NCAA Basketball Tournament - VCU v Indiana

Conference realignment and how it affects college hoops

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Over the past month, the preeminent discussion on the college basketball blogs has been the end result of realignment.

For the most part, the big changes were made last summer. Missouri and Texas A&M jumped to the SEC. Syracuse and Pitt finalized their move to the ACC. West Virginia gobbled up a spot in the Big 12. The Big East tried to make up for those losses by adding, well, any school with a halfway decent football team — Boise State, San Diego State, SMU, Houston, Central Florida, Memphis, Temple, Navy (I probably forgot someone, too). Coming on the heels of Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten and Colorado and Utah’s jump to the Pac-12 two years ago, major shifts in the conference structure have begun to seem commonplace.

That’s why the latest rumblings involving Florida State have gotten so much attention. Seismic shifts in the landscape are expected once the first tremors are sent tumbling through the twittersphere. And while we are left waiting to see if the Seminoles want to further shuffle the deck, the majority of the country — i.e. those obsessed with college football — ignores the fact that last summer’s moves have had a profound effect on college basketball’s charm.

The CAA as we knew it is gone. VCU has taken their talents to the Atlantic 10 while Old Dominion and Georgia State have jumped to Conference USA and the Sun Belt, respectively, to chase the gridiron dream. That means that the league that has sent two teams to the Final Four in the last six seasons will now have to try and pry Davidson and the College of Charleston away from the Big South — the league’s two best hoops programs — to ensure that they avoid a destiny similar to that of the WAC.

The Horizon League lost Butler to the Atlantic 10, send yet another Final Four program from the mid-major ranks to a powerful hoops league. San Diego State followed BYU out the door of the Mountain West, opting to stash their non-football programs in the Big West, a league that may not be strong enough to support an at-large bid.

Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com said it best in a column on Monday afternoon:

Realignment spasms come up like hurricanes: annually, the next one seemingly more destructive than the last. We barely notice the swirls a thousand miles off-shore, but then as the possibility something truly damaging gets closer, we then begin to fret. Once, and if, the storm hits the crust of Florida or the Carolinas, and the ugliness is right there for mainstream discussion and lament. But by the time the clouds and rains dwindle further and further north, we turn away from the storm as it loses its power and causes less and less damage.

But unlike a downgraded tropical storm dousing a tiny town with a heavy rain, small schools and conferences are inversely hurt more by the delayed effect — the storm doesn’t dramatically lose power, only attention and wingspan. Conference shifting makes the most obvious headlines with the big boys, but there’s still room for error there, because there’s more money to go around. Few notice, realize or care about how the other end of the chain is affected.

College basketball simply does matter in the minds of the people making the decisions. Otherwise, the nation’s best hoops conference wouldn’t be forced to fill the spots in their league with scraps from Conference USA. Who else is excited to see Providence take on SMU in the opening round of the Big East tournament in New York City?!?!?

There is another way to look at this, however. With Butler and VCU playing a stronger schedule, maybe now we won’t have to worry about those schools being able to put together a schedule that will get them an at-large bid. Maybe the vacancies in the CAA will allow Davidson and Charleston to build their programs up to the point that they can be competing for at-large bids. Maybe SDSU joining the Big West will help schools like Long Beach State and Pacific build the league into one that can challenge WCC on the West Coast.

It’s not exactly doomsday.

But those best case scenarios will take time to play themselves out.

Until then, we’ll get to talk about the charm of the fourth-place team in the Atlantic 10.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

 

No. 15 Cincinnati extends home streak, beats Memphis 87-74

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 04:  Troy Caupain #10 of the Cincinnati Bearcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Connecticut Huskies at Fifth Third Arena on February 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI (AP) After a dominant first half, No. 15 Cincinnati relaxed and wound up sweating one out.

Jacob Evans III scored 12 of his 15 points during the Bearcats’ lopsided first half on Thursday night, and they let most of a big lead slip away before holding on for their 25th straight home victory, 87-74 over Memphis.

Cincinnati (25-3, 14-1 American Athletic) led by as many as 24 points during its highest-scoring opening half in conference play this season, pulling ahead 51-32 at the break. The Tigers cut the lead to six points before fading.

“We got off to a big lead, and in the second half I feel we started to coast a little bit,” Evans said. “We can’t do that. If we want to make a deep run in March, we can’t take a half off against any team. Our energy on defense went down.”

The Bearcats’ front line dominated on offense. Gary Clark had 13 points and nine rebounds while Kyle Washington had 16 points and six rebounds. The problem was the sluggish defense in the second half, which left shooters open.

“For about 30 minutes, I thought we played about as well as we can play,” coach Mick Cronin said. “My halftime speech gets an F. I talked to our guys about defense. Our defense was nonexistent for most of the second half. We learned our lessons.”

