In Cincinnati’s post-brawl world, it’s a Big East contender

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source: AP

When Yancy Gates’ right hook landed on Kenny Frease’s cheek and sent him to the ground during Cincinnati’s ugly and infamous brawl with Xavier on Dec. 10, it looked like the Bearcats hopes for 2011-12 dissolved in the pandemonium.

Now, that Cincinnati Bearcats team, the team that lost to Presbyterian at home and helped to escalate the most unfortunate on-court happening in recent memory, that team is long gone.

On Wednesday night in Storrs, Cincinnati notched their third statement win of the Big East season, surviving a second-half push from the defending national champions and sinking No. 11 Connecticut, 70-67.

After a first half highlighted by 7-of-14 Cincinnati shooting from beyond the arc and a nine-point Bearcat lead, heading into the break, the Huskies ripped off a 19-6 run in the second half to storm back and take the lead with just over 10 minutes to play.

But that was to be expected.

Cincinnati’s power came in the resurgence, a counteroffensive that began, fittingly, with a three-pointer from Dion Dixon, ending a four-minute scoring drought and putting the Bearcats ahead, 53-52.

Nine minutes of back-and-forth basketball came down to the last 10 seconds, when Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier hit a deep three from the right wing, tying the ballgame at 67.

With coach Mick Cronin choosing not to use a timeout, Sean Kilpatrick’s three-pointer with two seconds remaining put the Bearcats up for good. He finished with a team-high 16 points.

Kilpatrick continues to thrive, while flying under the national radar, averaging 16 points and nearly five rebounds on the year.

“You try to watch and see who has the ball,” Cronin said of the final possession. “Once I saw [Kilpatrick] had it, I liked our chances.”

These are the revitalized Bearcats. The brawl will not soon be forgotten and the labels will linger, but it is difficult to deny the strengths of Mick Cronin’s team.

During his team’s 10-1 stretch, following the fight, the Bearcats are averaging 10.5 made three-pointers per game.

With Yancy Gates suspended for six games earlier in the year, they needed to adapt, and necessity is the mother of invention.

Going with a smaller, four-guard, four-out lineup, Cincinnati has been able to spread the floor and create on the perimeter for guards Cashmere Wright, and the aforementioned Dixon and Kilpatrick.

And Gates has contributed in his return, putting up a double-double against Connecticut, with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“We got answers on the offensive end, but we started defensive rebounding,” said Cronin. “We’re a team that can pick up the defense.”

Questions have been raised as to who “the second team” is in the Big East, the team that could challenge Syracuse at the top of the conference.

Louisville had its time and slipped, Georgetown has cooled a bit, the same West Virginia, and Marquette. Now, with this win over the Huskies, it looks like Cincinnati could be the flavor of the week.

After a road matchup with West Virginia, the Bearcats will get their chance against No. 1 Syracuse.

Presented with his upcoming schedule, Cronin could do little more than joke, “It gets a lot easier, doesn’t it?”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Virginia Tech could redshirt sophomore guard

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Virginia Tech is trying to decide what to do with injury sophomore guard Ahmed Hill, who had surgery this summer to deal with a tear in his patella tendon in his left knee.

The 6-foot-5 Hill has still not been released to work out with the team, but he is about a week to 10 days ahead of schedule in his rehab. But the injury is still nagging enough that Hill might not be healthy enough to really contritbute this season. Head coach Buzz Williams is deciding soon whether he wants to redshirt Hill or not.

Hill started a team-high 30 games for the Hokies last season, averaging 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

“I don’t have a decision on (Hill),” Williams said to reporters on Monday. “I will make the final decision. I’ll let (him) and his mom be a part of it, but I want to make a decision using the wisdom of doing this for a long period of time. If you let a kid make the decision, they always want to play.

“Right now, I don’t feel comfortable that I would want to play him. It’s just too early to be able to have much more of an answer than that.”

It’s still a rebuilding year for Virginia Tech, but they do get Maryland transfer Seth Allen, who is a talented guard who can score. The Hokies were hoping to have Hill and Allen as complimentary perimeter scorers, but now the plans might have to be altered. Williams went on to say that he would like to make a decision on Hill’s status by Halloween.

Minnesota center out a month with broken foot

Bakary Konate, Zak Showalter
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Minnesota took a hit to its frontcourt depth this week as sophomore center Bakary Konate will be out for a month with a stress fracture in his foot, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. An expected starter for Minnesota at center, Konate was supposed to make a nice leap in year two after averaging 2.2 points and 2.1 rebounds per game as a freshman.

At 6-foot-11, Konate has great natural size to help protect the rim and Minnesota will surely miss his play in the early part of the season as they try to gel. Hopefully Konate can return to health and get back to the team without missing much of the season.

(H/T: Charley Walters, Pioneer Press)