Before hurting his right knee against DePaul on
January 15th, Cashmere Wright was playing as well as any guard in
the Big East.
The senior from Savannah, Georgia had scored
20-or-more points in three of his previous four games and for the season was
averaging 15.1 points on 47% shooting - including 44% from 3-point range.
Since returning from the injury, Wright has been
mired in the worst shooting slump of his career, going 23-for-95 overall (24%)
and 12-for-60 (20%) from 3-point range, while averaging 8.0 points in nine
In Sunday's loss at Notre Dame, Wright did not
attempt a shot in the first half and finished the game 0-for-2 in 23 minutes.
"He's lost his confidence," said Mick Cronin on his weekly
radio show on Monday."If you go five,
six, seven games and shoot 20%, you would lose your confidence too.
"It's a mental thing and I have to do a good job of
making sure that his mind is in the right place.Internal pressure that players put on
themselves and external pressure that players feel from family, friends, and
fans - some let it affect them more than others.He's a sensitive kid and there's no doubt
that he lost his confidence."
So how does Cronin plan to help Wright get it
back?By reminding Cashmere that he
doesn't have to make every shot to help the Bearcats win.
"I have to do a better job of making sure that his
mind is on defense and leadership," said Cronin."He's got to lose himself in the game and
give us everything that he can with his steals.He's not the all-time leading scorer at Cincinnati.Or the all-time assists leader.But he is the all-time steals leader and he
can give us that.That's what he has to
focus us because if he doesn't give us that we're in trouble.
"My goal is to get him to realize that he did have a
great game (after the injury).He was
3-for-14 from the field in that game, but he had a great game.It was the Villanova game.He had 14 deflections and his energy and
defense inspired his team to get 46 deflections and beat a NCAA Tournament team
by 18 points."
Over the next month, Wright is almost certain to set
Cincinnati's all-time record for games played.After watching his senior point guard play through knee and shoulder
pain for much of his career, Cronin wants to see Cashmere relax and finish
"He's a conscientious kid who wants to play well,"
said Cronin."He's unlike me, because I
am oblivious to other people's opinion.If I have one gift, it's that I have tunnel vision on doing my job.Whether your opinion of me is great or whether
your opinion of me is poor, it doesn't really affect me.Unfortunately, kids can be affected a lot
more than you think this day and age.He
is a very conscientious kid who is putting a lot of pressure on himself.
"He's trying as hard as he can to help his team and
I just have to make sure that he does two things:Worry about defense and stay aggressive.You can't worry about making mistakes.I have to get him in an aggressive mindset on
both ends of the floor, and whatever mistakes he may make we have to live
with.But he has to be on the attack and
he has to be aggressive or we're not going to be a very good team.
"I'd like to get us to where we're playing well, and
helping Cash get his confidence back is probably the number one thing that I
have get done as a coach."
Always a great listen to take in the Mick Cronin Radio Show with Dan Hoard and Chuck Machock. Was again last night where we were given the fortunate telling of the story behind Chuck now being known as Tip Jar Machock.
Last night, Mick spent the first 15 minutes or so talking about Cashmere Wright and the difference in breaking the current slump. Good insight from the coach.
The moral of the story, he believes Cash lost his confidence and the coach's top priority is bringing that confidence back. I don't think anybody who watches UC basketball would dispute Cashmere Wright playing as he did in the weeks before the injury when he was the best player on the floor every time out would solve the majority of UC's problems.
"He's lost his confidence," Cronin said. "You go five, six, seven games, shoot 20 percent you would lose your confidence, too. And he's a conscientious kid who wants to play well ... Internal pressure players feel, external pressure from family, friends, fans some people let it affect more than others. He's a sensitive kid and there's no doubt he lost his confidence. He's trying as hard as he can to help his team."
The best way to help Wright is to allow him to play outside of his own head and strictly on instinct. That means focusing on doing what he does better than any player in UC history -- steal the basketball, play defense. When focusing on defense, deflections and activity he can relax and let his natural skill override any mental block. (By the way, this is a big reason Mick doesn't talk about offense being the problem all the time, like so many fans wish he would)
Cronin pointed directly to the Villanova game when his 14 deflections inspired his team to an absurd 46 deflections on the night and beating the Wildcats by 18 points.
"I got to do a better job making sure his mind is on defense and leadership," Cronin said. "Lose himself in the game getting us steals."
Anybody that has followed this team and the career of Wright wants to see him regain his form down the stretch. The guy in so many ways defined the great teams of the last few years with his grit, hustle and defensive ability pacing this team. Still time left to make it happen.
Everybody remembers the guy from this highlight video. Maybe Mick showing him some of this will refresh the mojo.
