Local College Basketball Teams Look to Make a Deep Run in March
After a dramatic off-season, including many players leaving early for the NBA Draft, as well as the top three recruits in the class of 2018 committing to the same school, college basketball is officially back. As usual, Kentucky, Kansas, and Duke look to dominate the polls, but everybody knows that upsets can happen, and it is quite possible that one of the talented local teams can make a run in March.
After a heartbreaking loss to the Nevada Wolf Pack in the round of 32, UC looks to rebound and make a ninth straight NCAA tournament. After losing starting big men Gary Clark and Kyle Washington to graduation, and star guard Jacob Evans to the NBA Draft, the Bearcats are not faced with the same expectations as last year, but the team is still projected to make the tournament as an at-large bid. ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has predicted that UC will receive an 8 seed in the tournament.
Head Coach Mick Cronin will now rely on junior combo guard Jarron Cumberland, a highly recruited player coming out of high school that specializes in fast break drives and shooting the three. The Bearcats will also rely on fellow starters Justin Jenifer, Cane Broome, Trevon Scott, and Nysier Brooks. Brooks and Scott are the biggest liabilities in the starting lineup, as they have never seen significant playing time in their college careers. Off the bench, you can expect to see Sophomore Trevor Moore, JUCO transfer Rashawn Fredricks, as well as true freshman Logan Johnson. All these players provide exceptional defense, but very little offense, which is a problem for the Bearcats.
If Cincinnati cannot improve on their poor shooting, you can expect the Bearcats to have a very short run in the postseason. The Cats have multiple must watch games before they kick off conference play, vs Xavier, at Mississippi State, and at UCLA. With a win at UNLV, the Cats probably needs a win in one of these three games, as well as take advantage of the top-heavy AAC, and win 2/3 of their conference games, which is easily doable.
The Muskies are looking to get revenge after losing in the second round of last year’s tournament despite having the programs first 1 seed. The odds are against Xavier this year, as they lost head coach Chris Mack to Louisville, as well as JP Macura, Trevon Bluiett, Kerem Kanter, Sean O’Mara, and Kaiser Gates.
Despite losing four starters and a key player off the bench, new head coach Travis Steele is confident in his squad. Xavier has returning junior point guard Quentin Goodin, who was a key piece last year, and will expected to do even more this year. “I want Q to lead the Big East in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. He is the table setter for us” says coach Steele. Junior forward Tyrique Jones, who played in the starting rotation at certain points last year, will also be a focal point for the Musketeers. In a season opening win against IUPUI, Jones recorded 17 points and 6 rebounds. If Xavier wants to have a successful season, Jones will need to put up these numbers every game. Goodin and Jones will be accompanied by sharpshooter Ryan Welage, Naji Marshall, and shifty guard Paul Scruggs. Fans can expect Kyle Castlin and former D2 player of the year Zach Hankins to be key players off the bench. The key for Xavier to make the tournament as a high seed is to get Ryan Welage open shots and focus on keeping the pace of play fast since they aren’t the tallest team.
The early games that will determine how successful Xavier Will be are vs Wisconsin, at Auburn, at Cincinnati, at Missouri, and at Villanova – all these difficult games take place in the first half of the schedule. Because XU is playing in arguably the toughest conference in college basketball, the Muskies must limit their non-conference losses to five games, as well as beat DePaul and St. Johns to get a six seed or above for the NCAA tournament.
The Flyers will try to rebound after a 14-17 record under then first year head coach Anthony Grant. UD is only losing two players – guard Darrell Davis to graduation, and role player Kostas Antetokounmpo to the NBA Draft.
Dayton basketball is thrilled to bring in a recruiting class of five players, including sought after recruit Obi Toppin, a 6’9, 200 lb. player that can realistically play three of the five positions on the floor. Obi has the size of a big man with the agility and ball handles of a guard. UD is also looking for production from junior guard and Huber Heights Wayne product Trey Landers. Landers played 29 minutes a game in 2017, so he will naturally be one of the leaders on the team this year. Obi and Landers will likely be accompanied by guards Jordan Davis and Jalen Crutcher, as well as fan favorite Ryan Mikesell in the starting lineup. The Flyers are looking forward to being underdogs this year, they are projected to finish 9th in the A10 according to CBS Sports, behind two tournament teams in Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure. “I think we have a group that is ahead of where we were last year” says coach Grant. “The expectations of winning a championship doesn’t change.”
Some of the biggest games this year for UD include former A10 foe Butler, at home against Mississippi State, at Auburn, as well as two games against A10 rival VCU. Overall, the best bet for UD to sneak in to the tournament is to limit their conference losses, obtain a high seed in the conference tournament, a win the A10. If this happens, the Flyers will have a guaranteed spot in the tournament, and UD will look to work their Flyer magic in the postseason once again.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Despite making the NCAA tournament as a 5 seed in 2017-18, the Buckeyes were not thrilled with the results of last year. An early exit in the Big 10 tournament caused OSU to slip to a 5 seed, which led to the Bucks losing in the second round to a Gonzaga team that had 30 wins on the year. The Buckeyes have seemed to bounce back from last year’s early exit, as they beat in-state rival UC in a low-scoring defensive battle.
After losing Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop, OSU 2nd year coach Chris Holtmann will expect CJ Jackson to fill that role. CJ is a senior guard out of Charlotte, NC that will look to average around 20 points a game. Other players that are expected to play a big role this year are sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson, sophomore forward Kyle Young, as well as senior guard Keyshawn Woods. Ohio State is pleased to bring in a recruiting class that includes two 4-star players – guard Luther Muhammad and power forward Jaedon LeDee. Both players will see immediate playing time. Muhammad is currently averaging 12 points a game on 28.5 minutes per game, and Jaedon LeDee had a dominant 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 blocks in only 13 minutes.
As you may have noticed, Ohio State has a young team – 4 of 6 key players are sophomore or younger. Because of this, Joe Lunardi predicts that the Buckeyes will not make the NCAA tournament, but instead make the NIT. From a person that is not an OSU fan, I believe that the Bucks will make the NCAA tournament as an at large bid. In order to make the tournament, the Bucks will need to take advantage of the weak bottom half of the Big Ten, as well losing a maximum two games going in to conference play. Some of the biggest games for OSU this year are Michigan State twice, Purdue twice, UCLA at home, and of course, Michigan twice.