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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.

Tuesday’s Things To Know: Badgers return to form, futures of Georgetown and Illinois on display and Izundu’s big night for Miami

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There were only two top-25 teams in action Tuesday night, but there was still plenty of solid hoops action around the country with rematches, youth vs. youth and sterling individual performances. Here’s everything you need to know about what went down.

1. Wisconsin resurgent

The 2017-18 season was as disappointing as any for Wisconsin in some time. The Badgers were under .500, missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years and were just generally uncompetitive in the Big Ten after years of consistently being one of its best programs. Given how Greg Gard inherited the program, that made this season an important one in Madison.

The Badgers look to understand that.

Wisconsin got 30 points from Ethan Happ, 22 from D’Mitrik Trice and 19 from Brad Davidson, who added a little flavor to the victory. The issues last year for Wisconsin were many, but so often the main problem was Happ being left to do everything himself. If the Badgers can consistently get help around Happ – while he continues to reassert himself as one of the country’s best players – Wisconsin should be back in the NCAA tournament and pushing for a spot atop the Big Ten. There’s a long way to go and Wisconsin finishes off November with a difficult slate of games, but the early returns are positive for Gard and Co.

2. Georgetown beats Illinois in fun battle of two young teams

I don’t know that either Georgetown or Illinois will be all that good this season. In fact, I would venture to guess neither is all that great once we hit the middle of winter. They did, however, play a super entertaining game Tuesday night.

Georgetown outlasted the Illini, 88-80, in Champaign as part of the Gavitt Games in a back-and-forth game that featured fun, mistakes, highlight plays, more mistakes, breathless action and, yup, some additional mistakes. Still, it was apparent that both teams have young talent that can take them places, whether it’s this year or in the future.

The Hoyas’ starting backcourt of freshmen James Akinjo and Mac McClung combined to score 31 points and dish out 11 assists while making game-winning plays down the stretch. On the flip side, they also tallied a combined eight turnovers. There was good and bad from the two youngsters, but the positive well outweighed the negative and the potential of both was on major display. Patrick Ewing looks to have this thing pointed in the right direction in D.C.

For Illinois, it was Chicago product Ayo Dosunmu starring. The point guard put up 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 3 of 4 form deep. He was electric and at times unstoppable. Fellow freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili had 12 points, five boards and four assists. Brad Underwood’s four non-senior starters combined for 17 of the Illini’s points on the night while sophomore reserve Da’Monte Williams had 11 of those points. The future look good for Brad Underwood, too.

3. Izundu puts up numbers, Louisville impresses, Mays throws down and Temple knocks off Georgia

Ebuka Izundu had a night that’s not often seen. The Miami big man went for 22 points and 17 rebounds while shooting 11 of 13 from the floor. It was just the 13th time since 2010 that someone put up at least 22 and 17 while shooting 84 percent or better from the floor. So that’s pretty good. So, too, was the Hurricanes’ 96-58 win over Stephen F. Austin to improve to 3-0 on the season.

Louisville wasn’t all that good in Chris Mack’s debut, but the Cardinal looked significantly stronger Tuesday in a 1014-54 win over Southern. Jordan Nwora scored 20 points off the bench, and Louisville shot 58.2 percent from the floor as a team.

LSU defeated Memphis, 85-76, but more importantly, the 22nd-ranked Tigers got 19 points and one thunderous dunk from Skylar Mays.

Georgia shot 50 percent from the floor, but turned it over 20 times and lost to Temple in Philadelphia. The story, though, was the Owls’ duo of Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston, Jr., who both tallied 25 points as they improved to 3-0 in what will be coach Fran Dunphy’s final season leading them.

Defense carries No. 5 Tennessee past Georgia Tech 66-53

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Grant Williams scored 22 points and No. 5 Tennessee used its stingy defense to beat cold-shooting Georgia Tech 66-53 on Tuesday night.

Tennessee (3-0) was playing one day after moving up a spot in the Top 25 to earn its first top-five ranking since the 2007-08 season. After the Yellow Jackets made the game’s first basket, Tennessee scored the next seven points and stayed in control the rest of the way.

Georgia Tech (1-1) shot just 27.6 percent from the field — its lowest mark since Josh Pastner took over as coach in 2016. The Yellow Jackets had nearly twice as many fouls (30) as baskets (16).

The Yellow Jackets missed 15 straight shots during one stretch, including their first 11 attempts of the second half. They didn’t make their first second-half basket until Jose Alvarado sank a 3-pointer with 12:12 left.

