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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, January 10, 2018

January 10, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

Conference play is a very different animal from non-conference play for a lot of reasons. The results often bear that out with many welcome examples, and right now we have two of them in Texas A&M and St. John’s.

Both teams at least showed a lot of promise in non-conference play. Both teams are currently staring at winless starts in their respective conferences after losing again on Tuesday night.

For Texas A&M, the fall has been especially noteworthy. The Aggies looked terrific in non-conference play, winning the Legends Classic quite convincingly over Oklahoma State and Penn State. In the season opener, they blew out West Virginia, who leads the Big 12 with a 4-0 start). They beat USC, a win that has lots value over time. They nearly beat Arizona in Phoenix. They were ranked in the top 10 in the polls, although that always seemed a bit much.

But since SEC play begun, it has not been pretty. They are 0-4 after losing at Kentucky 74-73 on Tuesday night, a Wildcat team that was without freshman point guard Kwade Green. The first two losses were by double digits, while the last two have been agonizing one-point losses. The Aggies have not been fully healthy, hit by injuries and illness, but a four-game losing streak likely wasn’t something many people saw coming. They are the lone winless team in the SEC right now. The SEC is certainly stronger this year, but the Aggies are not as big a part of that as first thought.

St. John’s, meanwhile, looked like they could be poised to really break through this year as Chris Mullin’s work running the program took further shape. With their only non-conference losses coming against Missouri and Arizona State, they looked like they could at least be the sleeper Big East team many thought they might be. Much more than that would have been a bit much since teams many picked ahead of them looked as good as advertised, from Villanova down to Providence, Seton Hall, Xavier and even Butler, who some thought might be due for a down year.

The Red Storm played a strong non-conference schedule as the numbers go, as theirs ranks near the top 10. But their best wins are against Nebraska and UCF, neither of which is a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

After Tuesday night, though, the Red Storm are Georgetown’s best win in Patrick Ewing’s first season at the helm, as the Hoyas beat them 69-66. Worse yet, the Red Storm have now lost to the only two Big East teams with RPIs that have three digits, and both losses have come at home. They are 0-5 with Villanova coming to town on Saturday and a trip to Xavier looming after that.

Conference play has familiarity as one equalizing factor, as teams develop styles of play and habits over time that teams who play them regularly pick up on. Home court is another one, as many teams who don’t go on the road much in non-conference play have to play road games against conference opponents. There’s also a little added competitiveness, because every team wants what their opponents want: a conference championship.

Every year we see a ready example or two of how different conference play is for a variety of reasons. Texas A&M and St. John’s serve as the best ones this season.


Side Dishes

It wasn’t a great night to be a road team, but Purdue picked up an especially good one as they pulled out a 70-69 win at Michigan. The Boilermakers led at halftime and some of the second, but needed a free throw in the final seconds and then a long heave bouncing off the rim to hang on and go to 5-0 in the Big Ten.

Two other good road wins on the night: Tennessee got 37 points from Grant Williams to knock off Vanderbilt 92-84 in Nashville, and Boise State held off Fresno State 70-64 to go to 4-1 in Mountain West play as Chandler Hutchison persevered through a tough night to still post a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

Home teams ruled in the Big 12, which means West Virginia (57-54 over Baylor), Kansas (83-78 over 0-5 Iowa State) and Oklahoma (75-65 over Texas Tech) all won, with the Sooners handing the Red Raiders their first Big 12 loss. West Virginia is the lone undefeated team at 4-0, while Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech are all right behind at 3-1.

A somewhat surprising result: Seton Hall went to Marquette and got blasted 84-64. Marquette winning at home was not surprising; a 20-point margin is. Give the Golden Eagles credit for really keeping their foot on the gas pedal to build an eight-point halftime lead up to the final margin.

Texas guard Andrew Jones is still not ready to return to action just yet with an undisclosed illness. The Longhorns will host TCU on Wednesday night, and Jones is expected to sit it out.


Tonight’s Menu

It’s a busy night of action, though the best games appear to be concentrated in the latter part of the night.

  • The ACC is a busy conference with four games on tap: Duke at Pittsburgh, Notre Dame at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech at Wake Forest early on (7 p.m.) and Louisville at Florida State later (9 p.m.)
  • Uconn may have finally gotten a conference win on Saturday against East Carolina, but they face a tougher matchup here as UCF visits Storrs (7 p.m.)
  • The SEC has three interesting games on tap: Mississippi State at Florida (7 p.m.), Georgia at Missouri and LSU at Arkansas (9 p.m.)
  • A dandy Big East matchup is on tap as Villanova hosts Xavier (8 p.m.)
  • The best Big 12 matchup on the night is TCU visiting Texas (9 p.m.)
  • Two Big Ten teams that have not lived up to preseason expectations battle as Minnesota visits Northwestern (9 p.m.)
  • Colorado tries to stay on a roll as they hit the road to play at USC (10 p.m.)

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