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The Morning Dish – Friday, February 23, 2018

February 23, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

There have been too many teams this season that have spent as much time in the news for off-court reasons as their play. Arizona was in the news again for the first on Thursday, and very nearly for the second two, and neither for good things.

First, there was the huge news earlier in the day that Allonzo Trier had been ruled ineligible indefinitely by the NCAA for the second time in his collegiate career after a drug test in January showed a reappearance of a banned substance found in his blood stream. It was the same substance that saw him sit for 19 games at the start of last season and that he had to wait to be reinstated until it was found to be out of his system.

Trier plays a lead role for the Wildcats along with DeAndre Ayton, averaging better than 19 points per game. If he is out for the rest of the season, Arizona is obviously compromised.

That much was shown later in the evening, when the Wildcats struggled on the road at Oregon State, needing overtime to get by the Beavers 75-65. Arizona needed a pair of free throws by Rawle Alkins with 14 seconds left in regulation just to force an extra session, before it finally pulled away in extra time behind two big three-pointers by Alkins.

It’s been an eventful season for Arizona, but not as good of one as expected, even before last night. Whether impacted by the FBI Investigation or perhaps just not as loaded of a team as it appeared from the outside, the Wildcats have had a solid year by most program’s standards (currently ranked in the top 15), but have not been the top flight national title contender they were thought to be.

Even with Trier, it was looking increasingly like this may not be the best chance for a Sean Miller-coached team to make the Final Four. Without him, Arizona increasingly looks like a team where anything beyond the Sweet 16 would be gravy.

Side Dishes

  • Seton Hall and Providence completed their game suspended from Wednesday night, with the Pirates earning an 89-77 win on the road at PC’s Alumni Hall. Crazy conditions aside, that’s a big win for SHU, which has been really struggling of late.
  • We may not know much, but one thing we think we do know is that Tubby Smith knows what he’s doing as a coach. Smith was blasted last year after a roster exodus had Memphis seemingly in dire straits. Yet the Tigers are now a surprising 17-11 after a 91-85 comeback win over nationally ranked Houston. Memphis shot better than 54% from the field and was even good from the foul line, making 29 of 36. Memphis? Good at free throws? Meanwhile, this might sting the Cougars a little bit after they lost a 13-point lead.
  • Gonzaga got a major scare in the WCC on the road, but as usual, the Bulldogs pulled through with a 77-72 win at San Diego. Oh, the Zags were pushed in this one by the stubborn Toreros, but Rui Hachimura scored 12 of his 16 points late.
  • There’s a new leader in the OVC. Murray State is now all alone in first place after the Racers won at Eastern Illinois 76-66. Quietly, the Racers have had a superb year, 23-5 now and at 15-2 in the OVC they’ve caught and passed Belmont, which is now a game back after falling at Jacksonville State 78-67. The Racers have very few weaknesses other than perhaps depth, and in particular their top 5-6 is a group that can compete with most anybody if they can get to the NCAA tourney.
  • Another superb battle in the Summit League, and South Dakota State clinched the regular season title with a hard-fought 76-72 win over second-place South Dakota. You want a clutch performance from an unexpected source in their final home game? SDSU’s Lane Severyn-a 2.7 ppg scorer-scored 14 points off the bench on Senior Night, including four three-pointers. We can only hope upon hope that there’s a third meeting between these two in March. Mark our words: it would be one of the hottest tickets and best games of all conference tournaments.
  • UNC Asheville and Winthrop have spent the last couple years fighting each other for Big South supremacy, and UNCA now has the upper hand after an 89-75 win Thursday. MaCio Teague and Ahmad Thomas make one of the most underrated duos in the country, and they combined for 44 points in this one.
  • Utah continued its late-season surge, topping UCLA 84-78 at home. That’s five straight W’s for the Utes, who simply outplayed the Bruins. Also in the Pac-12, Washington continued to fade with a 94-78 loss at Stanford. The Huskies had a nice run this year but are looking more and more like an almost certain NIT team. And latest in the night, Oregon defeated Arizona State 75-68 in Eugene. The Sun Devils will probably make the NCAA Tournament, but there’s little to suggest of late to pick them to go far.
  • Look who’s back atop the Big West. UC Irvine has been lurking in the conference all season as teams like UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State have battled for the league lead, but now it’s the Anteaters in first after a resounding 69-49 win over UCSB. Annually one of the stingiest defensive teams in the country, Irvine held the Gauchos to 31.6% shooting-including shutting down Max Heidegger and Leland King to a combined 16 points-and Max Hazzard came off the bench to score a big 16 points. UCI has been the most consistent program in the conference in recent years, and it should be little surprise Russell Turner has the Anteaters back at the top again.
  • College of Charleston wrapped up the CAA title with a 79-58 win over Elon. The Cougars have won 11 straight, tied with Michigan State and Grambling State (yes, Grambling) for the longest in Division I. Grant Riller continues to emerge for the Cougars, who are the definite favorite in the upcoming CAA tourney.
  • Old Dominion just keeps winning. The Monarchs are now an excellent 22-5 after an 84-79 win at Marshall. ODU is perhaps a team we’re never going to know just how good it was this year-it is 0-4 vs. top 100 opponents but 22-1 against everyone else, and the eye says this team is good enough to have beaten good teams if it just had more chances at them.
  • JoJo Cooper scored the game-winner with :00.4 left to give Wagner a dramatic 64-62 win at Central Connecticut State. The Seahawks had already wrapped up first in the Northeast Conference.
  • Surprise surprise in the Metro Atlantic, where Monmouth surprised league-leading Rider 91-77. Hawks star Micah Seaborn has had a really tough year battling injuries and in and out of the lineup because of it, but he scored a career-high 30 in this one. With Canisius’s win at Niagara on Wednesday, the MAAC now has a tie at the top.
  • Thursday provided yet another example of how one just never knows where they’ll find a memorable game in college basketball. Longtime rivals Drexel and Delaware played a game in the CAA both fighting to stay out of the league cellar, and the Blue Hens looked on the way to an easy win when they built a 53-19 lead in the first half. Instead, it was the biggest comeback in NCAA Division I history, as the Dragons rallied for an 85-83 win. My goodness.
  • More news from our first state: Delaware State fired coach Keith Walker yesterday on a day when the school also let go women’s basketball coach Barbara Burgess. Walker’s Hornets are 3-25 this season and just this week picked up their first win over a Division I team, and he had a 43-96 record since taking over at DSU in January 2014.
  • Also, a plug here for Hoopville’s latest Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis podcast, with Phil Kasiecki joining Ted to talk a bunch of the latest college basketball happenings.

