AAC M5: 03.24.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on March 24th, 2014

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  1. For the second time in three NCAA Tournaments, in-state rivals Kentucky and Louisville will square off. This time, the setting will be Indianapolis in a regional semifinal and the match-up was almost inevitable, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. All of the angst from both fan bases about seedings that were too low can be thrown out the window — there are more important things to worry about. The writer says that this rivalry, which will pit the last two national champions against each other, is the best in college basketball right now. Considering the only other option is Duke and North Carolina, and that neither of them have reached the Final Four since Duke’s 2010 national title while one or both of the Commonwealth’s programs have played in the last three, it’s a fair point. This season’s game will be even more passionate and intense than the Final Four battle in 2012. Louisville, at the time making a surprise run to the Final Four, knew it had nothing to lose against the best team in the country. The game was more of a celebration of basketball in the Commonwealth. Not this time. Either team will view the season as a disappointment if its run ends Friday night.
  2. Louisville knows that it is in for an intense game on Friday night, but a meeting with No. 1 seed Wichita State may have been a better match-up for the Cardinals because of Kentucky’s size. The Wildcats muscled their way to a 73-66 win in the teams’ first meeting at Rupp Arena in December. Both teams, however, have changed significantly since then. Chane Behanan was still with the Cardinals, although it would prove to be his last game in cardinal red. Luke Hancock is now fully healthy and Chris Jones has adjusted to his role alongside Russ Smith in the backcourt. And although the Harrison twins had a strong game against Louisville in the first meeting, they haven’t played consistently well until the postseason.
  3. Shabazz Napier made sure Connecticut wasn’t going to lose on Saturday night against Villanova. The do-everything guard poured in 21 of his 25 points in the second half while battling a shin injury. The senior has seen a lot of things in his four-year career. He was a freshman on the national championship and Big East Tournament championship teams of 2011, and also worked through a 2013 season of no postseason hope for the Huskies. Now he’s got his team back in the Sweet Sixteen, playing in a familiar venue at Madison Square Garden with what should be a strong home crowd on hand. When many of Connecticut’s past greats were no doubt looking ahead to NBA stardom, Napier has played fully for the “UConn” on the front of his jersey. Other than the Louisville-Kentucky game, the best story of the Sweet Sixteen might be the senior guard’s refusal to let his team go home for good.
  4. A number of strong potential candidate names have surfaced for the South Florida head coaching job after Stan Heath was fired on Friday. One name at the top of the list is former UCLA coach Ben Howland (also reportedly interested in the Marquette job). Mississippi’s Andy Kennedy has also shown interest as did former Marquette coach Buzz Williams before opting to take the vacancy at Virginia Tech. Athletic Director Mark Harlan said the job has reached a desirable status because of a renovated Sun Dome, a new practice facility and the rising status of the American Athletic Conference. Two freshman big men, John Egbunu and Chris Perry, made the AAC All-Rookie Team, so there’s also some talent waiting in the wings.
  5. Even though it might be seen as the most successful Cincinnati team in 10 years, the Bearcats’ postseason finish will be a tough pill to swallow. Still, Mick Cronin said that he’s never had a team achieve their potential more than this group — they gave every ounce they could give. It was the fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament for Cincinnati and Cronin, but a fifth may prove to be difficult to achieve. The senior core of Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles and Justin Jackson will all depart. No double-figure scorers return, although two starters, Shaquille Thomas and Ge’Lawn Guyn, are expected to. No matter the roster, though, do not count Cronin out of anything.
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AAC M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 7th, 2014

