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Three Takeaways from Ohio State’s road win over Cincinnati

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Cincinnati and Ohio State renewed a dormant in-state rivalry on Wednesday night with the Buckeyes claiming the 64-56 win in the season opener for both teams. The all-Ohio matchup marked the first time these two programs played in the regular season since 1920 as the Bearcats opened their newly-renovated Fifth Third Arena with a rock fight.

Here are three takeaways from this one.

1. Balance is the key for Ohio State’s offense 

Last season saw Ohio State rely heavily on Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop. One of the breakout performers in all of college hoops a year ago, Bates-Diop moved on to the NBA after putting up 19.8 points per game.

So, for this season, Ohio State has to reconfigure its offense by coming with a balanced approach. That seemed to work well enough for the Buckeyes against Cincinnati on Wednesday. Working the ball inside to sophomore Kaleb Wesson (15 points, seven rebounds) and letting him go to work, the 6-foot-9 wide-bodied big man patiently went to work, or kicked the ball out to open cutters or shooters. At 270 pounds, Wesson is a tough one-on-one cover for nearly anyone in college basketball on the interior and his passing ability is solid.

That led to a lot of decent looks for Ohio State’s offense as four players finished in double-figures. Senior point guard C.J. Jackson (13 points) didn’t have his finest game on offense, but he made some key drives down the stretch to force pressure on an aggressive Cincinnati defense — including a dagger lay-up to make it a six-point game with 30 seconds left. Freshman Luther Muhammad, known more for his on-ball defensive prowess than his offense, chipped in 11 points as he made some tough buckets in the second half. And sophomore forward Kyle Young played a key glue-guy role as his ability to hit the offensive glass, or get fouled, led to him finishing with 10 points.

Ohio State doesn’t have a go-to player. Nobody on this roster is going to erupt for huge scoring games. But as long as the Buckeyes understand that the offense needs to run through Wesson on the inside then they have a lot of dangerous complementary pieces who can make opposing defenses pay.

2. Cincinnati desperately needs to find an offensive identity

The backbone of Cincinnati’s program identity has always been rugged defense and physicality. This season will be no different. But the reason Cincinnati was able to elevate into a 30-win team and a No. 2 seed in last season’s NCAA tournament was an improved offense with plenty of capable options.

Now that Jacob Evans, Gary Clark and Kyle Washington have all moved on, however, the Cincinnati offense desperately needs to find a new identity. Or, at the very least, a consistent spark plug who can become a go-to player at the end of the shot clock.

The first half saw Cincinnati shoot an ugly 4-for-29 (13 percent) from the field and 2-for-12 (16 percent) from three-point range as a disjointed half-court offense didn’t show any semblance of continuity. While Cincinnati could go inside-out to Clark and Washington a season ago, they didn’t work nearly hard enough to work the ball inside to new frontcourt starters Nysier Brooks (seven points) and Tre Scott (eight points).

Second-half offense wasn’t much better for the Bearcats, as they continually abandoned post touches in favor of long, contested jumpers and early-shot-clock threes. Much of this falls on a veteran Cincinnati backcourt that played inexcusably bad. Senior guards Justin Jenifer (five points, five assists) and Cane Broome (five points) combined to shoot 3-for-18 from the floor on Wednesday night as neither guard did an effective job of scoring or running an offense.

A solid complimentary double-figure scorer a season ago, junior wing Jarron Cumberland (22 points, all in the second half) struggled to create his own offense until a run in the second half as he was harassed by Buckeye defenders. Battling foul trouble in the first half that might have thrown him off, Cumberland finally started to get hot towards the end of the game when he was allowed to be the natural catch-and-shoot option that he needs to be. Cumberland’s not a guy who can blow by defenders by putting it on the floor. He ideally needs a setup guy to be at his best.

Cincinnati showed that its defense and toughness is still there. But the team’s offense is still a gigantic work-in-progress. Improvement starts with the upperclass perimeter group that needs to force the ball inside more often to help establish more rhythm in the half-court offense. That should lead to a lot more consistent open looks for Cumberland on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

3. Ohio State will be an intriguing team in a wide-open Big Ten

The Big Ten race appears to be wide open this season as there isn’t a perceived dominant team heading into 2018-19. Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana and Purdue all have a chance to be consistent top-25 teams. None of them are overwhelming on paper though. Second-tier Big Ten teams (based on preseason hype) like Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State all have major question marks heading into the season.

