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

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.

No. 24 Cincinnati beats George Washington 61-56

Troy Caupain
AP Photo
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NEW YORK (AP) Troy Caupain scored 16 points, including the go-ahead three-point play with 1:38 to play, and No. 24 Cincinnati beat George Washington 61-56 on Saturday in the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic.

The fact the game came down to a three-point play was ironic as both teams took 22 3-point attempts and there were times it seemed a 3-point shooting broke out.

Caupain’s traditional three-point play gave the Bearcats (7-0) a 55-54 lead. After a missed 3 by the Colonials (6-1) Octavius Ellis, who chosen the tournament MVP, scored on a tip-in. Patricio Garino scored on a drive for George Washington with 29 seconds left.

The Colonials let the Bearcats pass the ball around and they finally fouled when Ellis touched the ball with 14 seconds to play. Ellis, a 56 percent free throw shooter, clinched his MVP award by making both for a 59-56 lead. Two free throws by Caupain with 6.1 seconds left capped the scoring.

Farad Cobb and Kevin Johnson both had 11 points for the Bearcats while Ellis had nine points and seven rebounds.

Garino had 15 points for George Washington, Tyler Cavanaugh had 13 and Joe McDonald 11.

The Colonials finished 11 of 22 from 3-point range, not bad for a team that came in shooting 27.9 percent (29 of 104) from there. The 50 percent doesn’t look so good when you consider the Colonials made five of their first six 3-point attempts and were 8 of 11 from beyond the arc in the first half. They went 16:42 between 2-point field goals but led 30-27 at halftime.

The Bearcats were 7 of 22 from 3-point range but their advantage came at the free throw line where they were 10 of 12 compared to George Washington’s 3 of 4.


George Washington: The Colonials beat Tennessee in the opening round and they were 3 of 15 on 3s. … George Washington was off to its best start since it was8-0 in 2005-06. … The Colonials finished 10 for 34 from 2-point range.

Cincinnati: The win gives the Bearcats a 13-1 all-time record against George Washington and this was their sixth straight. The last win came on Jan. 31, 1976. … Cincinnati is 7-0 for the fourth time in the last six seasons. … The Bearcats are 51-8 in and have won 24 of 25 in November under coach Mick Cronin. They have won 49 straight games when scoring over 60 points. The 60th point against the Colonials came with 6.1 seconds to play.


George Washington hosts Seton Hall on Wednesday.

Cincinnati hosts Butler on Wednesday.