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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 14, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

The Big 12 promises to give us quite a finish. That was easy to figure already, considering how deep the conference is, but Tuesday night helped get rid of any doubt about that. The burning question is if we will have history made, or a very unlikely champion.

History tells you to bet on the former. But the latter could very well happen, too.

Texas Tech currently has a one-game lead on Kansas, which they maintained as both teams won on Tuesday night. The Red Raiders beat Oklahoma 88-78 in Lubbock, while Kansas held off Iowa State 83-77 in Ames. They will meet one more time, in Lubbock on February 24, and the Red Raiders won the first meeting in Lawrence – one of three losses at Allen Fieldhouse in what has been an uncharacteristic season for the Jayhawks.

Texas Tech has the most athletic team in the Big 12, and Chris Beard is a serious candidate for national Coach of the Year. While the Red Raiders have had some recent success, it’s safe to say few outside of Lubbock thought they would contend for the Big 12 title, especially as loaded as the conference is. Every team in the conference has had a path to the NCAA Tournament for a while, though teams at the bottom are long shots because they need to win even more down the stretch than they have all year.

Meanwhile, Kansas has won as much with their winning DNA as anything else. Sure, the Jayhawks have an All-America candidate in Devonte Graham and other very good players around him, but this isn’t the Kansas of a decade ago that routinely rolled out teams with multiple potential NBA first round picks.

During this run of 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles, there have been several times when the Jayhawks might have seemed vulnerable. Little by little, it feels like they have been less talented than in the past. While they have had some one-and-dones, they haven’t had the same success with it as Duke and Kentucky. Off-court matters have derailed a couple of players as well, like Carlton Bragg and Billy Preston. And in some years, there was a team or two that looked like they would be good enough to finally knock off the Jayhawks.

Even so, it has not happened yet. They have found ways to come out on top all the same, and have a chance to top UCLA’s record for consecutive regular season conference championships. It’s been a remarkable run, and it’s gotten to the point where you could joke that one of the few guarantees in life is that Kansas will win the Big 12 regular season title, in addition to death and taxes. And many in the media, yours truly included, have adopted the mindset of picking Kansas to win the Big 12 every year until someone knocks them off one year.

But Texas Tech is very much threatening the Jayhawks as each team has five games left. The Red Raiders hit the road for three of those games, going to Baylor, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, while hosting the Jayhawks and TCU. Kansas has three of their final five at home, hosting West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas, while going on the road to play the Red Raiders and Oklahoma State.

The two teams have each other and two common opponents. Of the others, you might give Kansas a slight edge in terms of difficulty, as Oklahoma and Texas are fading and come to Lawrence, while Baylor is playing more like the Baylor of early non-conference play and TCU is a tough out that has been right there in a lot of close losses.

It all adds up to a final couple of weeks that should be just what conference play has led up to. The Big 12 has been the best conference this year, continuing a remarkable run in that respect, and it has been well worth the price of admission as the results have been unpredictable. Texas Tech and Kansas are right there, with a lot undoubtedly hinging on their February 24 meeting in Lubbock along the way.


Side Dishes

In the SEC, home teams ruled, scoring a couple of big wins among them. Missouri stopped Texas A&M 62-58, while Tennessee held off a late South Carolina rally for a 70-67 win. Alabama took care of LSU 80-65, and Arkansas scored the only road win of the night, a 75-64 win at Ole Miss to get back above .500 in SEC play.

Nebraska continued their surprise run in the Big Ten, knocking off Maryland 70-66 to go to 11-4 in conference play. Also in the Big Ten, Northwestern looks more and more like they won’t have a repeat of last season, as they fell to 6-8 with a 67-58 overtime loss at Rutgers.

The Big East saw a surprise as well, as Georgetown knocked off Butler 87-83 in Indianapolis, which ends a four-game road losing streak. Marcus Derrickson had himself a night, tying a career high with 27 points on 11-13 shooting.

One other conference that looks like it will have a great race to the finish is the MAC, and Buffalo and Toledo both won at home to go to 11-2 there. Unfortunately, with the unbalanced schedule, the two teams will not meet again, and the Bulls have the tiebreaker as they won the only meeting by ten in the conference opener for both teams over a month ago.

Rhode Island continued to roll through the Atlantic 10 on Tuesday night, cruising to an 85-67 win over Richmond. The Rams have now won 16 straight and are 13-0 in Atlantic 10 play, and they will have a chance to clinch at least a tie for the regular season title on Friday when they travel to St. Bonaventure, who won 79-68 at La Salle on Tuesday. Should VCU beat Davidson (in Richmond) on Wednesday night, URI could clinch the regular season title outright with a win on Friday.

Off the court, the big news is that the federal government dropped charges against Jonathan Brad Augustine, who was among the ten men arrested in September as part of the FBI’s investigation into corruption. The investigation is far from over, but this is a notable development. Augustine at one time was the director of the 1 Family AAU program that was based out of Orlando.


Tonight’s Menu

As we move through February, the implications of many matchups are clearer, and the games seem bigger. That includes tonight’s slate.

  • An important Big East game is on tap early as Villanova visits Providence (7 p.m.) in a game the Friars need a little more after their recent loss to DePaul. Later, Seton Hall tries to get back on track in a tough road battle at Xavier (9 p.m.)
  • The ACC slate starts with Clemson at Florida State and Virginia Tech at Duke (7 p.m.), then a game with a lot of potential NCAA Tournament at-large implications comes later as NC State visits Syracuse (9 p.m.)
  • Mississippi State goes to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt (7 p.m.) in a game the Bulldogs need mainly to avoid a bad loss as they keep hope of an NCAA Tournament bid alive.
  • A key Atlantic 10 game on tap is the aforementioned matchup of Davidson going to VCU (7 p.m.)
  • A couple of big games are on tap in the Southland Conference as SE Louisiana hosts New Orleans (8 p.m.) and Nicholls hosts Sam Houston State (9:15 p.m.), with just a half game separating those four teams.
  • A couple of key SEC matchups are on tap later, with host Auburn trying to extend Kentucky’s three-game losing streak and Florida hosting a Georgia team desperate for a win (9 p.m.)
  • The Mountain West takes over late at night, with Wyoming at San Diego State being the game of choice in past years but this time around the choice being the one with first place on the line, Nevada at Boise State, both tipping at 11 p.m.

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