CityBeat Blogs - Basketball http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-38-13.html <![CDATA[The Helicopter Is Back!]]>

Anyone who misses the days of Eric “The Helicopter” Hicks jamming on people’s heads for the University of Cincinnati basketball team will have a chance to see Hicks suit up for another local team later this month, but this time he’ll be playing football.

Hicks signed a one-day contract to play in the Cincinnati Commandos game against the Marion Blue Racers on April 28. He’ll be in town practicing with the United Indoor Football League team during the next couple of weeks. He calls it his “OchoCinco moment.”

Although he never played in the NBA, Hicks has been a professional basketball player since leaving UC after his senior season in 2006. Hicks has been a very good player in several European leagues, having played on championship and All-Star teams in such countries as Belgium, Poland, Russia, Israel, China and Spain.

Several notable NFL players had college basketball experience, including tight ends Antonio Gates, Jimmie Graham and Rob Gronkowski. Hicks, who is 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, hasn’t played football since his sophomore year of high school in North Carolina. Although he doesn’t expect to end up in the NFL any time soon, Commandos coach Billy Back says his size and athleticism could be real advantages in this league.

“He’s an all-time fan favorite Bearcat and one of my favorites as well,” Back said. “He’s an athlete, and we can use his height to our advantage.”

Hicks plans to return to Europe soon to resume his basketball career, but said in a release that he’s excited about playing for the Commandos.

In addition to the April 28 game in which Hicks will play, the Commandos have home games at the Cincinnati Gardens May 12, May 26 and June 2. Tickets are $10-$22 and available through Ticket Master or the Cincinnati Gardens ticket office, 513-631-7793 or 2250 Seymour Ave. Find the team's website here.

Here’s a video showing a bunch of cool stuff Hicks did as a Bearcat.

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<![CDATA[Cincy, Columbus Mayors Bet Ice Cream on UC-Ohio State Game]]>

University of Cincinnati basketball players might not know that much about the history between their program and that of Ohio State University, but Cincinnati's mayor just added another level to the stakes for tonight’s game. Mayor Mark Mallory and Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman have made a friendly bet on the outcome, putting each city’s hometown ice cream on the line.

If Ohio State wins the game — which will take place 9:45 p.m. tonight in Boston — Mallory will send a shipment of Graeter’s to Columbus. Should UC beat OSU and advance to the Elite 8, Coleman will send some of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams to Cincinnati.

Mallory has offered supreme confidence that the 6-seeded Bearcats will take down the 2-seed Buckeyes.

“The Cincinnati Bearcats are a great source of pride for the entire city. I’m confident that UC will prevail and march on to the Elite 8,” Mallory said in a news release. “I just hope Mayor Coleman sends enough Jeni’s Ice cream for the entire team.”

When offered the initial wager, Coleman reportedly slammed down his OSU travel coffee mug, then paused to reflect on the heartbreak Buckeye fans felt back in 1961 when UC upset the favored Buckeyes to win the NCAA championship and then defeated OSU in the title game again in 1962. (Just kidding, Coleman was also gracious and nice, releasing his own statement.)

“I want to thank Mayor Mallory for his generous offer of Graeter’s ice cream on behalf of the Bearcats,” Coleman said. “While I do not expect it to be as sweet as the Buckeyes’ victory Thursday night, I’m sure it will be delicious. In fact, I’ll be happy to share some with Mayor Mallory if he’d like to join me next week rooting on the Buckeyes in the Final Four.

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<![CDATA[Ohio Teams Go 8-0 In NCAA Tournament]]>

Late Sunday night, as the Cincinnati-Florida State game prepared to determine the final member of this year’s Sweet Sixteen, the national analysis dudes all started talking about how the state of Ohio had gone 7-0 up to that point — Ohio University had just defeated South Florida to get into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since the 1960s. Ohio State and Xavier were both already in.

Cincinnati went on to win a physical, back-and-forth game against FSU, which finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference and won the ACC tournament. It was the first time in the history of UC’s program that the team beat a higher-seeded opponent in the NCAA Tournament. The No. 6 seed Bearcats will play No. 2 seed Ohio State at 9:45 p.m. Thursday in Boston, which means the state of Ohio will suffer its first loss of the 2012 NCAA Tournament then.

After a second-round comeback win over Notre Dame, Xavier found itself in the fortunate position of facing a team called “Lehigh” rather than one called “Duke.” Lehigh was one of two 15 seeds to defeat a No. 2 seed in this year’s second-round of play, and the “Mountain Hawks” made actually game of against Xavier, which didn’t have the game in hand until less than five minutes remained. Xavier will now play No. 3 seed Baylor at 7:15 p.m. Friday in Atlanta.

Ohio University upset 4-seeded Michigan in the second round and then ousted No. 13 seed South Florida in the third. The Bobcats will play No. 1 seed North Carolina at 7:47 p.m. Friday in St. Louis.

Ohio State beat Loyola (Md.) and Gonzaga to earn its spot in the Sweet Sixteen. OSU and Cincinnati last faced each other in the NCAA Tournament in the 1962 National Championship game, which UC won 71–59. (UC also defeated OSU in the 1961 title game, 70-65.) The Ohio State-Cincinnati winner will face the winner of Syracuse-Wisconsin, setting up a potential rematch of the Big East Tournament semifinal game when Cincinnati upset Syracuse.

MORE SWEET NEARBY TEAMS:

The Ohio Valley’s hoops success easily spreads beyond just the Ohio teams — three more schools within 100 miles are in the Sweet Sixteen: Kentucky, Louisville and Indiana. Kentucky and Indiana are actually matched up in the South Region (9:45 p.m. Friday in Atlanta), while Louisville faces Michigan State in the West (7:47 p.m. Thursday in Phoenix).

BIG EAST REPRESENT:

The Big East again this year sent more teams to the NCAA Tournament than any other conference, and four of its nine are still standing: Syracuse, Marquette, Cincinnati and Louisville. Each of these schools is in a separate region, so it’s still technically possible for an all-Big East Final Four.

SWEET SIXTEEN SCHEDULE:

Thursday, March 22

Wisconsin vs. Syracuse (Boston): 7:15 p.m. on CBS

Louisville vs. Michigan State (Phoenix): 7:47 p.m. on TBS

Cincinnati vs. Ohio State (Boston): 9:45 p.m. on CBS

Florida vs. Marquette (Phoenix): 10:17 p.m. on TBS

Friday, March 23

Baylor vs. Xavier (Atlanta): 7:15 p.m. on CBS

North Carolina vs. Ohio (St. Louis): 7:47 p.m. on TBS

Kentucky vs. Indiana (Atlanta): 9:45 p.m. on CBS

Kansas vs. N.C. State (St. Louis): 10:17 p.m. on TBS

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<![CDATA[Queen City Hoops: March Madness Edition]]> It’s a big day for fans here in the Queen City, for those repping the navy and white and the red and black. After the five months of build-up March Madness has finally arrived and after success for other semi-local teams — Ohio State, Kentucky and Louisville — the Bearcats and the Muskies look to continue the trend.

Sixth-seeded Cincinnati will face the eleventh-seeded Texas Longhorns in the second round of the East region. The game is slated to tip at 12:15 p.m. today on CBS.

The Bearcats will need to contain the Longhorn’s one-man show in J’Covan Brown. The junior guard averaged a Big 12 best 20.1 points per game on a team that averaged 73 a game. Production drops off seriously after Brown — Texas only has one other player averaging double figure points. If the Bearcats decide to play man-to-man, a combo of Dion Dixon and JaQuan Parker will look to slow down Brown. Cashmere Wright will have the duty of slowing down freshman point guard Myck Kabongo, a former McDonald’s All-American.

