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The Morning Dish – Sunday, December 10, 2017

December 10, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

Boston College’s 89-84 win over Duke on Saturday was a stunner, rocking the college hoops world in early December as if it was NJIT against Michigan. And yet, in a number of ways, maybe it shouldn’t have been that hard to see coming after all.

For one thing, the Blue Devils hardly have the market cornered this week for highly ranked teams being shocked. We just saw it a few days earlier when Kansas-as impressive as any top team out there early on this year-suddenly looked like a different squad in a 74-65 loss to Washington of all teams.

For another, even as the Dukies were winning 11 straight to start the year and their freshmen dazzled while on TV regularly, in more than a few cases they weren’t dominant. There were major rallies needed in wins over Texas and Florida in the Phil Knight Invitational. There was Portland State leading the Blue Devils at the half there.

There also was Indiana. The Hoosiers were Duke’s first road game of the season, and IU-likely a mid-pack team in the Big Ten at best-proceeded to give the Blue Devils a bear of a time, shooting better than 50% and hanging with them on the glass.

Boston College followed the same script on Saturday, shooting 50.8% and winning the boards (slightly) 35-34. The Eagles also hit a crazy 15 of 26 from long range, though, and the trio of Ky Bowman, Jerome Robinson and Jordan Chatman scored 76 points themselves, a showing reminiscent of Georgia Tech’s old Lethal Weapon 3 backcourt. What a win for a B.C. program that has been a doormat in the ACC for a number of years now. There is hope now in Chestnut Hill.

It’s funny how quickly superiority can be dented in college basketball when teams hit the road. Going back to the early stages of this modern era of the sport in which dominant freshmen loom large, we’ve seen one freshman after another pile up numbers and highlights against less-talented teams and players in the comforts of home early in the season.

The truer test of those players comes when the going gets tougher-and that includes not just competition but surroundings. There’s a reason why college basketball teams win two-thirds of their games on the road. And it’s just a fact that Duke-like so many major programs-has been rarely tested in true road environments at this point of the season.

If one is thinking there are any unbeatable teams this season, it’s suggested they think again. In the most literal sense of that, we’re now down to seven undefeated teams, and no one will be surprised if everyone in the group of Arizona State, Florida State, Georgetown, Miami (Fla.), Mississippi State, TCU and Villanova has a blemish soon.

As Duke, Kansas and Michigan State (a loser to Duke already) have shown, though, the best teams are still able to be gotten this year, and it doesn’t take a superteam to do it.

Side Dishes:

  • Perhaps the game of the day came in Newark, where Florida edged Cincinnati 66-60 in a grinder between two top-20 teams. A nip-and-tuck contest throughout, the Gators capitalized on 21 Bearcat turnovers, with Chris Chiozza scoring the game’s final six points.
  • Arizona outlasted Alabama 88-82, as Deandre Ayton (29 points, 18 rebounds) won a battle of freshmen over Collin Sexton (30 points). Allonzo Trier added 25 points, though, and the Wildcats picked up another win that likely will carry some weight going forward. As for Bama, this is clearly Sexton’s team, and we’ll get a good idea over the next month or two now how far the talented freshman can carry the Crimson Tide this year.
  • Arkansas was back to its hot-shooting early season form in handling Minnesota 95-79. Jaylen Barford scored 22 and Daniel Gafford added 16 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots and made all eight of his field goals in his first collegiate start.
  • Middle Tennessee State continues to be one of the top teams in the SEC, member or not. The Blue Raiders handled Mississippi 77-58, following up a win at Vanderbilt three nights earlier. Nick King continues to be a full-fledged scoring machine: 25 points and 20+ in his last seven games. Big Brandon Walters also added 20. Make that five straight wins over SEC schools for MTSU. Its next game? A trip to Auburn next Saturday.
  • What a week for Ball State. Taylor Persons hit a game-winning three-pointer in the final seconds for the second time in five days, first against Notre Dame, this time to give the Cardinals a 71-70 win over Valparaiso. A special week for the Cardinals.
  • Albany held on to defeat Siena 74-69 to retain the Albany Cup in one of the best rivalries few know about right now-more than 9,000 were on hand at the Times Union Center, even as the Saints are just 2-7 now. The Great Danes are off to a 10-1 start. There is still no contract for these two teams to play next year, and Albany coach Will Brown threw the dagger soon after the game, suggesting once again where next year’s contest should be played:
  • Towson also is now 10-1 after a 78-65 win over Maryland-Baltimore County. The Tigers aren’t pretty but they are some tough customers and have won 10 straight since a narrow opening loss at Old Dominion. Also at 10-1: Loyola (Ill.), which routed Norfolk State 80-52. The Ramblers are a comparatively much more fluid offensive team than Towson, one of the best shooting teams in the country, and indeed Loyola shot an incredible 71.4% against the Spartans. The Ramblers shot so well that they only needed 35 field goal attempts (25 makes, including 10 of 13 from three-point range).
  • Saturday surprises: Massachusetts upended Providence 72-63, Pennsylvania won at Dayton 78-70 and Florida Gulf Coast won at Texas-Arlington 85-78. Also: California lost badly at Chaminade and at home against UC Riverside and Central Arkansas, yet was able to win at San Diego State 63-62. Not a good look at all for the Mountain West.
  • Have mentioned it before and it bears saying again: keep an eye on the renaissance going on at UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos are now 8-2-two more W’s than their entire 2016-17 season-after drilling Montana State on the road 91-69. Leland King had 25 points and 10 rebounds and was one of four with at least 15 points.
  • James Madison was to play at Richmond Saturday, but the game was postponed a day due to snow in the commonwealth. The old CAA rivals will face off on Sunday in Richmond.

Today’s Menu:

  • The day starts with Tulane against Florida State in what is the de facto championship game of the Jamaica Classic from November. This game (Noon Eastern, ESPNU) is in Tampa. The Green Wave are improved. Not sure they’re improved enough to knock off the Seminoles.
  • Philadelphia Big 5 hoops: La Salle at Villanova (1 p.m., FS1). Tough assignment for the Explorers against a team that will have a legit claim at the No. 1 ranking the next time the polls come out.
  • Who ever would’ve thought before the season that Arizona State at Kansas (2 p.m., ESPN) would be not just better than Jayhawk fodder at Allen Fieldhouse, but one of the best games of this weekend? That’s certainly the case, though, with the red-hot Sun Devils singeing every defense they’ve seen so far…and KU looking to bounce back after losing to Washington at its home-away-from-home last time out.
  • The other side of that game is Washington playing for the first time since that huge win, and the Huskies get…Gonzaga. Pac-12 Network if you get it (8 p.m.).
  • Two challengers in their respective conferences, St. Francis (Pa.) plays at Niagara. Enjoy the guard play in this one.

Enjoy your Sunday.


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