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  1. Reflecting on the “sorely tested patience” of Rick Pitino, 2014 edition, Mark Coomes of Insider Louisville writes that Kentucky-era Pitino would have quashed a Russ Smith/Chris Jones backcourt long before it had an opportunity to flourish. Enduring the improvisational tendencies of Smith and Jones, including shots that in another lifetime “would’ve led to the summary executions of Travis Ford and Tony Delk,” would have been unfathomable to the Pitino of yore. But this season, even after many fans began clamoring for Jones to relinquish the car keys to Terry Rozier, the coach elected to stick with “Chrisdiculous.” It paid off on Wednesday night, when Smith and Jones exploded for a combined 47 points, eight rebounds, eight steals, and seven assists in Louisville’s come-from-behind win over SMU. It’s still premature to declare that the duo has turned the corner for good: As Coomes points out, the two didn’t “mesh” on Wednesday so much as they “shared the floor (and the ball) for most of both periods and rarely got in each other’s way.”
  2. Not everyone has bought into Russ Smith as a pro prospect, though. Three unnamed NBA executives interviewed by SI.com described Smith in languid terms as a second rounder with little hope of thriving in the league. One went further, remarking “when I watch him, I don’t see a guy who makes his teammates better. It’s all about him getting shots and scoring.” It seems like an unusual criticism, given the significant strides Smith has made this season as a distributor, improvements borne out by statistics and manifested in the record-breaking number of dunks Montrezl Harrell has thundered home this season, many courtesy of Smith’s passes. His assist rate of 31.1 percent is third in the AAC; his 4.5 assists per game ranks fifth in the league, and his assist to turnover ratio has improved from 1.1 to a respectable 1.7 since 2012-13. But then again, how many times have you seen the “selfish” label applied to Smith in the past three years in spite of any statistical or qualitative evidence to the contrary? His most intractable critics will always find Smith’s game aesthetically unappealing for many of the same reasons that others find it so endearing.
  3. Two special guests are traveling from Michigan to attend Isaiah Sykes’ senior night this evening: his two-year-old daughter, Makayla, and mother, Dominique, who will get to watch her son play college basketball in person for the first time. Family and basketball are permanently intertwined for the UCF guard. Growing up in Detroit, he found safety and guidance on basketball courts after his father died when he was three, and as an adult aspiring to play in the NBA, Sykes hopes his basketball career can provide better opportunities for his own daughter. “Usually people working hard on basketball, it’d be for yourself,” Sykes said. “When you have a daughter or a son or a child, you’re not just working for yourself, you’re working for your family […] It’s not just about you. I put them before me, and this is what I’ve got to do in order for her to have the life I want for her.”
  4. Mike DeCourcy writes that folks in Cincinnati won’t stress over the distinction between outright and co-champions of the AAC, as either would earn the program its first conference championship of any kind since 2004. Should the Bearcats take care of business on the road against Rutgers tomorrow, they’ll have to wait approximately two hours for the end of the Louisville-UConn game before they know for sure. As for yesterday’s senior night festivities, the evening couldn’t have gone any better for departing upperclassmen Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles, and Justin Jackson, who scored a combined 71 points in the Bearcats’ 97-84 win over Memphis. Racking up an efficient 34 points, Kilpatrick even outshone big performances from Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith earlier this week, firing the “latest salvo in the war for the AAC Player of the Year.”
  5. The Hartford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs wrote an excellent piece in which he grapples to accurately place Shabazz Napier in the UConn hoops pantheon. It’s also full of adorable moms-at-senior-night anecdotes, and I’m a total sucker for those. UConn’s assistant director of athletic communications, Phil Chardis, who covered the Huskies in the Connecticut press for more than 30 years, told Jacobs, “In my opinion, no UConn player has meant any more to his particular team than Shabazz.” Apart from his impressive career statistics and memorable single-game accomplishments, Napier’s legacy may most be defined by his decision to remain at UConn despite impending NCAA sanctions, a transfer exodus and lingering uncertainty. Kevin Ollie showered Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander with effusive gratitude for that very reason Wednesday night, thanking his seniors for “providing me with loyalty and providing this program with faith.” “They kept this program alive. I owe them a lot,” added Ollie. “I can never repay them for what they gave me.”
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Rushed Reactions: Cincinnati 44, Pittsburgh 43

Posted by nvr1983 on December 17th, 2013

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Three Key Takeaways from the first game of the Jimmy V. Classic.

