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The Morning Dish – Sunday, January 7, 2018

January 7, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

Conference play may be still just getting rolling, but we’ve had more than enough to talk about already, from highly ranked teams going down to upstarts making moves. Here is a potpourri of thoughts from another crazy Saturday-and we’ve just started January:

Before Thursday, who ever would’ve thought that the team of the week would without a doubt be…Colorado? The Buffaloes came into the week just 8-6 overall off back-to-back double-digit losses to Oregon State and Oregon and also with losses this year to Colorado State, Iowa and San Diego (more on the Toreros in a bit). CU made life miserable for both Arizona Pac-12 teams making the Rocky Mountain trip, first upending Arizona State on Thursday and on Saturday dumping Arizona 80-77. The Buffs forced both teams into rough shooting games-everyone not named Deandre Ayton shot a combined 17-for-56, or 30.3% on Saturday. And Colorado got all kinds of contributions in the win, none better than those from McKinley Wright IV with 16 points and 10 assists as coach Tad Boyle celebrated a win on his birthday.

The doom and gloom stories for Notre Dame have already been proven to be premature. The Fighting Irish won their second straight without Bonzie Colson, coming back to squeeze Syracuse 51-49 as Rex Pflueger’s follow basket with 2.6 seconds left after a T.J. Gibbs steal was the winner. Notre Dame came back from nine down at halftime, and while the Orange are a team that can have offensive struggles (see: St. Bonaventure game), it’s time to face something: the Irish have more talent than most understand, it’s just that Mike Brey prefers such a tight rotation that we rarely get to see it. Pflueger has played more of an offensive role the last two games with Colson out, while reserves like Elijah Burns and John Mooney are starting to contribute more. Notre Dame won’t be the same team without Colson, but it is still certainly good enough to make the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina State has looked not a thing like an NCAA Tournament team for all but two games this season, lost its first two ACC games by a combined 46 points…and yet has wins over Duke and Arizona now after stopping the Blue Devils 96-85 last night. Even as the Wildcats are not what they were expected to be (losing to Colorado proved as much), few teams will have two better name-brand Ws this year. Meanwhile, Duke has now lost to Boston College and N.C. State…perhaps the Dukies just aren’t all most thought they were cracked up to be either? At the very least, it’s a team capable of coming up short in games it should win.

There is not a better story early in conference play than Drake, the longtime second-division regular (many might say ‘doormat’) in the Missouri Valley that is now 4-0 in league after a 75-72 win at Indiana State. It’s been fantastic to see for the Bulldogs and especially seniors like Ore Arogundade, C.J. Rivers and especially Reed Timmer, four-year members of the program who have been part of three straight 20-loss seasons. Timmer especially has been an all-MVC level performer on the court and as a pharmacy student a model student-athlete, the type who is easy for anyone college sports fan to root for. Niko Medved did one of the most underrated building jobs in the country in recent years at Furman, and he’s making things happen in Des Moines. Oh, and the last time the Bulldogs had a season with this much building excitement came in 2007-08…under another first-year coach. Keno Davis received national coach of the year honors for his renaissance of the Bulldogs that year that included 28 wins, MVC regular season and tournament titles and a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament-the program’s only NCAA bid since 1971.

Late in the night saw what looked on paper to be an intriguing matchup in the West Coast Conference between a pair of teams undefeated in the league early in the season, one an upstart, the other the preseason conference favorite. San Diego playing at Saint Mary’s was more than that, though. The Toreros have been another of the better stories of the first half of the season, but playing at McKeon Pavilion they showed they’re no novelty. USD punched the Gaels in the mouth, controlling the game the first 28 minutes-leading by eight in the second half-before getting passive offensively. Saint Mary’s is too good of a team to do that against, and the Gaels pounced, withstood a late San Diego run and won 70-63. It was a downright fascinating matchup, USD’s No. 1-rated 3-point field goal percentage defense faced SMC’s three-point shooting that ranks in the top 15 nationally-and the Gaels barely even tried to challenge it, hitting just 1 of 11. Instead, they endlessly pounded it inside to Jock Landale or drove hard from outside when they didn’t, but Emmett Naar was magnificent foisting one crafty shot after another on his way to 24 points. San Diego brought the intensity in this game from the start, with a steal and dunk on Saint Mary’s first possession of the game, and the Gaels found out quickly that USD is no joke, but SMC’s experience in big games certainly looked like it paid off handsomely as the second half went on. The Toreros have wins already over Colorado and New Mexico State, and if they can learn from this and finish better they might wind up being not just a darkhorse in the WCC, but a contender.