The bigger point of the post, however, involved a point Mick talked about last night with Dan and Chuck. The focus shouldn't be as much about if this team is getting into the tournament or not, but rather about finding a way to make a run when they get there. Getting to The Dance makes a man feel nice, but that's been done here before and the expectations are higher than that.
Here's Mick on the topic:
"Getting in is great and I know that's what everyone wants," Cronin said. "To me, you want to be playing well or what's the point. I don't believe in playing in tournaments for funsies. Whether the Big East touranment, NCAA, preseason NIT, I don't believe in playing in tournaments for funsies to say hey we were in it. I'd like to get us to where we are playing well."
--- Jay Bilas ranked the six most clutch players in college basketball and slotted Sean Kilpatrick as third. Here's the video.
--- I went on with Lance McAlister last week and when I posted for people to listen on Twitter I came off the interview to see a bunch of angry mentions in my feed. I don't know exactly why UC fans have such a problem with Lance other than he's doing his job to keep people talking. I thoroughly enjoyed being on his show and think he cares about his job and local sports about as much as anybody in any media business around here.
If you have a year at your job that is considered among the top 25 percent or better in your business, do you expect to be fired? Should you be fired? If UC makes the tourney this year, that would mean since 2010, 7 of 9 seasons of Reds, Bengals and UC hoops would end in the postseason. Yet, all we hear about are the need to fire all three. Certainly an odd development.
--- Just when you start to jump on the Villanova bandwagon they lose in insane fashion to Seton Hall, who hadn't won in 33 days. Devastating blow for the schizophrenic Wildcats. The result was actually good for UC's chase for seeding in the BET. If they can end up tied with Nova they would own the tiebreaker head-to-head. They are currently 1 1/2 games back.
--- Really tough news out of the combine yesterday as Walter Stewart was red-flagged because of injury and not allowed to participate. He's hoping to participate in UC's pro day on March 14. A situation that has been in the air since the initial diagnosis midseason endures the latest odd turn.
--- UC Spring Practice begins Friday in the bubble. The first practice of the Tommy Tuberville era is nearly here. Keep it locked here at GoBearcats.com for all your spring ball information and storylines.
--- Big weekend for all sports on campus, actually. UC hoops home game Saturday, followed by women's game for a doubleheader. First home series for UC baseball with games Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
--- BTW, the women are heating up. They earned their second-consecutive win and have taken three of four. Saturday was their first blowout of Big East play as they throttled Providence by 19.
--- Michigan State Community Coalitionis begging students not to burn couches. Somewhere, West Virginia points and laughs with gasoline in one hand and tear-stained ticket stubs from another Big 12 loss in the other.
--- I'm not sure how Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z will be on tour, but they are playing some massive arenas. I'm sure it won't be cheap, but I'd pay double if I could have been at Hova's Unplugged performance back in the day. Heart of the City is still one of my favorites since that show.
Enjoy the day everybody and remember to shoot and comments, questions or your own freestyle raps to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
The latest edition of the Fox Sports Ohio Podcast welcomes pod newbie Kevin Goheen, the newest writer for FSO based out of Southwest Ohio. He joins the FSO team after 15 years spent covering sports in the area, including the Bengals beat writer for the Post from 2001-07.
He's been tracking the Bearcats all season and especially since jumping on the job a few weeks back. We talk about the travails of being a prep cross country writer, how to UC can shake the current negative momentum, the Bearcats relative to the bubble, Kevin's sights and sounds from his time spent with Bearcats at the combine, George Winn=Alfred Morris, Travis Kelce=Rob Gronkowksi and we also break down the life and times of Lil' Dawg the most famous bobblehead in Cincinnati media.
If you are looking for a specific topic, the basketball convo ends around 18 minutes and the final 18 minutes flip to the football Bearcats conversation.
All I see and hear about following this string of five losses in six games for the Bearcats is how they are NIT bound. I continue to attempt to explain to people they are not even in the bubble conversation yet. Are they trending in a bad direction? Obviously. But to contend they are already on the bubble or not going to the tournament is refusing to look around at the rest of college basketball.
Most of the respected bracketologists have them in the 8/9 seed range. Here's their rankings from the various metrics used by the committee:
ESPN BPI: 31
UC (19-9, 7-8) still owns a number of quality wins -- Oregon, at Pitt, Marquette, Iowa State, Villanova -- and next to no bad losses.
The rest of the regular season schedule includes Saturday home vs. UConn (19-7, 9-5), at Louisville (22-5, 10-4) and home against USF (10-16, 1-13) then start by playing one of the bottom four seeds on Wendesday in the Big East tournament. Assuming at the very least they win one of these games, with USF a game the Cats will be heavily favored in, they will win 20 games.
