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!

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College Basketball: Previewing the Gem City

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. This post highlights the best the Gem City has to offer. That’s the American dream, right? Someone who tells you what to think about?

Dayton Flyers (14-17, 8-10 Atlantic 10), Head Coach – Anthony Grant

The Flyers should have some high expectations in the second year of Grant. Of their top five performers from last season, they lost one. Just one. Josh Cunningham is back. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Cunningham will lead a group of experience players who went through the struggle of last season. Battle-tested (to get dramatic), these Flyers should be a lot more successful, this season. The test will be health. They aren’t very deep, beyond their top four. That’s not to say a newcomer cant step up, and Dayton does have a redshirt junior in Ryan Mikesell who missed all of last year due to an injury, so that will be the intrigue in this year’s team.

Predicting the team MVP – Cunningham. He’s one of just two seniors on the team and supremely talented. He’s Grant’s go-to guy in all situations.

Best game to watch – Dayton will go down to the Bahamas and play a school that would normally be a two-hour drive away in Butler. Always love a regional battle.

Predicting what we will be looking back on, next April – The Flyers will come close to sending Cunningham off in style, but they are still a year away from being a real monster in the A-10. A top-3 finish is not out of reach, though.


Wright State Raiders (25-10, 14-4 Horizon), Head Coach – Scott Nagy

Gone is the leading scorer, Grant Benzinger, but pretty much everyone else is back. Loudon Love, Mark Hughes, and Parker Ernsthausen were three of the four Raiders to start 33, or more, games (Benzinger was the fourth). Love was the second best scorer (12 ppg) and best rebounder (nine rpg) while Hughes led the team in assists with 105. The Raiders also return Cole Gentry and Jaylon Hall, two players who saw more than 23 minutes a game. The Horizon League Tournament Champion, Wright State faced a juggernaut in the tournament when Tennessee steamrolled to a 73-47 victory. That will be a chip on the shoulders of all these returning players and will push them to a very good 2018-19 campaign.

Predicting the team MVP – Love is the answer. He averaged just shy of a double-double, last season, and may just do that this season. A dark horse is Ernsthausen, if for no other reason than he’s got an awesome name.

Best game to watch – You’ll see this under Northern Kentucky, but both of those games are going to be off the chain and really entertaining basketball.

Predicting what we will be looking back on, next April – The Raiders will not only build on the success of last year, but they will win the Horizon regular season, the Horizon Tournament, and will pull off a first round win in the tournament. Mark it down, @ me, do whatever you have to do, it’s happening.

Check out more area college basketball previews from Sportsinnati:

The Blue Grass Previews

Miami (OH) and Missouri State Previews

The Queen City Previews

Follow @jefffcarr and @sportsinnati on Twitter