When the line-up for the Maui Invitational was announced this summer, all the attention was focused on Wisconsin, Arizona, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga and Maryland.  Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats were thought of more as an also-ran who would be lucky to get out of the draw with a win against a team not named Chaminade.

But we have been high on Cincinnati since the preseason, and the Bearcats now have two very impressive wins (Vanderbilt and Maryland) under their belt as they head into tonight’s championship game against Gonzaga.  Big man Yancy Gates (pictured) has been the breakout star of the event thus far, but the Bearcats have all the pieces to be a lethal team in the Big East.  They have Gates, who is a rebounding machine with great touch from outside.  They have Devonta Vaughn, a preseason All-Big East selection that has led the Bearcats in scoring each of the last two seasons.  And they also added Lance Stephenson, a player that has the most pure talent of any freshman in the conference if he keeps his head in the game.  Stephenson has a reputation for being a hothead and something of a prima donna, and it will be interesting to see how he handles playing second fiddle to Gates in the media.  If Cronin can keep Stephenson from blowing up, the Bearcats could be playing well into March.

Other Thanksgiving Tournament Thoughts

The preseason NIT semifinals are tonight at Madison Square Garden, and the organizers of the event are all but praying that Duke and Connecticut are able to dispatch Arizona State and LSU, respectively, to set up the championship game they have been gunning for since announcing the brackets.  Last year, the goal was to get UCLA and Duke into the final, but Michigan crashed the party by upsetting the Bruins on Thanksgiving Eve and then topping the Blue Devils in the championship.  The best chance for an upset is the LSU-UConn tilt.  The Huskies were less-than-impressive in beating Hofstra to get to the Garden.

Other potentially intriguing games include: Washington State and Oklahoma at the Great Alaska Shootout, assuming both teams reach the finals as expected, Kentucky vs. Stanford at the Cancun Classic title game, and Michigan State vs. Florida at the Legends Classic in Atlantic City.

 

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