Cincinnati needs to find an offensive threat in the paint, and quickly

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Just five days after seeing their undefeated record get tarnished by Nate Wolters and South Dakota State, New Mexico went into Cincinnati and did the same to the Bearcats in a thrilling game.

The game-winning jumper came from Tony Snell with 2:28 left on the clock, when he answered a Cashmere Wright three by putting the Lobos up 55-54. Neither team would score again the rest of the night.

Alex Kirk was the star for the Lobos. The 6-foot-11 sophomore is finally healthy this season after sitting out last year due to surgical procedure he had on his back. He finished with 15 points, seven boards and three blocks, throwing down a couple of dunks in traffic and attacking the offensive glass with the kind of reckless abandon that made you wonder if he had forgotten about his back surgery.

In short, Kirk walked into the house of the undefeated No. 8 team in the country and proceeded to start pushing people around.

And it worked.

Because if we learned anything tonight, it’s that Mick Cronin’s club is going to have to learn how to play a whole lot more physical if they are going to have a shot of competing with Syracuse and Louisville at the top of the Big East. The Bearcats were 11-26 from beyond the arc on Thursday night, and they lost. While scoring 54 points. That barely seems possible, but when you consider that the Bearcats shot 9-38 from two-point range — with what seemed like two-thirds of those shots coming around the rim — while earning all of four free throws, it starts to make some sense.

In fact, Cincy’s lack of physicality did more than simply keep them off of the free throw line and keep them under 25% shooting from inside the arc. It also meant that, with 15.7 seconds left, the Lobos still had two fouls to give. That’s why New Mexico was able to run the clock down to 4.5 seconds and force Cincinnati into an out-of-bounds play under the basket for their shot at winning the game.

And, of course, the shot they got was a contested three off the dribble from Sean Kilpatrick, which just so happened to be blocked by Kirk.

A fitting end, you might say.

The Bearcats cannot survive as an elite team without a scoring presence in the paint. They’ll win a lot of games — that’s what happens when you have a back court as good as Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright and a roster stocked with as much athleticism as Cronin has as his disposal — but winning a lot of games and beating a lot of good teams is a different story.

Having the talent to make the second weekend and entering the tournament as a legitimate Final Four contender are two completely different things. Unless Mick Cronin finds a way to get one of his big men the ability to finish around the rim as a belated Christmas gift — or dig up some loophole to get Yancy Gates eligible again this season — the most talented team in the Cronin-era won’t be going all that far.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

A record $439 million was bet on basketball in March in Las Vegas

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The month of March was quite friendly to Las Vegas.

According to ESPN, more money was bet on basketball during the month of March than in any month in the state’s regulated sports betting history.

And while the numbers produced by Las Vegas books don’t separate college and professional basketball betting, the money coming in on college hoops is pretty clear: $439 million was bet on basketball in March, more than double the $213 million bet on the sport in February.

It was profitable, too.

Those Vegas books kept more than $40 million dollars of the money that was gambled on basketball, which shattered the previous record of roughly $28 million in winnings.

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.