Side Dishes:

  • Hoopville head honcho Phil Kasiecki has his Saturday notes, recapping all of the day’s biggest games.
  • Among the top individual performers of the day…Lipscomb’s Garrison Mathews scored a school-record 43 points-no small feat at a place that boasts the two all-time leading scorers in college basketball history (John Pierce and Philip Hutcheson, back when the school was an NAIA member coached by the late legendary Don Meyer). Mathews led the Bisons to an 86-71 win at Kennesaw State.
  • Also: one game after lighting up Providence for 52 points, Marquette’s Markus Howard was held to 37 by Villanova, which posted the 100-90 win. Also in the Big East, Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado put up 28 points, 15 rebounds and six assists in the Pirates’ 90-87 win at Butler. Cam Hunter scored 35 points for North Dakota State with a supreme stat line-9-for-12 from the floor, 5 of 5 from three and 12-for-14 from the foul line-in the Bison’s 84-79 win over defending Summit League regular season champ South Dakota. Tiwian Kendley scored 35 points in Morgan State’s 87-68 win over Florida A&M. Montana forward Jamar Akoh scored a career-best 34 in the Grizzlies’ 89-80 win over Northern Colorado. Finally, Lamar’s Colton Weisbrod scored 38 points but it wasn’t enough as Central Arkansas topped the Cardinals 100-91 in double overtime.

Today’s Menu:

  • The day starts with an important one in the American with Temple at Central Florida (Noon Eastern, CBSSN). The Owls need to get to work now to make their early wins over Auburn and Clemson-which look better by the day-mean something in March. Also at the same time on TV, Davidson is at George Mason in the Atlantic 10 (Noon, NBCSN).
  • There’s a big game in the Missouri Valley, with Missouri State at Illinois State (2 p.m., CBSSN). The Bears are looking more and more like they might be able to take the mantle as the Valley’s frontrunner (even as Drake is a surprising 4-0), while ISU will not lack for motivation after admitting to taking Drake lightly in a 25-point loss last time out.
  • A rare Sunday of CAA games includes College of Charleston and Towson meeting already for the second time this season, with the Tigers looking to avenge the Cougars’ win in the first just over a week ago. Also, red-hot William & Mary takes its shooting on the road against Drexel, which continues to be a tough out and just got done beating Charleston.
  • Wouldn’t have thought this would be big before the season, but suddenly Michigan State’s trip to Ohio State is more meaningful with the Buckeyes at 3-0 and tied with the Spartans in the Big Ten standings (4:30 p.m., CBS).
  • Miami (Fla.) has had a few days to seethe after losing to Georgia Tech; if the loss didn’t get their attention, hosting rival Florida State will (6 p.m., ESPNU).
  • The best rivalry in the American in recent years has been SMU and Cincinnati, and these two meet for another grinder (6 p.m., ESPN2).
  • The only undefeated team in the Metro Atlantic after three games is…Canisius? The Golden Griffins go for 4-0 on the road against young Siena.
  • Wright State is one of the tri-leaders in the Horizon, and the Raiders try for 4-0 with a tough one at Oakland, which has already lost twice.
  • The day winds up with some Pac-12 games, with Arizona State trying to get back on track at Utah (8 p.m., ESPNU) and USC meeting a Stanford team undoubtedly emboldened by its win over UCLA (10 p.m., FS1).

Have a relaxing first Sunday of the new year.

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