Memphis (18-10, 8-7 ) has dropped a season-high three straight. Jeremiah Martin led the Tigers with 23 points and 11 assists. Dedric Lawson had 21 points with 10 rebounds.

“They were a little bit intimidated to start the first half because (Cincinnati) was making shots,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. “And when you get in a hole like that, it’s tough.”

The Tigers cut the lead to 75-69 on Martin’s three-point play with 5:18 left. Evans’ 3-pointer – his only basket of the second half – ended the comeback. It was his only 3-pointer of the game.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: Lawson got his 35th double-double, the sixth-most by an active player. His 18 double-doubles this season are a career high for the sophomore. He has 282 rebounds this season. The AAC record is 321 by UConn’s Daniel Hamilton.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ 25 straight home wins match the second-longest streak at Fifth Third Arena, which opened in 1989. The arena record is 41 straight wins from 1997-2000.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Bearcats have won four straight since a 60-51 loss at SMU on Feb. 12, minimizing the damage of their only conference loss.

BAD START

The Tigers were playing from behind the entire time because of their horrible start. They missed 10 of their first 15 shots – Lawson was 0 for 3 – while the Bearcats rolled out to a 26-11 lead.

LOOKING UP

Lawson got a loose ball while sitting under the basket in the second half and took a shot that bounced off the rim. After the slow start, he ended up 9 of 16 from the field.

CUMBERLAND BACK

Freshman Jarron Cumberland sat out Cincinnati’s last game because of a curfew violation. He was back on Thursday and had nine points in 22 minutes.

UP NEXT

Memphis: The Tigers host Houston on Saturday. They won at Houston 79-67 in overtime on Jan. 19.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats play at Central Florida on Saturday. They beat Central Florida 60-50 on Feb. 8.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Five Maine players suspended following a fight over locker room music

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Bob Walsh of the Maine Black Bears prepares for their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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There wasn’t much love being spread in the Maine basketball locker room on Valentine’s Day.

A locker room fight led to the suspensions of five players, including the team’s leading scorer. According to Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News, who obtained the police report, the incident was the result of teammates Wes Myers and Marko Pirovic arguing over locker room music on Feb. 14.

Myers wanted the music off, Pirovic, who stands five inches taller and outweighs Myers by 25 pounds, refused. This led to both throwing punches, one of which connected on Pirovic’s face, breaking his jaw.

Jaquan McKennon, Ilija Stojiljkovic and Dusan Majstorovic were all suspended, but reinstated on Wednesday, for telling head trainer Ryan Taylor that Pirovic’s injuries resulted from him falling in the shower.

Myers, a junior guard averaging a team-best 16.9 points per game, remains suspended indefinitely.

Pirovic declined to press charges. All involved could still face punishment from the university, according to the Bangor Daily News.

It’s been a long season for the Black Bears. Maine owns the America East’s worst record at 6-24 (3-12). Outside of a modest three-game winning streak in late January, the Black Bears have not won a game in 2017. They close out the regular season on Saturday at home against Binghamton.

How did Gary Clark catch that alley-oop?

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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No. 15 Cincinnati pounced on Memphis from the start, taking a 51-32 lead into halftime.

Then, Gary Clark decided to add insult to injury to start the second half. Seriously, how did he catch that?

Mick Cronin’s team is much better offensively than in previous seasons. I’m sure fans in the Fifth Third Arena can get used to seeing more plays like this.

Cassius Winston ends half with half-court 3-pointer

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks with Cassius Winston #5 in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Michigan State freshman guard Cassius Winston had just one field goal in the first half. And it was a half-court buzzer-beater as the Spartans capped a sizable run to take a 49-31 lead over Nebraska going into the break.

The Spartans ended the half on a 21-5 run.

Winston provided a serious boost off the bench during that stanza. Moments earlier, he helped the Breslin Center erupt when he lobbed a pass off the backboard to teammate Miles Bridges.

Michigan State opened the day projected as one of the final at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. The margin for error is thing and it appears the Spartans are playing with a sense of urgency.

 

CBT Podcast: Mark Titus recaps Wednesday’s games

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 22: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks lays the ball up against JD Miller #15 and Jaylen Fisher #0 of the TCU Horned Frogs in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse on February 22, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Wednesday’s slate of games had several wild results.

Former Ohio State walk-on turned blogger turned author Mark Titus, who is currently writing for The Ringer, joined Rob Dauster on the latest episode of the CBT Podcast to go over last night’s games. The two also discussed who is the best team in the nation at the moment, as well Frank Mason III’s rap single from several years ago #BIFM

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom