Mick Cronin

Cincinnati needs Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick to get going before it’s too late

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At the beginning of February the Cincinnati Bearcats looked to be well on their way to not only reaching the NCAA tournament but possibly grabbing a “protected” seed as well.

But since their 65-59 win at Seton Hall on February 2 the Bearcats (19-9, 7-8 Big East) have lost five of six, and the breathing room Mick Cronin’s team once enjoyed with regards to returning to the NCAA tournament has mostly disappeared.

Cincinnati lost at No. 25 Notre Dame by 21 points (62-41) on Sunday afternoon, and Cincinnati needs two best offensive weapons (Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick) to get back on track if they’re to turn things around.

Wright hasn’t been himself since missing Cincinnati’s two-point win over Marquette back in mid-January due to a knee injury suffered at DePaul, shooting just 24.2% from the field in the nine games he’s played since. On Sunday Wright failed to score, attempting just two shots (both three-pointers) and finishing with just one assist.

Is the knee still an issue for the senior point guard? Wright hasn’t been able to get into the paint off the dribble as often as he was before the injury, and when Wright is able to beat opponents off the bounce things open up offensively for Cincinnati as a whole.

One of the chief beneficiaries this season has been Kilpatrick, but with opponents focusing even more attention on him the redshirt junior has struggled to find his groove offensively. Kilpatrick shot just 3-of-13 against Notre Dame, and over the last nine games he’s making just 35.9% of his shots from the field and 30.1% from beyond the arc.

Given Cincinnati’s lack of an interior scorer they cannot afford for key players such as Wright and Kilpatrick to go through prolonged shooting slumps, and that’s exactly what has happened in February.

With games against Connecticut and Louisville next on the schedule, the five days before Cincinnati’s home game against the Huskies are critical as they look to turn things around. Drop both of those games (Cincinnati finishes the regular season with a home game against South Florida) and the Bearcats will arrive in New York for the Big East Championship with some work to do if they’re to earn an NCAA tournament berth.

That wasn’t the expectation for this group a month ago.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.