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The Morning Dish – Tuesday, January 23, 2018

January 23, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

We’re getting closer. It’s still only January yet, but with February just around the corner now, we’re nearing the time where talk about things like bracketology and bubbles can actually pick up in earnest as sample sizes finally reach a representative phase.

Though a night with a light schedule, Monday was an evening that would get even the more restrained bracket watcher to start paying attention. Though it’s still early enough in conference play that no team is buried yet, we’re nearing the time where teams in an early hole better start digging out of it if they want to play in the four-letter tournament in March.

To put it succinctly, some teams took advantage of opportunities Monday night, and some didn’t. The night’s biggest winner was Virginia Tech, which came in 2-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and coming off a home loss to Florida State on Saturday. The loss to FSU wouldn’t have seemed to portend to good things for the Hokies on Monday, but they picked up their play and flat outplayed defending national champion and 10th-ranked North Carolina 80-69 for a very important win.

Tech trailed much of the first half but finished the half on a 15-2 run, spreading out and suddenly wearing out the UNC defense. The Tar Heels struggled guarding VT’s short, quick lineup, and also fell into some bad habits offensively, settling for way too many jump shots (Carolina shot just five free throws). With this, the ol’ Gobblers picked up easily the best of their 14 wins so far this year, and while Virginia Tech looks to the eyes (at least these eyes) like an NCAA tourney team, there’s going to need to continue to be more proof of that in the results the rest of the season.

Another winner was Kansas State, which is starting to look like it has Baylor’s number. The Wildcats defeated the Bears for the third straight time dating back to last year, in control throughout in a 90-83 victory. With the result, one team continued its ascension to serious NCAA tourney consideration, while another is sliding its way out.

K-State’s 4-3 Big 12 record entering the game might not have indicated trouble, but the Wildcats are once again betting on an NCAA bid solely based on their conference work after playing another awful non-conference schedule. We’re getting closer to the time when RPI is a relevant ratings tool (anyone worked in a rage over it before February is wasting their time; the RPI isn’t meant to take particular significance until sample sizes start filling out), but Kansas State’s non-conference schedule is currently ranked No. 333 in Division I. That’s horrendous.

Of course the Wildcats went 10-2 out of conference, but lost to the best two teams they played-Arizona State and sub-100 Tulsa. It’s become clear that K-State was good enough to play a much better slate than it did-guys like Barry Brown (34 points vs. Baylor) and Dean Wade (24) are underrated stars this season, playing well enough to carry this team quite a ways. In its last four games now, Bruce Weber’s team has wins over Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor and a one-point loss at Kansas.

(By the way, an achievement for KSU’s Levi Stockard III, who fouled out…in three minutes of play. Stockard’s night was done with 16:57 left in the second half.)

Baylor, meanwhile, is in heavy danger of being one of the first to get eaten up by the Big 12. The Bears are now just 12-8 overall and 2-6 in league play, and it’s going to take a major rally to rack up enough wins to get to the NCAAs. An early win over Creighton and a recent one over Texas are really the only two redeeming qualities for a team that is otherwise 2-8 vs. the top 10 teams it has played and 3-8 vs. the top 100.

Also in the Big 12, TCU was just 2-5 in league coming into Monday, and while the Horned Frogs were still a top 25 team in our books, there’s no denying they can’t afford to go too far deeper in the minus category in their win/loss record. Texas Christian needs to take advantage of opportunities at home-and it did, defeating No. 7 West Virginia 82-73.

Alex Robinson was terrific at the point again-17 points, seven rebounds, nine assists. TCU was in charge in the second half and most impressively took it to the Mountaineers on the glass with a 46-40 rebounding edge. WVU also shot just 33.3% from the field, continuing to be inconsistent offensively when it isn’t turning teams over.

Side Dishes:

  • A pair of Big Ten teams also took damaging losses. Maryland lost at Indiana 71-68, as the Terrapins continue to tread water and just can’t afford to lose winnable games like this. Later, Ohio State edged Nebraska 64-59, a loss for the Cornhuskers not bad for the opposition-the Buckeyes are now 9-0 in the Big Ten-but because Nebraska badly needs some quality wins with a resume very thin on them as well as any kind of work on the road.
  • Michigan State won at Illinois, but the Spartans again were a bit underwhelming in a 87-74 win against the Fighting Illini, now 0-8 in the Big Ten. Miles Bridges did score 31, but MSU had a whopping 25 turnovers, including Cassius Winston threatening a double-double with eight assists…and eight turnovers.
  • A big one in the SWAC had a wild finish as Arkansas-Pine Bluff rallied to beat Texas Southern 74-72 to remain undefeated in conference play. The Golden Lions trailed 72-69 in the final seconds when Martaveous McKnight hit a three-pointer with two seconds left-and was fouled! TSU’s bench then was whistled for a technical foul, giving McKnight three free throws total, and he made two of three for the final margin. The Tigers saw their 27-game homecourt winning streak snapped, and played without high-scoring sophomore guard Demontrae Jefferson, who has been suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules, per HBCU Gameday website yesterday.
  • Savannah State is now 5-1 in its second-to-last season in the MEAC before dropping down to NCAA Division II after outlasting Norfolk State 104-99 in overtime. Dexter McClanahan put up big scoring numbers with 37 points. Meanwhile, co-leader North Carolina A&T lost for the first time in conference to Howard, 90-88, also in overtime.
  • Injuries were in the news Monday. SMU got a double dose of bad news as Jarrey Foster and Everett Ray will both miss the rest of the season, Foster after partially tearing an ACL, Ray with a broken bone in his foot. Foster was a starter for the Mustangs and one of the team’s most indispensable players, averaging over 13 points and nearly six rebounds per game. Ray is a freshman frontcourt reserve who was averaging 2.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Their injuries leave SMU with eight healthy scholarship players for the rest of the season.
  • Tough news also for Fairleigh Dickinson senior Darian Anderson, who will officially miss the end of his final season after undergoing foot surgery Monday morning. Anderson was averaging 14.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game this season and is eighth in school history with 1,538 career points. The Knights are currently 6-13 overall and 3-5 and in eighth place in the Northeast Conference.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • The evening starts with Providence hitting the road against top-ranked Villanova (6:30 p.m. Eastern, FS1). The Friars have won four straight during a friendly home-loaded stretch (four of last five at home). Now they start a three-game road stretch, but if PC can win this one the Friars will become a chic hot team for late January.
  • At the same time, Arkansas goes to face Georgia (6:30 p.m., SEC Network). The Razorbacks have spent a lot of capital they built up early and would be advised to start winning games like this.
  • Clemson has a top-20 matchup for the second Tuesday in a row, this time at Virginia. Let’s see how the Tigers deal after unfortunately losing tough guy Donte Grantham for the season due to injury.
  • You might hear some hype about Kansas playing at Oklahoma (7 p.m., ESPN). Trae Young is good, but the Jayhawks are a better team than the Sooners. OU needs to start asserting its team again, instead of standing and watching its star, and Young needs to start getting them involved. He’s plenty good enough to do it. At the same time, Oklahoma State goes to Texas Tech (7 p.m., ESPNews), with the Cowboys suddenly on a high while Tech has lost two straight. Life in the Big 12…
  • Is Davidson the second-best team in the Atlantic 10? The Wildcats sure look like it when they’re on, but Dayton has some length to disrupt their motion offense (7 p.m., CBSSN).
  • Another MAC Tuesday has Buffalo looking to get to 7-0 in the East Division when it hosts Eastern Michigan. The West has a showdown, where Toledo has briefly separated from the rest of the pack at 5-1 and can go three games up on Western Michigan if it can beat the Broncos in Kalamazoo.
  • The Missouri Valley continues to be ridiculously evenly matched. Missouri State is a game ahead of Bradley, but the Braves are at home for this one. Curious to see how the Bears, who have a definite finesse element to them, fare at the home of the take-no-prisoners Braves.
  • Alabama is suddenly on the upswing in the SEC, having won four straight. Mississippi has shown to be no slouch in conference play too, though, with three league wins and its last two losses on the road by a combined six points. In other words: the Crimson Tide better be ready for this one (8:30 p.m., SEC Network). More in the SEC around this time: Texas A&M has a chance to continue its renaissance when at LSU (9 p.m., ESPNU), and newly unranked Kentucky doesn’t have a layup when it hosts Mississippi State (9 p.m., ESPN).
  • It says something about the Big Ten this year that it’s hard to find games in it to highlight on these lists each night. We’ll mention Northwestern at Minnesota (9 p.m., Big Ten Network), two teams whose glory days last year seem like a decade ago right now.
  • Finally, UNLV travels to Fresno State in a matchup of two still with hopes of at least a top 2-3 finish in the Mountain West (11 p.m., CBSSN). These two have eerily similar statistics on the year, with one notable exception-the Bulldogs are much better protecting the ball than the Runnin’ Rebels.

Enjoy your Tuesday.

Twitter: @HoopvilleAdam
Email: hoopvilleadam@yahoo.com

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