  1. The conference affiliations may have changed, but the style of play remains the same. This was, quite simply, a brutal basketball game to watch. Between all the missed shots, slow pace, fumbled passes, and even multiple clock issues early in the game, you deserve an award if you watched all 40 minutes of this one. The teams combined to shoot 31-for-88 (35.2%)  from the floor and a putrid 5-for-26 from three-point range. It was a fresh reminder of the old Big East and the physical, defensive battles we often saw in that league over the years.
  2. Defense and rebounding won the game for Cincinnati. The Bearcats dominated the battle of the boards, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds to Pittsburgh’s eight. Cincinnati held the Panthers to 31.4 percent shooting for the game en route to the win. In the closing seconds, an offensive rebound and put-back by Titus Rubles proved to be the game-winning basket after Pitt’s Lamar Patterson failed to put a body on him after a missed Cincinnati shot. Mick Cronin praised his team’s effort on the glass and its resilience after a poor showing against Xavier on Saturday and it seemed like a giant weight had been lifted off the team’s collective shoulders.
  3. Pittsburgh missed an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong. It’s no secret that Jamie Dixon schedules soft in non-conference play. While the Panthers have already beaten two decent teams in Stanford and Penn State, tonight was a clear upgrade in competition. Suffice to say, Pitt did not acquit itself well. After the game, Dixon dodged a question about it and reverted to coach-speak in trying to brush aside the issue. While I’m not convinced Pitt’s poor schedule had a lot to do with tonight’s loss, nobody will give the Panthers the benefit of the doubt after this performance. Even if they had won, I figure the reaction would be similar.

Star of the Game: Justin Jackson, Cincinnati. Jackson held Cincinnati together in the first half with 10 points and six rebounds on 5-of-5 shooting. He finished the game with 12 points and totaled seven offensive rebounds for the Bearcats. After the game, Titus Rubles said his game-winning layup wouldn’t have been possible without the effort of Jackson. He has proved to be an effective player in the post in his senior season and could emerge as a reliable option behind Kilpatrick on a team that desperately needs one.

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AAC M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 16th, 2013

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  1. While Xavier is talking about how its victory over Cincinnati in the Crosstown Classic is going to propel the Musketeers to success, the Bearcats are left picking up the pieces from what was an ugly blowout loss on Saturday. Mick Cronin’s bunch has now lost two games in row in their first two real tests of the season and they haven’t looked like much of a Tournament team in either game. The Musketeers controlled the game from the opening tip and they didn’t even need the services of their best player, Semaj Christon, who was hampered throughout the contest with foul trouble. Xavier is a legitimately excellent defensive team, but the Bearcats were woefully inept on offense and the sense is that this will be a theme throughout the season. The team shot 32 percent from the field and Sean Kilpatrick is the only player Cronin can put on the court with above-average offensive ability. Justin Jackson is an elite athlete but can hardly be considered a polished offensive product; Titus Rubles is a good player but may have even less offensive ability than Jackson; and Shaquille Thomas, Troy Caupain and Jermaine Lawrence have potential but remain too inconsistent to be counted on regularly. Their ordinarily staunch defense never fully showed up either as they forced 20 turnovers but let the Musketeers shoot the lights out on them from everywhere on the court. There is enough talent on the roster and a distinct lack thereof on many of the other teams in the conference so the Bearcats will win some games, but no one is going to take them seriously until they can consistently put the ball in the basket.
  2. I guess we can table some of that “Is Josh Pastner on the hot seat at Memphis?” talk for awhile, and not just because the Tigers have finally won a Top 25 game and have seemingly improved on the court. Rather, Pastner recently made a sizable financial contribution to the school’s athletic department to the tune of $250,000. Donations of that size aren’t unheard of in big-time collegiate athletics, but it’s usually rare to see a coach employed by a school plunking down a chunk of change that large. It is apparently the largest gift ever by a Memphis coach and although it is also a tax write-off, it’s still a generous move by Pastner. On the court Memphis started slowly but eventually put down a feisty Arkansas-Little Rock team and are headed into Tuesday’s big match-up with Florida in New York City with an opportunity to make another statement. At least Pastner made his donation before the game, a nice insurance policy in case his Tigers get blown out.
  3. While Rick Pitino was “Bringing Sexy Back” in a terrific photobomb at the recent Justin Timberlake concert in Louisville, his team took care of business in not-so-convincing fashion on the court this weekend by beating Western Kentucky. The Cardinals struggled to pull away in the first half and needed Tim Henderson’s three-point shooting to help jump start the offense in the second half. Louisville’s less competitive schedule means it is quite difficult to judge the Cardinals fairly or accurately on their body of work, but these knock-down drag-out battles with mediocre teams don’t give Louisville the look of a repeat national title contender. The backcourt is as deep and talented as any in the country, but it is the inconsistency from the team’s star forwards that are hurting them. Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell were supposed to be dominant forces up front this season, but Harrell needs a lot of refinement on the offensive end of the floor and Behanan has had plenty of ups and downs already. You imagine that Pitino will get most of that sorted out as the season continues, but some of these performances should be at least slightly worrisome.
  4. The Cardinals also found out on Saturday what life is like without floor general Chris Jones, who is dealing with a sprained wrist. His absence mattered little against a team in Western Kentucky without a lot of defensive ability, but it will matter more if Jones misses multiple games and it’s hard to believe his wrist will be 100 percent when Louisville squares off with Kentucky on December 28. That isn’t to say that he won’t play, because he almost certainly will. I’m just pointing out that sprained wrists don’t heal completely in two weeks and the Cards will need Jones’ production on both ends of the floor if they are going to beat the Wildcats.
  5. It has been an up-and-down season for Rutgers, but the biggest news surrounding the program came off the court when former Georgetown forward Greg Whittington committed to play for the Scarlet Knights. It’s been awhile since any of us has seen Whittington play in a meaningful basketball game because he was academically ineligible for a long stretch of last season and dealt with an ACL injury this summer, but when he did play, the forward averaged nearly a double-double and will be an excellent addition to Eddie Jordan’s frontcourt. Of course, it’s unclear when Whittington will be eligible and how much time he will have left in college basketball, but perhaps the most encouraging part of this story is that Whittington was reportedly getting interest from Memphis, proof positive that Jordan can recruit against the big boys.
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AAC M5: 11.29.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 29th, 2013

