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The Morning Dish – Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December 5, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

As bizarre and at times frustrating of a start to the season as it has been for the Big Ten, there shouldn’t be a lot of surprise that it’s taken only two games of conference basketball play for that weirdness to already start showing through in league contests.

With 10 of 14 teams playing conference opponents twice already, six are tied at 1-1. Just two teams are 2-0, and one of them is Ohio State. Just two teams are 0-2, and one of them is Iowa. Maryland and Northwestern are tied with Indiana and Penn State. Michigan State and Minnesota have a chance to provide a little more order (with Rutgers and Nebraska next, respectively), but with the way the Big Ten has been going, who would be surprised if the Golden Gophers lose to the Huskers?

Monday night provided more mystery, as well as maybe a hint of renaissance for some, and some pure frustration for others. Conference results showed Wisconsin holding off Penn State 64-63, Ohio State topping Michigan 71-62 and Indiana leveling Iowa 77-64, and all three results had a head-scratching aspect to them, if not also some reason for optimism for the winners.

Penn State appeared to have a prime opportunity Monday, a home game against a team that looked a mess in a 25-point loss to Ohio State at home two days ago and with the chance to move to 2-0 in league. Instead, it was the Badgers pushing out to a 15-point lead midway through the second half and then holding on as the Nittany Lions rallied but then settled for a bad shot in the final seconds down one with a chance to win.

Michigan led Ohio State 43-23 with just over a minute left in the first half, completely dominating the Buckeyes to that point. It took OSU just 9 1/2 minutes of game time to turn that around, though, as a 26-3 run put the Buckeyes ahead. The Wolverines rebounded and were ahead by four with under five minutes left…and then were outscored 13-2 the rest of the game.

Iowa was a chic pick as a young team on the rise coming into the season, but the Hawkeyes were underwhelming in the Cayman Islands Classic and then were bombed by Virginia Tech last week. Any hopes they would flip the switch in conference play have been dimmed by a pair of disappointing losses, the latest to a green Indiana squad that blew the game open for good with an 18-0 run late in the latter stages of the game.

The positives for the winners can’t be ignored: Wisconsin’s freshmen stepping up for a road win, and after a very un-Badgerlike game at home on Saturday; Ohio State winning its second straight in conference and Indiana continuing to rebound after an ugly loss to Indiana State to start the season. The latter two were especially picked to be among the Big Ten’s lowliest this year.

There have been plenty of early-season proclamations of how far down the Big Ten (and several leagues like it) are this year, and how it will cost them NCAA Tournament bids. It’s hard to imagine that happening-the amount of buy games the conference’s teams play will all but ensure the league’s power ratings stay high after non-conference play.

Winning “only” 70% of the Big Ten’s non-conference games won’t cost it NCAA bids. What could cost it bids, though, is lack of separation, caused when the better teams in a conference are unable to separate from perceived lesser ones. Early on, that’s looking precisely like the case in the Big Ten.

Side Dishes:

