Cincinnati and Xavier meet in Crosstown Classic for first time since fateful brawl

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UPDATED 10:06 a.m., 19 December 2012

At the exact moment when the right fist of Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates connected with the jaw of Xavier’s Kenny Frease and sent him crumpling to the ground last Dec. 10, there was ignited perhaps the ugliest on-court moment in the history of college basketball.

During the seconds in which that chaos ensued—a bloodied Frease riling up the crowd at center court as the dust settled—it was difficult to process in that instant all of what would eventually be said about what took place.

The postgame press conference only exacerbated the problem.

School officials allowed guards Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway to answer questions by themselves in front of a media that was digging for answers. Still high on adrenaline, it appeared, Holloway called his team a collection of “gangsters” and said the Musketeers “zipped [Cincinnati] up” at the end of the blowout victory.

And now, just over one year later, Xavier and Cincinnati meet for the first time since that indelible blemish left its mark on the crosstown rivalry.

The name has changed, and so have many other things in 374 days.

For Xavier, Holloway, Frease and Lyons—three key players in the brawl–are all gone. Holloway and Frease have graduated and Lyons is playing out his last year of eligibility at Arizona.

For Cincinnati, the man who threw the vicious right-handed punch that floored Frease, Yancy Gates, has graduated. Then-freshman Octavious Ellis, suspended in the wake of the brawl, was kicked off the team for his role in a nightclub brawl earlier this year.

The tables have turned in the polls, as well. Last season, No. 8 Xavier beat Cincinnati, 76-53. This year, coach Mick Cronin and his No. 11 Bearcats look to keep their undefeated record intact against an unranked Xavier team.

But, perhaps most importantly, are the measures that were spurred by the brawl itself.

The 2012 game will be played at a neutral court, U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, moving the location away from either campus. The focus for Cronin, though, wasn’t on the impact the neutral site will have on the rivalry, but the impact it will have on his team’s preparedness down the stretch.

“It readies your team for postseason because that’s where the NCAA tournament is,” Cronin said, as reported by the AP. “They’re played at big arenas, downtown arenas at neutral sites. I think it’s great for the city that we’re playing down at U.S. Bank Arena, but at the same time I think it’ll be advantageous for both of us come March to have a game like this at a neutral site.”

And the passing time has allowed both teams to reflect on what happened.

“It was a regrettable moment,” Xavier coach Chris Mack told the AP. “We lived that a year ago. As an educator, someone who mentors players, the message has been that we need to learn from what happened a year ago. And I think our kids have.”

Mack even dismissed some of the national perception of the game.

“The animosity that people outside the region perceived is not the case,” Mack told the AP. “And we have to make sure that’s highlighted when we play on Wednesday night. It’s going to be a hard-played game, it always is. But it’s got to be one that’s played the way it was played in the past, and it will be.”

Away from the background leading up to it and focusing on the game itself, the contrast Wednesday night will be between the teams’ backcourts.

For Cincinnati, it’s about experience. Upperclassman duo Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright combine to average over 34 points and five assists per game. Added to that is JaQuon Parker and the Bearcats will have the offensive focus in the backcourt Wednesday night.

By comparison, Xavier has been paced by the play of freshman guard Semaj Christon, averaging 15.4 points and 5.4 assists per game. Not only has Christon been a surprise standout for the Musketeers, but he has been one of the most impressive freshman at the mid-major level and in the country.

“Everyone on their team is very talented and very good as well,” Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick said, as reported by the AP. “Their starters are as good as our starters and their bench can be as good as our bench. We don’t know how it’s going to be, but it will be a great matchup.”

For a collection of other major moments in the Crosstown Shootout/Classic rivalry, click here.

A previous version of this story erroneously referred to Xavier-Cincinnati as the “Crosstown Shootout”. The name has been changed to the “Crosstown Classic” for the 2012 edition of the game.

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

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.