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  1. Houston freshman big man Ahmed Hamdy is one of two Egyptian players ruled ineligible this season by the NCAA, but both say they relied on the advice of a former Division I coach. Their infraction was spending an extra postgraduate year at a Texas prep school upon the advice of Marco Morcos, an Egyptian who was an assistant at both FIU and Rice and who helped bring them to the US. Morcos denies he advised them to stay, or that he had any particular influence over their decision. It seems, rather, that this is a rather stark example of exploitation; Hamdy and Aly Ahmed, a sophomore at Cal State Bakerfield, barely speak English, and a number of adults seem to have been trying to push them in directions advantageous to the adults rather than the teenagers. And yet the NCAA, as it so often does, punished a technical violation of the rule without the appearance of common sense having been applied. Here’s hoping Hamdy and Ahmed get past this and find the chances they deserve.
  2. Memphis rolled past Siena 87-60, a necessary first step toward a potential rematch with Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic. That’s something they claim to want, despite how poorly it went the first time. Now it’s obvious that the Tigers would like to win the Old Spice Classic – they play LSU in Friday’s semifinal – and that would likely require beating the Cowboys on Sunday. At least this time it wouldn’t be in such a hostile environment. But still, they lost by 21 the first time after trailing by as many as 32. The game was a blowout after a tight first 10 minutes, and it doesn’t seem that they’ve had enough time to patch up the flaw that the Cowboys so easily exploited, namely their lack of an ability to run an offense with anything approaching efficiency.
  3. Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin is most thankful for his three senior captains – Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson, and Titus Rublesto whom he gives much of the credit for the team’s 5-0 start. In particular, he says their sustained effort has allowed the Bearcats to pursue their pressure defense for the full 40 minutes. The results so far, even against a fairly weak schedule, are hard to dispute. According to KenPom, Cincinnati ranks #15 in adjusted defense, #13 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage, and a lofty #6 in turnover percentage. But probably most important is that all three are playing substantially better on the offensive end in the early going. Of the trio, only Kilpatrick managed an offensive rating over 100 last year at 108.5. His offensive rating through five games – an admittedly small sample size, to be sure – is a ridiculous 150.7, good for #11 nationally. Jackson and Rubles have seen similar improvements, from 82.5 and 87.8, to 109.7 and 108.3, respectively. If the trio can continue to produce on the offensive end, the Bearcats will likely exceed expectations based on the perception they would struggle to score.
  4. Louisville had a wildly successful year athletically in the 2012-13 academic year, including its third basketball national championship and the election of coach Rick Pitino to the Hall of Fame. Now the school apparently plans to buy airtime on ESPN to relive the highlights, which also includes a Sugar Bowl win and a trip to the College World Series, among others. Pitino told WDRB that the school is producing a “Year of the Cardinal” special as a marketing tool. Athletic Director Tom Jurich has been rightly hailed as perhaps the best in the country at what he does, and this looks to be another outside-the-box idea that could pay long-term dividends for the program.
  5. The news cycle has mostly moved on from Chane Behanan’s championship ring-gate, but Louisville still hasn’t officially weighed in beyond saying that it’s looking into it. That probably is just because of the holiday, but we’ll see if they have anything more to say before returning to the court against Southern Mississippi at 7:00 PM Friday night. Guessing not.
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AAC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 15th, 2013

