NCAA Final Four Kentucky Louisville Basketball

Weekend Preview: Five storylines to follow

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Kentucky and Louisville, tables turned?: I don’t think there’s really an argument that, right now, Kentucky and Louisville have the fiercest rivalry in the country. Let’s ignore, for a second, that this rivalry has been built across socioeconomic and geographic lines, or that it is a battle for supremacy in the state where college basketball happens to reign king. The Wildcats and the Cardinals were both in the Final Four last season. They compete for the same recruits. They have head coaches that hate each other. There are other rivalries that are full of hatred, but based on the recent history between these two programs, it gets no better than this right now.

The best part, however, is that Louisville has flipped the tables on Kentucky. The Wildcats are the ones coming off of a national title and the ones that can land seemingly any recruit in the country that they set their sights on, but it’s Louisville that is currently top five in the country and Louisville that is considered a real threat to do something more than reach the tournament’s second weekend this season. Kentucky may have had more recent success, but it’s Louisville that is the healthiest program in the state right now.

Let’s see how long that lasts.

Disappointing matchups this weekend: It’s tough to take the luster off of a matchup between Louisville and Kentucky, but one of the things that made this game the most anticipated of the season was that it not only featured a great rivalry, but that great rivalry was a rematch of the Final Four between two teams ranked in the top three. Well, that’s not the case anymore. Kentucky needed to pick up a couple of wins over the last two weeks just to climb back into the bottom of the top 25 poll. Louisville is still a top five team, but I’m not sure how many people consider them the favorite to win the national title anymore.

That’s not the only game this happened to, either. North Carolina’s struggles have made their matchup with UNLV less appealing (although with the way that both teams like to get up and down the floor, I think it will be easy to convince people to tune in). Baylor has fallen off the map after looking like a real contender to Kansas in the Big 12, which means that their trip to Spokane to take on Gonzaga has been dulled. UCLA has won a couple games of late, but their early-season issues have dampened the expectations for their season. Missouri, on the other hand, is still a top ten team, but without Michael Dixon, they aren’t the same kind of national threat.

Missouri Valley action kicks off: While everyone else is excited about the Mountain West race this season, I’m looking forward to seeing the competition in the MVC as much as anything. The action kicks off on Saturday, which Wichita State hosting Northern Iowa playing the featured role.

Last chance to turn around a disappointing non-conference season?: There haven’t been many teams in the country more disappointing that USC this year. The Trojans brought in all kinds of talent on the transfer market and managed to get all of the players they lost last season back and healthy, yet they are still sitting at 4-8 on the season with the New Year right around the corner. The Trojans will have a chance to get themselves headed in the right direction when they host Dayton on Saturday.

USC isn’t the only disappointment looking to right their ship with conference play coming. Memphis will take on a pair of quality mid-major foes in Oral Roberts and Loyola (MD). St. Joe’s will get a chance to notch a solid win when they take on Iona. Even West Virginia will be looking to close out their non-conference schedule with a win over Eastern Kentucky.

Kwamaine Mitchell is back: The best player on St. Louis will return to the lineup on Saturday when the Billikens take on SIU-Edwardsville. St. Louis has been a bit of a disappointment this season, but disappointment is a harsh word when you consider that Mitchell was out of the lineup and the team was trying to adjust to playing under a new coach as the late Ric Majerus could not coach this season. Butler, Temple and VCU and the popular picks to win the league this season. Can Mitchell get St. Louis back into that conversation?

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.