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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Happy Veterans Day Weekend, Cincinnati

It’s Friday and my mind is focused on a three day weekend, but I did want to impart some thoughts on the world of Cincinnati sports for this weekend.

The Bearcats football team has a massive matchup this Saturday night. USF comes into Cincinnati an underdog, but I do not believe they’re as bad as the line (UC favored by two touchdowns), but this is definitely a winnable game for UC. It all comes down to focus. Luke Fickell had the boys ready for Navy’s triple option offense, a running attack that put up the loftiest rushing total by an opponent in Bearcats history, last year. This year, though, the Bearcats held them to just over two yards a carry. Now Fickell has to keep his team reigned in as they approach a monster matchup with the best team in the conference, the “defending national champion” Central Florida Knights. South Florida is not good in the cold, and it will be coooooold tomorrow night. Still, the Bearcats cannot take them for granted, as the Bulls were undefeated and ranked in the Top-25, as soon as three weeks ago.

The Xavier Musketeers play their second game of the season on Saturday, against Evansville. Another solid mid-major opponent for the Muskies to grow against. The question will be, will Naji Marshall return to the floor in this one? Didn’t have him in the opener and they got by, it will be difficult against a solid squad from the Missouri Valley Conference. The Men of Steele found a way to win, forcing turnovers late, we will see if that trend continues. Xavier hasn’t had a good defense in the past few years, but if they consistently force turnovers, there’s your defense.

The Cincinnati professional football team may be smashed this Sunday. They may also (tiny chance) win. The New Orleans professional football team is really good. They have a future hall of famer at quarterback and, possibly, a future hall of famer at coach. They have oodles of talent at running back and wide receiver. They are also coming off a huge win to knock the Los Angeles professional football team off their undefeated pedestal and have to travel to a non-conference opponent and play in dismal weather. Not the brightest, most motivational backstory for the fleur de lis-wearing pigskin professionals, but they are a much better team (given injuries) than that of the Orange and Black. Honestly, if Marvin Lewis’ men come out on top, I will be pleasantly surprised, but if they don’t it won’t even phase me. The all-important game for the Bengals is next week, in Baltimore, against the Ravens. So long as they don’t come out of this week’s game with even more injuries than they are already plagued with, I think they’ll be fine. Also, a personal reason I wouldn’t mind the Bengals losing, is I will be at a wedding watching on my phone. Shout out to Zack on his big day (holler at me if you actually read this, bro).

Two Reds rumors circulating have me feeling a certain way. The first is that some teams are interested in Eugenio Suarez. Well, so are we in Cincinnati, frankly, and I do not want to see him traded. The other rumor is very encouraging, and that is the Cleveland Indians are open to trading away their ace, Corey Kluber. Now, it will require a king’s ransom, but go for it, Reds! He is one of the best pitchers in the game. He will cost a few top prospects, but he is also the kind of pitcher who will bring the wins. He’s under control for a few years, so it won’t be a rental, which gives the Reds the perfect pitcher to build their rotation around. Plus, I am sure Derek Johnson will enjoy having a vet like Kluber to be the “stopper” of the rotation. I am a Cincinnati sports optimist, to a fault, but I am excited by what’s going on around Great American Ballpark.

Here’s to a three-day weekend, for some of us and Happy Veteran’s Day!

Ford Era, Bears off to Roaring Start

So, like I mentioned in my preview of this season, I cover Cincinnati sports, but I really like following this up-and-coming coach out in Missouri. The Missouri State Bears (1-0) got their first victory of the Dana Ford era and it was a thorough dismantling of Oral Roberts (0-1) by a score of 84-50. Get ready for the Bears, if Tuesday is any indication, this is going to be a good year in Springfield.

Jarred Dixon led the charge for the Bears with a career-high 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting. The senior displayed his catch-and-shoot ability, but also showed his talent of creating shots, giving MSU as dynamic scorer to lean on in any situation. He led four Bears who scored at least 11. Ryan Kreklow put up 13 points, off the bench, Keandre Cook added 12, and Kabir Mohammed pitched in 11.

The Bears played Dana-ball, beating the Golden Eagles on the boards and causing as many turnovers as MSU had assists (21). Senior forward Obediah Church stuffed the stat sheet with six points, seven rebounds, four blocks, and three assists. Coach Ford also has his point guard in Josh Webster. The senior finished the game with nine assists, seven of which came in the first half. Webster will be one to watch, heading into the weekend, though, as he looked to have injured his left ankle, early in the second half. He did return and finish the game, though, so it may be minor.