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  1. Two games into his senior season, Cincinnati forward Titus Rubles has been appointed a team captain alongside fellow seniors Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. Mick Cronin delivered the good news via a phone call this week, telling Rubles he’d earned the distinction and praising him for his leadership, particularly on defense. Cronin described subtle defensive plays Rubles had made in late-game situations this season and said, “You hear coaches talk about intangibles and how important it is to have veterans…You’re not going to win if you don’t have those kind of guys. He is as valuable to this team as Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson.”
  2. The projected front-runners in this year’s AAC race are well represented in Sports Illustrated’s new College Basketball Preview, with Louisville, Memphis and UConn appearing in the preseason rankings at #1, #13 and #14, respectively. Luke Winn writes that “no team’s guards are more difficult to defend without making contact than Louisville’s Russ Smith and Chris Jones,” and predicts that the new hand-checking rules will particularly benefit Rick Pitino’s squad. SI staff was evidently much less optimistic about the rest of the league, though, as Cincinnati was the only other AAC team to make the projected NCAA Tournament bracket that was featured in the print edition. The early predictions pick the Cardinals to earn a #1 seed (and ultimately win the whole thing), while tabbing Memphis and UConn as #4 seeds and Cincinnati as an underwhelming #11 seed. The predictions underscore the perception of the AAC as a top-heavy, four-bid league in which quality declines precipitously outside of the top three teams.
  3. Josh Pastner’s much-hyped four-guard lineup lived up to its billing during the Tigers’ debut against Austin Peay last night, with seniors Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson and Missouri transfer Michael Dixon combining for 53 points and 25 rebounds. Each of the four ended up in double figures during the 95-69 romp, as Jackson chipped in game highs of 16 points and seven assists and Johnson recorded his first double-double at Memphis. Some uncertainties from the offseason continued to manifest: For example, Commercial-Appeal beat writer Jason Smith noted that Austin Peay’s 48 points in the paint reflect how often the OVC ball-handlers managed to beat the Tigers’ questionable full-court press. And while Memphis’ guards continued to prove effective at rebounding by committee, bigs Shaq Goodwin, Austin Nichols and Dominic Woodson collected only seven total defensive rebounds.
  4. After convincing blue chip 2014 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay to stay close to home at SMU, Larry Brown declared that “we’re going to be relevant pretty quickly.” Brown credited local McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier and the 2013 class with building a foundation that Brown can use to persuade more quality in-state talent to follow in Frazier and Mudiay’s footsteps. The coach described his new signee, a consensus top-five recruit in his class thus: “As good a player as there is in the country.” Mudiay’s presence at SMU, even if it’s only for a year, will broaden the program’s appeal nationally and provide a boon to recruiting that may be felt several years after his departure.
  5. WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford points out that contrary to the impression that Louisville is getting out of the AAC early on the cheap, the league will continue to collect a lucrative dividend  for the next six years based on the NCAA Tournament performance of Rick Pitino’s Big East and AAC teams. Due to the way NCAA Tournament units are disbursed to conferences, the timing of Louisville’s recent National Championship and 2012 Final Four is especially favorable for the AAC. Perhaps the parting of ways would not have gone as amicably had Mike Aresco and company not stood to gain a total of $13.1 million, plus whatever the Cardinals earn based on the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament, with or without Louisville in the fold. Crawford notes that this is standard practice in the recent realignment saga, and that the university’s share of larger revenues distributed among ACC members will more than offset the NCAA money it leaves behind with the American.
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AAC Team Previews: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by CD Bradley on November 7th, 2013

Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Strengths: Defense and athleticism. Under head coach Mick Cronin, Cincinnati has been a defensive force, finishing in the top 25 nationally the past three seasons in adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com. That shouldn’t change much this year, with a group of long, bouncy forwards – Justin Jackson, Titus Rubles and Shaquille Thomas should start, with freshman Jermaine Lawrence adding more of the same off the bench – and quick guards Sean Kilpatrick and Ge’Lawn Guyn. Toughness is never lacking in Cincinnati.

If Mick Cronin's Bearcats are going to make a fourth straight NCAA tournament, they might need to change their ways from years past.

If Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are going to make a fourth straight NCAA tournament, they might need to change their ways from years past.

Weaknesses: Offense. Just as the Bearcats have consistently troubled opponents’ offenses, they have struggled to score on the other end of the court. Cronin has said that he expects to pick up the pace this season – Cincinnati has been one of the top 200 most uptempo teams in the country just once in his tenure, finishing at #195 in 2010 – and they’ll need to. Those forwards whose length and quickness are a boon on the defensive end can’t shoot, so getting them out running the floor could help hide that weakness. A strong point guard would help the effort, but Cashmere Wright (by far their most efficient offensive player last year) is gone, and Guyn’s strength isn’t as a facilitator.

Schedule: The Bearcats have a road trip to the Pit in Albuquerque to face New Mexico on December 7, a crucial game where a win could do wonders for their NCAA Tournament resume. They face former Big East rival Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden 10 days later. Otherwise, their non-conference slate leaves a bit to be desired. Their conference schedule is back-loaded with a brutal triple-header – Louisville, at UConn, Memphis – in the last two weeks of the regular season.

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Season In Review: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by mlemaire on May 1st, 2013

Coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance last season, hopes were high for this season’s version of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Unfortunately, after a hot start in the non-conference portion of their schedule, some of their weaknesses were exposed in conference play and a clear inability to score consistently held the team back as it finished 22-12 and 9-9 in the Big East before losing in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament to Creighton. It was a relatively disappointing season after coach Mick Cronin had raised the bar in the 2011-12, but let’s dig a little deeper and see just how disappointing it really was.

Preseason Expectations

Both the conference coaches and the esteemed group at this microsite saw the Bearcats’ finish last season and promptly pegged Cincinnati to finish fourth in the conference this season. Mick Cronin’s career was starting to take off following an impressive run to the Sweet Sixteen, and heading into this season, he boasted one of the league’s most experienced and talented backcourts in senior Cashmere Wright and junior Sean Kilpatrick, and an influx of junior college talent and improving underclassmen were supposed to prove serviceable in the frontcourt following the departure of do-everything big man Yancy Gates.

Mick Cronin's Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season

Mick Cronin’s Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season

The Good

Although it didn’t look particularly exciting at the beginning of the season, whoever put together the Bearcats’ non-conference schedule this season might have legitimately influenced the program’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. The team finished the non-conference slate 12-1 with good wins over Oregon, Iowa State, and Alabama, and their only loss was a one-point defeat versus New Mexico. The Bearcats ended the season on the bubble and you better believe that two wins and a close road loss to good NCAA Tournament teams helped make a difference.  There is something to be said for how consistently good Mick Cronin-coached teams are defensively.

