Arkansas to open against Louisville in Maui Invitational

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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LAHAINA, Hawaii — Arkansas will face Louisville in the opening round of a loaded 2022 Maui Invitational bracket.

The eight-team bracket announced for the November event will include six teams that went to the 2022 NCAA Tournament, including three that reached the Sweet 16.

Arizona faces Cincinnati in the opening round after reaching the Sweet 16 in coach Tommy Lloyd’s first season. Texas Tech, another Sweet 16 team last season, plays Creighton and San Diego State faces Ohio State in the tournament’s return to the Lahaina Civic Center on Nov. 21-23.

The 2020 tournament was held in Asheville, North Carolina, and last year’s was played in Las Vegas.

Arkansas has reached the Elite Eight the past two seasons under coach Eric Musselman.

Cincy escapes early 15-point hole, routs No. 14 Illini 71-51

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Cincinnati coach Wes Miller had no idea who he was watching early on against Illinois on Monday night.

Not because he’s in his first year with the Bearcats, either.

“We weren’t playing our defensive principles. We weren’t alert. We weren’t executing offensively,” Miller said.

It took two media timeouts for the Bearcats to rediscover themselves. And when they did, they mounted a big first-half charge to take a stunning halftime lead, then steadily pulled away from the No. 14 Illini for a 71-51 victory that pushed them into the championship game of the Hall of Fame Classic.

“Sometimes you’re going to get your butt kicked, that’s part of college basketball,” Miller said. “I don’t like it but that’s part of it, and if we were going to get our butt kicked, let’s get it kicked our way. And I thought our guys really adjusted and we started to play the way we had the first four games of the year.”

Mike Saunders Jr. scored 20 points and Jeremiah Davenport added 19 to lead the Bearcats (5-0), who went 17 of 20 from the foul line and won the battle of the boards against the bigger Illini (2-2) inside T-Mobile Center.

That earned the right to play the winner of No. 13 Arkansas and Kansas State for the tournament title.

“This shows what we can do,” Davenport said. “As a whole group, we just have to go out every night and just execute what we can do at the highest level. You guys saw it tonight.”

Kofi Cockburn, who was suspended the first three games of the season for violating NCAA rules, had 18 points and seven rebounds for the Fighting Illini (2-2). Andre Curbelo added 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting with five turnovers.

“We got off to a good start but give Cincinnati a ton of credit. They played harder than we did, which is very unacceptable for me to stomach,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said. “They were the more physical team. And I give them a lot of credit.”

Indeed, the Illini looked as if they were going to blow out the Bearcats in the first 10 minutes.

Cockburn had a big part in it.

The 7-foot, 275-pound center from Jamaica bullied his way to six straight points to open the game, and the Illini raced to a 19-4 lead before the Bearcats seemed to realize the game had tipped off. At one point, Cockburn had outscored Cincinnati 12-8 as the Illini built a 23-8 advantage nearing the midpoint of the first half.

That’s when Miller made a couple of subtle adjustments that got them on track.

They slowed Cockburn with physical double-teams in the post, and they began jumping the passing lanes, and at one point the Bearcats held Illinois without a field goal for nearly seven minutes. They pieced together a 14-1 run of their own during the stretch, and David DeJulius made a couple foul shots just before halftime to give Cincinnati a 34-31 lead.

The Illini’s slump endured well into the second half.

Davenport drilled a 3-pointer right out of the locker room, and Illinois proceeded to miss 10 consecutive field-goal attempts at one point, as the hot-shooting Bearcats’ stunning run eventually reached 22-5 to start the second half.

It was about that point that Underwood tore the wrapper off a piece of gum.

Might have been an antacid.

The nation’s top-ranked defense through the first couple weeks of the season suddenly struggled to guard the Bearcats on the perimeter. And regardless of whether Cockburn wasn’t in the lineup, the Illini had trouble chasing down deep rebounds, which gave Cincinnati second and third chances on several trips down the floor.

That was enough to send the Bearcats to their first win over a ranked team since beating Tennessee on Dec. 18, 2019.

“We haven’t arrived, guys,” Miller said. “It was a good night, I’m excited, but we haven’t arrived or crossed the finish line.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Illinois was two different teams the first 10 minutes and the final 30. Cockburn was aggressive going to the basket, and Curbelo and the rest of the Illini guards took care of the ball at the start. But once the middle bogged down, Illinois lost all semblance of offensive rhythm. It wound up 3 of 22 on 3s and shot 28% from the field overall.

Cincinnati still hasn’t played from behind in the second half this season. But the way the Bearcats handled the Illini was far more impressive than opening wins over Evansville, Georgia, Alabama A&M and Presbyterian. They turned the ball over a mere 11 times while preventing Illinois from scoring a single point in transition.

