College Basketball Nation: Cashmere Wright

1. Creighton's Doug McDermott is nowhere near close to making a decision on whether to declare for the NBA or return to the Bluejays, his father and coach Greg McDermott said. Greg McDermott said Doug will take this call down to the NBA's April 28 deadline -- the only one that really matters. Doug McDermott isn't feeling any pressure about the April 16 NCAA deadline -- and that's good, because that one means nothing. The NCAA doesn't put out a list on that date and neither does the NBA. The only deadline that produces an early-entry list is the April 28 deadline. A player could say he's returning to school next week and then declare 12 days later without any issue. Doug McDermott has one of the toughest decisions of any player, because if he decides to leave his dad will face a difficult season in the Bluejays' first season in the new Big East. If Doug stays, Creighton has a chance to contend for the new league's title.

2. New Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said Wednesday that the timing was right and he just had a feeling that he needed to move after 15 years at Niagara. Mihalich is trading one set of problems for another. Niagara, north of Buffalo, N.Y., isn't exactly in fertile recruiting territory, but Mihalich has made it work and competed for league titles in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Hofstra, on Long Island, is in a fertile recruiting area but is in rebuilding mode. The MAAC and the Colonial Athletic Association are typically one-bid leagues at this juncture. Mihalich has had other opportunities to leave but chose to stay. He said every time he considers one, the same two questions come to mind: Who is the president and who is the athletic director? Mihalich felt comfortable with current AD Jeff Hathaway, who previously held the same position at Connecticut, and president Stuart Rabinovitz. Hathaway wanted a sitting head coach and stayed true to his goal in the search.

3. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin praised the "mature decision" by junior Sean Kilpatrick to return for his senior season. Cronin is convinced Kilpatrick will work on his game enough to be a draft pick next year. Kilpatrick will have a new backcourt mate with Cashmere Wright gone; those in the running to replace Wright will include freshmen Kevin Johnson and Troy Caupain and junior Ge'Lawn Guyn.
NEW YORK -- What it means: Georgetown moves on to the Big East semifinals, and remains in play for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Cincinnati is currently projected to receive an at-large berth, but it's no lock.

The Bearcats rallied after falling behind big in the first half (see below), but the Hoyas ultimately cruised to victory in the first of four quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, winning 62-43.

Georgetown (25-5, 14-4), ranked No. 5 in the country, has now won 13 of its past 14 games. Cincinnati (22-11, 9-9) is listed as a No. 11 seed in the latest edition of's Bracketology, but will have to sweat it out until Selection Sunday.

The turning point: Georgetown jumped out to a 16-point lead, 24-8, with 5:37 remaining in the first half, after back-to-back 3-pointers by Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter Jr. and freshman D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Cincinnati went more than seven minutes without scoring a single point. But then the Bearcats got hot from deep, making four treys in the closing minutes -- three by Cashmere Wright -- to draw within five, 29-24, at intermission.

Cincinnati opened the second half on a 9-2 run, taking a two-point lead, 33-31, on another Wright jumper with 16:22 to play. But then Georgetown scored seven points in a row to re-take control of the game -- five by Smith-Rivera. The Bearcats never got closer than five points again. A putback, again by Smith-Rivera, pushed the lead to 12, 51-39, with 5:14 left. The Hoyas put them away from there.

Star watch: It was a true team effort by Georgetown. The Hoyas had three players in double figures -- Porter (18 points, 11-for-11 from foul line), Markel Starks (14) and Smith-Rivera (13). Jabril Trawick chipped in nine points.

Wright led Cincinnati with 14 points, and JaQuon Parker added 12. Sean Kilpatrick -- the fourth-leading scorer in the Big East this season (17.3 ppg) -- scored just four points, shooting 2-for-12 from the field and 0-for-8 from beyond the arc. It was a day to forget for the Yonkers, N.Y., native, playing very close to home.

Number crunch: The shooting percentages of the two teams were strikingly similar, until the final few minutes, when Cincinnati was hoisting up quick shots and Georgetown was cleaning up at the foul line. The difference? Georgetown had 10 more attempts from the field, thanks to an 11-7 advantage on the offensive glass, and 15 turnovers by the Bearcats. The Hoyas gave the ball away just nine times.

What's next: Georgetown, the No. 1 seed, will play the winner of No. 4 Pittsburgh versus No. 5 Syracuse, on Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

Cincinnati returns home to await its postseason fate.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

February, 1, 2013
To death and taxes, I add Marquette. The Golden Eagles are the one thing you can count on annually. A year after losing the Big East’s player of the year and league’s leading scorer (and they were two different people) Buzz Williams’ team is back again, tied atop the leaderboard with Syracuse. Despite seven consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, Marquette still somehow manages to sneak up on people.

Maybe we ought to start paying closer attention.

1. Syracuse. That the Orange lost to Villanova in overtime isn’t the biggest worry right now. Even their bad shooting isn’t a big concern. Here’s the problem: Four of Syracuse’s starters played 41 minutes or more in that game. Without James Southerland (eligibility issue) and now DaJuan Coleman (injury), the rotation is minuscule for the Orange as they head into the home stretch.

2. Marquette. The Golden Eagles have won eight of nine to quietly slide into a first-place tie with Syracuse atop the standings. For those thinking Williams needs a steady scorer, Vander Blue might be the guy -- he had 30 against South Florida. But there’s a big test for both Blue and Marquette this weekend, at Louisville.

3. Louisville. The Cardinals ended their losing streak by beating Pittsburgh despite playing without Wayne Blackshear (shoulder injury) and Kevin Ware (suspension). Here’s the catch: Louisville is averaging just 61.8 points over its past four games. As good as the Cards’ defense is, their offense has to make life a little more bearable.

