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The Morning Dish – Tuesday, February 13, 2018

February 13, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

With the increasing competitiveness of the Southeastern Conference in basketball, it was only a matter of time before coaches who we thought of as successes would instead be marked as failures and become casualties of the league’s improvement.

That, however, didn’t make it any less disappointing to see the news on Monday that Andy Kennedy and Mississippi had made what was termed as a mutual decision to part ways. While the decision was presented as Kennedy’s, may well might have been and was termed appeared to be a most amicable split in the press conference Monday, it’s no secret that pressure has been on with grumblings that Kennedy was not getting the job done in Oxford.

(Maybe this is the time to remind everyone once again that if they think most coaches leave head jobs to jump to better jobs, they’re wrong. The vast majority of coaching changes come about precisely because of situations like there, where a coach is either fired or resigns under pressure.)

Kennedy will finish out this season with the Rebels, a rarity these days but a class gesture by the coach and the school. His current players deserve that, and after 12 years, it’s what he deserves, too.

Basically, Kennedy won plenty, he just didn’t win big enough. The former UAB star took the Rebels to “only” two NCAA Tournament appearances in 12 years but won 62% of his games and had nine 20-win seasons. His teams won tourney games in both trips to the NCAAs, and also made two trips to the NIT semifinals and another to that tourney’s quarterfinals. He’s never had a losing record, this year’s 11-11 mark putting on the brink of it possible happening for a first time. And his Rebel teams were regularly regarded as solid, not an easy out in the SEC.

Ole Miss does have its sparkling new Pavilion, but crowds have been light. And unlike a Kentucky or Florida, the program doesn’t have as much cachet when it comes to scheduling anyone it wants, anywhere. There are times Ole Miss couldn’t be nearly as choosy in who it played as richer schools in conferences like its own.

Because of that, the departure of Kennedy also is a blow to anyone who liked seeing coaches who weren’t chicken of playing all comers home and home, and didn’t just stick to the collusion among major conferences in scheduling. Under Kennedy, Ole Miss played home-and-homes with the likes of Coastal Carolina, Dayton and Middle Tennessee State and just started one with Illinois State. It’s something he can’t be given enough credit for, being one of the few coaches who refused to hide behind tired excuses about having ‘nothing to gain.’

It’s no surprise that fans of Ole Miss would see the all-but overnight success at schools like Auburn and Tennessee this year and think their school should be doing the same by now. At the same time, it’s just a fact that it is impossible for every program in a conference to win and win big. In every conference game there always has to be a loser, no matter how good teams are. Ole Miss can hope for better than Kennedy, but there’s certainly no guarantee it will find it.

Side Dishes:

  • Baylor is suddenly surging in the Big 12, while Texas is increasingly looking like an NIT team. The Bears needed two overtimes to complete the deal but finally topped the Longhorns 74-73 for their fourth straight win. Jo Lual-Acuil’s putback dunk with eight seconds left was the winning points, and Baylor suddenly is on the brink of NCAA tourney consideration again. For the Horns, though, this is a damaging loss-an NCAA Tournament team has to find a way to win a game like this at home.
  • West Virginia bounced back after frittering away a game against Oklahoma State at home on Saturday, this time taking care of TCU 82-66. Teddy Allen (16 points) and James Bolden (14) gave WVU a huge lift off the bench. Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs are 5-8 in the Big 12. Also, North Caroina pulled away in the second half for an 83-66 win over wounded Notre Dame.
  • It seems the nation’s longest winning streak has been getting wiped out on a daily basis of late. East Tennessee State held it for two days, but UNC Greensboro snapped the Buccaneers’ 16-game run with an attention-getting 74-56 win in Greensboro. The Spartans picked up their 20th win of the season, setting a school single-game record with 14 blocks, including eight by James Dickey. ETSU shot a season-low 30.3%, losing the trail in the second half after the first 20 minutes were nearly even. UNCG is now just one game behind East Tennessee State in the Southern Conference, and the possibility of these two meeting again in the conference tourney in Asheville is delicious.
  • The finish of the night and one of the comeback finishes of the year came in the Patriot League Monday. Bucknell trailed Colgate 64-56 with 25 seconds left in the game but completed an improbable comeback with Kimbal McKenzie hitting a three-pointer from the corner at the buzzer for a 65-64 win. Incredible. A pair of three-point plays, a turnover and a flagrant foul led the Bison’s wild comeback, and Bucknell now is in the driver’s seat in the Patriot, three games up plus a tiebreaker over second-place Colgate with four games to play.
  • Savannah State won a showdown in the MEAC, holding off North Carolina A&T 108-106 to move a full two games ahead of the field in the standings. The Tigers have now won nine straight, and what a great story it would be if they make the NCAA Tournament this year, just before beginning the move back to NCAA Division II.
  • Grambling is scorching hot in the SWAC. The Tigers have now won 10 straight after blowing away Texas Southern 78-55 on the road. What a run for GSU, which leads the league by one game now as Arkansas-Pine Bluff continued to slump with an ugly 84-52 loss at Alcorn State.
  • Canisius moved into a tie for first in the MAAC with Rider with an 81-63 win over Fairfield. This was another that was close (tied actually) at halftime, but Jermaine Crumpton had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Also, Siena knocked off Iona 82-78 in overtime as the Gaels continue to slide.
  • Texas A&M has been in the news way too much for off-the-court news this year, and it had some more Monday as it was announced guard Duane Wilson will miss the rest of the season. Wilson has actually been playing with a torn ACL in his knee. He had been starting most of the season and was averaging nine points and four assists.
  • More from the SEC: the conference announced on Monday that South Carolina coach Frank Martin had been fined $25,000 and reprimanded for comments critical of officials on Saturday. It’s been a frustrating season for the Gamecocks, another casualty of the improved SEC.
  • Georgia Tech also was dealt a blow Sunday night when freshman guard Jose Alvarado was injured in the Yellow Jackets’ loss to Duke, and the news Monday was that he indeed will miss the rest of the season with a fractured left elbow. Alvarado had been a bright light in a dismal year for the Yellow Jackets, a rock in the team’s lineup averaging 12.1 points per game.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • Another busy Tuesday night on TV opens with Georgetown at Butler (6:30 p.m. Eastern, CBSSN).
  • A couple important ones in the Big 12, where Oklahoma is at Texas Tech (7 p.m., ESPN) and Kansas at Iowa State (7 p.m., ESPN2). The former is the biggest game of the night, the Red Raiders one of the few teams that has slowed down the Sooners this season even as OU won the first meeting. In the latter, the Jayhawks can’t afford many more slipups if they’re to stay in contention for another league title.
  • Texas A&M has been red-hot again but now goes to Missouri, and with a severely hampered backcourt (7 p.m., ESPNU). Other games in the SEC include Ole Miss hosting Arkansas in its first game after Andy Kennedy announced his resignation (7 p.m., SEC Network) and LSU at Alabama (9 p.m., SEC Network). The Crimson Tide has alternated wins and losses for its last seven games…and if form holds are due for a loss, even as they’re at home.
  • All Nebraska can do is keep winning against the schedule it faces. The Cornhuskers’ very favorable schedule down the stretch continues with Maryland at home (7 p.m., Big Ten Network).
  • St. Bonaventure has been rolling, but with a home game lurking with Rhode Island on Friday faces a big-time potential trap game tonight at La Salle. Meanwhile, URI hosts improved Richmond tonight (8:30 p.m., CBSSN).
  • Virginia lost last week but still moved up a spot to No. 1-interesting, though guess the options after last week’s carnage of the top teams weren’t very satisfying. The Cavaliers could fall again tonight, though, with a game at Miami (9 p.m., ESPN). Second-ranked Michigan State also is on the road at Minnesota (9 p.m., ESPN2).

Have a super Tuesday, and if you watch them, enjoy the fifth day of the Winter Olympics.

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