Take a look at the Big East teams the last five years with 20 wins entering Selection Sunday.
Year: Teams with 20 wins (NCAA tourney status)
2012: 9 (Seton Hall out, 15th SOS in league)
2011: 11 (All in)
2010: 9 (South Florida out, played no teams in KP Top 75 in non-conference)
2009: 7 (All in)
2008: 8 (All in)
TOTAL: 44 (Seton Hall '12, USF '10)
--- If you play any type of schedule in the Big East (Bearcats currently 32nd SOS in RPI and fifth in conference according to KPom) and win 20 games you get in the tournament. Period. Fact.
Seton Hall didn't get in because they had the second worst strength of schedule in the league. Same was the case for USF, who didn't play anybody in KenPom's top 75 in their non-conference schedule.
UC challenged themselves, won games and while people will point to their struggles down the stretch they must also point to the close losses that show a team competitively keeping up with anyone. That's all part of the scenario the committee weighs when they rank the S-curve. That's why they only use everyone's favorite RPI as one of many factors in slotting teams, because the RPI doesn't take into account individual performance in games -- only W or L. Which is crazy, losing at the buzzer to Syracuse counts the same as being throttled by 21 at Notre Dame? But I'm not about to go on an RPI rant, if you want one, just check my archives here each of the past two years at this time.
--- Even further, let's take a look at the team's that are currently on the bubble and compare their situations. Here are the eight teams that were straddling the bubble by Joe Lunardi entering this weekend.
Cal (18-9, 10-5): Oregon 2x, Arizona -- rank 44 in RPI and 52 in BPI
--- These are your bubble teams, people. Southern Miss and St. John's are in the middle of the conversation. There is quite a bit of distance between where UC stand and where the likes of Temple, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Southern Miss and St. John's stand. (Villanova will certainly move to the correct side of the bubble with their win over Marquette)
This chart doesn't include bad losses, where it's hard to find many, if any on the Bearcats run. You could possibly count St. John's and Providence as bad losses, but both are middle of the pack in the second-toughest conference in the country.
These SEC teams need much better records to make up for the fact they only have two/three tourney teams in the conference. The Big East will have about 8 or 9. You can make a similar statement about CUSA and to a lesser degree the A-10.
Point being, look relatively at the competition before placing UC on the bubble with them.
--- The grander point is that this team needs to start playing better. Nobody can deny that. Sean Kilpatrick said as much himself to Bill Koch after Sunday's ugly loss at Notre Dame.
"There's a lot of things that have got to be changed quick because this season is going down the drain and we're letting it," Kilpatrick said.
He's right, the high hopes talked about through the preseason and into non-conference about Big East championship games and Final 4s look far off. But those that are dismissing the season as over haven't paid attention the last two years inside this conference.
Each of the last two years a team has played poorly in Big East play, particularly down the stretch, and gone on to the most successful postseason in their program's recent history.
In 2012, Louisville lost four of six to close the regular season and finished at 10-8 in the conference. They went on to win four games in NYC, take the BET title and advance to the Final 4 before succumbing to Kentucky.
In 2011, UConn went 8-10 in Big East conference play, including losing five of their final 8 before heading to NYC where Kemba Walker helped them win five games in five days and then they went on to win the national championship.
These are literally the last two examples in this conference following the exact same path as the Bearcats. Am I saying this will happen? No, and we can discuss a number of reasons why it can or can't, but for anybody to be giving up hope or considering all lost hasn't been paying attention to their surroundings.
I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
You probably know the basic details of the Tim
Grows up a competitive swimmer in the Virgin
Islands...eventually takes up basketball as a teenager...gets discovered by Wake
Forest...becomes one of the greatest players in history.
But here's a nugget that you might not know:The coach at Wake Forest that found Duncan
was current UC assistant Larry Davis.
"We had a kid abruptly leave that was starting at
center for us as a freshman," Davis recalled."He walked in one day and said that he was homesick and we couldn't talk
him out of it.Going into the spring, we
had no guy on our roster that was bigger than 6'8".So (head coach) Dave Odom called all of the
assistants in and told us to turn over every rock because we had to find a
center.So I started making calls.I had met a guy by the name of Holman Harley
who was working for an agent at that time, and I called him and said, 'Do you
know of any big guys anywhere?'And he
said, 'Yea, there's a 6'10" kid in the Virgin Islands.'He gave me Tim's name so I tracked him down,
got him on the phone, and asked who he was being recruited by and he said, 'I
got some letters from Delaware State and one letter from Providence.'