4. Georgetown. Without Greg Whittington, the Hoyas don’t have much room for error. Their bench is perilously short, so short that John Thompson III had to go to a walk-on against Seton Hall. But Georgetown is winning steadily after a sloppy start, three in a row and five of its past six.

5. Cincinnati. The Bearcats’ propensity for slow starts nearly cost them dearly at Rutgers. Sean Kilpatrick bailed them out then and has continued to be a backbone, especially with Cashmere Wright still getting over a balky knee. Cincinnati has winnable games in the coming week -- at Seton Hall and Providence -- but can ill afford to back into things again.

6. Notre Dame. The great tinkerer, Mike Brey, retooled his team practically overnight, debuting a bigger, tougher and stronger version of the Irish against red-hot Villanova. It worked. The Irish not only won, but got contributions from previously untapped resources such as senior Tom Knight and freshmen Cam Biedscheid and Zach Auguste.

7. St. John’s. The Red Storm could catapult up these rankings in a week. St. John’s has won five in a row, showing a streak of consistency few in this league can match. The catch? The Red Storm have feasted on the bottom of the standings (with the exception of Notre Dame) to get out on that run. I want to see how St. John’s does in upcoming games against Georgetown and Connecticut.

8. Pittsburgh. The Panthers’ four-game win streak came to an end at Louisville, but in the loss Pitt showed it could hang with the conference elite. And now the Panthers’ reward: They get to try to do it all over again when they host Syracuse on Saturday.

9. Villanova. That the Wildcats’ week of happy mayhem ended at South Bend did little to disprove that Villanova is arguably one of the most improved teams in the league. The Cats hung with Notre Dame despite a woeful 3-point shooting night. The next challenge: beating teams they are now expected to beat, including Providence and DePaul, next on the docket.

10. Connecticut. Nothing is easy for the Huskies these days, but at least they are finding a way to gut it out, beating Providence in overtime Thursday for their second victory in a row. For once, at least, UConn got some scoring from someone other than its backcourt, with Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels hitting double figures. That needs to happen more often.

11. Seton Hall. We have now entered that portion of the rankings where you are debating among the least awful of the awful. So kudos to the Pirates, who at least have lost just two in a row, both on the road and to two decent teams in Georgetown and St. John’s. Not that the schedule gets any kinder, with a visit from Cincinnati and a trip to Pittsburgh in the coming week.

12. Providence. The Friars are oh-so-close to putting something together and oh-so-far-away from seeing the results. Providence lost to Pitt by four, to Marquette by 10 and to UConn in overtime. Can the Friars finally break through Sunday at Villanova?

13. Rutgers. If "almost" counted, the Scarlet Knights would be right there. They’ve lost four in a row, but were in the games against Notre Dame, Connecticut and Cincinnati. Alas, this is neither horseshoes nor hand grenades, and as Rutgers preps for a midweek visit from Louisville, it has won just once since Jan. 10.

14. South Florida. The Bulls’ skid is at three, but in their defense, it is against two quality teams -- Notre Dame and Marquette. But like Rutgers, USF’s quality losses don’t mean much, not when it has but one league victory to show for it.

15. DePaul. I’ve run out of ways to describe the Blue Demons’ doom and gloom, so just use the numbers: DePaul has lost five in a row and seven of its past eight.

A breakdown of Syracuse’s 57-55 win at home over Cincinnati:

Overview: This started out as a sloppy Monday afternoon game. Both teams were coming off exhausting weekend victories. On Saturday, Syracuse defeated then-No. 1 Louisville in the final minute on the road, and Cincinnati topped Marquette without Cashmere Wright, who had suffered a knee injury.

They both struggled early in a sloppy first half of college basketball. How bad was it? At one point in the first half, Cincinnati was shooting 17 percent from the field, yet it was down by only five points.

The Bearcats settled for 3s against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone (4-for-18 in the first half). But the Orange's offense wasn’t much better (3-for-10 from the 3-point line).

It wasn’t, however, as though either team lacked effort. It was just a defensive battle. Syracuse’s length wouldn’t give Cincy much room. Cincy cut off the hose to Cuse’s offense by swarming its guards early.

Turning point: In the second half, both teams played much better. Sean Kilpatrick moved Cincy ahead with an early push. He’d started 3-for-10. That was one of the main reasons Cincy’s offense stalled in the first half. After halftime, however, Kilpatrick and the Bearcats were more patient with their passing and penetration. They shifted the Syracuse zone and found better shots. The result? A 12-2 run at the start of the half that gave Cincy a 30-24 lead. The Bearcats led 36-29 minutes later ... And then the shots stopped falling and Syracuse scored seven unanswered points to tie the game at 36 with 11:40 to go. The Orange bounced back from another seven-point deficit (49-42) and tied the game at 55 on Michael Carter-Williams’ 3-pointer with 1:11 to go.

Syracuse had the momentum, and C.J. Fair tipped in Jerami Grant’s miss with 22 seconds to go, giving the Orange a 57-55 lead. Wright missed an off-balance 3-pointer on the other end. Cincy missed another desperation shot at the buzzer. Game. Set. Match. Syracuse. “That wasn’t me, that was them,” Jim Boeheim told ESPN’s Jay Bilas after the game.

Why Syracuse won: Syracuse won with its relentless defense and dynamic guard play. It fought through multiple deficits in the second half until the Orange was even with Cincy in the final minutes. Then, they turned to their star guards: Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche.

Why Cincinnati lost: The Bearcats were quite inefficient on offense early. But their defense (10th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings) held strong and helped them avoid a sizable halftime deficit. In the end, however, they couldn’t get to the bucket and they continued to settle for tough field goals that wouldn’t fall. Offensive struggles doomed Cincy again.

