After Jermaine Sanders hit a jumper with 16:12 remaining to give No. 13 Cincinnati a 44-27 lead at No. 12 Louisville, Mick Cronin’s Bearcats looked poised to grab a two-game lead in American Athletic Conference play and do so in emphatic fashion. While the Bearcats are safely within both major national polls, there doesn’t seem to be as much attention being heaped upon this veteran group.
Sean Kilpatrick’s currently leading the American in scoring, and along with forwards Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles forms an experienced trio that has provided the production and leadership the Bearcats need. And against the Cardinals that leadership would be tested, as Louisville was able to fight its way back into the game with a pressure defense that forced numerous Cincinnati mistakes.
Cincinnati could have folded in the face of this adversity, but thanks in large part to Kilpatrick the Bearcats remained tough. Kilpatrick finished the game with 28 points, hitting four free throws in the final 8.9 seconds to preserve a 69-66 win for Cincinnati. Kilpatrick made all 11 of his free throw attempts, and Cincinnati won despite turning the ball over 20 times, with 10 of those turnovers coming during a stretch in which Louisville outscored Cincinnati 32-17.
Defensively the Bearcats were solid when they kept Louisville out of transition, one of the most important tasks for any team looking to beat the Cardinals. And Cincinnati is an extremely difficult team to score on in the half-court, with the Bearcats entering Thursday tops in the American in scoring defense, second in field goal percentage defense and third in three-point percentage defense.
Jackson’s a key factor in this, not only because of his ability to block shots but also the fact that he’s a solid defender when involved in ball-screen situations. Jackson finished Thursday’s game with 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots, and as a team Cincinnati limited Louisville to 6-for-21 shooting from beyond the arc. Prior to Louisville’s second half run the Bearcats took control of the game on both ends of the floor, and if not for that maybe that second half slump turns into a full-blown collapse.
Cincinnati’s veterans, most notably Kilpatrick, were able to make the plays needed to leave the KFC Yum! Center with a win, strengthening their grip on first place in the American (they have wins at both Louisville and Memphis). And that experience is the biggest reason why the Bearcats have the potential to be a tough out come March.
Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.
“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”
The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.
“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”
Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.
Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.
Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.
“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”
McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.
After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.
Minnesota has added some depth for the future.
The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.
Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.
The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.
Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.
After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.
Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.
John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.
Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.
Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.
Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.
With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.
The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:
OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?
10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone
19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia
25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite
32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline
36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”
48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?