"About the fourth time that I called Tim on the
phone I asked him if he had ever been to the United States.He said, 'Yes, I have a brother-in-law in
Ohio and I went to Ohio State's basketball camp last summer.'I said, 'Is Ohio State recruiting you?'Tim said, 'No.'I got off the phone and immediately called
Holman Harley and said, 'Are you sure this kid can play?He's 6'10", he was at Ohio State's basketball
camp and they're not recruiting him.How
can that be?'Holman said, 'Larry, I'm
telling you - the kid can play.'
"I went in to Coach Odom and told him that I might
have found a kid and he said, 'Where is he at?'I said, 'The Virgin Islands.'It
wasn't hard to talk him into making the trip.So Dave went down to see him and I'll never forget - he calls me on the
phone and said, 'You're not going to believe this guy.He's 6'10", he can run like a deer, he's got
great hands, and we're bringing him in.' Tim ended up visiting Providence and
Wake Forest.It was 45 degrees when he
visited Providence and 80 degrees when he visited us.That's when I knew that we were getting him."
And that's how Larry Davis helped sign perhaps the
greatest under-the-radar recruit in college basketball history.
While the former head coach at Oak Hill Academy
(1983-85) and Furman University (1997-2006) hasn't landed the next Tim Duncan
at Cincinnati - at least not yet - his relentless recruiting efforts have been
instrumental in helping Mick Cronin rebuild the program.
"I've never been around a guy that loves recruiting,
evaluating, and working like he does," said Cronin."Most guys his age become the resident
veteran coach on the bench, but he loves recruiting like a 25-year-old.He can't get enough of it.He loves it."
"A lot of colleagues knock recruiting, but I like
it," the 56-year-old Davis told me."I
like meeting people, I like travel, and it's a challenge.It's competition and I like competition -
what can I say.
"It can drive you nuts because kids make decisions
based on some of the craziest things that you could ever imagine, and there are
always hidden land mines out there.You
have to figure out who is on your side and who is not on your side and
sometimes, somebody that you don't even know is in the background either
helping you or killing you.So when you
get a kid to commit and sign, it's a great feeling."
Cronin became aware of his colleague's zest for
recruiting nearly 20 years ago when Davis was an assistant coach at Ball State.
"We met when I was a high school coach at Woodward
and he was trying to outwork people for Eric Johnson," said Cronin."He ended up at Louisville, but Eric would
tell you to this day that the best job that was done in the recruiting process
was by Larry Davis.He loved Larry
Davis, but it was hard to turn down Louisville for Ball State."
Observing Coach Davis's recruiting persistence made
a strong impression on his future boss.
"My dad taught me to be smart enough to listen to
older guys and Larry helped to guide me in the business," said Cronin."I've tried to pattern myself after his
effort in recruiting."
The key word in the last sentence is effort.
"Young assistant coaches in our business need to
spend a week with him in July," said Cronin with a laugh."When you're out there in July, he's watching
games from 8 am until midnight.He's not
a guy that will watch a few games, get a workout in, and go out to dinner.He's in the gym when the first game starts
and the last game ends.He'll tell me
who I need to see and I'll say, 'Where are you going?'And he'll say, 'Well, I'm going to see a half
of this game and a half of that game and then I'm going to go check on this
kid.'If he lays eyes on 10 kids he
might find that guy that wasn't highly-rated - whether it's a Sean Kilpatrick
or a JaQuon Parker."
While Davis has inked his share of big-name recruits
over the years such as 11-year NBA veteran Bobby Jackson when Larry was an
assistant at Minnesota, his ability to find lesser-known recruits has been
invaluable at Cincinnati.
"What I've learned is to be able to rate his tone of
voice," said Cronin."He call and say, 'I
think I've found one,' and I can tell by the way he says it how good that he
thinks the guy is.I can tell by his
excitement level that we had better hurry before too many people see the
"Scouting services and ratings are great, but I've
always been taught from the first day that I got into this that you should
judge with your own eyes," said Davis."You try to see what a guy's potential is down the road.Some of it, quite honestly, is a little bit
of luck, but you have to have an eye for it too and know some of the
characteristics that you're looking for.I take pride in trying to do that and I work for a boss who could care
less about the ratings.Mick wants to
know if the guy can play or not - that's the most important thing to him."
"What Larry understands is that good players don't
have to be highly-rated," said Cronin."He believes in out-working the opponent.He doesn't just go to a city and see one
practice.He'll talk somebody into
working out at six in the morning, so that he can see another kid practice at
three, and another kid play at seven.It's sheer numbers.In sales, the
more people that you get in front of, the more sales that you're going to
have.In recruiting, the more guys that
you see means that you're eventually going to see somebody that can play.That's how you find Hasheem Thabeet in a back
gym when nobody else was recruiting him at the time."
