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The Morning Dish – Saturday, March 10, 2018

March 10, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

As one of the most fun days of the season – Championship Saturday – beckons, there is still much to consider about a number of bubble teams, and Friday’s action didn’t change that at all. Interestingly, there were a few rivalry matchups as well.

As if that wasn’t enough, bubble teams are not breathing easier, as there will be at least one bid thief on Saturday.

Let’s start with the SEC Tournament, where the first three games involved a bubble team. Alabama certainly helped themselves, turning the game around with a dominant second half to beat arch-rival Auburn. The Crimson Tide outscored the Tigers 50-22 in the second half as Collin Sexton (31 points) was unstoppable, and others followed. The Crimson Tide would do well to win at least another one, but this helps, especially since any remote hope Georgia had left is probably gone after the Bulldogs lost 62-49 to Kentucky in the next game. Georgia has some good wins, but 15 losses may be a couple too many. Then Tennessee edged Mississippi State 62-59, which might put the Bulldogs into the NIT. Arkansas beat Florida 80-72 in the final game, but both teams should be solidly in at this point.

The Big 12 had some bubble action as Kansas State took on arch rival Kansas, and the Wildcats could have used a win to feel safer. But Kansas took care of business in an 83-67 win, getting 22 points from Malik Newman. They will play West Virginia, who edged Texas Tech 66-63. Kansas State will sweat it out on Sunday.

We head further west for a big story that impacts bubble teams, and not in a good way. San Diego State ran out to a 55-25 halftime lead over Nevada and coasted to a 90-73 win in the Mountain West semifinals. With Nevada being the only team in the conference that is remotely at-large worthy, the winner of the championship game will get to the NCAA Tournament by the only means available to them, and that might make the Mountain West a two-bid league. Nevada is thought by some to be locks, but a closer look at their resume shows that Rhode Island is the only lock NCAA Tournament team they beat, though they swept Boise State and the road win is a Quadrant 1 win. A very good RPI probably gets them in and means the conference champion gets a bid they would not otherwise have.

Then in the Pac-12 semifinals, UCLA had a chance for a big win as they led Arizona at the half and sent the game to overtime. But the extra session was literally all Wildcats, as they shutout the Bruins in a 78-67 win behind a monster game from Deandre Ayton (32 points, 14 rebounds). USC then cruised past Oregon 74-54, pulling away at the start of the second half and ensuring that Oregon won’t be a bid thief.

All of this is a prelude to a day that we all should just enjoy for what it is. 14 automatic bids will go out on Saturday, many to teams who would not be in the NCAA Tournament otherwise, so plenty is on the line all day long.


Conference Tournament Roundup

In other action on the busy day:

ACC: In the semifinals, Virginia held on to beat Clemson 64-58, then North Carolina edged Duke 74-69 in another meeting of arch rivals, although North Carolina was sloppy down the stretch.

American Athletic Conference: In quarterfinal action, Cincinnati pulled away from SMU 61-51, then Memphis got a buzzer-beater from Kareem Brewton Jr. to beat Tulsa 67-64. In the nightcap, Wichita State took care of Temple 89-81 and Houston blew out UCF 84-56.

Atlantic 10: Rhode Island held off VCU to start the day 76-67, then Saint Joseph’s turned a one-point halftime lead into a 68-49 win over George Mason. In the evening, St. Bonaventure stayed hot by knocking off Richmond 83-77, then Davidson jumped out early and never looked back in a 78-60 win over Saint Louis behind 35 points from Atlantic 10 co-Player of the Year Peyton Aldridge.

Big East: In the first semifinal, Providence rallied to send the game to overtime, then didn’t let Xavier get off a game-tying attempt to hang on for a 75-72 win over the regular season champions. The nightcap was anticlimactic in more ways than one, as Villanova scored the first 16 points of the game and was never seriously threatened in an 87-68 win over Butler.

Big Sky: In the semifinals in Reno, Northern Colorado gave Montana all they could handle, but the Grizzlies survived in overtime 91-89, then Eastern Washington made a 12-point halftime lead stand up in an 82-70 win over Southern Utah during which Bogdan Bliznyuk became the conference’s all-time leading scorer as he had 32 points.

Big West: Regular season champion UC Davis will end up in the NIT, as Cal State Fullerton rallied to beat them 55-52 in the first semifinal. UC Irvine then edged UC Santa Barbara 61-58 in the final game of the day.

Conference USA: A day after knocking off regular season champion Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss couldn’t duplicate the feat as Marshall beat them 85-75 in the first semifinal, then Western Kentucky held off Old Dominion 57-49 as Justin Johnson had 19 points and 13 rebounds, making some big plays late.

MAC: In Cleveland, Buffalo cruised past Kent State 78-62 in the first semifinal, then Toledo held on to edge Eastern Michigan 64-63.

MEAC: In semifinal action, Hampton held off North Carolina A&T 96-86, then NC Central got 22 points and 11 rebounds from Raasean Davis to advance to the title game once again with a 79-70 win over Morgan State despite 30 points from Tiwian Kendley.

Mountain West: In the other semifinal, New Mexico made a first-half run stand up in an 83-68 win over Utah State.