  • As little as Florida State was talked about before this season, it would’ve been easy for one to forget the Seminoles were a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament in March. Losing four starters will do that, as will playing a Charmin-soft early schedule, but the Seminoles need to be taken seriously after spanking rival Florida 83-66 on the road Monday night. Terance Mann-one still around from last year-led FSU with 25 points, and we saw that this is what has become a typical Leonard Hamilton team-tall, rangy, athletic, and a bear to play on defense. The Gators were bothered into 36.2% shooting, and Kevaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov all had sub-standard games (combined 8-for-29 shooting, including 2 of 14 from three-point range). Florida State barely beat Rutgers last time out, so beware of extrapolating too much from this, we do know now the Seminoles and dangerous…and the Gators are far from infallible.
  • Jock Landale had a behemoth game for Saint Mary’s with 37 points and 18 rebounds, incredible dominance as the Gaels topped Sacramento State 70-54. Another individual star early this year is Oklahoma freshman Trae Young, and he had 28 as the Sooners defeated Texas-San Antonio 97-85 as former Lon Kruger player and assistant Steve Henson coached against his former coach and boss.
  • Lipscomb completed a surprising sweep of Nashville city rival Belmont, claiming both ends of the Battle of the Boulevard after a 69-54 win at home Monday. Garrison Matthews scored 26 for the Bisons, who held the Bruins to 34% shooting, including just 6 makes in 31 three-point tries.
  • Missouri State avenged a home loss to North Dakota State, pulling away late to defeat the Bison 71-58 on the road in Fargo. The Bears looked good the past three days with convincing road wins over two of the top teams in the Summit League, having also drilled South Dakota State on Saturday. Alize Johnson is starting to heat up, and he had 21 points and 10 boards in this one.
  • A night with a short schedule still had some buzzer beaters and game-winners. The most dramatic came when Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz knocked down the game-winner as Liberty won at Georgia State 77-74 in overtime. Freshman guard Rich Kelly scored the winner with four seconds left as Quinnipiac outlasted Columbia 89-87, and Mike Amius dunked to put Western Carolina ahead in the final seconds as it defeated former Southern Conference rival Appalachian State.
  • Monday brought the announcement that UCLA freshman LiAngelo Ball is leaving school, or rather has been pulled from school by celebrity wannabe father LaVar. College hoops won’t miss them one bit, though it’s sad watching a parent treating their child like a prop for a carnival barker’s game.
  • Apparently it’s a slow time of college basketball season, for as much anger as top 25 rankings generated Monday. Or people really are just addicted to being outraged. Probably the latter. The transgression was Georgetown getting a couple votes in the Associated Press poll because of a 6-0 start against a deliberately soft non-conference schedule. Big deal. Not to defend the Hoyas in there (obviously they shouldn’t be) but it seems about everyone should have infinitely more important fish to fry. If early in the season a voter is impressed by a team being undefeated and winning its games by an average of nearly 20 ppg, so be it. It’s a free country.

Tonight’s Menu: It’s a busy Tuesday night, as teams stay busy before final exams in the next few weeks, and also a night with a bunch of superb tilts.

  • The evening has some heavies early on. Villanova takes on Gonzaga (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) to open the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, a major-league, intersectional primetime matchup as attractive as almost any you’ll find this non-conference season. There’s no better measure of the national program the Bulldogs have become than just how quickly they’ve gone from chic pick to be knocked off by Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference to a top-15 team. The second game at MSG has Syracuse vs. Connecticut in a Big East…er, former Big East duel (9:30 p.m., ESPN).
  • At the same time, Virginia is at West Virginia with the Mountaineers’ press taking on Tony Bennett’s patented mover-blocker offense and packline defense (7 p.m., ESPNU). Here’s to another top-20 matchup.
  • If you don’t like either of those for some reason, how about Shaka Smart making his return with Texas to VCU (7 p.m., ESPN2)? The Rams are coming off an emotional home win over Old Dominion and now have this.
  • Also on TV, Vermont is at Marquette (7 p.m., FS1) with a chance at a name-brand win, and the Catamounts just might be favorites over a Golden Eagles team that is struggling and not as high-powered as a year ago. UVM played at the Bradley Center in its NCAA Tournament game in March.
  • Nevada at Texas Tech is a national-TV quality game barely available (8 p.m., Fox College Sports). Both have been hot talking points early in the season, with the Wolf Pack recently with an 8-0 start.
  • It’s such a loaded night that a game like SMU at TCU is isn’t even on any kind of national television, though it is regionally (8 p.m., Fox Sports regional). The two former Southwest Conference rivals square off in Fort Worth in the battle for the Dallas area.
  • Ball State swung and missed badly in early shots on the road at Oklahoma and Oregon, but the three-point firing Cardinals get another shot at one when they go to Notre Dame.
  • Winthrop was drilled in a trip to Auburn a couple weeks ago, but the Eagles get another chance at an SEC team when they go to Georgia, which just won at Marquette on Saturday. Xavier Cooks against Yante Maten is a supreme individual matchup.
  • South Dakota State has generally fared well against a tough non-conference schedule, but the Jackrabbits have played at Kansas…and now Wichita State.
  • Colorado State is coming off a rivalry game win over Colorado and now meets what likely will be a mad Arkansas team after the Hogs were pasted by Houston by 26 on Saturday.
  • There’s a doubleheader in Phoenix called the Valley of the Sun Shootout, and it has two interesting games. Texas A&M goes against Arizona, with the Wildcats set to quickly rebuild their reputation if they can pull this out (9 p.m., ESPN2), and the nightcap isn’t bad either with St. John’s taking on upstart Grand Canyon (11:30 p.m., ESPNU).
  • Finally, Utah is at Butler in a scheduled-for-TV late (9 p.m., FS1) tip between two dangerous teams lurking just off the radar.

Have a super Tuesday.


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