Star(s) of the game: Kilpatrick had 36 points in Saturday’s 71-69 overtime victory against Marquette. He carried the Bearcats again Monday with 21 points. Carter-Williams hit big shots down the stretch for Syracuse. He recorded 16 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and a steal.

Stat of the game: Cincy shot 18 for 55 from the field (33 percent).

What it means for Cincy: It means that the Bearcats can compete with the Big East’s best and contend for the league crown if they can get more offense from players not named Kilpatrick and Wright. Their limited inside presence will always put them at a disadvantage against bigger squads.

What it means for Syracuse: It means the Orange are going to be a handful for any team in the Big East and nationally. Syracuse's combination of length, athleticism and elite defense will cause many headaches for opponents the rest of the way. Boeheim’s squad can play with any team in America, if that wasn’t already clear when it beat Louisville on the road Saturday.

What’s next: Syracuse will play at Villanova Saturday. Cincy will face Rutgers at home Jan. 30.
Five observations from Saturday’s evening games:

1. Hinkle Magic is real.

It had to end this way. We’d been spoiled with a wonderful day of college basketball -- treated to so many thrilling matchups that it was hard to keep up. Nevertheless, even with the hype surrounding Gonzaga and Butler, it was difficult to envision this game stealing the show. But that’s exactly what these two teams did. I mean, this is why we love this game. You can’t write a script that compares to the finish. Alex Barlow hits a big shot late, then commits a crucial turnover. Gonzaga commits a turnover on the inbounds, and then Roosevelt Jones charges toward the bucket for the game-winner. I couldn’t believe it. The Bulldogs played without standout Rotnei Clarke, who’d suffered a neck injury in last Saturday's victory over Dayton. Butler, however, didn’t back down from a Gonzaga team that is one of the most talented assemblies in America. The Zags shot 47.1 percent from the field. Elias Harris, Sam Dower and Kelly Olynyk combined to score 54 points. Butler wasn’t rattled, though. With just seconds on the clock, the Bulldogs maintained their intensity. They also maintained their pressure, which led to a game-winning bucket and a court-storming that actually made sense. What a game. What a day.

2. Deshaun Thomas needs help.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Thomas
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsDeshaun Thomas scored 28 points on 10-for-20 shooting; no other Buckeye had more than six.
So, if you watched the final seconds of Michigan State’s 59-56 victory over Ohio State, you’re probably still wondering what happened on Shannon Scott's 3-point attempt in the last seconds. Scott, who was trailed by Thomas, took an off-balance attempt that scraped the backboard on Ohio State’s final possession. But don’t blame him for the loss. Thomas (28 points) is the most dynamic offensive player in the Big Ten. He’s surrounded, however, by inconsistent offensive contributors. And that was the greatest component in the loss. Michigan State was led by Keith Appling (15 points) and Adreian Payne (14 points, five rebounds and a steal), who apparently has new life after a recent scuffle with teammate Branden Dawson. But three other Spartans recorded at least eight points. Thomas was alone. Aaron Craft (2-for-8) struggled. Lenzelle Smith Jr. (2-for-7) struggled. Scott (1-for-5) struggled. And while the Buckeyes proved that they possess the talent to contend for the Big Ten crown when they defeated Michigan last weekend, they revealed their offensive limitations in Saturday’s loss at Michigan State. Again.

3. The Mountain West is a beautiful mess.

You think your favorite league is wacky? Air Force scored 91 points in a win over Boise State. UNLV beat San Diego State on the road earlier this week but couldn’t handle Colorado State (Dorian Green scored a career-high 24 points). San Diego State scored nine points … in the first half of a loss to Wyoming. You figure it out. The Mountain West is Big Ten Lite. Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracket features six MWC squads. And it’s a nine-team league. But Saturday was a good showcase for the conference. Wyoming held SDSU to a 2-for-18 clip from the 3-point line. Jamaal Franklin went 3-for-14 from the field. Colorado State is a gritty, rough team. Khem Birch, Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser combined to score just 18 points in UNLV’s loss to the Rams, who also forced 13 turnovers. This race is wide open, filled with quality programs -- six Mountain West squads ranked in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. And the other three -- Air Force, Nevada and Fresno State -- aren't what anyone would call terrible. Hell of a league.

4. Marquette and Cincinnati love drama.

Saturday was a great day for college basketball. And this game was one of its most exciting matchups. Cincinnati amassed a 29-13 halftime lead with a defensive attack that’s ranked eighth in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Pomeroy. It was an impressive start for a Bearcats squad that had to go without Cashmere Wright, who missed the game due to a knee injury. But Cincy goes through scoring droughts. And Marquette loves drama. It was the perfect combination. The Golden Eagles lost to Butler on a Rotnei Clarke buzzer-beater in the Maui Invitational. They’re 2-1 in overtime games since Jan. 1. And they beat Georgetown by a point after fouling Greg Whittington on a 3-point attempt in the final seconds of an earlier Big East meeting. On Saturday, Marquette cut into Cincy’s deficit and ultimately forced overtime because UC eventually remembered that it rarely scores when necessary. The Bearcats were shorthanded due to foul trouble in a feisty extra session, but they sealed it on Sean Kilpatrick's layup with six seconds to play. It wasn’t pretty, but it was entertaining. Based on everything that had transpired in the final seconds, I figured Junior Cadougan would make his shot on the other end and send the 71-69 matchup into a second overtime. I think Cincinnati made a statement about its standing in the Big East, especially with Syracuse toppling Louisville on the same day. But Marquette also proved that it can contend with the league’s best teams. But it’s too hot-and-cold to trust as a true contender. Imagine if Buzz Williams’ squad were more consistent. At least it’s always interesting.