Southland: Stephen F. Austin continues to just win, advancing to the championship with a 78-66 win over Nicholls, and SE Louisiana took out Sam Houston State 89-79 behind 29 points from Marlain Veal in the other semifinal.

Sun Belt: Louisiana cruised past Texas State 80-54 to open the day, holding the Bobcats to just 15 first-half points, then UT Arlington took care of Appalachian State 84-68 behind 37 points from Erick Neal. In the evening session, Georgia State handily beat Troy 73-51 and Georgia Southern held off UL Monroe 63-55.

SWAC: Arkansas-Pine Bluff overcame a halftime deficit and got 28 points and eight rebounds from Martaveous McKnight to knock off Southern 71-65 in Houston, then Texas Southern pulled away from Prairie View 88-74.

WAC: Grand Canyon will get a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament in their first opportunity, as they beat Utah Valley 75-60 in the first semifinal, then Seattle valiantly battled regular season champion New Mexico State before succumbing 84-79 behind 31 points from Zach Lofton.


Side Dishes

We couldn’t go an entire season without something controversial involving Duke senior Grayson Allen. On Friday night in the first half, Allen was heading back up the floor and tried to avoid North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson, but had Garrison Brooks nearby. Allen appeared to hip check Brooks with an unnecessary maneuver, and was hit with a flagrant foul 1 for it. As noted in the broadcast, it may not have been intentional, although it appeared unnecessary and not a product of his momentum, but because of Allen’s history, the incident would be looked at with more than a little skepticism.

Kansas State guard Barry Brown did not escape the loss to Kansas unscathed, as he suffered an eye injury early in the game after taking an inadvertent shot to the face from Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham. He had slight bleeding in his right eye, which was clearly swollen, and returned to the bench but did not play again. The Wildcats already had to go without Dean Wade due to a foot injury.

Mississippi State guard Nick Weatherspoon was injured in a scary sequence on Friday, with concern in multiple areas of his body. The freshman went down hard after going for a layup and missing, and play inexplicably continued even though there was not a fast break. When Tennessee quickly turned the ball over and play came back to that end, with Weatherspoon still down, Tennessee’s Kyle Alexander appeared to land on his face/neck area at the end of a play where Weatherspoon’s brother, Quinndary, attempted a layup. While Nick Weatherspoon reported a lot of pain, reports indicate he had movement all over, with plans for an MRI in his pelvic bone. Fortunately, he did no suffer a concussion.


Tonight’s Menu

The biggest day of championships is here, with 14 conference championship games on tap. A few semifinals are on the docket as well.

  • It all starts with the America East championship that has UMBC traveling to Vermont (11:30 a.m., ESPN2)
  • Next up is the MEAC championship game in Norfolk between Hampton and NC Central (1 p.m., ESPN2)
  • After that comes the SWAC championship game in Houston, where Arkansas-Pine Bluff will play Texas Southern (5 p.m., ESPN2)
  • The Big 12 championship game in Kansas City has Kansas taking on West Virginia (6 p.m., ESPN)
  • In Las Vegas, the Mountain West championship game will pit San Diego State against New Mexico (6 p.m., CBS)
  • The World’s Most Famous Arena plays host to the Big East championship game between Providence and Villanova (6:30 p.m., Fox)
  • The MAC championship game has Buffalo playing Toledo (7 p.m., ESPN2)
  • In Reno, the Big Sky championship game pits Montana against Eastern Washington (8 p.m., ESPNU)
  • The ACC championship game will have Virginia taking on North Carolina (8:30 p.m., ESPN)
  • Also at that time is the Conference USA championship game in Frisco, TX between Marshall and Western Kentucky (8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
  • The Southland Conference championship game has Stephen F. Austin battling SE Louisiana (9 p.m., ESPN2)
  • In the Pac-12 championship game, Arizona takes on USC (10 p.m., FS1)
  • The third championship game in Las Vegas on the day is in the WAC, where Grand Canyon will take on New Mexico State (10 p.m., ESPNU)
  • The day ends with the Big West championship game in Anaheim as Cal State Fullerton will take on UC Irvine (midnight, ESPN2)
  • Semifinal action in the American Athletic Conference Tournament begins with Memphis playing Cincinnati (1 p.m.) and ends with Houston taking on Wichita State (3:30 p.m.)
  • In the Atlantic 10 Tournament, semifinal action starts with Saint Joseph’s playing Rhode Island (1 p.m.) and finishes with St. Bonaventure taking on Davidson (3:30 p.m.) in a rematch of two teams that gave us a triple overtime thriller recently.
  • The Ivy League semifinals at the Palestra start with No. 4 Cornell taking on No. 1 Harvard (12:30 p.m., ESPNU), then No. 3 Yale takes on No. 2 Penn (3 p.m., ESPNU)
  • In the SEC semifinals in St. Louis, Alabama takes on Kentucky (1 p.m.), then Arkansas takes on Tennessee (3:30 p.m.)
  • The Sun Belt Tournament has semifinal action in New Orleans, with UT Arlington taking on Louisiana (12:30 p.m.), then a rivalry game between Georgia Southern and Georgia State (3 p.m.)

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