m., CBS). Out west, top seed Gonzaga faces frenetic West Virginia (7:39 p.m., TBS) in San Jose, and that’s followed by 11 seed Xavier meeting Arizona (10:09 p.m., TBS).

Enjoy your regional semifinal Thursday.

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College Basketball Tonight

We hope you enjoyed COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, along with co-hosts Mike Jarvis and Terry O'Connor, both former Division I coaches. It also included many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show aired on AM 710 WOR in New York City on Sunday evenings starting with Selection Sunday and running through the NCAA Tournament.

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