At least we now know that Ohio State won’t be an easy out for any team in the Big Ten this season.

The Buckeyes just scored the early-season’s most impressive true road victory by going into a hostile in-state environment and taking Cincinnati’s best punch when the Bearcats rallied late in the second half. This is the type of early-season road win that should give Ohio State a ton of confidence, as they’re a young team playing with a lot of new pieces.

While Ohio State will still have plenty of ups-and-downs like any young team, it remains a fact that Chris Holtmann is one of the very best coaches in college basketball. This Buckeye team should be prepared to play on most nights this season. It’ll be fascinating to see what their eventual ceiling might be once they start to get comfortable playing with each other.

Louisville lands grad transfer Carlik Jones

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Louisville landed a commitment from Carlik Jones on Sunday night, one of the best grad transfers available this spring.

Jones, who spent the last three seasons at Radford, picked the Cardinals over Maryland, Michigan State and a handful of other programs.

A 6-foot-1 lead guard from Cincinnati, Jones averaged 20 points, 5.5 assists and 5.1 boards this past season, when he was named the Big South Player of the Year. He led Radford to the 2018 NCAA tournament and back-to-back Big South regular season titles in 2019 and 2020.

Jones should start immediately for Louisville, fitting alongside David Johnson, Samuell Williamson and Jay Scrubb, should he enroll at Louisville instead of going pro, on their perimeter. Louisville is losing Fresh Kimble, Ryan McMahon and Dwayne Sutton to graduation while Jordan Nwora is expected to turn pro.

Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans will enter NBA draft

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans will enter the NBA draft and forego his final two seasons of eligibility.

to pursue his dream of playing professionally.

The 6-foot-3 Hagans was named Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman and became one of the country’s best point guards this past season. However, his time at Kentucky ended in controversy as he argued with forward Nick Richards and coach John Calipari and reportedly refused to re-enter in the second half of a home loss to Tennessee. Calipari downplayed the incident afterward.

Hagans then requested time away from the team for personal reasons and did not travel to the season finale at Florida. He was

for the Wildcats at the SEC Tournament in Nashville, but that event and the NCAA Tournament were canceled last month because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hagans said in a statement Sunday he was disappointed not to be able to pursue a national title but added that he understands why.

“It’s time for me to live out my lifelong dream and declare for the NBA draft,” Hagans said. “It’s been my No. 1 goal since I first picked up a ball to take this step and I know my time is now.”

He also thanked coaches, teammates and fans and added, “the last two years have been some of the best of my life.”

Hagans was born and raised in Georgia. He had 351 assists at Kentucky – ranking 12th in school history – and 119 steals. He averaged 11.5 points, 6.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals last season.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Mike Tirico to host NBC Sports’ new daily sports talk show ‘Lunch Talk Live’

We’re excited to bring viewers fresh programming every day with unique, topical conversations from prominent individuals in all corners of sports. This will be a daily lunch date to share sports and stories we miss during these unique times.
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A new daily sports talk shot called Lunch Talk Live will debut on NBCSN at noon ET on Monday, April 6th.

The show will feature Mike Tirico joined like by special guests every single day, including a lineup of NBC Sports’ on-air personalities, current and former athletes and prominent people in sports media.

The show will focus on how the sports world is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, providing a platform for intelligent discussion on the state of sports and how we, as a society, are adapting to living in this challenging time. the goal is to detail personal stories of how different people from across the sports industry are functioning in the day-to-day.

“In these challenging times, we are all missing sports and the people who make sports memories,” said Tirico. “Hopefully, we can bring a midday connection with some of them to help fill the void.”

“We’re excited to bring viewers fresh programming every day with unique, topical conversations from prominent individuals in all corners of sports,” said Sam Flood, the Executive Producer & President of Production for NBC Sports. “This will be a daily lunch date to share sports and stories we miss during these unique times.”

