Cincinnati Memphis

Cincinnati imposes its will in win over No. 18 Memphis

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If you were ever going to introduce college basketball to a casual observer you likely wouldn’t start with Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats. It’s not that Cincinnati isn’t a good team or doesn’t deserve your attention, but they aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing team to watch.

Storming into the FedEx Forum — with its announced crowd of 17,191 — the Bearcats took their first lead of the game on its final possession of the first half and blew past No. 18 Memphis in the second half on its way to a 69-53 road win in an American Athletic Conference game.

The Bearcats frequently had stagnant offensive possessions — riddled with isolations, minimal movement and bad shots — but they crashed the offensive glass and cleaned up misses like crazy for second-chance points and the Bearcats never, ever stopped playing hard.

Cincinnati’s defense and physicality was clearly a problem for Memphis. Tigers’ freshman big man Austin Nichols barely played after starting and sat the whole second half — was he intimidated? — and Shaq Goodwin was rather ineffective as well.

But the Bearcat defense really did a number on the Memphis guards. The Tigers shot 2-for-17 from the three-point line and Mike Dixon, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford combined to go 7-for-35 from the field. As Memphis frequently went to three- and four-guard lineups, Cincinnati packed their defense in and dared Memphis to make jumpers. When the Memphis guards didn’t settle for jumpers, they were met in the paint by multiple Bearcat defenders going for one of Cincinnati’s 10 blocks and 12 steals.

The Tigers couldn’t hit anything, shooting 33 percent from the field and 24 percent in the second half, and Cincinnati cruised in the second half.

The guard-heavy lineups for Memphis also meant they were going to have a major disadvantage against the Bearcats inside. Cincinnati continued to attack the basket and was able to score inside at will in the second half on Memphis. Sean Kilpatrick had 11 of his 18 in the second half  and Justin Jackson (13 points) and Shaquille Thomas (10 points) also played well in the second half. Mick Cronin also has to be thrilled with freshman point guard Troy Caupain coming off the bench and running the offense to the tune of five assists and one turnover while also scoing seven points.

Cincinnati was actually out-rebounded by 41-38 Memphis for the game — and 17-11 on the offensive glass — but second-chance points were huge for the Bearcats. And because of Cincinnati’s propensity to hit the offensive glass hard, Memphis had to send more men to the defensive glass and it prevented them from getting out in transition as much as they would have liked.

Cincinnati brought Big East basketball to The American and made Memphis look like it was prepared for another season in Conference USA.

Mick Cronin’s team isn’t going to beat elite teams on paper, but they’re tough as nails and don’t shy away from their gameplan. Because of this, Cincinnati is 13-2 and capable of grinding out physical road wins in conference play by imposing their will. As long as Cincinnati can dictate tempo, they’re going to be a dangerous team in The American and beyond.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”