Offensively the ‘Cats will look to use their superior size — Texas has only one player taller than 6-foot-7 — down low with Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Justin Jackson. If UC can get the ball down low on a consistent basis then the duo of Wright and Dixon will be able to penetrate and create open outside shots for Parker and leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick. Unlike Texas, UC has a well-balanced offense with four players averaging double digits and a fifth player averaging 9 points per game.

Texas is a young team with six freshmen on the roster and has lost more than one close game during a tough Big 12 schedule despite their lack of experience. The Bearcats also have fought their way through their fair share of adversity this year. If Mick Cronin’s guys play with the defensive tenacity that saw them knock off a nation-leading seven ranked teams during the season, than surely we will see them in round three.

Catch plenty of action and throw back a green beer (or 12) before the 10th-seeded Musketeers face off against seventh-seeded Notre Dame in a battle of Catholic supremacy ... on the hardwood (in terms of religion, they’re all winners).

On paper this looks like a great game and hopefully it plays out that way on the court. As most college hoops fans know, the Muskies are led by the outstanding backcourt duo of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons. They average 17 points and 15.5 points, respectively.

Notre Dame doesn’t have a go-to scorer after losing their stud, Tim Abromaitis, early in the year. But what the Fighting Irish don’t lack is a core group of players that work their tails off and come up with wins. A big match up in this game will be between big-men Jack Cooley and Kenny Frease. If either one can have a monster game expect that team to win.

I think Xavier will have their hands full but I also think the Musketeers play some of their best ball during tournament time. I think Xavier pulls it out by five or so. Although the Reds look like their going to be damned good this year I’m not ready for the hoops season to end early. Best of luck to both teams!

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<![CDATA[Considering UC’s Possible NCAA Tournament Draws]]>

The Bearcats’ sweet double-overtime victory yesterday over Georgetown was the team’s sixth win in its last seven games, three of which were against teams ranked in the Top 25 at the time. The ’Cats are now 6-3 against the RPI top 50, with tonight’s 7 p.m. Big East semifinal against No. 2 Syracuse offering an opportunity to seriously enhance the team’s seeding come Sunday.

ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has the Bearcats projected as an 8 seed, playing Virginia in the first round with a potential second-round game against No. 1 seed Kansas. This situation would seriously suck. (For Cincinnati or for Kansas? ... Good point.)

Cincinnati is by far the most dangerous team in the 7-10 range, having recently defeated projected 3-seeds Marquette and Georgetown, along with projected 5-seed Louisville. It’s safe to say that no No. 1 or 2 seed wants to see the Bearcats in the second round. And for UC, the road to the Sweet Sixteen actually would look a lot easier from one of the 11 or 12 seeds — fellow Big East squad South Florida is projected as a 12 to face 5-seed UNLV in the first round and potentially 4-seed Florida State in the second. I think UC would gladly take on a tougher first-round matchup for a second round game that’s not against a school that starts four or five future NBA players.

It actually wouldn’t be a huge surprise if UC is one of the several teams that every year gets slotted somewhere far from what the prognosticators expected. The Bearcats’ RPI of 58 might fit in with those of some of the current bubble teams, but only two other teams outside the RPI top 17 have as many wins over the RPI top 50 as UC’s six (Kansas State, RPI 44, and Notre Dame, RPI 37, each also have six).

The Bearcats received votes in the AP Top 25 last week. UC’s five votes had the team around the No. 35 ranking, which falls in line with the 8- to 9-seed projection. But that was before yesterday’s win over Georgetown, which would likely have earned the ’Cats more votes even if the team loses to Syracuse. Louisville, on the other hand, fell from the Top 25 in last week’s ranking, actually sitting two spots out at No. 27, but the Cardinals are currently projected as a 5 seed, which would typically include teams in the 17-20 range.

The selection committee doesn’t strictly follow any single set of rankings when determining seeding, but the guess here is that even with a loss to Syracuse in the Big East semifinals it wouldn’t be a stretch for the committee to consider UC one of the top 28 teams in the country, which would put UC among the 7 seeds. And it’s safe to say that a win over Syracuse would put the Bearcats firmly in the Top 25 by week’s end, meaning a 6 seed would be possible. And if UC were to win the whole Big East tournament, it would be difficult for any selection committee to seed the team very far from the likes of projected 3-seeds Georgetown and Marquette, two teams the Bearcats have beaten in the last 16 days.

Here’s hoping the Bearcats put on a good showing tonight in primetime against the No. 2 team in the country in the Big East semis. Selection committee members will be watching, as will the potential No. 1 and No. 2 seeds which certainly don’t want to see Cincinnati between themselves and the second round.

Photo of Dion Dixon jamming on Louisville's Chane Behanon by Brian Baker/Lacking Focus Photography.

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<![CDATA[Queen City Hoops: Conference Tournament Edition]]> It’s a big night on the hardwood for the Queen City this evening. UC faces No. 2 Syracuse in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament — a place the Bearcats have never reached since joining the conference in 2005. Xavier has had far more success in their endeavors in the A-10 tournament, although last year Xavier bowed out in the quarterfinals as the No. 1 seed. The opponent that night was the Dayton Flyers, the same team the Muskies face tonight with hopes of cementing an NCAA bid.

Let’s start with Xavier, who is in a far more intriguing position heading into tonight’s game. Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm and Shaw Siegel — all well-known braketologists — have XU in as either an 11 or 12 seed. Fair enough, although as the 3 seed in the A-10 Tournament I believe the Muskies should have to win at least one game to earn a bid to the big dance. I’m going out on a limb here — win and in, lose and lock up a home game in the NIT.

Xavier split the regular season series with the Flyers with each team winning at home. The Flyers pounded Xavier by 15 points in Dayton and forced the game into overtime at Cintas. If the Flyers can get past Xavier tonight in Atlantic City then my I would place my money (the pun was intended) on Dayton to be the A-10’s third team along with Temple and Saint Louis to be accepted into the NCAA Tournament. Currently the Flyers have one more win than the Muskies, 20-11 compared with 19-11, and will have two wins over Xavier. Let’s be honest here, Xavier doesn’t have the same look it has had in previous years or even three months ago before a couple suspensions and a Kenny Frease black eye.

But if the Musketeers can hold on for a “W” the 11 to 12 seed range looks far more promising than you may believe. Xavier is talented on any given night to beat most of the 5 and 6 seeds. Here’s a mouthwatering thought: Lunardi has Xavier against Louisville in his latest projection. That would be one hell of a game.

Despite the wonders Mick Cronin has worked with the Bearcats, they sit in a far less intriguing but far more troubling position. All projections indicate that UC will fall in as an 8 or 9 seed. The way the 'Cats are playing, the first round is certainly doable but barring any major upset a second round meeting with a 1 seed awaits. Both Lunardi and Palm have UC in the Midwest region with Kansas — I guess that’s the least of the other three evils, North Carolina, Kentucky and Syracuse.

The Bearcats will be more than familiar with Syracuse after tonight’s game and a regular season meeting, but I think the Bearcats match up better with the Jayhawks. If things go according to (my) plan and UC gets Kansas, Yancy Gates is going to have to go into beast mode against player-of-the-year candidate Thomas Robinson. I digress; a win against Syracuse tonight in the mecca of hoops, MSG, might push UC into the realm of a 7 seed. Oh how magical that would be.

Hopefully an abundance of 3-pointers will take the place of a woeful 2-21 performance yesterday. The Bearcats played the Orange tough at home back in January, losing 53-60.

If Gates can put up a performance similar to yesterdays and the defense can limit the opportunities of Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph the ‘Cats have a fighting chance. It would also be nice if those cool new uniforms — 28 percent lighter than the old ones, I hear — could supply and additional 10 points or so just for good measure.

