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The Morning Dish – Tuesday, November 28, 2017

November 28, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

Frank Martin is a heck of an accomplished coach, as well as one of the true personalities in college basketball these days, and he’s deservingly recognized for both. He also is a coach who sees the big picture, though, far more than most like him, and for that many who enjoy this sport should be grateful.

Martin did something for the second time this month that you might see some major schools do once in a decade (if you’re lucky): playing a road game against a less-than prominent program. His South Carolina team opened its season on the road at Wofford of the Southern Conference, and last night the Gamecocks played at Florida International, coming away with a 78-61 victory after getting a fight for a half in Miami. Chris Silva continued his superb play early in the season and scored a career-best 26 points and that eastern USC eventually took care of business to move to 5-1 this year.

South Carolina played at Wofford to give the Terriers a big-name opponent as they christened their brand new Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium (the Gamecocks won 73-52), with Martin saying he “could not say no” to Wofford coach Mike Young and also did so in the interest of growing the game. The trip to FIU marked Martin’s return to his alma mater, with him saying in an FIU story that “I wanted to bring my team and my players back to the community and have my team play in front of the university that helped form me into the person I am today and strive to be every day.” The game also was a return to Martin’s hometown, one where he grew up and also spent 15 years coaching at the high school level before joining the NCAA Division I ranks.

Martin is the same coach who played a home-and-home with South Florida the last two years in large part because he and then-USF Orlando Antigua were the lone two Hispanic American coaches in Division I, doing so because he hoped it would open doors for future coaches like them. In other words, this year is not an aberration. Rather than hiding behind those oft trotted out lame excuses about nothing to gain from a game, he looks at the bright side and sees not just what he can gain, but what the sport can gain from it.

There’s no question that job security in the form of a comfortable contract and big-time career success make it easier for Martin to do some things other less-secure coaches might avoid like the plague. At the same time, there are plenty of coaches (and their schools, it must be noted) with even bigger contracts and even more success who wouldn’t even think of playing such games. Such leadership by example deserves to be held up as not just an example, but a standard, one that we should expect all major coaches and programs to follow, no matter how unrealistic they claim it is. The sport needs more like Frank Martin.

Side Dishes:

  • The ACC/Big Ten Challenge opened Monday night, and the ACC got off to a good start as Syracuse edged Maryland 72-70. The Terrapins did a better job against a zone than they did a few days earlier in a loss to St. Bonaventure, hitting 11 of 23 three-point tries, including seven triples by Kevin Huerter-but still turned it over too much-18 times. The Cuse, meanwhile, is now 6-0. The second game of the night went about as most expected, with Virginia winning a 49-37 grinder over Wisconsin. These two were an unsightly 6-for-34 combined from three-point land, but Kyle Guy (17 points) and Devon Hall (16) combined to nearly outscore the Badgers themselves.
  • Lamar defeated Texas-El Paso 66-52 Monday night, continuing the Cardinals’ good start and the Miners’ rotten one, but the real news was made after the game when UTEP coach Tim Floyd announced his retirement. The move is reported to be at least partially health-related for the 63-year old coach. Floyd has had a truly long and winding road in the sport, from early success at Idaho and New Orleans to a stint at Iowa State before heading to the NBA, then returning to the college ranks at USC and UTEP. The last two years have been marked by big-time non-conference struggles, though, and it’s been tough to the struggles at times for Miners teams that have had more talent than the results have shown.
  • Lipscomb gained some revenge for a pair of wrenching losses to rival Belmont last year and ended an 11-game losing streak to the Bruins, winning the first of two Battle on the Boulevard battles this year, this one on Belmont’s homecourt 74-66. These two played a pair of classic games last year, but the Bisons picked up a huge win over a Bruins team that has already beaten Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt and lost at Providence at the buzzer, holding Belmont to 35.0% shooting.
  • Monmouth rebounded from a four-overtime loss to Penn in its last time out and fought back from a nine-point halftime deficit to defeat Albany 81-73, handing the Great Danes their first loss. Ray Salnave is a player who can make a difference with Micah Seaborn out, and he scored a career-best 18.
  • Oakland outlasted Oral Roberts 93-86 in overtime in a matchup of former Summit League rivals. Martez Walker played all 45 minutes and scored a career-best 32 for the Golden Grizzlies, who were without Kendrick Nunn, who has been battling a leg injury.
  • Marquette squeezed by Eastern Illinois 86-83 in overtime, needing 30 points from Sam Hauser to get by the Panthers at home. The Golden Eagles were less than impressive after the news announced by the school earlier in the day that junior guard Haanif Cheatham has left the team for personal reasons. Cheatham started Marquette’s first five games, averaging 8.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per contest, and without him Sacar Anim stepped into the starting lineup and had nine points and seven boards Monday.
  • The Big West Conference announced on Monday that Cal State Bakersfield and UC San Diego will be joining the conference, moving membership up to 11 schools. CSU Bakersfield will become an official member eligible for conference championships in July 2020, while UCSD will begin a four-year reclassification from NCAA Division II to Division I that same time and an official member four years later. UC San Diego had previously voted against moving up to Division I but apparently reconsidered.
    The biggest takeaway from the move is it makes the Big West a conference even more dominated by University of California and Cal State University schools, as Hawaii becomes an even more isolated outlier now with 10 of the 11 members a part of one of those two California state university systems. It’s not hard to imagine this may be preparation if Hawaii ever would leave the conference because of football interests, or the Big West is just that comfortable being a California-centric league. Of course, Cal State Bakersfield’s move also is a blow to the Western Athletic Conference, with rumors of Missouri-Kansas City also making eyes at the Summit League again. It’s unfortunate for the WAC, which has become a really solid basketball conference, but it’s hard to keep a conference together when so many schools don’t believe their own success and are seemingly always looking for something else.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • Your first stop with the TV clicker should be Baylor at Xavier, a superb matchup at the Cintas Center (6:30 p.m. Eastern, FS1). The Musketeers are shooting an incredible 56.8% so far this season, but that will be challenged by the Bears’ zone. Both are excellent rebounding teams, but an area to watch: the Musketeers are giving up an average 11 offensive boards per game and were pounded in that area by Morehead State and Rider early this season before tightening it up of late.
  • More ACC/Big Ten Challenge games include Northwestern vs. Georgia Tech (7 p.m. ESPN2) and the game of the night with Louisville at Purdue (8 p.m., ESPN). Also, it’s definitely worth watching to see how Iowa bounces back after its rough showing in the Cayman Islands Classic last week as they go to Virginia Tech (9 p.m., ESPN2).
  • Fresh off an upset of Davidson, Appalachian State takes a shot at VCU on the road.
  • A good South Dakota State team takes on Mississippi. Andy Kennedy has mastered the art of playing good non-BCS schools out of conference, usually at home, to build up a good strength of schedule at a school that isn’t equipped to bring in heavy hitters.
  • The Mountain West and Missouri Valley also begin their challenge event, and the Valley has two big ones at home with Missouri State hosting Colorado State and undefeated Valparaiso welcoming Utah State. The visiting MWC teams are essentially playing with house money on the road. Also, undefeated Loyola (Ill.) is on the road at Boise State.
  • Out west, UC Santa Barbara has had some good moments early this season, and the Gauchos have a chance for another solid road win at San Francisco. Also, Cal State Northridge is at California.

Enjoy your Tuesday.


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