Today’s Menu

  • It actually starts with some morning hoops, as Wright State plays at IUPUI for a brunch start bright and early at 11 a.m. Eastern time. The game is part of IUPUI’s participation in the NCAA’s Readers Become Leaders program, and 3,000 Indianapolis-area third-graders are expected to be in attendance, per IUPUI. How cool.
  • Mercer is quietly the hottest team in the Southern Conference, having won six straight. Beware the Bears in the SoCon tourney. They do have a tricky test today at The Citadel, which has slowed down its pace a bit of late but is coming off a shocking win at East Tennessee State. It’s actually a schedule of four games in the Southern tonight, and a really good one is Wofford at ETSU.
  • Friday night MAC hoops has Central Michigan at Toledo (6:30 p.m., CBSSN). The Rockets have lost two straight after briefly tying Buffalo for the best record in the league, while the Chippewas have been close in almost every loss this year-nine of their 12 defeats have been by eight points or less.
  • Rhode Island has been a little shaky of late, but perhaps the Rams find their stride again as they return to the Ryan Center to host Dayton (7 p.m., ESPN2).
  • Ivy League co-leader Harvard is at old rival Princeton (7 p.m., ESPNU). If the Tigers are going to get back in the race for a spot in the conference tourney, it almost certainly has to start here.
  • Ohio State is at Indiana (8 p.m., FS1), with the Hoosiers trying to play spoiler. The Buckeyes rebounded nicely last time out by routing Rutgers but still have something to prove on the road after two underwhelming losses there last weekend.
  • Depending on how Wright State does earlier in the day, we could have a three-way tie for first in the Horizon League by the end of the night. Illinois-Chicago has roared up the standings and now trails the Raiders and Northern Kentucky by a game for first, and UIC hosts NKU tonight.
  • Bitter New York City rivals Manhattan and Iona meet again, with the Gaels looking for the season sweep and to begin another of their patented end-of-season runs under coach Tim Cluess. (9 p.m., ESPNU)

 

Enjoy your Friday and have an outstanding weekend.

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