As a UC fan I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a 7 seed. I really would like to see Xavier in and prove that their recent struggles aren’t a true reflection of their potential. Check back Monday for a Selection Sunday analysis.

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<![CDATA[Queen City Hoops: Selection Sunday Nears]]> The regular season is drawing to a close as Cincinnati and Xavier each have one game left before conference tournament time. Cincinnati will hear their name called on "Selection Sunday" — as for Xavier, only time will tell.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Xavier as one of his first four out, and I tend to agree — although I disagree with the pointless bickering in the comments section regarding the brawl that happened — wait for it — almost three months ago. The Bearcats are listed as a 10 seed, a much better prospect than having an 8 or 9 seed and having to play Kentucky or Syracuse if they can make it past the first round. With the current mock up, the ‘Cats would play San Diego State in the first round — a winnable game — and North Carolina in the second — maybe, with a hope and a prayer.

Not to say that crazier things haven’t happened: VMI, Butler (twice) and George Mason have all knocked off No. 1 seeds in the tournament. UC has more talent than any of those teams, and if they can continue playing like they did against Marquette this past Wednesday the Sweet 16 or even Elite 8 isn’t out of the question.

The Bearcats played stifling defense against Marquette, forcing 17 turnovers. They dominated the paint, outscoring the Golden Eagles 42-24, and JaQuon Parker was a revelation. Parker used his size and strength to drive to the hoop at will and went 2-for-4 from behind the arc, including a halftime buzzer-beater that put UC up 16 at the half. Parker finished the game with a career-best 28 points.

The Bearcats didn’t look back. Yancy Gates finished the game with 13 boards despite being limited to less than four minutes of first half play because of foul trouble. The 72-61 final wasn’t as close as the score indicated, as UC coasted to victory. With the emergence of Parker the 'Cats now have a steady combo of inside and outside threats that will make them a difficult team to face both in New York and in the NCAA tournament.

Xavier, on the other hand, isn’t a lock for a ticket to March Madness. Winning the A10 tourney would put all doubt to rest. The Muskies host Charlotte tomorrow; with a loss the NIT will certainly be beckoning. A win leaves a glimmer of hope, but in all likelihood, Chris Mack and his team will be on the outside looking in next Sunday.

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<![CDATA[Twelve Year Anniversary: Kenyon Martin Goes Off]]>

The year 2000 seems like only yesterday — everyone all hunched up in our bomb shelters assuming the bank was going to turn our life savings into some kind of repeating decimal instead of the hundreds of dollars we had in there, all because a computer doesn't know how to count above 1999.

Once we made it to the Millennium, many Cincinnatians' concerns shifted from ultimate survival to how awesome it was going to be when Kenyon Martin and the UC Bearcats won the National Title. We're not here to recap how much it sucked to witness Kenyon's broken ankle in the stupid Conference USA tournament or to apologize to the girlfriend at the time who walked in the room during the injury and expected some semblance of reason to be demonstrated despite the fatal blow to the 'Cats' chances. (She says she forgave me, but her recent marriage to a hockey player in California speaks otherwise...)

Before the conference tournament there was the Bearcats' second-to-last regular season game, a contest against future pro Quintin Richardson and the DePaul Blue Demons on March 2, 2000. UC had four of its own players who would be drafted following the 1999-00 season: Martin (1st overall pick in 2000), DerMarr Johnson (6th pick in 2000), Kenny Satterfield (53rd in 2001) and Steve Logan (30th in 2002).

Witness, via the beauty of the Internet, the final 3:46 of gametime, the No. 2 Bearcats trailing 60-50 and Dick Vitale in the house to go off about how awesome Kenyon was.

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<![CDATA[Senior Night for UC Hoops!]]>

Last week’s win over Louisville has gone a long way toward moving the Bearcats off the NCAA Tournament bubble and into the 10-seed area of most projections. A win at South Florida last Sunday would have all-but-secured the invitation, but the dudes lost by a point on the road, 46-45.

[UPDATE: The Bearcats whooped on Marquette, 72-61; here's the AP recap: Cincinnati halts No. 7 Marquette to pad resume.]

Tonight UC will welcome No. 7 Marquette to Fifth Third Arena under a bunch of weird circumstances: Marquette kicked the crap out of the Bearcats 95-78 on Feb. 11, and it’s Senior Night for a couple of UC players who aren’t used to being trampled so badly (at least not in recent years).

Here’s what Yancy and Dion told The Enquirer’s Bill Koch yesterday.

“You know that it’s Senior Night and we feel it,” Gates said, “but I think we’ll feel it more when we get on the court tomorrow. Right now, our focus is so much on we need this win that we really don’t have time to sit back and think, ‘Oh, tomorrow’s Senior Night.’ ”

“I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow,” Dixon said. “We’re just trying to focus on getting this win. That’s the main thing.”

After tonight, the Bearcats have one remaining regular-season game, at Villanova on Saturday. Assuming they can’t handle the rematch with Marquette, they’ll really need to beat Villanova to avoid entering the Big East tournament on a three-game losing streak. If they were to drop their first tournament game after that, they’d be sitting at 20-12 on Selection Sunday with a real ugly RPI.

One win out of UC’s remaining regular-season schedule or in the Big East tournament should be enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. But a win over South Florida last Sunday probably would have assured it as well.

It is under such circumstances that two of Mick Cronin’s most influential recruits take the court tonight for their final home game. Gates is a hometown player who chose UC over Ohio State, West Virginia and Xavier, among others, and has traveled a fairly up-and-down road during his four years. Gates surely wants to end his senior season on a high note after the Crosstown Shootout fiasco, which threatens to overshadow his years of hard work and importance to Mick Cronin’s rebuilding effort at UC. Gates currently ranks 17th on UC’s career scoring list and is the only Bearcat to ever lead his team in rebounding four straight seasons.

Dixon came to UC from a Chicago public school where he used to jam on a bunch of high schoolers. He’s contributed every year, as his 1,183 career points show — good for 27th all-time at UC. Dixon’s versatility has been a huge help to Cronin, who has used Dion as a shooting guard and point guard during various parts of his career. And Dion tries to thump it on people even though he’s just a little too small to do it all the time. We still really appreciate that.

After everything this year’s team — and these two seniors, specifically — has been through, tonight is surely going to be an energetic and emotional night down at The Shoe. Hopefully the ’Cats can hang with Marquette — securing an NCAA Tournament-securing win on Senior Night would be a beautiful way for the careers of these two players to end.

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<![CDATA[Queen City Hoops]]> The Cincinnati Bearcats look one step closer to being a lock for their second straight NCAA tournament appearance after a 60-56 win against Big East rivals Louisville in front of a sellout crowd at Fifth Third Arena Thursday night.

UC entered the game as the second-best 3-point shooting team by percentage – 36 percent – and the most 3-pointers made with 203 on the year. This theme continued as the ‘Cats went 11-27 from behind the arc including eight in the first half. Cashmere Wright fueled the 3-point barrage as he nailed a career-best, six long balls. Louisville on the other hand struggled mightily from behind the arc finishing the game 1-14.

UC’s ability to make the long ball made up for an otherwise disappointing night from the field. The Bearcats made only eight 2-point field goals at a miserable 26 percent clip. Louisville didn’t shoot much better; leading scorer Kyle Kuric managed only 4 points, all from the free-throw line.

Big man Gorgui Dieng finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Cardinals. Peyton Siva added 14 points and 4 assists in the Louisville loss. Louisville fell to 9-6 in the Big East while UC improved to 10-5. Both teams have three conference games remaining.

After last night's win over No. 17 Louisville, UC sits in a fourth-place tie with Georgetown and South Florida, who share 10-5 records, and UC holds the tiebreaker against Georgetown. The top four seeds in the conference tournament will received double byes and an automatic bid into the quarterfinals. The Bearcats have games remaining at USF and Villanova — a team they beat once already — and Senior Night when Marquette comes to town. In all likelihood the fourth seed will be a fight between UC and Georgetown. The Hoyas have the tougher schedule as they welcome Villanova and Notre Dame, which has  won nine straight,  while they travel to Marquette to end the schedule.