UP NEXT

The Bearcats advanced to Tuesday night’s title game. The Illini will play for third place.

Cincinnati hires UNC Greensboro’s Wes Miller

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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CINCINNATI – Cincinnati has hired UNC Greensboro coach Wes Miller to replace the fired John Brannen.

Miller, regarded as one of the top young coaches in college basketball, won 185 games in 10 seasons at UNC Greensboro. Over the last five years, the Spartans have five-straight 20-win seasons, two NCAA Tournament appearances, two NIT appearances and two Southern Conference tournament championships.

“He is an extremely dynamic coach and mentor who impressed me with his drive, focus and attention to detail,” Cincinnati athletic director John Cunningham said. “He’s a proven winner as a head coach and was able to rebuild a program and lead a remarkable turnaround at UNCG over the last decade. We cast a very wide net in this search and Wes emerged as the right coach to lead the Bearcats into the future.”

Miller’s six-year contract must still be approved by the school’s board of trustees. Terms were not disclosed.

“I am honored to lead such a storied program and excited to get to work,” said Miller, who played for coach Roy Williams at North Carolina and was mentioned as a possible candidate to be Williams’ successor before Hubert Davis was hired.

Cincinnati fired Brannen last week after two seasons following an investigation into an exodus of players from the program. Brannen was put on paid leave last month after six players entered the transfer portal in the first three days after the season ended.

Cincinnati fires John Brannen following investigation

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer
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CINCINNATI — Cincinnati has fired men’s basketball coach John Brannen following an investigation into reports of a rift with Bearcats players.

The school fired Brannen six days after he was put on paid leave after six Cincinnati players decided to transfer last month. Tim Morris will serve as interim coach until a replacement is hired.

“The decision to move in a new direction comes after a thorough review of our program, which included conversations with student-athletes, coaches and staff, as well as with Coach Brannen,” Cincinnati athletic director John Cunningham said in a statement. “Ultimately, the University is acting in the best interests of our student-athletes and of the institution, and this decision is reflective of our commitment to both, as well as to our values that we hold dear.”

Brannen was hired from Northern Kentucky in 2019 and seven players he recruited have since left the program. Four players who left this year were members of the 2020 freshman class who entered the transfer portal during a week in March.

The Bearcats went 20-10 before last season was canceled due to the pandemic. They missed the NCAA Tournament this year after going 12-11.

Memphis hires Katrina Merriweather as women’s hoops coach

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis has hired Katrina Merriweather as the new women’s basketball coach after she led Wright State to that program’s first NCAA Tournament win.

Athletic director Laird Veatch announced the hiring Monday.

Merriweather led No. 13 seed Wright State to an upset of fourth-seeded Arkansas in the first round last week before a loss to Missouri State in the second round. She also led Wright State to the only three Horizon League championships in school history.

She was the Horizon League Coach of the Year three times in her five seasons at Wright State, which included all three of the Raiders’ NCAA Tournament berths. She was 113-47 (70.6%).

Wright State was one of only six programs in this year’s NCAA Tournament with an all-female coaching staff along with Stanford, UCF, Georgia Tech, High Point and Central Michigan. Merriweather is the 12th coach in program history at Memphis, replacing Melissa McFerrin who retired last month.

She was an assistant coach at Wright State from 2010-2016 and served as recruiting coordinator for her final four years before being promoted to head coach. She was an assistant at Purdue from 2003 to 2006 and an assistant at UIC for 2002-03.

Merriweather began her coaching career at her alma mater Cincinnati in 2001-02 after playing four seasons with the Bearcats.

Michigan St, Izzo in new spot as First Four participants

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan State and coach Tom Izzo are in an unfamiliar position.

Last time there was an NCAA Tournament, the Spartans reached the Final Four in 2019 — the most recent of eight trips under Izzo.

This time, Michigan State needed a late surge just to get into the Big Dance, and they’ll have to win an extra game, too. The Spartans (15-12) will face UCLA (17-9) on Thursday in a First Four matchup of No. 11 seeds in the East Region.

Izzo is just thankful to be playing, all things considered.

“You know and I know that three weeks ago nobody gave us a chance, including probably most of you and probably even me,” Izzo said. “We fought our way through, and that took some courage and guts, and I’m proud of them for that.”

It’s fitting that the Spartans will have just a little bit tougher road ahead than most of the qualifiers. Even in the most difficult of years, Michigan State faced extra challenges.

Izzo contracted COVID-19 early in the season, yet the Spartans opened with six straight wins. They started Big Ten play with three straight losses on their way to dropping nine of 13 overall, but they eventually bounced back late in the season with victories over Ohio State, Michigan and Illinois — which all finished in the top seven of the final AP poll.