5. Iowa shakes up the Big Ten.

Thanks, Iowa. I thought I’d finally figured out the Big Ten until you beat Wisconsin 70-66 just four days after the Badgers upset the Hoosiers in Bloomington. It’s a cliché statement by now, but the Big Ten continues to prove that it’s the best conference in America. And this is why. A team such as Wisconsin can go on the road and beat one of the most talented squads in America (Indiana) and, less than a week later, suffer a loss at Iowa. Michigan beat the Hawkeyes by nearly 30 points. A few weeks later, Iowa takes Wisconsin down and re-enters the at-large conversation. The Hawkeyes committed just six turnovers in a game that featured a 20-point Iowa lead in the first half. Wisconsin shot poorly early but stormed back after halftime. It just wasn’t enough. Coaches around the league have talked about this for a few weeks now: The champion of this conference could have four or five losses. Maybe more. No squad has truly separated itself from the Big Ten pack. And it’s difficult to see how any team will when you have eight squads that could qualify for NCAA tournament berths. What a league.

A few more notes:

  • Alabama is 3-1 in the SEC after a 50-49 win over Texas A&M. Look, the SEC is not a strong conference. But Bama was in bad shape entering league play. Looks like Anthony Grant’s program is moving in the opposite direction now. Let’s see if the Crimson Tide can sustain it.
  • Detroit outscored Illinois-Chicago 53-14 in the first half of a 98-47 victory Saturday. I picked Illinois-Chicago to win the Horizon League at the start of league play. That was a great choice. Except it wasn’t.
  • So 4-0 Washington's first Pac-12 loss comes to 0-4 Utah at home in Seattle? Well OK then. Makes about as much sense as Oregon State dropping to 0-5 in the league after Saturday's loss to USC.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

January, 18, 2013
Coaches love to say that, on any given night, a team can lose. Apparently the Big East would like to make that its motto.

The league has become either strangely unpredictable or woefully unstable, depending on your point of view. What looked like established, solid, top-of-the-conference teams instead went out and lost games they frankly shouldn’t have.

The two constants: Louisville and Syracuse. And they play each other this weekend.

1. Louisville. It’s time for the first Big East showdown of the year -- before the participants become ACC members, that is. The Cards host Syracuse on Saturday, having rolled through their first league games with relative ease.

2. Syracuse. Time to see just how much the loss of James Southerland hurts the Orange. Syracuse got past Villanova without its most accurate outside threat, but it’s a tougher road this week, first at Louisville and then home against Cincinnati.

3. Marquette. The Golden Eagles’ margin of error is miniscule, but they keep coming out on the right side of the edge. That’s more than a lot of their conference brethren can say. Davante Gardner has been very solid for Marquette and should be key this week against Cincinnati.

4. Cincinnati. The Bearcats righted the ship the easy way, beating up on Rutgers and DePaul. Whether or not Cincinnati is truly back on track, however, remains to be seen in the coming week, when it faces Marquette and Syracuse. The good news: UC should have Cashmere Wright, who sprained his knee against DePaul.

5. Georgetown. The Hoyas could be the all-enigma team of the season. Unable to score one night, solid the next. The big question: What will Georgetown be without Greg Whittington, suspended from the team for academics? There’s a good team here if it just develops consistency.

6. Connecticut. There might have been a silver lining in the Huskies’ loss to Louisville: Omar Calhoun finally returned. After three pedestrian games, the freshman had 20 points and four boards. UConn needs that from him to take the pressure off of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.

7. Notre Dame. Feel free to argue that the Fighting Irish are slotted too low. Then go ahead and explain why a good, veteran team lost to Connecticut at home and then at St. John’s. Notre Dame simply has not played well in the past week.

8. Pittsburgh. Perhaps stubbornly, I still refuse to give up on the Panthers. Their defense is just too good. If only the offense could catch up. Pitt needs to beat Connecticut at home on Saturday to gain some more converts.

9. St. John’s. The Red Storm will rival Georgetown for unpredictability but at least they have a reason -- crazy youth. Steve Lavin has brash talent that isn’t quite sure what to do with itself all the time. But as St. John’s proved against Notre Dame, it will be a threat all season.

10. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are making progress, albeit in baby steps. Eli Carter's shooting struggles doomed them in a could-have-won game against Cincinnati, but Rutgers at least took care of business against South Florida. Tricky week with Notre Dame and St. John’s on the menu.

11. Villanova. The Wildcats lost twice this week but, if it’s possible, looked slightly better doing it. They put up a fight against Syracuse and matched Pitt’s defensive intensity, good signs for a program that needs some positives. Beating Providence on Saturday would help. Facing Louisville on Tuesday won’t.

12. Seton Hall. It’s almost unfair to judge the Pirates this week. Decimated by injuries, Kevin Willard had all of three subs to choose from in the loss to Marquette.

13. DePaul. It’s the same worn-out tune for the Blue Demons, who are limping through their Big East slate. DePaul has lost four of its past five, dating back to its final nonconference game against Loyola-Chicago.

14. Providence. Bryce Cotton has been terrific since returning from injury, averaging 20.8 points in the past five games. That’s the good news. The bad: The Friars are just woefully inconsistent.

15. South Florida. If the Bulls were playing golf, they’d be fantastic, what with their penchant for low scores. Sadly, this is basketball, and hovering in the 50-point range, as USF has done since league play began, isn’t going to win you a lot of games.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

December, 7, 2012
The top of the league is rock-solid strong, with six nationally relevant programs in Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Notre Dame and, yes, I’m buying -- Pittsburgh.

After that, things already are muddy. Connecticut is better than anyone expected but irrelevant in the national picture, and Marquette remains a work in progress.

Everyone else has some major work to do.

1. Syracuse. With James Southerland doing a good Dion Waiters impression, starring as the sixth man, the Orange keep steamrolling the competition, getting Jim Boeheim within single digits of his 900th win in the process. Arkansas is the only team that has gotten within single digits of Syracuse this season. And the Razorbacks lost by nine.

