NCAA Basketball Tournament - Xavier v Notre Dame

On surface, nothing changed for Xavier, Cincinnati

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Just moments after Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates landed a nose-crushing right hook on Xavier’s Kenny Frease, everyone had an opinion on how it would shift both programs.

Some thought the squeaky clean reputation of the Musketeers had been muddied, while others were sure that the Bearcats would take a step or two back in their progression under head coach Mick Cronin.

In the weeks ahead, the obvious angle was that everything had changed for both programs.

Xavier flat out stunk, losing  five of their next six games and finishing 10-6 in Atlantic 10 play. By February, it was easy to write this team off and label their season as a major disappointment.

Cincinnati suffered more severe suspensions, but kept winning. Mick Cronin took an incredible amount of heat for tough love followed by lenient suspensions, and questions abounded as to the best way to handle Gates, allegedly their most important player but someone who the Bearcats proved they could win without.

But with all that, if you fell into a coma on December 9th – when Xavier was undefeated and the Bearcats were 5-2 but clearly talented to be a tournament team – and woke up this past Monday morning to scan an updated bracket, you’d have absolutely no clue how tumultuous things were for both programs throughout the regular season.

But here they are, both through to the second weekend of the tournament. A place that, in retrospect, would have shocked nobody way back when the season started. The fact that their still standing feels perfectly normal.

Preparing for their fourth Sweet 16 appearance in five seasons, the Musketeers have essentially become the de facto two-seed of the South Region, a seed that was theirs to lose pre-brawl.

Think about it.

It’s the same team as December; same players, and same talent level. They’re a little banged up but hopefully will play with a normal rotation against Baylor, and should be treated as the top 10-type team that they were to start the season.

It’s cliché to say it, but whatever turmoil they went through in-house during the winter is completely in the past. Irrelevant, really.

For Cincinnati let’s not forget that they were named a pre-season top 25 team by some publications, returning their top four scorers from a season ago where they won their first NCAA Tournament game since 2005.

While December 10th, 2011 didn’t seem to have much of an effect in the standings for the Bearcats, who knows what sort of residual undetectable impact it had.

If anything, losing by 23 to your hated rival could serve as proper motivation to right the ship.

Both teams will be underdogs in their respective Sweet 16 match-ups, but both have validated themselves as worthy of serving as two of the only Division I programs still standing.  You shouldn’t be shocked that we’re still talking about both clubs.

We thought so much changed, but really everything is in line with what we originally anticipated heading into the second weekend of the tournament.

Xavier and Cincinnati are legit. We don’t need to fight over that.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN

Boise State loses guard Harwell to torn ACL

Leon Rice
Associated Press
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Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.

Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.

Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.