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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, December 6, 2017

December 6, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

Tuesday night was a heavy-hitting night for college basketball, an unusual one at this point in the season. Sure, there was the Jimmy V Classic, but you had Shaka Smart returning to VCU with Texas, you had Texas A&M taking on Arizona in Phoenix, and there were more early Big Ten games. There were also good ones that would get less attention, such as Virginia at West Virginia, SMU at TCU and Nevada at Texas Tech.

There’s a lot to choose from, and it was a night full of surprises both mild and big, but let’s take the game in Phoenix, a game as close as one might expect, as the one to focus on. And the result was perhaps more significant than anyone might have imagined before the season.

If someone told you before the season only one of Texas A&M and Arizona would be ranked at the time they played each other, it might be a mild surprise. The real surprise would be which of those teams would be ranked at the time – Texas A&M came in as a top 10 team in the polls, while Arizona was not thanks largely to a poor showing in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis. So as Arizona tried to hang on late, you can imagine there were some more anxious moments among the Wildcat faithful that might have been expected.

The Aggies and Wildcats had a great battle, as one could expect. You can figure Arizona is better than their play in the Bahamas implies, so this matchup was perhaps a little more even than the numbers – or lack thereof – beside the school names might tell you. Arizona was constantly clinging to three-point leads in the final minute, trading baskets and free throws as the Aggies tried to go as long as they could without launching a potential game-tying three-pointer.

And then Duane Wilson got the ball. And then nearly dealt a big blow to the Wildcats, and perhaps more than that.

Wilson got near the NBA three-point line, went up and fired from behind that line and was fouled. Arizona head coach Sean Miller probably thought the ball was in the air forever, and as it got to the rim, it seemed worse. It rattled… and rattled… in and then right out.

Wilson was that close to having a chance to put his team in the lead. Instead, he went to the line with three free throws with two seconds left. After missing the first one, he was in a tough spot, and he did make the next two – the second of which he wanted to miss – and after a foul, two more Wildcat free throws and a long miss, Arizona had a 67-64 win.

The Pac-12 dodged another bullet.

It hasn’t been a good first month for the conference. The teams we thought would be among the best in the country – Arizona and USC – have struggled, and since both had assistants who were arrested as part of the FBI’s corruption investigation, you wonder how much that is affecting them. UCLA has had lots of negative news with three suspended players, Oregon has been good but hardly awe-inspiring, Oregon State has been just okay, and Utah has largely beat up on easy opponents (and lost at Butler on Tuesday night).

Meanwhile, Cal was embarrassed by Chaminade in Maui, and Stanford has lost to Eastern Washington and Portland State (although the latter was in Portland at the PK80 Invitational) thus far.

The surprise has been who has carried the conference to date. Arizona State has probably been the best team, knocking off Kansas State and Xavier in Las Vegas along the way. Colorado just got their first loss of the season, while Washington State started 6-0 – but then they lost to UC Davis.

To be clear, Arizona and USC haven’t been terrible, but much more was expected of both. USC won at Vanderbilt, but lost to Texas A&M and at SMU. Their best chance for one more good non-conference win is against Oklahoma on Friday night at the Staples Center.

But the end result is that the first few weeks of the season has hardly been the Pac-12’s finest hour. Tuesday night is a game they needed – badly.


Side Dishes

About those surprises: the biggest one of the night was in South Bend, where Notre Dame took on Ball State. With the game tied late, Taylor Persons put up a deep three-pointer that went down to close out a 24-point night, and Ball State pulled off a big 80-77 win. In more mild surprises, Nebraska got 29 points from Glynn Watson Jr. in a 78-68 win over Minnesota, Texas Tech got 32 points from Keenan Evans to beat Nevada 82-76 in overtime to hand the Wolfpack their first loss of the season.

And about that Jimmy V Classic: Villanova took care of Gonzaga 88-72 as Mikal Bridges showed just how good he can be with 28 points and six rebounds, going 5-9 on three-pointers. Then, in an old Big East battle, Syracuse beat UConn 72-63.

Texas went to VCU in a return to Richmond for Shaka Smart, and the Rams gave them a battle. In fact, VCU rallied to take the lead with about four minutes left, but Texas took over again down the stretch to pull out a hard-fought 71-67 win. Smart got a good ovation from the VCU faithful, and deservedly so with what he accomplished there.

Not all that far away, West Virginia handed Virginia their first loss of the season in Morgantown by a 68-61 score, while the aforementioned battle of Texas went to TCU by a 94-83 margin over SMU, improving the Horned Frogs to 9-0.

One other game that caught our eye: South Dakota State gave host Wichita State all they could handle before succumbing 95-85. It was another big game for Mike Daum, who had 31 points, and South Dakota State led by eight at the half before the Shockers came alive with a big second half.


Tonight’s Menu

Tuesday night is a tough one to top, especially at this time of the year, and while Wednesday is a busy night, it has a long road ahead topping its predecessor.

  • The best early matchup has Wisconsin traveling to Philadelphia to take on Temple (7 p.m.)
  • Xavier hosts in-state rival Kent State (7 p.m.)
  • Louisville tries to bounce back as they host Siena in a Gotham Classic campus game (7 p.m.)
  • A sleeper early matchup is Wyoming traveling to South Carolina (7 p.m.)
  • Cross-town rivals meet as Providence hosts Brown (7 p.m.)
  • Florida gets a tough test as they try to bounce back from Monday night’s loss to Florida State, as 8-1 Loyola (Ill.) comes to town (8 p.m.)
  • The Gators aren’t the only SEC team getting a tough test at home, as Alabama hosts Rhode Island and Vanderbilt hosts Middle Tennessee (both at 8 p.m.)
  • The Jayhawk Shootout is on tap in Kansas City with Washington taking on Kansas (9 p.m.)
  • Illinois State hits the road for a good one against BYU at the Marriott Center (9 p.m.)
  • A long-running border rivalry comes up later as Idaho hosts Washington State, two teams off to a good start (10 p.m.)

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