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_

Sindarius Thornwell misses practice on Thursday

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Sindarius Thornwell has been the best player in the NCAA tournament to date, yet he was not in the building on Thursday when the South Carolina Gamecocks practiced and he was nowhere to be found during South Carolina’s media availability.

A school spokeswoman told reporters that Thornwell was back at the hotel, that he was sick and resting.

Thornwell is averaging 25.7 points in four games in the NCAA tournament. He’s been sensational. If he’s not at his best this weekend, that’s a massive blow for South Carolina’s chances of getting to a national title game.

Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen to declare for NBA Draft

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Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen will announce today that he is declaring for the NBA Draft and signing with an agent, according to multiple reports.

The program is holding a press conference for Thursday at 1 p.m. ET.

Markkanen is a 7-footer from Finland that averaged 15.6 points this season while shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. He’s projected as a top ten pick, and his size and versatility should make him a valuable piece given the way that the NBA is trending.

There is very little surprise with this decision. The expectation always was that Markkanen would be gone after one season.

The news was first reported by Scout.com.

Anthony Grant to replace Archie Miller at Dayton

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Dayton has hired Anthony Grant to replace Archie Miller as head coach, the program announced on Thursday.

“Anthony Grant is a proven winner with the highest integrity,” Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said. “He has successful experience in coaching, recruiting and playing basketball at an elite level. I welcome Anthony to our staff and look forward to partnering with him as we continue to aggressively pursue graduating student-athletes, winning conference championships and advancing in the NCAA tournament. He is absolutely the right coach.”

Grant is a Dayton alum. He spent 12 years as Billy Donovan’s assistant coach before finally landing a head coaching gig at VCU. After three seasons with the Rams, he took over at Alabama, where he was fired in 2015.

Grant has spent the last two years with Donovan as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I am honored and humbled to be the head coach at the University of Dayton,” Grant said. “It’s a great responsibility to take over at an institution that is so well-respected. Anyone you talk to in college basketball would say our program is a successful one, but the potential is here for so much more.”

North Carolina ‘repeals’ HB2 to satisfy NCAA, anti-LGBTQ discrimination remains legal

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Late on Wednesday night, literally hours before an NCAA-imposed deadline that would have prevented the state of North Carolina from hosting any and all NCAA tournament events until at least 2022, the lawmakers in the state announced that they have reached an agreement to repeal House Bill 2, a discriminatory law that is commonly known as the bathroom bill.

The question now is whether or not this repeal will be enough to satisfy the NCAA, who was one of a handful of businesses that pulled out of the state due to HB2. According to the AP, more than $3.7 billion in revenue will be lost over the next decade as a result.

The issue with HB2 isn’t just that it makes it illegal for transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as. That gets the headlines, but the real damage done by this law is that it curbs legal protections for the LGBTQ community by banning local governments from passing laws to make discrimination illegal for at least three years.

From the New York Times:

Gay rights advocates were harshly critical of the bill. Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, said that the compromise would leave lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with no statewide anti-discrimination ordinance and no ability to seek such protections from local government for a number of years.

“What that means for the L.G.B.T. community is that we continue to be boxed out of nondiscrimination protections,” she said.

Chris Sgro, executive director of the gay rights group Equality North Carolina, said that the proposal “keeps North Carolina as the only state in the country obsessed with where trans people use the restroom through law.”

From the Charlotte Observer:

“The rumored HB2 ‘deal’ does nothing more than double-down on discrimination and would ensure North Carolina remains the worst state in the nation for LGBTQ people,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “The consequences of this hateful law will only continue without full repeal of HB2. Sellouts cave under pressure. Leaders fight for what’s right.”

The NCAA had pulled first and second round games from Greensboro for this year’s tournament, instead allowing Greenville, South Carolina, to host the games. That’s significant because the NCAA, in 2002, pulled all events from that state because they flew the confederate flag on the statehouse grounds. The flag came down in 2015, and the NCAA rewarded the state with games; it’s hard not to see that as a statement to North Carolina.

In this year’s tournament, No. 2 seed Duke lost a game to No. 7 seed South Carolina in a game that was played in South Carolina instead of in North Carolina. The location wasn’t the only reason Duke lost that game, but you’ll have trouble convincing me that quasi-home court environment didn’t play a role.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.