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The Morning Dish – Tuesday, November 14, 2017

November 14, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

The landscape of conference challenge events, once so ably started by the ACC and Big East nearly 30 years ago, has become saturated in recent years, greatly watered down by mega-sized conferences, little common geography, bad matchups, and sometimes all three together.

While all have their strong points, most challenges now are nothing more than scheduling collusion, or excuses for TV networks to hype up their preferred conferences, which is understood to a point, but not always good for the sport as a whole. Not when fans are sold a bill of goods that a game between Clemson and Penn State is something they should by psyched about, when most so obviously aren’t.

Among the many challenges now, though, one we can get behind quite easily is the Gavitt Games featuring the Big East and Big Ten. The key to the Gavitt Games is in its size; namely, that it generally doesn’t try to pretend that casual fans should be interested in every team in their conferences (a Nebraska/St. John’s clunker this year is a notable exception). Most of the games feature the league’s better teams in appealing matchups, and the games are spread out to not overload a single night. It’s big enough to matter, but not so big to be cluttered, and that makes it easy to enjoy games like last night’s between Minnesota and Providence, arguably the best matchup of this season’s first four days.

The Friars had homecourt advantage, but the Golden Gophers made a statement with an 86-74 win. Minnesota owned the second half, outscoring Providence 50-35 after trailing at the break, and the result was a premier road win in what had all the feel of a NCAA Tournament second round or Sweet 16 matchup.

The Gophers were expected to be good this year, returning four starters, but they just might have a difference maker in Jordan Murphy. Just 6-foot-6, Murphy had 35 points and 15 rebounds in an opening win over USC Upstate on Friday, and he was excellent again Monday with 23 points and 14 boards. He was the best player on the court and key as Minnesota out-rebounded PC 38-31.

The Golden Gophers are thin (essentially relying on six players last night) and still not very good shooting from outside. But if Murphy continues this pace and Reggie Lynch stays out of foul trouble, few can match their starting five.

As for Providence-which badly missed injured forward Emmitt Holt-the loss isn’t a poor one, but the lack of production from Rodney Bullock (eight points) has to be a bit perplexing. As fun as it is to watch Kyron Cartwright shake and bake, the Friars shouldn’t be counting on him to be their leader in shot attempts and points.

Still, this one was fun, and injected a badly needed quality matchup in the early-season schedule. With games like Purdue/Marquette, Butler/Maryland, Creighton/Northwestern and Xavier/Wisconsin still on tape, there promise to be more to come.

Side Dishes:

  • The second-best game of the day also involved a team from the state of Rhode Island. Unfortunately, the Ocean State team was also on the wrong end as Nevada topped Rhode Island 88-81 in a classic late-night TV offering. Jordan Caroline had 28 point and 12 rebounds and Caleb Martin hit two huge rainbow three-pointers late, keeping the Wolf Pack a step ahead as the Rams threatened to take it to the wire. This was entertaining, and great scheduling, starting at 11:30 p.m. Eastern time. ESPN used to regularly provide excellent games late at night, and it’s something the network or another enterprising one should be looking to capitalize on.
  • Wichita State dominated College of Charleston 81-63, hammering the Cougars on the glass 44-27 and putting five players in double figures. The Cougars played for the second straight game without Jarrell Brantley, badly hampering any chance they might’ve had to compete with the Shockers inside.
  • Among ranked teams playing and winning games they were expected to, USC got a tussle from North Dakota State before finally putting away the Bison 75-65, with Bennie Boatwright scoring a career-high 28. The Trojans closed the game on a 13-5 run. Also, Florida blew out Gardner-Webb 116-74 as Rice transfer Egor Koulechov scored 34.
  • Northwestern had a second straight rather uninspiring win, topping St. Peter’s 75-66. The Wildcats are the hunted this year and also are playing at their home away from home at the Allstate Arena, nee Rosemont Horizon.
  • Saint Mary’s broke free from an early struggle to top New Mexico State 92-74. The Aggies shot 50% and committed just eight turnovers. That’s pretty good, but the Gaels were even better-55% and only four TOs.
  • Michigan received a battle from Central Michigan, holding off the Chippewas 72-65. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 17, and the Wolverines needed all of them with a game effort by a CMU with low expectations in the MAC.
  • One of the most appealing matchups of the day on paper lived up to the anticipation, as Middle Tennessee State squeezed past Murray State 72-67 in a battle between former OVC rivals. Alabama transfer Nick King was huge with 31 points for the Blue Raiders, who also did a nice job slowing the Racers’ Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller.
  • Montana picked up a win to be proud of, on the road against an ACC team as it went well across country and won at Pittsburgh in overtime 83-78. Michael Oguine scored a career-best 29 points. Unfortunately for Pitt, this falls in the one-is-an-accident, two-is-a-trend category, after an opening loss to Navy, and it’s already looking like a very, very long year for the Panthers. We also have to note just how ridiculous it is that the Panthers still advance to the semifinals of the Legends Classic, even as this game is considered part of that event. Embarrassing, and there’s simply no good reason why the NCAA grants events like this exempted status, while at the same time watches tradition-rich actual tournaments like the Great Alaska Shootout close up shop. None.
  • Another name-brand team going down: Iowa State, which was handled at Hilton Coliseum by Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Panthers trailed early but won going away 74-56, a great win for a Milwaukee team that has been through plenty of upheaval and is on its third coach in three years, and a sign of just how much work ISU has to do this year.
  • Another surprise of at least the mild variety: Morgan State won at South Florida 63-53. Nice win for Todd Bozeman’s team, one of the contenders in the MEAC, but not a good loss for USF, even in a serious rebuilding situation.
  • Belmont got a chance against an SEC team at home and took advantage, topping Vanderbilt 69-60 in a battle of city schools. Amazing how teams like the Bruins do when they get a chance at home against teams like the Commodores. The win was Belmont coach Rick Byrd’s 755th of his superb career, tying him all-time with none other than the great Henry Iba.
  • Another city matchup saw Tulsa top Oral Roberts 90-71 to retain the Mayor’s Cup for the second straight year, after ORU had held it the previous three years.
  • A fun one saw VCU hold off North Florida 95-85. Justin Tillman scored a career-best 27, while the Ospreys are now 0-3 are playing three games in four nights, including a Michigan State/Michigan back-to-back this past weekend.
  • A Big 5 dandy saw La Salle edge Pennsylvania 75-71 in two overtimes at the ancient Palestra.
  • Florida Gulf Coast has mighty been impressive in its first two games, first owning the glass in a win over Illinois State, and now hammering Siena 86-53 on the road, holding the Saints to 30.2% shooting.
  • Georgia Southern followed up its opening win over Wake Forest in fine fashion, rolling past Cal State Bakersfield 77-53. A convincing win against the NIT semifinalist Roadrunners is another good sign for GSU.
  • A notable score early in the day: Jacksonville State pummeled Richmond 94-61. The Gamecocks moved to 2-0, while the Spiders are now an ugly 0-2 with home losses to Delaware and now JSU, punctuated by defensive struggles that have seen the Blue Hens and Gamecocks shoot a combined 69% in the first half of the two games.
  • A small plug from yesterday, our notebook thoughts from the opening weekend games.

Today’s Menu: This is a day diminished with a sizable hole in it, after ESPN decided to cancel the Tip-Off Marathon this year, another sign of its continued downsized commitment to the sport, other than anything that might directly lead into its NBA coverage.

  • Start off the night with a pair of Big East options, as Villanova hosts Nicholls State (6:30 p.m. Eastern, FS1) while St. John’s hosts a Central Connecticut State team that has been very close in both of its losses (6:30 p.m., FS2).
  • Other than Duke/Carolina games, there will be no more hyped event this regular season than the Champions Classic. Duke against Michigan State is a 1-vs.-2 matchup in the national polls (7 p.m., ESPN), while the chaser has No. 7 Kentucky against fourth-ranked Kansas (9:30 p.m., ESPN). These are good games now, but will be a lot better if they happen in March or April, when all the freshmen have a full year of experience.
  • We’ll get a good idea of just where Syracuse is when it hosts Iona tonight. Another ACC question mark is Florida State, which welcomes George Washington.
  • A good game between respective conference contenders has Elon of the CAA at former Southern Conference rival Furman.
  • Definitely worth keeping your eye on: Liberty is at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons lost their opener, while the Flames notably handled VCU in a bonus exhibition.
  • Hotshot frosh Collin Sexton is to make his debut for Alabama, and the Tide may need him against go-go-go Lipscomb (8 p.m., SEC Network).
  • The Gavitt Games continue with a pair of three-point raining squads as Purdue is at Marquette, the difference being of course the Boilermakers also have a vaunted frontcourt. But this one is in Milwaukee, though Purdue should have some comfort there, having won twice in the NCAA tourney at the Bradley Center in March. (8:30 p.m., FS1).
  • San Diego State has a chance to score some points for the Mountain West when it travels to Arizona State. Also an in-state game to follow, Denver is at Colorado.

Have a super Tuesday.



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