Now, the Spartans will need to win Thursday’s matchup in West Lafayette to reach the final 64 and play No. 6 seed BYU on Saturday. That winner will face No. 3 seed Texas or No. 14 seed Abilene Christian on Monday.

“I’m not worried about facing anybody in this tournament,” Izzo said. “I don’t feel comfortable with UCLA and BYU or Texas, but I don’t feel afraid of UCLA, BYU or Texas or anybody else because we truly, truly have played the best teams in the country on a night-in and night-out basis, and especially in the last two to three weeks.”

With all the complications this season, Izzo is simplifying the situation.

“I still want to win the weekend,” he said. “The weekend just became a little longer. So, in this year of the pandemic, in this year of 2020-21, I might as well experience some more new things.”

Aaron Henry, a junior forward from Indianapolis, leads the Spartans with 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Joey Hauser, another junior forward averages 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds. Senior guard Joshua Langford averages 9.6 points per contest.

Michigan State has had 11 players start at least five games. UCLA coach Mick Cronin is impressed with how Izzo has made it work.

“He’s got a different kind of team this year because he’s played many, many different lineups — they can change at the drop of a hat and go with different guys, so there’s a lot of personnel for our guys to digest because they play so many guys,” he said. “Some of that is him searching, and some of it’s strategy to match up with his opponent.”

Cronin said as long as Izzo is around, the Spartans are a threat.

“It means we’ve got to beat a Hall of Fame coach,” Cronin said. “One thing about coach Izzo — the reason he has survived so long and he’s had such a great career is that they’re never easily defeated. He refuses to give in. That’s why he was able to rally his team.”

UCLA counters with a trio of sophomore guards. Johnny Juzang has averaged 14 points per game in his first season since transferring from Kentucky. Jaime Jaquez Jr. averages 11.7 points and 6.0 rebounds and Tyger Campbell averages 10.5 points and 5.6 assists.

Izzo likes how they play for Cronin.

“He’s got kids that have bought in, and I have a lot of respect for Mick and the way he has done it and doing it in an environment that’s not as easy to do it in,” Izzo said. “He brings a smash mouth kind of team and it will be a different team than maybe some we’ve played out West.”

WICHITA STATE vs DRAKE

Drake and Wichita State will play the most important of their 152 games against each other on Thursday and the winner advances to face No. 6 seed USC on Saturday.

Drake is a longtime member of the Missouri Valley Conference. Wichita State competed in the MVC for decades before leaving for the American Athletic Conference in 2017. The schools played a home-and-home series in all but two seasons during a 72-year stretch that began in 1945-46.

Drake coach Darian DeVries played college ball at MVC member Northern Iowa and was a longtime assistant at Creighton – also a former MVC program.

“I’m very familiar with them over the years as a player and a coach,” DeVries said. “It’s certainly an exciting match-up. I watched them the other day in their game against Cincinnati. They won their league, they’re a talented team and have always had good teams.”

Drake (25-4) opened the season with 18 consecutive wins and ShanQuan Hemphill leads the way with 14.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Isaac Brown took over as Wichita State’s interim coach early in the season. The Shockers (16-5) started the season with a 1-2 record but found their way. They won eight straight late in the season, including a victory over Houston on Feb. 18. Tyson Etienne, the co-American Athletic Conference player of the year, leads the way with 17 points per game. Alterique Gilbert adds 10.3.

NORFOLK STATE vs APPALACHIAN STATE

Norfolk State (16-7) is back for the first time since 2012, when the Spartans upset No. 2 seed Missouri before losing to Florida. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion has won six straight and hasn’t lost since Feb. 8. Devante Carter leads the way with 15.5 points and 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.

Appalachian State (17-11) is in the tournament for the first time since 2000 and seeks its first win. The Mountaineers won one game the entire month of February before running off four victories in four days to claim the automatic bid.

Adrian Delph leads the way with 13.2 points per game. Michael Almonacy was the Sun Belt tournament MVP after scoring 32 points in the championship game win over Georgia State. Justin Forrest averages 10 points per contest and has been strong the past four games.

The winner will play No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga.

MOUNT ST. MARY’S vs TEXAS SOUTHERN

Mount St. Mary’s (12-10) won the automatic berth out of the Northeast Conference. Damien Chong Qui, a 5-foot-8, 155-pound guard, leads the way with 15.3 points and 5.5 assists per game.

The Mountaineers were below .500 as recently as the last week of February. They upset Bryant in the conference title game, giving the Bulldogs their only home loss of the season.

Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Texas Southern (16-8) seeks its second-ever NCAA Tournament win. Michael Weathers leads the team with 16.5 points per game. John Walker III averages 11.9 and Joirdon Karl Nicholas averages 11.3.

The winner will play No. 1 seed Michigan on Saturday.