The 7'3" Thabeet was a late signee in Coach Cronin's
first year at Cincinnati who chose UConn over UC and ultimately became the 2nd
overall pick in the NBA draft - unfortunately in recruiting, you don't always
get the guy.But Davis has won his share
of battles and landed Troy
Caupain and Jamaree
Strickland in this year's early signing period.According to Rivals.com, Caupain is a 3-star
recruit while the 6'10" Strickland received 3 stars from 247sports.com.
But before you put too much stock into the scouting
services, you should consider the Wake Forest class of 1993.
"When the recruiting rankings came out that year,"
said Davis, "we had signed three or four other guys so it listed their names
and how many stars they received and ended with, 'and Tim Duncan.'No comment, no rating, just 'and Tim
Duncan.'In the end, he was the number
one guy in the country."
Another tough loss for the Bearcats last night. The frustration could be felt in the voice of Mick Cronin in the 700WLW postgame show with Dan and Chuck. Here is the interview. Mick typically does a good job staying analytic after games and breaking down the reasons for a win or loss while the temperature of the team and it's effort.
Yet, after another game where the buckets didn't come in the final five minutes, he couldn't help but vent over the concerning trend as four games remain in the regular season.
"Right now, we just don't know how to win," he said. "There is poor decisions and
dumb plays right now that are costing us games. There's just no way
around it. It erases all the good they we're doing."
This time, it was a six-point lead with 4:21 left that wilted away to force overtime. From that point forward the Cats were 1 of 5 with two turnovers. The recurring trend is the stem of the frustration for the coach whose now seen nearly every lose come in this heartbreaking fashion.
Take a look at each of the Bearcats losses, finding a way to close out a higher percentage of the games is the biggest difference between average and upper tier in the Big East.
Vs. New Mexico (55-54): Led by 1 with 2:47 left
Vs. St. John's (53-52): Led by 1 with 56 seconds left
Vs. Notre Dame (66-60): Tie game with 8:43 left
@Syracuse (57-55): Led by 6 with 3:47 left
@Providence (54-50): Down by 1 with 3:25 left.
Vs. Pittsburgh (62-52): Led by 1 with 4:55 left
Vs. Georgetown (62-55): Led by 1 with 6:25 left
@ UConn (73-66 OT): Led by 6 with 4:21 left
Much of the conversation I hear about this concept is that the final minutes is about whose stars show up. For UC, that means Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick. Since Wright's injury in particular, production from those stars has been inconsistent.
Thursday's game served as the perfect example. The Bearcats offense looked like a completely different group in the first half and really through the first 35 minutes of the game. JaQuon Parker took over as the third weapon UConn couldn't account for and the team's passing, shot selection looked as good as it had all season.
The struggles in the final minutes to recapture that magic leaves the bitter taste in all of these defeats. Particularly from a team battling with maximum effort every step of the way.
"It's just frustrating right now because
we got to win games and we got a chance to be a good team," Cronin said. "We
continually shoot ourselves in the foot ... it erases all the good they are doing."
The good news is, there is still time to figure it out. The bad news is, that time is running out.
Let's eat ...
--- Like any team that has lost four of five as the Bearcats have, they are trending in the wrong direction when it comes to the NCAA tournament. But the contention that this team is in danger of missing the tournament right now is false.
First, all those siting RPI number (UC currently 44) need to remember it's a completely flawed metric and the committee is increasinly aware of that and only uses it as a small measure of the team's spot on the S-curve. All the advanced metrics are considered.
Take a look at UC's rankings in those:
ESPN BPI: 24
Those are not the numbers of a team on the brink of missing the tournament. Are they a lock right now? No. But in as open of a field as we've seen in recent memory, very few are. The Bearcats are not in danger of missing the dance yet, so please stop with all the NIT stuff I've seen from the knee-jerk reactionaries after these losses.
--- Speaking of, I saw people actually tweeting that late-season spirals should be Cronin's trademark? Let's not let one rough patch erase all memory. Remember, this team won four of its last five each of the last two seasons, won three games in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Big East tournament championship for the first time ever last year.
Just a daily reminder to keep some perspective amid the frustration.
--- JaQuon Parker since making a conscious effort to become the player to pick up the scoring slack continues to do just that. He's now averaging 16.3 points over the last three games. He finishes at the basket far and away better than anybody on the team.
I am flabbergasted as to how he doesn't get more calls scoring around the rim. Seems like 50 percent of his layups he's pounded to the ground without a whistle.
Past results: UC won the only game against UConn last year on a Sean Kilpatrick 3-pointer with less than three seconds remaining. UConn leads the overall series 7-3 with a 2-2 record as the home team.
