March College Basketball

March is here. That most wondrous, glorious time in which both the NCAA Tournament and baseball’s Opening Day both happen. This post I’m focusing on the former. It’s been a mixed bag of a season for our area teams. Let’s take a look at where they stand, relative to the tournament.

All records are as of March 4th, 2019

 

The Shoe-ins

 

Kentucky Wildcats (24-5) – John Calipari has these Cats currently projected to be a 2 seed in the dance. Considering everyone outside the bluegrass basically wrote them off after they began the season getting smashed by Duke, Kentucky just proves that losses in November mean very little in March. Keldon Johnson figures to be the highest draft pick from this squad, but this may be one of the most cohesive teams Coach Cal has ever put together. They defend like nobody’s business. KenPom has them rated top-10 (#9) in adjusted defense. They’ve also got Tyler Herro, whose last name says it all. They could very well be a 1 seed with a SEC Tournament victory.

 

Cincinnati Bearcats (25-4) – Yeah, that record is the exact same as Kentucky. Sure, they’ve had different roads to get to where they are, but considering this is technically a rebuilding year, that is amazing. They lost the best player the program has seen since Kenyon Martin, in Gary Clark, another NBA-caliber player in Jacob Evans, and a strong post presence in Kyle Washington. They’ve followed that up by producing the favorite to win conference player of the year, in Jaron Cumberland, ad sticking to the top of the conference standings. Mick Cronin has truly done a great job with his team slotted in as a 7 seed with a possibility, if they win the American Athletic Conference Tournament, of a 6 seed. Like the Wildcats, the Bearcats are a well-knit unit of a team. Mick has these guys rolling like a family who is fighting for each other. They could be a sneaky pick to make it out of the first weekend in the tournament, though I do not expect them to in order for me to be happy with their season.

 

The Bubblers

 

Dayton Flyers (19-10) – The Flyers have had an up-and-down year and may need to just flat out win their conference tourney to make the big dance. Their recent OT loss to Rhode Island at UD Arena has emphasized their desperation. They came really close to signature, non-conference wins in the early season, but couldn’t finish them off. They would have been in a better position had they beaten Virginia Commonwealth once. The NET rankings, the new standard for the tournament, currently has them at 74. Making the Atlantic 10 Tournament finals could sneak them in, but Anthony Grant’s side may have their backs against the wall for an at-large bid.

 

Xavier Musketeers (16-13) – It is an absolute shock that they are in this conversation, but here we are. A few weeks ago they were left for dead. A truly rough January, where they won just two games in seven, had them in dead last for the Big East. Travis Steele was being seen as a bust…in his first year, but whatevs…and then things change. Naji Marshall morphs into the player he was expected to be, coming into the year, and has taken over the Trevon Blueitt role of putting the team on his back when they are in need of a basket. After a loss to DePaul on February 9th, the Musketeers got to work. They beat Creighton in OT, smashed Providence on the road, and then loudly proclaimed their comeback by soundly beating Villanova by a dozen. Now it feels like, if they can finish strong against Butler and St. Johns, followed by a deep Big East tournament run, they could steal an at-large bid. Like Dayton, they may have their backs to the wall and need a Big East Conference tournament title to get in. Unlike Dayton, three weeks ago, this seemed as farfetched as the existence of aliens. Yet, here we are.

 

You must be a Conference Tournament Title Winner to ride the ride

 

Northern Kentucky Norse (23-8) – The Norse hit a speed bump on February 23 when Cleveland State, on NKU’s senior night, left Highland Heights with a win. The second-to-the-bottom Cleveland State Vikings snapped the Norse’s 20-game home winning streak and threw water on any argument they had at an at-large bid, should they not win the Horizon League Tournament. Now Drew McDonald is a special player and broke the school record for most points, but he will need to lead the Norse to a tourney title in order to dance.

 

Wright State Raiders (19-12) – Like the Norse, they split the regular season championship for the Horizon League. Unlike NKU, Wright State never had a whisper of an at-large bid. Cleveland State help them split the regular season with the rival Norse, but now the Raiders need to win the Horizon League tournament to make it in. Led by Sophomore Loudon Love (15 ppg), Wright State’s run to a conference title starts tomorrow night at the Nutter Center against IUPUI.

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, let’s enjoy our area teams finishing up their respective seasons!

Advertisements

College Basketball, A Pair of Blue Grass Previews

It’s that wonderful time of year when college basketball begins. I’ve taken a look at the area teams (and one not in the area) and will give you what you should watch for this year with each one. In this post I will focus on two team from a state I once called home, the Blue Grass state. That’s the American dream, right? Someone who tells you what to think about?

Northern Kentucky Norse (22-10, 15-3 Horizon), Head Coach – John Brannen

Last season’s landlords for the Bearcats, the Norse will look to build on a great 2017-18 season. They did lose their second, third, and fourth leading scorers, but they return their team MVP, Drew McDonald. He led the Norse in scoring (17 ppg) and rebounding (9.6 rpg) and was the second leading passer with 2.3 assists per game. He’s back to lead a young Norse team. He, and graduate transfer Zaynah Robinson (Norfolk State), are the only two slated to leave the Norse after this season. This could be a set-the-table season for next year, or they could continue their success.

One interesting player who will fly under the radar will be Jalen Tate. He led the Norse defense last year, averaging over a steal per game and just under a block per game, and he’s a guard. By the way, NKU were the best defensive team in the Horizon League, last season.

Predicting the team MVP – Drew McDonald. Easiest pick of all these teams. The guy pretty much averaged a double-double at 6’ 8”, 250 lbs.

Best game to watch – Either game, be it January 11th at NKU, or February 15th in Dayton, against Wright State. NKU won the Horizon League regular season but lost both times to Wright State. This has become a nice rivalry game, which is why the first game in Highland Heights is on ESPN 2 and the second game, in Dayton, is on ESPN U.

Predicting what we will be looking back on, next April – The Norse will celebrate the contributions that McDonald gave to them in his four-year career and they will do better than one-and-done in the Horizon League tournament. That being said, not sure this is a tournament team, but we’ll see.


Kentucky Wildcats (26-11, 10-8 SEC), Head Coach – John Calipari

Cal and the Cats return their greatest percentage of scoring from last year’s team (>30%) since their almost-undefeated 2014-15 season. They also add a very Calipari-like recruiting class and Reid Travis, a graduate transfer from Stanford. Last year’s team underperformed, and Cal will use that as fuel to galvanize a squad that returns its frontcourt and point guard. As opposed to most Calipari-era seasons, this Cats team is well rounded and balanced. They lack the absolute stud (may catch some flak on that) but they can run ten-deep, if they want, and few schools can say that.

Predicting the team MVP – Keldon Johnson. He should be a top-10 pick in the 2019 NBA draft and he should be the go-to guy in the Cats offense, come March. It may be a slow development as he gets used to his role, and if that role stays the same all year. Quade Green and Reid Travis may be pretty good, too.

Best game to watch – I wanted to be different and not pick this, but its tonight’s game against Duke at the Champions Classic. A close second will be either game against Tennessee as the Vols are going to be really good, too.

Predicting what we will be looking back on, next April – We’ll be talking about how everyone played the entire year, thousands upon thousands of games, and the national championship was just a rematch of the game played on the first day of the season. Kentucky will play Duke for the National Championship (I hope they don’t get put on the same side of the bracket), but I will not pick the winner until March.

Check out the other previews of area college basketball:

The Gem City Previews

Miami (OH) and Missouri State Previews

The Queen City Previews

Follow @jefffcarr and @sportsinnati on Twitter