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.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.