Only weeks away from Selection Sunday, the Bearcats should guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament with another win in the last three games. Xavier, on the other hand, needs to win out and have some results go their way if they want to make the Big Dance.

The Musketeers lost at Massachusetts on Tuesday night and are three games back of the conference lead with three games remaining. League leaders Temple are not going to lose three games, so Xavier will have to make a push for the conference tournament title or hope the selection committee looks upon them favorably.

A sloppy evening from the Muskies combined with a outstanding performance by Massachusetts’ guard Chaz Williams led to an easy win for the Minutemen. Xavier turned the ball over 20 times and could not compensate for the career-high 29 points from Williams, including six 3-pointers. Xavier had four players score double-digits and Dez Wells led the way with 19 points, but Wells also led Xavier with 6 turnovers.

The Musketeers' remaining schedule includes two sub .500 teams in Charlotte and Richmond and a trip to second-place Saint Louis — which beat Xavier by five at the Cintas Center back on Jan. 25.

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<![CDATA[Who Is Jeremy Lin and What Does He Want?]]>

Cincinnatians don’t generally follow a lot of NBA, but even those of us who would rather spend two hours golfing rocks into the Ohio River than watch 48-minutes worth of NBA hoops have heard about, seen highlights of and come to find interest in this Jeremy Lin dude. “Linsanity” is apparently very real.

Here’s the abbreviated story: Lin played college basketball at Harvard, went undrafted, signed a deal with his hometown Golden State Warriors, got cut by them and the Houston Rockets this preseason and then joined the New York Knicks, who have won seven straight games since he broke out with a 25-point, 7-assist, 5-rebound game against the New Jersey Nets on Feb. 4.

Lin has scored in double figures in every game since, including dropping 38 on the Lakers Feb. 10. He’s averaging 9.1 assists per game for a team that lost last year’s starting point guard during free agency. The Knicks’ best player, Carmelo Anthony, was injured during the second game of Lin’s run, and the team is still playing as well as it has all year, evening its record at 15-15 with last night’s win over Sacramento, during which Lin had 10 points, 13 assists and 5 rebounds in 26 minutes of play.

Here’s an NBA-produced piece on Lin and his 38-point effort against L.A.


Lin has already compiled a badass highlight reel, and this, along with the ridiculous notion of an unheralded player coming out of nowhere to find success in one of the most demanding professional sports leagues in the world, has launched the term “Linsanity,” and the media is so enamored with this kid’s story and his game that he and Anthony are facing stupid questions about how they’re going to be able to coexist once Anthony returns.

There’s also the fact that Lin is an Asian American playing in a league that has had very few Asians in its league history. He’s the first American player in NBA history to be of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. This means the media, in addition to its typically loaded questioning, is certain to make insensitive remarks about Lin and his race the faster it tries to crank out cute headlines about the phenomenon.

USA Today put together a rundown of some of the insensitive and/or offensive coverage that has occurred so far. Here’s a rundown:---

CNBC's Darren Rovell got the ball rolling Wednesday night by questioning why MSG Network showed Lin's face above a fortune cookie during coverage of the Knicks' victory against the Sacramento Kings, with the words, "The Knicks good fortune."

Tweeted Rovell: "MSG walking a fine line with this Lin fortune cookie graphic tonight."

MSG put out a statement Thursday saying it had nothing to do with the image: "What appeared briefly last night was not an MSG graphic, it was one of many fan signs in the arena."

The network declined to comment on why it telecast the image.

Rovell corrected himself on Twitter on Thursday.

The New York Post also took criticism for using the headline, "Amasian," after Lin drilled a game-clinching three-pointer for the win against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday.

During CBS' The Late Show with David Letterman on Wednesday, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central mocked the headline, according to SportsBusiness Daily.

Stewart told Letterman: "It'd be like when Sandy Koufax threw a perfect game, you just wrote on there 'JEWTIFUL!' … I feel like it's very 'Lin-sensitive.' "

Columnist Jason Whitlock has already formally apologized to the Asian American Journalists Association for an offensive tweet.

Lin has taken the flurry of media attention in stride. He continues to tell stupid journalists that when Carmelo Anthony returns that he’s plans to have fun passing the ball more and taking fewer shots. And he’s a pretty serious baller that this delivery guy in Oregon apparently predicted via statistical analysis would be a great NBA player.

ESPN's SportCenter last night produced the Top 10 plays of Jeremy Lin’s young career rather than a collection of the night's top 10 plays from the world of sports. Also, President Obama has seen Lin play and has been talking about him.

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<![CDATA[UC vs. DePaul Live Blog!]]>

PREGAME: Welcome to Fifth Third Arena everybody! We are gathered here today to witness a contest between the UC Bearcats and the DePaul Blue Demons. Let us take a moment to rejoice ... Lance Stephenson's epic slam against DePaul two years ago.

In fact, let's take a moment to watch Lance JAM IT IN THE HOOP!

(Gonna have to scroll down the page some, but it's worth it...)---


OK, time to get back to the present. Here's the situation: The 'Cats are coming off three straight losses and desperately need to take care of business against the Demons, who are 11-10 overall and just 2-7 in the Big East (second-to-last place). DePaul is coached by former Dayton head coach Oliver Purnell, in his second season at the Chicago school (18-33 so far). 

DePaul, which lost its last game 87-81 to St. John's on Wednesday, is led by sophomore forward Cleveland Melvin, a 6-foot-8 dude from Baltimore who averages 18 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Fellow sophomore (and fellow Baltimoretonian) Brandon Young is a 6-3 guard who chips in 15.9 points per contest. 

UC's leading scorer (of course) is Sean Kilpatrick, with 15.4 per game, and senior Dion Dixon adds 13.6. Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright also average double digit points per game, with 12.7 and 10.7, respectively.

DePaul averages 74.9 points per game, while UC's defense only gives up 60.1. Something's gonna have to give there, right?!? DePaul also averages quite a lot of steals per game, with its 8.6 even better than UC's 8.1. The 'Cats will need to take care of the ball in order to give themselves ample opportunities to jam it in the hoop.

We're five minutes from gametime — just enough time to refresh the Sprite and get this live blog ready to roll.

FIRST HALF:

20:00: Yancy Gates wins the tip, and the Bearclaws start the game with the ball. Nice jump, Yancy! (Too bad Kilpatrick's drive to the basket results in a big 'ol block.) Then UC causes a jump ball and DePaul has to start over.

19:03: Oops! DePaul takes a while to get the ball across the half court line and then never even gets a shot off. Turnover...

18:26: After a Kilpatrick missed 3, DePaul turns the ball over in transition. TO #3. Dion drives to the basket and gets fouled. Dion makes both and the 'Cats lead 2-0.

UC starts the game playing zone D, and the initial results are promising. DePaul just keeps turning the ball over instead of putting it into the bucket.

17:39: Kilpatrick makes a J but then Jamee Crockett hits a 3 for the bad guys. UC 4-3.

16:58: Charles McKinney drives to the rack and is fouled by Gates after DePaul breaks the press. McK makes the first, missed the second and Crockett tips it in for a 6-4 lead.

16:36: Parker scores down low for UC. But Crockett hits a 3. 6-9.

15:47: Off a turnover Justin Jackson thumps one in transition. That's how you jam it, Justin! 8-9.

15:19: Jeremiah Davis steals the ball right from the DePaul guard and hits Dion, who is fouled going up. Dion makes both (again). 10-9.