Georgia Tech still managed to hang around and cut Tennessee’s lead to 45-37 on another basket by Alvarado with 10:08 remaining, but the Volunteers responded with seven straight points.

Jordan Bone had 15 points and Kyle Alexander added 12 for Tennessee. Brandon Alston led Georgia Tech with 16.

Tennessee’s defense enabled the Vols to win on a night when they shot just 39.6 percent (19 of 48) from the field and 63.2 percent (24 of 38) at the foul line.

Georgia Tech received some good news earlier in the day as the NCAA granted a waiver allowing Texas transfer James Banks III to play immediately for the Yellow Jackets rather than sitting out the season. Banks had five points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes before fouling out.

The game marked a return to Knoxville for Georgia Tech guard Shembari Phillips, who played two seasons at Tennessee before transferring. Phillips started and played 22 minutes but scored just two points.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets lacked the outside shooting that helped them beat Lamar 88-69 in their season opener. Georgia Tech shot just 3 of 19 from beyond the arc. Georgia Tech’s 12 3-point baskets and 30 3-point attempts against Lamar were the most by the Yellow Jackets under Pastner.

Tennessee: After winning its first two games by an average margin of 33.5 points, Tennessee passed a tougher test Tuesday before heading to the NIT Season Tip-Off next week in Brooklyn, New York. After facing Louisville in the first round of the NIT event, Tennessee will meet No. 2 Kansas or No. 24 Marquette.

UP NEXT

Georgia Tech hosts East Carolina on Friday.

Tennessee faces Louisville on Nov. 21 in the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn.

Nwora, Williams power Louisville easily past Southern 104-54

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The second act of Louisville’s Chris Mack era produced the same outcome as the first, but this time the Cardinals came away with a much better showing.

Jordan Nwora scored a career-high 20 points as the Cardinals (2-0) easily dominated Southern 104-54 Tuesday night. Malik Williams also posted a career high of 17 points in the rout.

After Nicholls State stayed close with Louisville in last week’s season opener, Mack used the practices to toughen up his players in preparation for a schedule that includes eight games against teams ranked in the AP’s preseason top 10. Mack saw improvement on both sides of the court as the Cardinals shot 58.2 percent and forced 23 turnovers.

“The three practices that we had leading up to tonight really set the tone,” he said. “I really think you earn the right to win and you earn your victories in practice because that’s who you become on game night.”

Southern coach Sean Woods said he noticed a marked difference from the team he observed in game film.

“Handling pressure, making shots, executing high-low situations, so I tip my hat off to coach Mack because he’s been working on getting his guys better,” Woods said.

One of the players Mack wanted to see improve was Nwora. The sophomore forward came off the bench and scored 15 points in the first half. He provided an immediate spark, scoring a layup off a Jaguars turnover just two seconds after checking in. He later got frontcourt steals on consecutive possessions that he turned into back-to-back dunks, the latter of which made it 21-9 with 11:32 remaining.

Louisville kept pulling away throughout the game, leading by as many as 53 points in the final minute. Mack used 13 players, with none playing more than 22 minutes. A dozen Cardinals ended up scoring.

“After the last game, I don’t think a lot of people were happy with our performance, especially not the coaches,” said Nwora, who made 7-of-11 shots. “We just had to get better, and that’s the way he woke us up. Just having some drills in practice that really brought out the toughness in some guys.”

Aaron Ray led the Jaguars (0-3) with 14 points and eight rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Southern: Facing its third major conference foe in a week, the Jaguars again struggled as they shot just 39.1 percent. They also had a hard time keeping up with bigger, more athletic Cardinals. By halftime, Southern committed 21 fouls, with two players picking up four each. The Jaguars finished getting whistled for 39 fouls. Three players fouled out, with four more drawing four each.

Louisville: The Cardinals looked much more at ease Tuesday after struggling in their season opener. In addition to the practices, it may have been due to the size advantage Louisville enjoyed over the Jaguars, who did not start anyone taller than 6-foot-7. Louisville outrebounded Southern 37-22 and enjoyed a 38-20 scoring advantage in the paint.

LOCKER ROOM CLOSED

Prior to the game, Louisville announced its locker room would be closed for postgame interviews, per Mack’s decision. The program had been one of the few to allow locker room access during the regular season. The NCAA maintains an open locker room policy during the March tournament.

AGAU RETURNS

Tuesday marked the return of Akoy Agau to the Cardinals. The graduate transfer from Southern Methodist played 22 games for the Cardinals before leaving the program in late 2014 to play for Georgetown. The 6-foot-8 forward scored seven points and tied Nwora with a team-high seven rebounds against the Jaguars.