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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Cincinnati

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 22nd, 2013

Cincinnati came into the year as one of the favorites for a top four finish in the Big East, and that looked like a good bet through non-conference play. However, the Bearcats were totally inconsistent all season once the Big East schedule began, and after an injury to guard Cashmere Wright in January, Cincinnati has struggled to put points on the board. Wins over Iowa State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Marquette, and Villanova were enough to get the Bearcats into the tournament, but Cincinnati was probably a game or two from being in serious bubble talks.

Mick Cronin

Mick Cronin and Cincinnati came into the season as a favorite to win the Big East. Now, they get to prove that all over again. (Getty)

Region: Midwest
Seed: No. 10
Record: 22-11 (9-9 Big East)
Matchup: v. Creighton in Philadelphia, PA

Key Player: Sean Kilpatrick is far and away the most important Bearcat. He is the team’s leader in minutes, points, and is just .6 rebounds off of Titus Rubles pace for the team lead in that category, and he’s doing it from the guard position. On a team that often struggles to find the bottom of the net, Kilpatrick is the only consistent option, and the opposition knows it, which helps explain the low shooting percentages for the Yonkers native. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East M5: 02.20.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 20th, 2013

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  1. Ed Cooley says he hasn’t mentioned the possibility of any sort of postseason berth to his Providence team. “I’m just trying to go a game at a time and that’s not coach-speak. That’s reality,” he said, “We’re still fragile. We just have guys trying to believe right now.” While it may be poor etiquette for any coach to broach that topic when his team is below .500 in conference play, it’s fair game for fans. By late last night, all but 10% of 345 respondents in a Providence Journal poll believed the Friars would make either the NIT (72%) or NCAA Tournament (18%). Any discussion of the latter is premature unless the Friars pull off the upset at Syracuse tonight. But Kevin McNamara suggests that prolonged early injuries to Vincent Council and Kris Dunn could constitute a “special circumstance” with the selection committee, should the Friars play their way onto the bubble. We evaluated the outlook for Providence in their final five games in yesterday’s Big East Burning Question.
  2. It’s not all roses in Syracuse, as Jared E. Smith over at TNIAAM presents three alarming trends that have come to the surface since Cuse’s watershed victory at Louisville. Despite leading the Big East with 8 assists per contest overall this season, Michael Carter-Williams has only averaged 4.3 APG in the past six games, and his team is 1-3 when he fails to dish out 5 assists. Smith identifies other culprits in the poor three-point defense from the back end of Boeheim’s zone and a chronic inability to produce the prolific transition offense to which Orange fans are accustomed. Syracuse is producing half as many transition points as last year’s team, and consequently entered last Saturday’s Seton Hall game averaging 8 PPG fewer than their predecessors. Cuse plays two of the league’s hottest teams this week in Providence and Georgetown, so it’s an inopportune moment to grapple with the issues Smith highlights.
  3. Notwithstanding the Scottie Reynolds shot that knocked his team out of the 2009 Elite Eight, Jamie Dixon may have been at his “most inconsolable” as a Pitt coach after his team’s collapse to Notre Dame on Monday night. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook predicts Pitt will achieve the modest requirements to wrap up their NCAA invite, but says they’re clearly just as “capable of blowing the bid.” The loss only confirmed the alarm raised in last week’s 10-point loss to Marquette: “[Pitt] is trending the wrong way at the worst time of the season.”
  4. Speaking of Pitt, Cardiac Hill wonders whether the infusion of blue chip talent coming out of high school next year will influence the length of Steven Adams’ career in Pittsburgh. Adam Zagoria had quoted an anonymous NBA GM who extolled the 2014 draft class and called this year’s group “historically weak” (when can we take that annual refrain out back and euthanize it, by the way?). This prompted CH to ask: “If Adams doesn’t take a huge step forward, one could wonder if he’d be better of coming out this season or waiting until 2015 if next year’s class is as stacked as the GM claims.” It’s an interesting dilemma, and from a broader perspective it’s a kind of cynical calculus necessitated by the one-and-done rule.
  5. Though Cincinnati as a team is 14th in the league in free throw shooting percentage, Mick Cronin claims it’s more an issue of the wrong players getting to the line. “If [Sean Kilpatrick] or Cash [Wright] shoots all of our free throws, I like our chances,” said Cronin, who lamented, “Your bigger guys are the ones who tend to get fouled.” Therein lies the problem, for Cincinnati, whose star guards are the only starters that shoot better than 66%. For their part, Justin Jackson and JaQuan Parker have hit 54% of 156 combined free throw attempts. Despite struggling in many other facets of his game, sixth man forward Titus Rubles’ 67% foul shooting offers a situational substitute should Jackson become a liability late in a game.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 20th, 2012