Oliver Purnell's suit looks a little too big for him. Dude needs to hit up Men's Warehouse. Unless he's shrinking, in which case I'd just let it go, too.

14:50: Kilpatrick jams a runout but dang-on DePaul scores right back. 12-11.

Mick Cronin looks cool in his suit — probably went to H&M and then got it tailored. He even has a little red cloth thingy in his breast pocket.

13:40: Jackson grabs a big offensive rebound, slams the ball down and then goes up, scores and is fouled. Big dog. FT missed. 14-11.

12:56: Worrel Clahar scores a floater over JJ, who goes right back to the rack on the other end and is fouled. JJ makes the first, and the second. 16-13.

11:46: After a basket by some dude named Krys Faber (sounds fake), Yancy goes up strong for 2. 18-15. THEN GATES SUPER SLAMS AN ALLEY OOP! 20-15. (That one should have been worth more than 2, but alas the rules of the game can't change once a game starts.)

MEDIA TIMEOUT: Some dude almost makes a halfcourt shot. Too bad — no free car or whatever for you, guy. Free T-shirts are now being throw into the crowd, which is responding as expected (enthusiastically).

10:30: Charles McKinney goes strong to the bucket, then Cleveland Melvin finally gets in the mix with a breakaway slam. 20-19. JJ scores on the other end. 22-19.

9:53: Melvin again for 2 off a busted play. And then another runout layup. Cronin calls timeout, unhappy with the score being 22-23 now.

9:25: DePaul's uniforms kind of look like the Harlem Globetrotters from behind. Too bad No. 21 can't make a break away layup. He should have tried to do a trick if he was going to miss it anyway. DUDE! Mbodj just got fouled on his way up, lost the ball way up into the air and it came straight down through the hoop! The crowd liked it a lot. 24-23.

8:53: Melvin somehow gets lost along the baseline, receives a pass and easily tosses it in the basket. Mick has to be pissed. He still has his pocket square thing looking straight, though.

7:56: Davis dishes to Gates, who banks it in. And, oh yea, he got fouled again. Seventh foul on the blue team. Gates makes the free shot. 27-25.

7:38: Nice take by Worrell for a jumper, then Melvin scores off a turnover and it's 27-29. Cronin mad? Can't really tell from up in the blogger seats.

7:03: Kilpatrick makes one-of-two FTs. 28-29. JJ comes back into the game to do some more cool stuff.

6:49: Melvin again scores in the paint. That's 12 for him. And UC turns the ball over. Cronin tells somebody to slow down and then points toward the area where he was supposed to go or throw the ball something. 28-31.

6:04: Foul called on Ge'Lawn Guyn causes some boos from the crowd. No. 0 makes both free throws and it's 28-33, DePaul's biggest lead of the game.

5:48: Dixon does a tricky backwards head fake and gets to the line. He makes both. 30-33.

5:10: Melvin tries to shake JJ, who has none of it. Melvin's shot is busted and Dixon scores on a drive on the other end. 32-33.

4:12: Crockett bricks a 3 but the long rebound stays with DePaul. Then McKinney falls over with the shot clock down to 3 and a foul is called on Gates. McK makes a free throw, earning a bonus shot. Misses that one. 32-34.

3:09: Dixon's long 3 is short, Melvin missed a 3, and Davis is fouled after a weird play.

MEDIA TIMEOUT: I should have gotten here earlier and eaten a snack instead of sitting here with only Sprite to enjoy. Sprite is delicious and quenches thirst well, but it doesn't do much for hunger. Wish I had some peanuts or something...

3:09: Davis goes to the line to shoot 2, as the Blue Demons have exercised all the fouls they're allowed in one half. Freebies from here on out if the 'Cats can get their hands slapped or something. Davis is cool — he's from Muncie, Ind. (Pronounced "Munchie.") But he misses his first shot, and the second. :(

DEPAUL! Y'ALL BETTER STOP TURNING THE BALL OVER SO MUCH! HOW HARD IS IT NOT TO CARRY! DANG!

Nobody has scored in a while. It's still 32-34. JJ gets a defensive rebound and is fouled. BONUS TIME!

2:09: JJ swishes his first free throw, missed the second. 33-34.

2:01: JJ late to the spot trying to trap, fouls Melvin. 1+1 for Cleveland, who misses it. Mbodj rebound.

1:40: Kilpatrick misses another 3-ball. Young's layup is goaltended by Mbodj. 33-36.

:35: Mbodj misses a turnaround jumper pretty badly, and Young hits a J after a wild team rebound.

:02: Big 3 by Kilpatrick to end the half for the 'Cats. 36-38.

HALFTIME: Let's get into the first half numbers while Cronin yells at his dudes in the locker room. DePaul shot 48 percent for the half but were just 2-of-10 from 3-point-land. UC shot 40 percent from the field and missed eight of nine 3s but went to the line 17 times, leading to 11 points.

Justin Jackson leads UC with 9 points, while SK and Dion have 8 each. Cleveland Melvin already has a double-double for DePaul with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Somebody needs to stop that dude — he's only a sophomore, who cares if he's 6-8?!?

If one were to guess what Cronin is most angry about in the locker room, it's probably DePaul's 7 second-chance points and 11 fast break points. Those are just too easy of points.

SECOND HALF: 

19:49: Cashmere Wright might have only played 8 minutes in the first half, but it only took him 11 seconds to score in the second half. Too bad that bastard Melvin answered on the other end. 38-40.

19:26: Dixon gets fouled, makes both FTs. Tie ballgame.

18:50: Yancy swats Melvin's drive and it bounced out of bounds. UC steals the ball, and Gates gets fouled going up with an offensive rebound. Yancy misses both his free shots, though. :/

18:15: Dion hesitate dribbles from the left wing and then ... JAMS IT IN THE HOOP WITH TWO HANDS! 42-40. DePaul has to take a timeout so Oliver can yell at somebody for that one.

The Bearcat mascot struts around too much. He should be more humble. It's not like he worked his whole life to earn his job — he's just a Bearcat. Kind of fell into that gig if you ask me.

17:47: Cleveland Melvin scores again. he can't be stopped. 42-42.

16:44: Jaquon Parker scores on a fast break, UC defends Charles McKinney well and then Dion gets knocked down for DePaul team foul No. 3.

16:28: JJ scores after a weird long rebound and an almost-travel by Cashmere. He'll take the dime anyway. 46-42.

15:59: Melvin flips around and loses the ball to Gates, who for some reason leads the break and then throws the ball out of bounds toward Cashmere, the dude whose job it is to make cross-court throws (ONLY WHEN APPROPRIATE!). Media timeout so we can learn about Cincinnati's best casual barbecue restaurants and the Tristate's news, weather and traffic radio station. Who didn't already know these things?

15:25: Jackson gets a steal and dishes for SK for 2. But Melvin dunks on the other end. 48-44.

14:20: OLIVER PURNELL HEIGHT UPDATE: Purnell's suit is definitely looser than at the start of the game. It is confirmed that he is shrinking at a very rapid pace. He's going to end up in one of Cronin's backup suits at this rate. He won't care, however, if his dudes keep banking in 3-pointers. 48-47.

Gates misses a turnaround from close range and JJ can't quite get his hands on the rebound. JJ mad. UC's trap defense is in full effect, and the half-court set is pretty feisty too. Kelvin Gaines checks in for the first time to a nice applause from the home crowd. Cincinnatians like how rough he plays. It's funny.

12:30: Davis almost loses the ball and Cronin looks at his bench like he's mad enough to take him out, but then he doesn't. Crockett gets a long outlet off a UC turnover and jams it for the lead. 48-49.

12:08: Cash rips DePaul's PG, Dixon scores in transition and then the ref makes a terrible call when it looked like DePaul turned the ball over. The crowd is not happy.