2. Louisville. The Cards turned up their trademark withering defense against Charleston (the same team that beat Baylor, which beat Kentucky, if you’re into transitive theory), holding the Cougars to 38 points and forcing 27 turnovers. The only caveat: Louisville still isn’t great offensively. The Cards hit only four of 14 shots from behind the arc. Next up: UMKC.

3. Cincinnati. The Bearcats are quietly sensational. With Cashmere Wright saving the day with a buzzer-beating jumper against Alabama, Cincinnati remains undefeated, relying on a three-guard lineup that is as potent as any in the country.

4. Georgetown. Everyone wanted to talk about the Hoyas’ awful offense in the 37-36 victory against Tennessee last week. Fair enough. It was brutal. But the defense was impressive, as it was Tuesday against Texas, limiting the Longhorns to only 41. Georgetown is already very good offensively. The D could make for a scary combo.

5. Notre Dame. The scheduling gods were kind to the Irish -- offering them more than a week to savor the win against Kentucky. Notre Dame returns to action against Brown on Saturday.

6. Pittsburgh. The Panthers keep rolling, and in the process, they are coming up with a pretty sweet inside-outside package in the form of Tray Woodall and Talib Zanna. The point guard and the forward have been solid all season for Pitt, which sits at 8-1.

7. Connecticut. The Huskies' guards, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, are sensational. The question: Can they be enough for the long haul? That’s the biggest issue for UConn and coach Kevin Ollie these days, evidenced in the loss to North Carolina State, in which the Huskies were simply outmuscled inside.

8. Marquette. The Golden Eagles had the week off, welcome especially after the news that alum and former assistant Rick Majerus had died. Now Buzz Williams' team needs to regroup for Saturday's game against in-state rival Wisconsin. Marquette likes to score -- but can it against the Badgers?

9. Providence. Freshman Kris Dunn is still out with a shoulder injury, but the Friars keep winning. With seven scholarship players -- including a hampered Bryce Cotton -- Providence beat Rhode Island easily Thursday. And every day is closer to Dunn returning.

10. DePaul. The Blue Demons are on a three-game win streak, and while the quality of competition leaves much to be desired, building confidence is crucial right now if DePaul is going to make any strides come Big East time. The feasting should continue Sunday against two-win Milwaukee.

11. South Florida. That the Bulls have no inside game isn’t surprising -- Gus Gilchrist is gone -- but it’s still an absolute killer for Stan Heath’s squad. South Florida simply couldn’t compete on the glass against Oklahoma State, and until USF can find at least some semblance of a paint presence, it will be tough sledding.

12. St. John’s. The Red Storm keep building themselves large holes to climb out of. The problem: Sometimes you can’t finish that climb, especially if you’re not that adept at scoring to begin with. That’s why St. John’s took a bad loss against San Francisco. The Red Storm can cure what ails them against one-win Fordham in the Holiday Festival on Saturday.

13. Seton Hall. The Pirates needed a late 3-pointer to seal a victory Tuesday against New Jersey Institute of Technology. That’s not going to instill fear in anyone. Fuquan Edwin can’t do it alone, although he’s trying.

14. Rutgers. When Eli Carter can’t score, the Scarlet Knights can’t win. Plain and simple. Carter went 1-of-12, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range, and Rutgers lost Saturday at Ole Miss. That’s too much pressure on Carter.

15. Villanova. Things are not pretty on the Main Line, where the Wildcats are simply a mess. Yes, Villanova beat Vanderbilt, but that says as much about the Commodores’ struggles as it does Villanova’s strengths. This is a team without a rudder right now, ineffective defensively and confused offensively -- and rival Saint Joseph’s is salivating at all of that ahead of their meeting Tuesday.

Video: Cincinnati 58, Alabama 56

December, 1, 2012

Cashmere Wright hit a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to lift Cincinnati to a 58-56 win over Alabama.
Overview: For the first 13 minutes of the Global Sports Classic finale, it looked as if a demure and mostly dispersed Thomas & Mack Center crowd wasn't going to get much in return for its decision to eschew the Vegas sports books. Cincinnati came out hot, poured in 3s from the perimeter, and ran up a 33-14 lead by the under-8-minutes timeout. But Oregon didn't go away. Through the rest of the of the first half and through the second, the Ducks clamped down on defense and slowly but surely clawed their way back from the dead -- taking their first lead, at 54-52, with 7:40 left in the game.

Turning point: Cincinnati desperately needed a bucket. Oregon had tightened its defense and worked its way back in the game, and the hot shooting that had opened up the early lead had abandoned the Bearcats. Oregon had just taken its first lead, thanks to three straight Arsalan Kazemi steals on high pick-and-roll defense.

That's when Titus Rubles made a jumper, then assisted Jermaine Sanders on an open 3. On the next possession, Rubles got to the free-throw line and knocked down two, then came back again and dropped another long 2-pointer. Suddenly, the Bearcats were back up by seven, 61-54, and had weathered the storm.

[+] EnlargeTitus Rubles
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonTitus Rubles scored 13 points, including 8 during Cincinnati's key second-half run.
Why Cincinnati won: It made its 3s, and chased down its misses. The Bearcats' hot start put them in advantageous position early, and they finished 11-of-24 from beyond the arc. But when they went through that long drought in the middle of the game, the Bearcats survived because they frequently found offensive rebounds and the second possessions they grant. Cincinnati finished with a 45.4 offensive rebounding percentage.

Why Oregon lost: It started the game in a deep hole, and its offense was never good enough to catch up. Bottom line: When you trail 33-14 at the eight-minute mark of the first half, it's going to be hard to win that basketball game. And if you do come back, you have to be pretty great offensively to do so. The Ducks got to the free-throw line a lot -- 29 times, to be exact -- but they went 29.4 percent from 3 and 34.5 percent from the field overall. It was pretty ugly stuff.