  1. St. John’s freshman and reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Moe Harkless confirmed speculation and announced yesterday in a press conference held at Madison Square Garden that he will be leaving the Red Storm for the NBA. “It has been my lifelong dream to play in the NBA and I am excited to have that opportunity to make the jump,” said Harkless.  He also confirmed that he will hire an agent, which would prevent him from returning to school.  The 6’8” forward is currently projected as a mid-to-late first round pick.  Certainly his status can, and likely will, change as other early entrants make themselves eligible and overseas names emerge but should Harkless be selected in the first round he would be guaranteed an NBA contract.
  2. Moe Harkless’ declaration to turn pro made him the second Big East player to do so thus far, following Villanova’s Maalik Wayns who made his intentions known last week, but, unlike Harkless, he does not plan on retaining an agent. Players with early draft entry on their minds have until 11:59 pm ET on April 29 to decide and CBSSports.com has come up with a watch list of those most likely to be considering the move.  While this appears to be a link to Kentucky’s roster, if you look close enough among those cited you will see Connecticut’s Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb as well. While Drummond could use a bit more seasoning and Lamb’s stock has perhaps dropped some, with Connecticut currently banned from next year’s NCAA Tournament due to Academic Performance Rating (APR) issues, it feels like a foregone conclusion that they will both opt for the NBA.  However, if NCAA Tournament eligibility is a deciding factor, Drummond and Lamb may hold off on a decision until the last minute given Connecticut has an appeal in progress on which a ruling could come during April. The other apparent no-brainer on the list when it comes to Big East players is Syracuse’s Fab Melo.  On the heels of the academic ineligibility ruling that has forced Melo to sit out this year’s NCAA Tournament, it has been widely speculated that his Syracuse days are over. Melo’s Syracuse teammate Dion Waiters is the only other Big East player on the watch list.
  3. And then there were three.  Nerlens Noel, the number one prospect in the class of 2012, has narrowed his college choices to Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. North Carolina and Connecticut are the latest schools to be cut.  Noel was scheduled to visit Tar Heel country this week but has since canceled. As for Noel’s interactions with the three finalists, the shot-blocking center took an official visit to Georgetown last week, was scheduled to have an in-home visit with Kentucky yesterday, and another with Syracuse tomorrow. A decision could come shortly thereafter as Noel’s official reclassification to the class of 2012, which had been pending, is now complete.
  4. They say success breeds success. Well Cincinnati is sitting pretty in the Sweet Sixteen and just picked up a commitment yesterday from junior college star Titus Rubles.  Rubles, a slashing 6’8” forward from Blinn Community College in Texas, averaged 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for the Buccaneers. This commitment does not come as much of a surprise to those who either follow the Bearcats closely or know how to operate Twitter, as Rubles’ Twitter handle is a somewhat revealing “@bearcatbound.” Even with Rubles in the fold, Cincinnati remains in hot pursuit of center Chris Obekpa, arguably the most sought-after recruit among Big East schools as he is also garnering significant interest from Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s.
  5. Speaking of Cincinnati, the Bearcats have certainly come quite far from what appeared to be a season on the brink following an embarrassing November loss to Presbyterian and that ugly brawl-marred loss to Xavier which led to multiple suspension.  As we wrote at the start of the season, Cincinnati carried with it perhaps the highest increase in expectations among Big East squads as the Bearcats returned their top four scorers from a 26-9 team that made it to the third round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Playing through the suspensions seemed to unlock some individual potential and lineup combinations that may have otherwise been left untapped as head coach Mick Cronin has rallied his troops to another 26 wins and at least a round further in the Big Dance than last year to this point.
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