Need to know: UConn finds itself in an odd predicament where they are ineligible for the postseason due to academic performance failures. They won't take part in the Big East tournament or any other postseason event. New coach Kevin Ollie has done a nice job keeping his team playing with a chip on its shoulder despite the lost season. They've won five of their last seven including a victory over Syracuse.
Game-changing stat: Connecticut struggles terribly on the glass. They rank in the bottom three of the conference in grabbing rebounds on both offense and defense. In fact, out of 350 Division I teams, they rank 331st in defensive rebounding percentage.
Take a look at the UConn losses and keep in mind the Division I average for offensive rebounding is 31.9 percent.
The Huskies have been far below the average in grabbing their own offensive rebounds in every single loss. And outside of the anomaly of the St. John's loss, they've allowed an OR% above the average in every loss. The worst came in their recent loss to Villanova where they let the Wildcats grab more than half of their misses. It results in more shots, more buckets. It's the common thread in how to beat UConn.
Even in their biggest win over Syracuse, the Orange got off 20 more shots than the Huskies due to rebounding discrepancy.
Meanwhile, the Bearcats lead the Big East in conference play in keeping opponents off the boards. UC holds a serious advantage in keeping the Huskies to one-and-done possessions. They must dominate that area as well as crush the offensive glass for putbacks.
"From my time coaching against UConn, they were always a big team," Cronin said. "Last year they had Andre Drummond, plays for the Pistons, and Alex Oriakhi, who starts at the 5 for Missouri. They have been big and strong and dominant all through Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrian. Now, they are a finesse team."
Who to know: Shabazz Napier. Bearcats fans should be well aware of the Huskies star guard at this point. He dropped 27 on them last year including a slew of 3-pointers in the final minute to bring UConn back to a 67-67 tie. Then SK dropped the game-winner.
He can shoot it (38 percent from deep) and can distribute it (2.35:1 assist to turnover).
After a hot streak where he was carrying the Huskies averaging 19.4 points per game during a five-game stretch of four wins.
The last two games, however, he's combined for 12 points including 1 of 9 from 3-point range. He also had nine turnovers over the time span.
Record watch: With a win the Bearcats would have 20 wins in three consecutive seasons. That would be the first time its happened since Bob Huggins from 2004-06.
By the numbers: How good has the Bearcats defense been? Of the 19 games against major opponents this year, every single team has scored fewer points than their season average. The difference has been at least nine points in all but three games and one of those was in OT against Marquette.
The Huskies are averaging 70.6 points per game.
Defining matchup: Wright vs. Napier. The Bearcats can't allow Napier to get going. When he struggles, UConn typically follows. That's one of the biggest reasons for their letdown against Villanova last weekend where he only scored two points. Wright, now UC's career steals leader, has the ability to create turnovers and Napier can be susceptible to that. UC needs to at least break even in this battle.
"They are great players," Sean Kilpatrick said. "We sensed that last year, we have been watching them a lot lately and they make a lot of shots. You are not going to just have me and Cash having to guard them. You are going to have the whole team having to guard them because we know they can make big shots and we know they can take over a game. It's going to be a tough task, but this is a time where we need all the wins we can get."
Road trip: The Bearcats won't come home after Thursday's game against UConn. They will fly to South Bend, Ind., and stay there leading up to Sunday's game against the Irish.
Quotent Quotables: Mick Cronin on the urgency necessary with only five games remaining and 7-6 in the conference.
"Right now, hopefully our veteran guys understand this is why you practiced. This is why you played all those other games, to get to March. It's time to do what we got to do to solidify our position in March. Try to go on a run. All those other games become really irrelevant. You can erase a lot of close losses, a lot of mistakes if you can get to the Big Dance and go on a run. That is beauty of college basketball. As a coach, you have to try to make sure your players understand that. That's the key."
Looking ahead: Get used to seeing the Huskies, after Sunday's game at Notre Dame, UConn will come to Fifth Third Arena on Saturday March 2. I want to hear from you. Send any questions, comments or your thoughts on the Bearcats to my email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter tonight @pauldehnerjr.
When I did a podcast this summer with Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick, we touched on a wide range of topics. Cash's fixation for Waffle House, addictions to chicken fingers/fries and surprising loves for watching golf. But among the topics SK delved into was his favorite moment of last year and his career: the game-winner to beat UConn.
All that said, SK and the Bearcats return to Connecticut on Thursday, though this time they will play in Hartford instead of on the Storrs campus.
Still, Kilpatrick doesn't hide what going back means to him.
"That whole game it will probably still be playing in my mind," he said.