Star(s) of the game: As mentioned above, Cincinnati guard Rubles scored eight of the Bearcats' 10 points during the decisive second-half stretch. Meanwhile, Cashmere Wright went 5-of-9 from beyond the arc -- including one deep rattler that more than sealed the game in the closing minutes -- and with the possible exception of Kazemi was pretty clearly the best player on the floor.

What it means for Cincinnati: The Bearcats have yet to knock off a truly elite opponent, but that's about the only negative thing you could say about their start to the season thus far. Cincinnati has handled its business, and looked good doing so. If this form keeps up, the Bearcats can push the best of the Big East for the title. They're looking every bit as solid as expected.

What it means for Oregon: If you're Dana Altman, you probably wish your team finished the final 10 minutes of Saturday night's game with a bit more oomph. And you probably wish you didn't fall behind by 19 in the first half. But you can't really walk away from this tournament with anything but positive impressions. Kazemi looks predictably good, Dominic Artis is already playing well, and -- oh by the way -- you got a resume win no one expected, over UNLV on its own home floor. Altman will have this team improving throughout the season, but they're already looking vastly improved over last year's milquetoast effort.

What’s next: Cincinnati has a week off before one of its best nonconference fixtures of the season, a home date against a solid (and just as physical/athletic) Alabama team. Oregon is essentially past the best opponents on its nonconference schedule. Coming up is UTSA, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Idaho State, Nebraska and a trip to UTEP. It would have been nice to notch another win over a ranked team, sure, but coming away from Vegas with that win over UNLV? That's a big-time victory.

Global Sports Classic primer

November, 21, 2012
An intriguing doubleheader between four teams that aren’t headline-grabbers yet but soon could be. Iowa State’s reclamation project of transferring players continues to work well for Fred Hoiberg, though this will be the Cyclones' first real test. Cincinnati, a national sleeper team, has done nothing to discredit itself while Oregon has done plenty to turn heads, destroying Vanderbilt. And UNLV started the season with a scare, nearly losing an exhibition game to Dixie State, but has rebounded nicely.

The basics: Nov. 23-24, Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas

The set matchups: Iowa State vs. Cincinnati, 6:30 p.m.; Oregon vs. UNLV, 9 p.m.

[+] EnlargeKorie Lucious
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa State needs Korie Lucious to get on track shooting the ball.

Korie Lucious, Iowa State The Michigan State transfer is playing well for Hoiberg, using his playmaking skills to dish out an impressive 6.7 assists per game. The catch: He giveth and taketh, coughing up 4.3 turnovers. His consistency is huge for the Cyclones this year.

Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati The undeniable leader of Mick Cronin’s tripe-threat backcourt, Kilpatrick has stormed out of the gate. He’s averaging 21 points, but the sharpshooter has been especially sharp, blistering the nets on 55 percent of his 3-pointers.

Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon Granted his hardship waiver just last week, the Rice transfer is a huge boost for the Ducks. He’s got size and strength, both on display in his brief season debut where he picked up seven rebounds. They need them all. Oregon is averaging only 35 boards a game.

Mike Moser, UNLV Thanks to a strong cast of very good freshmen around him, Moser doesn’t have to do nearly as much for the Rebels. That doesn’t mean he can’t. He’s still averaging a double-double 10.5 points and boards.

Anthony Bennett, UNLV The freshman has been as good, if not better than advertised. He leads the Runnin’ Rebels in scoring -- 17 points per game, with eight rebounds to boot.


Will anyone play defense? All four of these teams are scoring like gangbusters -- Oregon is the slacker, chipping in 79 points per game. But if a doubleheader track meet breaks out, who has the defensive stamina to seal the victory? It may not matter. It may be a who-has-the-ball-last-wins sort of tourney.

How good are UNLV’s freshmen? So far, so very good for Anthony Bennett, Katin Reinhardt and Savon Goodman, but the quality of competition jumps considerably here. There’s no doubt this team is going to be something special, but this will be a critical two nights for the Rebels' learning curve.

Are the Ducks for real? That’s pretty much the crux of it. Oregon’s 26-point win over Vanderbilt was a huge eye-opener to the potential of this team, but is there something there that can be sustained? Can Oregon really factor into the Pac-12 race? Against the caliber of teams here, the Ducks will at least get a better understanding if not an altogether solid answer.

How solid are the Cincinnati bigs? We know how good the backcourt is; that was obvious a year ago and the trio of Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker and Sean Kilpatrick continues to lead the way for the Bearcats. But Cincinnati also is going to need some reliable production out of its new cast of big men at some point. A potential matchup against UNLV could give them ample opportunity.

What’s up with Korie Lucious’ shooting touch? Lucious has been terrific as a playmaker for Iowa State, dishing out 6.7 assists per game much to the delight of Hoiberg. But if the Cyclones are going to be a factor in Vegas and especially in the Big 12, he needs to score. He started the season in a terrific slump, 7-of-29.


Friday: Cincinnati over Iowa State; UNLV over Oregon
Saturday's title game: Cincinnati over UNLV

3-point shot: Another blow for Billikens

October, 16, 2012
1. Saint Louis is already dealing with a fragile state of affairs as Jim Crews takes over for Rick Majerus while he deals with a major heart issue. Now, the potential Atlantic 10 favorite Billikens will start the season without their top guard in Kwamain Mitchell (broken foot). The good news for the Billikens is that they are deep in the backcourt with Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett. But the Billikens will find out now if freshman Keith Carter is ready for prime time out of the gate. Majerus said in the summer that Carter could be the best lead guard he had recruited since Andre Miller at Utah. Crews wasn’t ready to buy into that just yet. But Carter now has to play and do well earlier in the season. The most important game that Mitchell might miss is possibly against Kansas in a likely finals matchup in the CBE Classic Nov. 20. SLU has a tough stretch a week later at Washington and at home against Valparaiso and North Texas.

2. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin couldn’t vote for his own player, but said on our ESPNU College Basketball podcast that he voted for Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng as Big East preseason player of the year. He also said he fully expects that he has two all-Big East players on this roster in Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright.

3. The Battle 4 Atlantis is trying to put together another high-profile field in 2013. So far the event in Nassau, Bahamas, has Kansas, USC, Villanova, Xavier, Wake Forest and Tennessee and UTEP, according to teams committed. Illinois was initially in the mix, but now instead it could be Michigan State or Ohio State. This season’s field is loaded with Louisville, Duke, Memphis, VCU, Minnesota, Northern Iowa, Stanford and Missouri.

3-point shot: No love for Kansas

September, 27, 2012
1. A few weeks out from practice and a potential top-10/top-five team that isn’t being given its due is Kansas. KU coach Bill Self said a few weeks ago that he thinks he has an extremely deep team, and one that might be able to score in more ways than last season. Canvass the country and the Jayhawks stack up against as well as any team in the country if newcomers like Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis are as impactful as expected. Jeff Withey will be as talented a big man as any other in the nation and the rotation players are more than serviceable. This is a perfect setup for Self. KU isn’t getting the early-season love -- but Kansas has more experience returning than Kentucky and probably has a better preseason chance of getting back to the Final Four.

2. My second team that should be ranked higher in any poll, let alone in conference projections, is Cincinnati. The Bearcats seem to be lost amid the Louisville hype in the Big East. But Cincinnati's roster is loaded with returning upperclassmen like Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick, JaQuon Parker and Justin Jackson. The problem is that the schedule doesn’t provide many early-season highlight games to get the Bearcats noticed. The best chance for a statement win would come if UC plays, and then beats, UNLV in Las Vegas on Nov. 24.

3. I’m not for labor unrest in college basketball but I would like to see one union of officials. I’ve covered the sport for 22 years (26 if you count college) and I’m still baffled by the perception of a lack of consistency in officiating from one league to the next. And the fact that coaches request their league officials for road non-conference games essentially hints that if they were from the home conference, that team would be at a disadvantage. The rules don’t change, so how the game is officiated shouldn’t be altered either. There are plenty of quality officials in every league who take their jobs very seriously. Their ethics shouldn’t be questioned. So having them all work for under one roof makes sense.

Crafted defense leads Buckeyes

March, 23, 2012

BOSTON -- Greg Paulus knows a thing or two about good point guards.

For four years he played the part of one at Duke University.

From his catbird seat on the Ohio State bench, though, Paulus is pretty sure he’s watching something special in the person of Aaron Craft, particularly when it comes to an on-the-ball defender.

“He’s the best I’ve ever seen,’’ said Paulus, now the Buckeyes’ video coordinator. “I know Tom Izzo said after our game that he’s never seen anyone like him, and he’s coached a few games.’’

Craft did not lead the Buckeyes in scoring against Cincinnati. In fact, he had a pretty dismal shooting night, connecting on just 2 of 7 shots and missing his first five.

Yet no one in an Ohio State uniform was more critical than Craft on Thursday. It was his quick hands and blanket defense, evident in his six steals, that all but erased Cincinnati’s short-lived lead and helped the Buckeyes over their Sweet 16 hump with an 81-66 win.

Ohio State will face Syracuse on Saturday. The Buckeyes, with the power duo of DeShaun Thomas (26 points and seven rebounds) and Jared Sullinger (23 and 11), advanced to their first Elite Eight since 2007.

“You have to want to play defense,’’ said Lenzelle Smith, Craft’s backcourt cohort. “Me and Aaron, that’s what we do. We aren’t afraid to yell at our guys, slap them around a little bit and they feed off that energy.’’

That wasn’t always the case. Craft admitted earlier this season there was more infighting among the Buckeyes than in a "Real Housewives" episode.

A blown assignment or a bad pass would inevitably lead to finger-pointing and you-a culpas, never a mea culpa.

No one was terribly interested in taking the blame or the heat, and amid all of the bad chemistry, Ohio State slid off course.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Aaron Craft
Greg M. Cooper/US PRESSWIREAaron Craft is arguably the top perimeter defender in America.
Losing can make or break a team. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, it was the former, the so-so results serving as a needed eye opener to what it takes to win and win consistently.

The hardest sell, always, is defense. It is a choice for some, a chore for most.

Except for Craft. He finds art in what most people consider misery. His face is almost like a defensive thermometer -- the redder the blush in his cheeks, the harder he’s working and the more suffering the opponent is doing.

Most folks looked at this game against Cincinnati and concentrated on the inside, and certainly that’s where the Buckeyes had and exploited their advantage.

Equally critical, though, was the flip side. The Bearcats start four quick guards, every one able to get to the hoop off the bounce or shoot from 3.

“What we wanted to do was be in position and force them to make quick decisions,’’ OSU coach Thad Matta said. “We told each other, 'Just be sound, just be in the right spots at the right time. They’re going to make shots. They’re a high-powered offensive team. They’ve got plenty of guys who can score.' That was where our minds were -- just positioning, faking, staying.’’

In all, the Bearcats coughed up the ball a crucial 18 times, seven more than their average.

Never were those mistakes more costly for Cincinnati, trying to make its first Elite Eight since 1996, than at the midpoint of the second half. Switching from zone to man-to-man, the Bearcats confused and rattled Ohio State enough to take a 52-48 lead on a Yancy Gates and-1 play.

With the UC half of the all-Ohio crowd on its feet, the Bearcats had seized momentum from a team that has felt the squeeze of this particular game.

Cincinnati should have frozen the scoreboard at that moment. The next time it scored, Ohio State had dashed out on a 17-1 run to not only retake the lead, but take the game over.

And the Buckeyes did it with defense. Cincinnati committed five turnovers in that critical span, with Craft forcing three of them. The miscues led out to runouts and buckets for Ohio State, including the dagger 3-pointer from Craft, that made it 61-53.

“We weren’t making the right plays, we weren’t making the right pass,’’ Cashmere Wright said. "We were over dribbling the ball, doing things uncharacteristic of our team.’’

And Craft was playing his part without fault.

The box score says the point guard played just 39 minutes, 60 seconds shy of a yeoman’s load. What the box score doesn’t reveal is that Craft came out only when the game was in hand and Matta wanted to get his point guard an ovation.

When the buzzer finally sounded, Matta turned, a wide grin spreading across his face and pumped fists with his point guard.

Craft smiled back before putting his game mask back on. As he walked to shake hands with the Bearcats, he emphatically raised his finger, catching William Buford in the eye.

He wasn’t labeling his team No. 1.

No, like a good point guard, Craft was reminding Buford what was next: one more game, one more win to get to the Final Four.

“He can make such an impact in the game in so many different ways,’’ Paulus said of Craft. “But the best thing about him? All he wants to do is win.’’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A quick look at No. 6 seed Cincinnati’s 62-56 victory over No. 3 seed Florida State in the third round of the NCAA tournament’s East Regional at Bridgestone Arena:

Overview: It was a physical contest from the outset with both teams looking like two big bulls slamming into each other. Florida State led by one at halftime, and it stayed close throughout the second half.

The two teams traded leads, and neither shot particularly well (38 percent from the field for both teams). What killed the Seminoles were costly turnovers, and the Bearcats capitalized. They outscored the Seminoles 19-6 off turnovers and also had a 13-5 advantage on fast-break points.

And even though Cincinnati was just 5-of-15 from 3-point range, guard Sean Kilpatrick hit back-to-back shots from long distance just inside 4 minutes, and then the Bearcats only missed once from the free-throw line in the final two minutes of the game.

Turning point: The game was tied at 50-50, and Florida State had the ball. But a lazy pass by FSU’s Luke Loucks against Cincinnati's pressure defense was stolen by Dion Dixon, who flew in for a dunk to give the Bearcats a 2-point lead with 1:30 to play. A couple of possessions later, Loucks committed another turnover when he was called for traveling. The Seminoles never got any closer than four points the rest of the way.

Key player: Kilpatrick led the Bearcats with 18 points and was 4-of-6 from behind the 3-point arc. He also had 6 rebounds and 2 steals in 37 minutes.

Key stat: The Bearcats were 9-of-10 from the free-throw line in last two minutes of the game. They only shot 63.7 percent from the line during the season.

Miscellaneous: Even though Cincinnati guard Cashmere Wright shot just 2-of-10 from the field, he dished out 6 assists, collected 5 steals and turned the ball over only twice in 33 minutes. … The Bearcats wore the black version of their new Adidas uniforms on Sunday. Their jerseys were black with fluorescent orange/pink numbers and trim. … Florida State’s leading scorer, Michael Snaer, had another off shooting night. He was 0-of-7 from the floor in the second-round victory over St. Bonaventure and was just 4-of-11 Sunday against Cincinnati.

What’s next: Cincinnati (26-10) will advance to the Sweet 16 to face second-seeded Ohio State on Thursday night in Boston. It's one of those matchups that you wouldn't see during the regular season. Ohio State hasn't been willing to play Cincinnati on a regular basis and has typically wanted to play only if the game were in Columbus.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Breaking down No. 6 seed Cincinnati’s 65-59 victory over No. 11 seed Texas at Bridgestone Arena:

Overview: Maybe it was Cincinnati’s new fluorescent uniforms. Then again, the Bearcats’ defense probably had a lot to do with it. Whatever it was, Texas got off to an awful start shooting the basketball. The Longhorns missed 21 of their 25 field goal attempts in the first half and trailed by as many as 19 points early in the second half.

The reality is that Cincinnati should have been up by more than just 14 points at the half with how poorly Texas shot. With just under 10 minutes to play in the first half, the Longhorns had more air balls (three) than points (two).

Still, Texas made a charge in the second half and got hot from 3-point range. The Longhorns tied the game at 52-52 with 3:44 to play on Jonathan Holmes’ rebound bucket. But in those final minutes, Cincinnati made the plays and Texas didn’t.

Turning point: Texas had clawed all the way back from a 19-point deficit and tied the game at 52-52. The Longhorns had a chance to take the lead, too, but junior guard J’Covan Brown lost the ball with just under three minutes to play. Yancy Gates answered for Cincinnati with a tough basket in the lane, and Cashmere Wright drove the middle a minute later after a Sheldon McClellan missed 3-pointer to give the Bearcats a four-point lead and some breathing room.

Key player: Gates was clutch for the Bearcats. He finished with a team-high 15 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds. His shot in the lane broke a 52-52 tie with just under three minutes to play, and he came back and swished a jumper to seal the deal with 1:10 remaining.

Key stat: Texas shot just 16 percent from the field in the first half (4-of-25) and missed 13 straight shots at one point. The Longhorns started the game by missing 14 of their first 15 shots.

Miscellaneous: The Bearcats were wearing new adidas uniforms that had a number of people breaking out the shades in Bridgestone Arena. The trim was a cross between highlighter pink and neon orange, and the players also wore the same color socks. Those players with black sneakers even donned the same blinding shade of shoestrings. … The teams combined to make just 10-of-36 shots from 3-point range. … Cincinnati outscored Texas 40-20 on points in the paint.

What’s next: Cincinnati (25-10) will face the winner of the Florida State-St. Bonaventure game on Sunday in the third round.