UP NEXT

Southern travels to Fairfax, Va., for a Saturday game at George Mason as part of the Emerald Coast Classic.

Louisville concludes a three-game, season-opening homestand on Friday when it hosts Vermont.

Mays scores 19, No. 22 LSU tops Memphis 85-76

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Skylar Mays scored 19 points, transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams added a career-high 14, and No. 22 LSU held off a relentless effort by first-year coach Penny Hardaway’s Memphis squad, 85-76 on Tuesday night.

Each of LSU’s three freshmen starters — Naz Reid, Ja’Vonte Smart and Emmitt Williams — scored 11 points. Williams also grabbed 10 rebounds for the Tigers (3-0), who trailed briefly with about 13 minutes to go before surging ahead for good with a pivotal 12-1 run that included back-to-back 3s by Mays and Reid. Smart set up Reid’s 3 with a behind-the-back bounce pass from the right wing.

Bigby-Williams, a transfer from Oregon, never scored more than 11 in a game for the Ducks, and is expected to be relied upon primarily for defense this season. He made all seven of his shots, all from close range, including an emphatic dunk that gave LSU a 10-point lead with seven minutes remaining.

Memphis freshman Tyler Harris, who missed all six of his shots and didn’t score in his debut, was 6 of 13 on 3s and finished with 20 points in his second collegiate game.

Jeremiah Martin scored 15 points and Kyvon Davenport had 10 for Memphis (1-1), which remained within single digits for most of the game.

Mays scored from all over the court, mixing in a soaring, driving one-handed dunk with his usual array of perimeter shots. He hit three times from 3-point range.

LSU had trouble distancing itself from Memphis most of the night but appeared in control for most of the final 10 minutes, when its highlights included a roundhouse dunk from Williams and Reid’s double-pump, back-to-the-basket, no-look scoop off the glass that made it 74-64 with 4:35 to go.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: The way Memphis played on the road against a ranked team provided an early indication that Hardaway’s first season at the helm could turn out better that the fourth-place finish predicted in the AAC preseason coaches’ poll. When Harris found his shot from the perimeter, it opened up opportunities inside for Davenport and Martin.

LSU: The Tigers’ dramatic upgrade in talent was evident in the fact they led 48-39 at halftime despite Tremont Waters, their best player from last season, not scoring at all to that point. Mays also asserted himself more, scoring more points in the first half than in either of his previous two full games while throwing down a monster first-half jam. Waters finished with eight points and eight assists. LSU’s top freshman reserve, Darius Days, had nine points and six rebounds.

UP NEXT

Memphis hosts Yale on Saturday night.

LSU hosts Louisiana Tech on Friday night.

Brad Davison chomps Xaiver, Wisconsin is back

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It’s really nice to see the nascent-yet-kind-of-nasty rivalry between Wisconsin and Xavier has survived the graduation of JP Macura.

The Badgers and Musketeers met for the third time in four years Tuesday, with Wisconsin taking the rubber-match, 77-68, behind a big-time performance from Ethan Happ and some beautiful turnabout-is-fair-play trolling from Badger guard Brad Davison.

The genesis of this fun little back-and-forth is the 2016 NCAA tournament, when Bronson Koenig’s buzzer-beater ended second-seeded Xavier’s tourney run in the first weekend. Then last season as part of the Gavitt Games, the Musketeers dropped the Badgers 80-70 with Macura going for 20 points and a Florida-inspired (???) taunt to finish things off.

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So the Badgers got a little bit of payback at the Cintas Center, leading by as many as 18 points as they turned a tight game into a what goes for a rout at the pace Wisconsin plays despite a mini-run late by Xavier, which saw a 41-game home non-conference winning streak come to a close.

Happ scored 30 points on 15 of 23 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out five assists in what looked like an All-American performance from the Badger big man. D’Mitrik Trice added 22 points and Davison added 19 plus the finishing trolling touches in the callback to a fellow Twin Cities native and master trash talker in Macura.

The win looks to be a significant sign that the Badgers are poised to bounce back after going 15-18 last season and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in two decades. Just exactly how good of win it’ll ultimately be remained to be seen with Xavier in transition under Travis Steele, but winning big in Cincy can’t be ignored.

We’ll almost certainly know for sure where the Badgers stand by the end of this month when they get three big games at the Battle 4 Atlantis followed by tips against NC State, Iowa and Rutgers.