The show will be an hour long. It will air on weekdays at Noon ET on NBCSN and will be streaming on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Additionally, content will also be provided on the NBC Sports’ YouTube channel as well as other social media platforms.

All episodes of the show will be hosted remotely.

Michigan State AD defends Tom Izzo after witness report

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman defended basketball coach Tom Izzo on Thursday after Izzo was accused in

of contacting a witness who was part of a 2017 criminal sexual conduct investigation involving one of his players.

According to a police report obtained by ESPN, Michigan State student Brayden Smith was with basketball player Brock Washington on the night a female student said Washington forcibly groped her. When police interviewed Smith, he said he had already been contacted by Izzo and assistant coaches Dwayne Stephens and Mike Garland. They “asked (Smith) if he was OK and if there was anything that he had seen during the evening,” according to the report.

Beekman responded in a lengthy statement Thursday.

“Tom Izzo has been a beacon of integrity in his profession for nearly four decades, including a quarter century as head coach. Michigan State’s Office of Institutional Equity has gone on record to say that no policies were violated in regards to any actions taken by the men’s basketball staff during a Title IX investigation into a student,” Beekman said. “There’s nothing to support any claims that any member of the men’s basketball staff conducted their own investigation, or interfered with any ongoing investigation. Any insinuation to the contrary is nothing more than an attempt to smear a coach, a program, and an entire university.”

Smith, the son of former Michigan State player Steve Smith, has not played basketball for the Spartans. According to a Title IX report obtained by ESPN, Brayden Smith told investigators he considers the coaches his “godfathers” who check in on him occasionally.

According to ESPN, police said in their report that Brayden Smith’s perception of his conversation with the coaches about the night in question “was not to get information out of him, but rather to ensure that he was OK and remind him to be responsible.”

The school’s Title IX investigation determined that Washington was not responsible for having violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy, according to ESPN. The network

that in early 2018, Washington pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault under a provision allowing offenders to plead guilty without a court entering a judgment of conviction.

Earlier this week, ESPN reported that campus police told prosecutors they had probable cause that Brock Washington raped a woman Jan. 19 while she was too intoxicated to consent County prosecutors

because they didn’t feel they could prove their case to a jury.

Washington played a total of 19 minutes this season before he was suspended in late January.

NC State’s NCAA case recommended for independent process

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State’s NCAA case involving recruiting violations tied to former Wolfpack one-and-done star Dennis Smith Jr. has been recommended to go through an independent investigation process created for complex cases.

In a statement Friday, athletics spokesman Fred Demarest said the school must respond by April 14 to the recommendation. Demarest said officials are “reviewing and evaluating our options.”

The NCAA created the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) last year, a product of proposals from the commission led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2018 to reform college basketball amid a federal corruption investigation into the sport. The process includes independent investigators and decision-makers with no direct ties to NCAA member schools, and rulings cannot be appealed.

The NCAA announced last month that Memphis’ case involving star freshman basketball player James Wiseman would go that route, becoming the first to enter the process.

IARP spokeswoman Whitney Ertel declined to comment on the N.C. State case, but said involved parties have the chance to respond to any recommendation before a determination is made.

“A case can either be accepted into the independent process or it can be denied,” Ertel said. “If any case is going to be accepted, then we will make an announcement.”

N.C. State was charged last summer with four violations, including former head coach Mark Gottfried being charged individually under the provision of head-coach responsibility for violations within his program.

Specifically, the NCAA has alleged ex-assistant Orlando Early provided Smith and his associates approximately $46,700 in impermissible benefits – including $40,000 that a government witness testified he delivered to Early intended for Smith’s family in 2015.

N.C. State has argued the NCAA had not proven money was actually provided to Smith or his family, noting Smith – picked ninth in the 2017 NBA draft after one year in Raleigh – denied receiving money in a school interview in 2019.

Attorneys for Gottfried, now coach at Cal State Northridge, have questioned the fairness of the process and argued Gottfried fulfilled obligations to monitor the program.

The NCAA enforcement staff’s response in February held firm that violations had occurred.