Only, this year, the game changes a bit for SK. Even as he took over as the leading scorer last year, he never really viewed himself as the depended upon leader in those situations. As a sophomore he deferred to the likes of Yancy and Dion Dixon. You can tell in the way he talks about it how much he takes the pressure on of carrying this team more than he did last season.
"Now is going to be a little different," he said. "Now I am one of the key guys that's in the situation where I need to make more plays like that this time and be able to come up big on the defensive end because we know they have great guards."
I've seen some people reacting saying he's complaining about refs limiting UC's scoring and I certainly didn't view it that way. He was speaking generally about the "epidemic" of scoring being down across college basketball. It certainly serves detrimentally to a more finesse scoring team as the Bearcats are this year, but benefits their physical style on the defensive end.
--- SK touched on the fouls topic, but more about the biggest differences as a recognized premier scorer this season. Publicity and gaudy numbers can really be a pain in the Musburgers.
Asked how the grabbing and holding he experiences this year under defensive attention compares to last year, he didn't hold back.
"It's 10 times worse," he said.
He wasn't put off by it, he said he understands it happens because both teams will do whatever they can to win. Although, a few refs "look out for you."
The change didn't come as a surprise.
"That's something I've been adjusting to all throughout this summer because coach told me those types of things are going to be happening." --- If you didn't see my story yesterday on the importance of JaQuon Parker's offense, here it is. I can't stress enough how critical this could be for UC down the stretch. Really think he could be the difference in the extra 3-5 points a game UC needs to get over the hump against elite teams. We shall see.
--- Marquette (10-3) takes sole possession of first place by beating up on Seton Hall last night. Though, it might not last long as the Cuse and GTown can tie with home wins tonight. Watching the Orange against a hot Providence team should be interesting. Look out for PC to provide some nervous moments to the Carrier Dome folks.
--- For those that didn't know, it appears Jameel Poteat is transferring. The RB fell down the depth chart and never found his drive at UC. He entered as a big name and four-star recruit. Just the latest reminder to stop drooling over signing day stars. Seriously, stop it.
In case you haven't seen the Nippert renovation video. Here you go.
--- Some randomness ...
--- It's the Ghostbusters HQ in legos. Which is awesome. By the way, if you want to a real-life replica of the outside of Ghostbusters HQ head to Covington and check the building across from Molly Malone's. All that's missing is Ecto1 out front.
--- The RPI isstill bogus. As if you needed more proof.
The Bearcats need JaQuon Parker to take over more of the offensive load for UC to make a run in the postseason and of late he's shown he could be the difference-maker needed.
CINCINNATI -- After games you won't find JaQuon Parker scouring the box score for his point totals or seeking out his highlight on SportsCenter. In an era dominated by a quest for stats and stardom, Parker represents a throwback in that respect.
Long dedicated to executing Mick Cronin's gameplan Parker will be defined by a toughness unparalleled in recent Bearcats history when honored on Senior Day in two weeks. He eschews points for small details, splash plays for gritty rebounds. It will be his legacy at UC.
Only, over the next month-plus, Parker knows he must drop the unselfish act and start worrying about his stat sheet. In many ways, fulfilling the expectations of UC's season depends up on it. The Bearcats need more points. Nobody fits the mold to supply them better than Parker.
"I got to help him with that and put him in situations to where he can be aggressive, he's thinking offense, he's thinking shot, he's thinking attack," Cronin said. "For us to win, let's just be honest, he's got to play that way. For us to be a high-level team he's got to be a double-figure guy."
Easier said than done for Parker. To flip from a mentality of attacking the offensive glass and making the extra pass to selfishly creating his own shot requires stepping out of the instinctual way he's always played basketball --- and the instinctual way he implanted his footprint on UC.
"Especially for me, I don't really care about that much (scoring) offense," he said, "but I think when I actually make a conscious effort to do it I can do it."
Such will be the key. Cronin began the latest push to force Parker to think about his offense more following a Pittsburgh game where he only took four shots where one or two buckets would have easily swung the tide to Cincinnati.
Although Parker's thought of as a third option behind Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick, he's actually become the most efficient of everyone.
He leads the team in shooting 42 percent from 3-point range. During conference play, he paces the bearcats in field goal percentage, also 42 percent.
Yet, he's taken 80 fewer shots than Kilpatrick and 43 fewer than Wright in 13 conference games.
The hesitancy to find shots stems from a number of reasons in Cronin's opinion. The most notable concept Parker's desire to follow through on what coach preaches in practice, much of which centered around making the extra pass. Also, a constant desire to pull down offensive rebounds often pulls him out of positions where he could spot up for a kickout from a teammate's offensive board. The coach showed Parker film of those situations specifically in an effort to create more looks. Of course, to tell Parker not to grind after every rebound would be like telling Cronin not to coach. It's what they do. It's who they are.
