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The Morning Dish – Monday, February 12, 2018

February 12, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

Just over the past week, five teams have fallen from the ranks of the undefeated in conference play. Only seven such teams remain as of Sunday, and one of them made sure they didn’t become the sixth such victim in a week’s time.

Cincinnati continued to win, and they did so in impressive fashion over a team that they have competed with to be the signature program in the early going of the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats led by 11 at the break and kept their foot on the gas pedal in the second half, leading by as many as 35 en route to a 76-51 thumping of slumping SMU.

When SMU went into Wichita State and won last month, they looked like they might have a shot at the NCAA Tournament after all, but now, the Mustangs will only go with a conference tournament championship. They are 5-7 and tied with Memphis in the second division.

Cincinnati was simply that much better than SMU, and right now they’re clearly the class of The American. They have a 16-game winning streak, which ties East Tennessee State for the longest current winning streak in the nation, are starting to put some good distance between themselves and the rest of The American, as they are three games up on Wichita State and Houston. They still have to play the Shockers twice, but the Bearcats control their own destiny.

As has often been the case, the Bearcats are especially getting it done at the defensive end. They held SMU to 32.2 percent from the field, and they entered the day second in the country in field goal percentage defense. They have one of the best rebounding margins as well, and they are also up there nationally in turnovers forced and turnover margin.

They are also doing it with a lot of good players you probably haven’t heard of. Junior Jacob Evans leads them in scoring, while conference Player of the Year candidate Gary Clark is second and leads the conference in rebounding. Kyle Washington and Jarron Cumberland are also up there, but neither is anything remotely resembling a household name. For our money, Clark is one of the best players no one knows about nationally.

Along those lines, this will probably be a team that surprises some in the NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats don’t possess a bevvy of quality wins; their best non-conference wins came against Mississippi State and UCLA, both of who are not locks for the NCAA Tournament although the Bruins look a little better than they did a week ago, as well as Buffalo, though that win will probably decline a bit more in value as the only way the Bulls become an NCAA Tournament lock is if they win the MAC Tournament. They have three top 50 wins in conference play, two aided by Temple’s recent resurgence, and both of their non-conference losses came against teams who will play in the NCAA Tournament (Xavier and Florida).

In what has been a wild year in college basketball, the Bearcats have not received a lot of national attention. Part of it has been their winning ways, as many teams in their position have been knocked off at some point along the way and likely by a team not ranked. Part of it is the conference they play in. If they keep up what they are doing now, they will have plenty of opportunities to get the best kind of attention when the month of March rolls around.

 

Side Dishes

No Marvin Bagley III, no problem for Duke as the Blue Devils went to Georgia Tech and took home an 80-69 win. Wendell Carter Jr., who has been overshadowed by Bagley but has had a fine freshman season as well, had 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Blue Devils to end a two-game losing streak. Bagley missed the game with a mild knee sprain and was held out largely to avoid a worse injury. It was a busy day of ACC action, but with no surprise results as Louisville blew out Pittsburgh 94-60 and Syracuse beat Wake Forest 78-70.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 also had multiple games on tap that were of note. Michigan handled Wisconsin 83-72 in Madison, dropping the Badgers to 4-10 in a forgettable season, and Penn State blew out Illinois 74-52 on the road as well. Out west, Colorado won their third straight, 64-56 over Stanford to draw even with the Cardinal at 7-6, then Oregon continued to try to make a late push as they pulled away from Washington State 84-57, finishing the game on a 38-16 run after the Cougars got within five in the second half.

Vermont remained undefeated in America East play with an 81-69 win over Umass-Lowell, so they join Cincinnati in that respect. Elsewhere in America East is another streak of note: Stony Brook beat Maine for the 16th straight time, this one a 64-61 win in Orono.

Just as Texas A&M look like they’re turning a corner, an off-court matter threatens to derail them. On Sunday, they booted guard J.J. Caldwell from the program and suspended Jay Jay Chandler indefinitely after both were arrested on charges of marijuana possession on Sunday. Caldwell was also cited for speeding, and the arrests came after the Aggies beat Kentucky on Saturday night – certainly not a good way to celebrate a big win. Caldwell already had off-court issues, missing last season due to academics and then being suspended for the first four games of the season. The two freshmen have not played big roles for this team, but a distraction is a challenge all the same.

Tim O’Shea will announce his retirement on Monday after ten seasons as the head coach at Bryant. It’s been a 34-year career in college coaching for O’Shea, who left Ohio University to take over a program entering Division I in 2008. They made the CBI in their first year of postseason eligibility and hosted home games three years in a row in the Northeast Conference Tournament, and all three were great games though the Bulldogs won just one of them. This season, the Bulldogs are 3-24 after being hit hard by players transferring up in recent years. O’Shea also had a big hand in the success of Boston College during Al Skinner’s tenure, as he was a key assistant coach with a hand in finding many diamonds in the rough. The school will hold a 3 p.m. press conference, and we’ll have more on this to come.

 

Tonight’s Menu

It’s a relatively light night as usual, but several conferences have important matchups among their top teams to make this one stand out a bit more than your typical Monday.

  • Notre Dame travels to North Carolina as they try again to get back on track (7 p.m.)
  • A big showdown is on tap in the Southern Conference as East Tennessee State puts their undefeated conference mark on the line at UNC Greensboro (7 p.m.)
  • The Patriot League also has a big game on tap as Colgate visits Bucknell (7 p.m.)
  • In the MEAC, first place is on the line as North Carolina A&T visits Savannah State (8 p.m.)
  • The Big 12 takes over the latter part of the night as TCU visits West Virginia and Texas hosts Baylor (9 p.m.)

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