ORU put up a fight, but it didn’t last much past the halfway point of the first half. Five and a half minutes into the opening frame, the Bears took the lead, for good, at 15-14.

Coach Ford and the Bears will turn their focus to Robert Morris (Friday) and Stetson (Sunday), this weekend.

Other Area teams:

Kentucky suffered its worst loss of the John Calipari era, Tuesday, as Duke thrashed em 118-84. UK will need to get it’s defense in shape, though these early November games tend to mean very little, come March. This will be plenty of fuel to the practice fires that Calipari will be stoking all year. I can still see that game being a championship preview.

Xavier took care of business with IUPUI, winning 82-69. Were it not for a rash of turnovers by the Jaguars, late, this may have been a lot closer. Xavier struggled to pull away for much of the game. They’re still building an identity under Travis Steele, but it’s nice to see a one in the win column, rather than the loss column.

NKU beat Wilmington College. Nothing really to see here.

Who’s Next:

At 6 pm, The Bearcats re-open Fifth-Third Arena tonight with the Buckeyes. I’m looking forward to sitting down with a few cold ones and taking this one in.

Dayton also hosts North Florida and Wright State welcomes Western Carolina to town. Both of those games tip at 7 pm.

Brilliant Idea from the NBA G League

The NBA has come up with an idea to combat the “one and done” mentality of the NCAA, using the G League, and it is solid. This is an idea that, given proper implementation with its nuances, will be beneficial for players, schools, and NBA teams.

In case you haven’t seen anything about this, yet, here is an in-depth article about the new plan for the G League, courtesy of ESPN. https://es.pn/2P9n29h

In short, for prospects determined to be elite talents that would go to school for no more than one year (John Wall, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum, etc.) the NBA developmental league, known as the G League, will offer them a one-year contract for $125k, known as the “professional path” plan. This will free them from the bonds of amateurism as outlined by the NCAA and will open them up to focus on the one thing they want to focus on: basketball.

This is a brilliant plan for the player. Think about it. You’re a blue chip, five-star recruit sitting at home. You just got done talking to John Calipari, Roy Williams, and Mike Krzyzewski about coming to play ball at their schools. You’re star-struck by who you talked to, but then it hits you: a good portion of your time will be spentin class. Not class about basketball. Not a genuine professionally experienced basketball person teaching you the ins and outs of the euro-step. No, someone teaching art history, or ethics, or, God forbid, biology. Is a mitochondria going to help you sink a three-point jumper with a hand in your face? Probably not.

So there you are, wondering about which professor is going to fail you (nobody at North Carolina, from what I hear), when you get another call. “Hey, I know basketball is in your blood. Would you like to focus your skill for a year, concentrate only on improving your draft stock and legally make $125,000.00 bucks in the process?” How can you say no?

Oh sure, the first argument out of the gate is about the exposure. Kentucky basketball is legendary and on national television, playing marquee schools like North Carolina. There are passionate fans whose lives revolve around whether their school wins or loses. You don’t want to be a part of that? I mean, if your ultimate goal is to be a top pick in the NBA draft, then this shouldn’t be a huge factor to you. What NBA general manager says “Well, John Smith wasn’t super popular amongst the fan base of State University, so he’s falling down the draft board?” None, I hope. At least no successful GM would. They’re looking for talent and if a player can fit into their scheme. None of that is derived from whether a fan from their college likes them. It comes from their personal development through practices and games.

Sure, the G League isn’t broadcast far and wide, but that may actually be a good thing. How many kids’ abilities are compromised because they did something silly in a game and that school’s rabid fan base then blows up social media with how that kid is now a joke of a player? I would think that the lesser known exposure of the G League would have a sort of charm to it for a blue chip prospect looking to make a career out of putting the ball through the net, because he can develop his game in relative peace.

Plus, the player can hire an agent, get a shoe deal, and do all that marketing stuff outside the game, because he isn’t bound by the NCAA’s silly rules regarding amateurism. That is a huge deal, in my opinion.

In my next post, I’m going to tell you why This is terrific for NBA Teams. Stay tuned, and stay classy.