11:42: The blue team hits a 3 and Cronin takes a timeout to tell his guys to stop letting that happen. 50-52.

11:25: SK answers with a big three. 53-52.

10:33: Young hits a 3 after Cash tried to lure a foul with some dude flying up into the air.

10:05: JJ follow up dunk and then a big block on the other end. 55-55. Too bad Parker is called for a charge during a 3-on-2. Media timeout to discuss whether this game should be stopped early because it is pretty [expletive] boring so far.

Ten minutes remaining in the game — who will score the most points before the end? We're about to find out...

9:40: Strong take by Crockett, who hits a fall-away J. 57-55.

Foul number 5 on DePaul. UC just missed a bucket and then DePaul blows a 3-on-1 in transition. This game sucks.
Foul No. 6 on the blue team on a stupid entry bass to Gates. Cash misses a crazy reverse.

8:51: Cash gets a steal and earns a goal tend bucket. 57-57.

7:47: With the shot clock winding down, DePaul rams JJ on a pick. And that means team foul number 7 and a media timeout. Many people are using the break in action to hit up the restrooms. Y'all can't hold it for another 7:47? "Raise your hand if you had too many pregame beers? Why isn't anyone raising their hands? They're all in the bathroom missing the game and getting more beers. Oh, OK."

Still 7:47: JJ shoots the front end of a 1-and-1, and makes it. Big shot. And the second? Miss but Gates gets a big one-handed rebound and putback! 60-57.

7:30: Answer by Crockett. 60-59. 

6:54: Gates hits a soft 14-footer but Young scores right back. 62-61.

5:50: Dion pops a long three and misses, and McKinney scores on the other end. 62-62.

5:39: Team foul No. 8 is called in DePaul, and it seems like someone has fouled out? Yup, it's Jamee Crockett, who can take his 17 points right to the bench. Good riddance. Jackson is back at the free throw line for more important free shots. JJ misses. :(

5:05: UC is back in a zone, and DePaul gets an offensive rebound and Krys "Fake Name" Faber goes to the line to shoot two. Faber makes one. 62-64.

4: 06: Cash can't hit a pull up jumper, but comes back with a big 3 to take the lead. 65-64. Timeout DePaul because the crowd is making too much noise. The stadium PA operator has now turned on some "Jump Around" to keep everyone hyped during the break. It pretty much works.

3:00: Big stop by the 'Cats D, and Parker scores a tip-in and the people start jumping around just like the song! 67-64.

2:39: Cash skies for a defensive rebound and then draws DePaul team foul number 9 on the other end. He'll go to the line for a 1+1. Now it's time for "Shout" to keep everyone enjoying themselves during the break in action. It works too. This is an easily entertained crowd, apparently. Uh oh, now there's some Guns N' Roses playing — gotta be for the players. We'll see if that works. NOW BACK TO BASKETBALL! Cash hits the first for a four-point lead. And the second. 69-64.

2:10: The trap is not called off, and the Shoe is LOUD. Big rebound by Parker, and Cash kills some clock... then scores on a strong drive. 71-64. Timeout Oliver Purnell, who can barely even walk around HIS CLOTHES ARE SO HUGE ON HIM. It's a 9-0 run for the Bearcats, which has satiated the home crowd. (What the hell does satiate mean?)

1:24: Back to the zone D and DePaul bricks another 3. SK gets the rebound and DePaul commits team foul number 10. Bonus Time. SK hits the first. Boy, things went downhill for the blue team in a hurry. And he misses the second. 72-64. Yancy commits an ill-advised a really smart foul (see Cronin's postgame comments), but it's only number 4 on him and 5 on the team.

:48: DePaul wastes a ton of time on offense, letting the shot clock get down to 2 before JJ swats some dude down low and the ball goes out of bounds off the blue team. UC gets the ball across half court and Purnell calls off the dogs. Cash runs the shot clock down, air balls a 3 and Dixon puts it in. No. 32 for DePaul scores a windmill slam but it's for nothing (well, 2 points).

UC wins 74-66!

POSTGAME: Big win for the Bearclaws, who broke a three-game losing streak and move to 6-4 in the Big East. They're tied for fifth place, but only one game back in the loss column of third-place Georgetown.

In the second half the Bearcats finally slowed ironman Cleveland Melvin, who only added six points and three rebounds to the 12 and 10 he had in the first half. UC ended the game with five players in double digits: Dixon and Kilpatrick with 16, Jackson with 14 and Yancy and Cash with 11 each. Cash came through down the stretch after playing only 8 minutes in the first half due to a couple of early fouls. He finished the game with four assists, zero turnovers and three steals.

Dixon hit all eight of his free throws tonight, and JJ made all five of his field goal attempts. Here's what Cronin had to say about JJ's efficiency: “There's a reason that hes 5-for-5 — he takes high percentage shots, and there's a reason other guys are 4-for-14 — they take bad shots.”

More on JJ from Cronin: “We wouldn't have won without him tonight.”

On JJ not starting: “It was just a matter of he hadn't been productive. I try to look at things analytically instead of emotionally and get mad at this guy or at that guy. At the end of the day I love very one of these guys so its a matter of production.”

Cronin on the team's play overall: “I was really happy with our composure all night — as happy as I've been in a while. … The guys stayed calm throughout everything that was going on. Sometimes you're missing layups and the other team's making some tough shots and you can hang your head and panic and I thought we did a great job of not panicking and getting to the free throw line and being patient, taking shots we can rebound.”

Cronin on the importance of tonight's win: “It's just like my friend Dean Gregory (sp?) who doesn't get many wins in golf — you'll take a win any way you can get it because wins are rare, especially for him when he plays me.

Reporter: “Is that the case for many people?”

Cronin: “That's why I play him.”

Cronin on his team playing smart: “I just want the team to play smart: act like a team, practice like a team, play with composure and the rest takes care of itself. And we didn't do that at Rutgers, whether we would have won or lost. Winning is byproduct of team play and playing smart. Late in the game we had fouls to give and Yancy and Jaquon were rebounding extremely hard on free throws — under instruction. We got some rebounds off of missed free throws because we had fouls to give — you can gamble and be aggressive. … Yancy gets a foul (with just over a minute to play) and the crowd is all 'Ohh' but he's supposed to take that foul. Take a foul so we can go set our defense so DePaul can't race it down on us. So a smart play by him right there. If not he's trailing and they're on the run.”

Cash on his turnaround in the second half: “I didn't play too much in the first half, I was in foul trouble. But I guess we just took our time in the second half. In the first half we were pressing, not really running our offense and taking the first available shot.”

Cash and Sean Kilpatrick on SK's big tip-in late in the game:

SK: “I forgot who shot it.”

Cash: “I shot it.”

SK: “I should have known (laughter). I saw when he shot the ball nobody boxed me out. I was at the top of the key and I saw everybody just standing around — not our guys but them — so I just went up down the middle. And I thought about dunking it but I thought no ill just put it in.”

DePaul Head Coach Oliver Purnell just before exiting the postgame press conference: “Alright, happy Super Bowl."

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<![CDATA[Queen City Hoops]]> Two weeks ago it was UC that was on top of their game; not so anymore. The Bearcats have lost three straight and struggled mightily in Piscataway last Saturday. The Bearcats had a less than impressive shooting night at a 35 percent clip. The only exceptions were Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates, who went a combined 13-21.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the loss was not an inability to make shots but a lack of second half defense. UC held Eli Carter — Rutgers' best player — in check in the first half, allowing only 2 points. In the second 20 minutes of play Carter exploded for 15 points and buried the Bearcats.---

Saturday should be a welcome homecoming for the ‘Cats as they host DePaul (11-10, 2-7 Big East). This is a must win for UC — any more bad losses will surely reflect poorly on Selection Sunday, and a few more quality wins should get UC in the NCAA tourney.