"I got to make sure I don't allow him to slip into a mode where he's just trying to go to offensive rebound; where he's looking to be an integral part of our offense," he said. "That's big for us as we go forward. It's going to have to continue to be that for him."
Somewhere along the course of the season, the aggression faded. During the toughest portions of the non-conference schedule Parker stayed involved offensively. Looking at the seven non-cupcake games prior to the Big East slate (Iowa State, Oregon, Alabama, Marshall, Xavier, Wright State, New Mexico), he took significantly more shots than during conference play.
Time period: FG-FGA per game // Avg Points
Legit non-conference: 4.4-11.7 // 12.1
Big East play: 3.2-7.5 // 10.3
Prior to playing Villanova, Cronin placed a renewed effort to keep Parker thinking about attacking the basket. The difference has been noticeable. The last two games he's 10 of 19 from the floor, averaging 17 points. He earned a spot on the Big East Honor Roll for the first time this season.
It didn't come without a friendly reminder at halftime against Georgetown when he'd only taken two shots during another sluggish offensive half for UC.
"I don't know who they think is going to check in and get 20," Cronin said after the game. "I had to yell at him at halftime, he won't look at the rim. I love him but he's got the ball over his head. Sometimes it's everything I can do to get him to look at the rim."
The response showed exactly the type of impact Parker can have. He reeled off 11 consecutive points, the last of which closed a double-digit deficit to a 51-50 UC lead. Unfortunately, he would only be able to get off one more shot over the final 6:53 where the Bearcats went without a field goal until the game was already decided. This came one game after he poured in 19 points against Villanvoa, his highest point total since Dec. 22 against Wright State.
"I was coming into the game thinking I'm going to actually take more shots and try to get better shots and try to drive the ball more and get myself shots in the lane and get my teammates kickouts," Parker said.
Parker understands the importance of adding attack to toughness as his defining characteristic. As UC heads down the critical final five games of the regular season and into postseason play, he plans on continuing his crusade as difference-maker for a team only two baskets per game away from ranking among the elite in the Big East.
"I know my game is basically driving," he said. "On the 3-point if I'm set I can definitely hit that shot and so I just try to drive more and get more pull-ups. I definitely think I can (add more scoring) and from here on, I'm going to try to do that. Get the offense rolling and get it started."
I want to hear from you. Send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or hit me up on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) with any comments or questions.
You know how Monday morning really sets the tone for the week? Well, I'm currently experiencing a tone-setting much like Johnny Cueto hurting his back eight pitches into the playoffs. Only, gloomier.
Went to write this blog today and my computer didn't turn on. Just won't. Anyway, much thanks to the folks at Best Buy who were able to figure out the problem and stop all the nightmare scenarios from running through my head.
--- Time to take stock of the Big East landscape as we enter the final few weeks of the regular season. With five games remaining, the Bearcats are 2.5 games out of first place, two games back of Louisville for the fourth spot (and final double-bye in Big East tournament) and one win shy win No. 20.
As far as seeding and the NCAA tournament goes, most places have UC currently sitting around a 7 seed. As far as the Big East Tournament goes, they only need to avoid being caught by Providence, who is one game back, or they could end up playing on Tuesday with the different tournament breakdown this year.
There will be two games on Tuesday in New York, the 14 vs. 11 and 13 vs. 12. With UConn ineligible for postseason play, there are only 14 teams in the tournament.
More than likely, it appears UC will be somewhere in the Wednesday mix of teams seeded between 5 and 10. And games between all of those teams have been a crapshoot all season.
--- UC plays at UConn on Thursday at 7 p.m. Two of the next three games will be against the Huskies (17-7, 7-5) who surprisingly lost at home to Villanova this weekend.
The road has been a comfortable place for UC and perhaps what they need after losing two of three at Fifth Third last week.
At 5-2 in true road games, they lead the Big East in road winning percentage. Throw in the perfect 3-0 record in neutral site games and the lead grows even more.
A successful road trip, which has been at the core of the rebuild of this program the last few years, feels like a great remedy for the sting of Pittsburgh and Georgetown. --- People need to stop suggesting to me UC change the offensive style at this point in the season. Stop it. You can't learn an entirely new system with five games to go before the postseason. Find a way to get better at what you are doing and create more shots.
--- Mick Cronin Show tonight at 8:05 from the Montgomery Inn and on 700WLW. Should be a good listen. You've obviously got questions, Mick always allows thoughtful answers.
--- Tough weekend for the baseball team. They were swept in their opening series by Florida Atlantic, Sunday's finale being of the extra-inning walk-off variety. Justin Glass made his presence known though with a home run and RBI double to start off his anticipated junior season.