Xavier still doesn’t look like the same team that jumped out to an 8-0 start and a Top 10 ranking, but they will take all the wins they can get. They did just that this past week with wins over Charlotte and George Washington. Neither performance was dominating but the victories keep Xavier a half game back of first place in the A-10. Tu Holloway was key in both Xavier wins, dropping 17 points against Charlotte and 21 points against G.W. including the game-winning lay-up. Kenny Frease was the only other Musketeer to score double digits — 10 points — against G.W. Despite being on the right end of the results, Xavier must improve its perimeter defending to make any kind of tournament run. XU gave up 10 3-pointers to both opponents, allowing Charlotte’s Javarris Barnett to knock down 7-of-8 from behind the arc.

Xavier will need to tighten its defense before Saturday’s game at Memphis. The Tigers share an identical 15-7 record with Xavier and will be hoping to pad their tournament resume at the Muskies' expense. Xavier will be back at the Cintas Center on Wednesday as they host the Rhode Island Rams.

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<![CDATA[Tough Week for Queen City Hoops]]>

It was a disappointing week for both UC and Xavier as the past seven days have seen the teams go a combined 0-4. While both teams faced tough opposition I would have expected both to at least earn one win out of the two games they played.---


Xavier had its four-game winning streak snapped at Dayton on Saturday, as the Flyers easily dispatched of the Musketeers by 15 points in an 87-72 victory. The Flyers brought too much to the table with four scoring double digits, led by big man Matt Kavanaugh who dropped 20 along with 9 rebounds. The Musketeers star duo of Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway had 20 and 21 respectively. No other Muskies player had more than seven points. Statistically Xavier was poor on the boards and at the free throw line. The Flyers dominated the glass at a 41 to 29 clip, in addition to shooting nearly 80 percent from the line compared to Xavier’s 50 percent. This was a game to forget for Xavier fans.

Not quite as horrific was Xavier’s 68-73 loss to Saint Louis on Wednesday night. The most telling stat of the game was the end of Xavier’s record setting A-10 home winning streak, 43 games. The last time Xavier lost at the Cintas Center was nearly six years ago to St. Joe’s. Xavier fought back from a 14 point deficit to tie the game thanks in large part to a 27 point performance by Mark Lyons. But once again Xavier had trouble containing the inside as the Billikens Brian Conklin had 19 points. At 6’6” Conklin isn’t the tallest, still he had his way against the trio of Andre Davis, Kenny Frease and Travis Taylor. A combo that combined for a less than mesmerizing seven points for the Musketeers. If there were any positives Xavier could take from the two losses it’s that they are only a half game back of first and a less than stellar Charlotte team is next on the schedule.


As for the Bearcats, two losses against West Virginia (in overtime) and no. 3 Syracuse were far less embarrassing — but much more costly in terms of conference supremacy — than those of Xavier. With a 5-3 conference record, the Bearcats are 2.5 games behind Syracuse with a slim possibility of overtaking them. The Saturday afternoon game against the Mountaineers was tight the whole way through and the Bearcats should be disappointed to let the “W” slip away. The Big East’s leading scorer, Kevin Jones (20.4 points per game) led the way with 26 for West Virginia, while Cashmere Wright led UC with 17. Sean Kilpatrick had an off night by his standards with 12.


The Bearcats started out strong Tuesday night against the Orange in a nationally televised game and in front of more than 13,000 at Fifth Third Arena. Cashmere Wright started hot as UC built an early nine point lead before a lid was placed over the basket. The game remained tight until back-to-back three’s gave Syracuse a nine point lead with under two minutes left. Yancy Gates had his best game since returning from suspension with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Cashmere Wright finished 5-9 from three point range and finished with 17. The Bearcats are surely relieved to have Rutgers and DePaul on next weeks schedule, the two have a combined 5-11 Big East record.

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<![CDATA[UC, XU Hoops Continue In Opposite Directions]]> Things have gone in two drastically different directions for the UC and XU men’s basketball programs after the embarrassment that was the "Crosstown Brawl."

The Bearcats have won eight out of their last nine, while the Muskies have lost five of eight. Both teams had key players suspended and UC found motivation in the fallout while Xavier has struggled to find the identity that had them as a preseason top 15.---

Mick Cronin’s hand was forced in instituting the new four-guard offense that has been so potent in UC’s recent run of form. UC big men Cheikh Mbodj and Yancy Gates had to sit six games for their parts in the post-game activities at the Cintas Center. The switch to the four-guard lineup has seen an increase in perimeter shooting, thanks in part to the ability of Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon and Sean Kilpatrick to penetrate and dish. The athleticism of the Bearcats guards has also allowed for more full court pressure and increase in opponents turnovers. Sean Kilpatrick more than filled the void left by the loss of the Cincy bigs. He is shooting nearly 40 percent from distance and has been a ball-hawk on defense; Kilpatrick, Dixon and Wright combined are averaging six steals a game. The Bearcats have started conference play at 3-1 and sit in third place. They have victories over then No. 22 Pitt and No. 11 Georgetown. With a win against Villanova this weekend don’t be surprised to see UC back in the top 25.

Xavier on the other hand has responded poorly after the 23 point victory against UC. Perhaps the most significant loss for Xavier was the four game suspension handed to freshman Dez Wells, the teams third leading point scorer. XU was throttled at home by Oral Roberts, before going 1-2 at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. Now with everyone back in the swing of things, the Musketeers have started to sort things out. A 28 point win against Duquesne on Thursday night has XU in second in the Atlantic 10 and pushing hard for a NCAA berth. If the past is any indicator, this XU team will gel at the right time and make a deep run during March Madness.

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<![CDATA[UC Adds Columbus PF for 2012? ]]>

Word on the Internet these days is that Mick Cronin has secured a verbal commitment from Columbus Northland High School power forward Devon Scott, who apparently tweeted the news after visiting the UC campus on Tuesday.---

Recruit 4_1.jpg

Scott is a 6-foot-8, 195-pound forward who this blog recently watched play. Here's its description of his game:

“Scott is quickly closing the gap on the state's top centers and appears to be a solid mid-major plus prospect at this point. He has dominated the paint the last two weekends with his physical play and ever-improving low post skills. Scott even showed the ability to step out and take the 15-17 foot jumper. More importantly, when the game is on the line he is demanding the ball in the post and finishing with authority. We have always loved his motor and emotion, but now that his skill set is catching up, it's even more reason to admire Scott's long-term potential.”

Another site described him during his junior year as having “crazy long arms and nice hops.” Sounds like the type of player Cronin likes (the type that can JAM IT IN THE HOOP!).

The University of Cincinnati hasn't released anything official on the situation. Should Scott actually be committed to the 'Cats, he would be the first verbal of the 2012 class. UC's six-player incoming freshman class was ranked No. 25 in the country by scout.com, but the Bearcats will be without forward Yancy Gates come 2012, so adding a big man or two is likely part of the plan. 

Here's a video of Scott getting some rebounds, shooting a few free throws and dunking a couple of times:

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<![CDATA[Here We Go Again: UC's February Blues]]>

Would UC make the NCAA tournament if the season ended today? Yes, according to Joe Lunardi, the diminutive Italian dude who compiles ESPN’s Bracketology predictions. Lunardi currently has the ’Cats as an 11 seed, which means at least four other at-large teams are below them in the seeding. (Conversely, he has a streaking Xavier team as an eight seed.) ---

No doubt Lunardi has looked at this much closer than I have, but I’m not so sure UC is or should be in. The Bearcats are 19-6, 6-6 in Big East conference. UC’s only two “quality” wins — at home against XU and on the road at St. John’s — wouldn’t seem enough to get them into the field. Sunday’s frustrating loss (is there any other kind around here?) at home against St. John’s dropped the ’Cats RPI ranking to 55. UC has now lost six of 10 and hasn't looked good even when winning.

UC seems to be regressing as the season has gone on, and it’s not just because they’ve been playing tougher competition. Mental errors, odd substitution patterns and an ugly, painfully disjointed offensive flow are not hallmarks of a team that, 25 games into a season, is heading in the right direction.

Despite a roster of veterans, all of whom were brought in by Mick Cronin, UC seems more chaotic than ever. Case in point is the ongoing frustration that is highly touted hometown big-man Yancy Gates, the team’s presumed best player and biggest enigma. I’ve defended Cronin in the past, but it can’t be a coincidence that his teams/players perpetually seem to regress the deeper they get into a season/career. (Again, conversely and curiously, XU always seems to get better as the season goes on, and it can’t just be that they play in an easier league.)

Yet all is not lost: If UC can somehow finish 3-3 in its last six games — which would mean at least one win against a ranked opponent — that elusive NCAA tournament bid is almost a lock. I can already hear UC's beleaguered and cynical fans' response to that notion: “Don’t get your hopes up.”

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<![CDATA[Are the Bearcats for Real?]]> The University of Cincinnati Bearcats men's basketball team is 7-0. A quick glance at the ’Cats next two games (Utah Valley on Dec. 11 and Georgia Southern on Dec. 14, both home games) reveals that a 9-0 start is highly likely before heading into their first real road tests: Dec. 18 at Oklahoma and Dec. 21 at Miami (OH), both of which are currently struggling with 3-5 records.

Throw in a game Dec. 23 at home against St. Francis (PA), which right now is 2-6, and it looks like the ’Cats could open the year with a 12-0 record and no doubt a spot in the Top 25.---

But how good is this team, Mick Cronin's fifth as head coach? It's hard to tell. The combination of weak competition (Danny Cross and four other Colerain scrubs could probably beat Savannah St.) and the fact that only three of the first dozen will be true road games leaves much doubt as to UC's viability going into the always-rugged Big East portion of the schedule. (Big East teams make up five of the top nine and eight of the top 25 in the current AP poll.) Making matters tougher on the evaluation front is that very few of UC's games have been on TV. (I've only seen one game, which did little to bolster my confidence.)

Besides holding opponents to a 36 percent field-goal percentage (again, look at the competition), it's not like UC's been very impressive on paper so far. Despite playing the fifth-most minutes on the team, redshirt freshman guard Sean Kilpatrick, who's been a nice surprise, is averaging more points per game (11.7) than three-year starter Yancy Gates (10.6), a perpetual disappointment who's supposedly more aggressive this year.

If the recent past is any indication, keep your expectations in check. In 2009, UC opened 10-3 before finishing 19-16, 7-11 in the Big East. In 2008, they started 10-2 before finishing 18-14, 8-10 in conference play. Both years they just missed getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, which is the first step in what many hope is an eventual return to the team's Bob Huggins-era success (which is a pipe dream for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that Huggins coached in the far less competitive Conference USA, but that's a blog post for another day).

It comes down to this for the third year in a row: Can UC go 9-9 in Big East conference play, which would seem enough to yield that elusive NCAA bid? I'll give you my opinion after the Miami game.



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<![CDATA[Lance Stephenson Will Jam On Your Head]]>

This week’s addition of 6-foot-5 shooting guard Lance Stephenson to UC’s 2009 recruiting class will have effects far beyond the instant upgrade it means for the Bearcats’ starting swingman position. Stephenson — a big shooting guard fast and strong enough to drive to the basket — is one of the rarest commodities in college basketball. (Google “Pitt’s Sam Young jams on UC — 2008” for evidence of its beauty.)---

But for every poor Providence Friar or DePaul Blue Demon that Stephenson posterizes this year, there will be several Louisville Cardinals, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Connecticut Huskies who get abused by Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates. The Bearcats were a quality — if young — team before Stephenson. Now they’re one of the most complete starting lineups in all of college basketball.

Stephenson was once considered the top player in the 2009 class. He’s the kind of player that can lead a Sweet 16 run with minimal talent around him. And when the other positions are covered, this type of player can put a team over the top — Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to the National Title during his sole college season.

That’s not to say that UC will be a Top-5 preseason team or National Title contender — there are nine other Top-10 players entering college basketball this year as well, many of whom are joining teams with other great players with experience. But what Mick Cronin had assembled before the addition of Stephenson — talented (though inexperienced) point guard, proven All-Big East shooting guard and monsterous, NBA-potential power forward — was already going to compete with the upper half of the Big East and for an NCAA Tournament bid. Adding a guy like Stephenson is going to make that group so much better.

College basketball is often guard-dominated. Because talented big men are a rarity, a scoring center can single-handedly dominate a game against a smaller team. But normally teams look to solid guards like UC has in order to keep smaller teams in games against better (read: bigger) competition. The combination of UC’s inside-outside talent is high. But adding an NBA-ready swingman is like adding a second Ace to a pitching staff — the team is that much more difficult to beat in a seven-game series.

Consider that Vaughn has been the Bearcats’ leading scorer in each of this three seasons. Gates will be every opponent’s primary target of inside defense. And Cashmere Wright was going to have to score during the times when Vaughn and Gates were bottled up. With Stephenson running around and Lebron-ing half the teams UC faces, everyone else is now going to follow a different philosophy: score whenever you want to. 

It’s still not guaranteed that Stephenson will be eligible this year — gosh darn court case and amateur-status issues! — but it’s generally assumed that he will. Bearcat fans were already looking forward to this year's edition of the slow and steady progression of the program since Bob Huggins’ departure simply because the team was going to be better than last year. Stephenson is going to speed that progression up. And when he and Gates start jamming on Syracuse’s head on national TV, other top high school talents are going to look at those black and red jerseys and say, “Yea, that looks like fun.”


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<![CDATA[Dude, Where's My Recruiting Class?]]>

A few weeks before the spring signing period began, Mick Cronin hinted on a local radio station that there would be some surprises in store for Bearcat fans come April 15. Well, April 15 has come and gone, and with the signing period ending next week (May 20) it’s nearly time to panic.

One of Cronin’s prized recruits last year was 7-foot-3 John Riek, who never got on the court for the Bearcats. Riek spent the year rehabbing his knee, and due to some weird NCAA paperwork/eligibility issues found himself uncommitted to UC this spring. He surprisingly signed with the University of Mississippi Mississippi State this month, leaving UC without the giant dude it was expecting to put up front with sophomore Yancy Gates.---

Rumors suggested that the ’Cats had been in the mix for a few names among the best uncommitted high school seniors — including point guards and small forwards — but most have made their choices. And no announcements have been made by UC.

Right now Cronin’s lone recruit is 6-foot-5 shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick, who reports say is a solid all-around player, a good scorer and someone who can contribute in his first season. But he’s not going to be a game-changer and he’s not a backup point guard. The addition of transfer Ibrahima Thomas will offset the loss of Mike Williams, maybe even improve the team a bit, but not enough to get excited about. Cashmere Wright will be healthy by the time the season starts, but the fact that he’s coming off ACL surgery will leave this year’s team as susceptible to injury as last year’s.

Cronin needed this year’s class to be big — bigger than 7-foot-3 — and the addition of a healthy and academically qualified Reik and a top point guard or swingman would have done it. As talented as Gates and Deonta Vaughn are, they can’t carry the team without a solid surrounding cast, and preferably a deep one.

These days it doesn’t seem like there’s anyone out there who can make the 2009 class remotely close to what it needs to be in order for UC to improve upon last year’s Big East middle-ground toils. It’s assumed that Cronin will grab a couple solid players before officially announcing the additions for next year. But the longer we wait, the worse it seems things are going. We’ll find out on Wednesday.


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