I'll admit it; I had the Pitt game penciled in as a win going into the season.
The Panthers lost DeJuan Blair (15.7 points, 12.3 rebs), Sam Young (19.2 points, 6.3 rebs) and Levance Fields (10.7 points, 7.5 assists) from last season's Elite 8 team and were picked to finish 9th in the Big East in the preseason coaches' poll.
After seeing them in person on Monday night, they are a heck of a lot better than I thought they were going to be.
There's a reason why Pitt coach Jamie Dixon won more games in his first six years than any other Division 1 coach in college basketball history - his teams are tough, disciplined, and don't make mistakes.
In my opinion, the Bearcats can learn more from their loss to Pitt than any of their previous defeats this season. They weren't robbed by a lousy call (Gonzaga). They didn't blow the game at the FT line (Xavier). And they didn't get outhustled (UAB).
Simply put, they had a few more mental lapses on the defensive end (have you ever seen so many guys fall for head fakes?) and it cost them the game.
"We couldn't stop 'em," Coach Cronin told me. "We didn't get enough stops to win the game. That's not who we are. We don't give up 49% shooting. If we defend as we have all year we win this game."
Pitt methodically executed its offense for 40 minutes (48% shooting in first half, 50% in second half) and only turned the ball over seven times.
"When we don't score, we go down to the other end and carry that miss with us," Cronin said. "It's got to be over with - you can't let a missed shot or an empty possession compound the problem by giving them an easy shot on the other end. We have to develop a tougher mettle about us where we understand that there are going to be times that we don't score in crucial situations. You cannot get deflated and let it impact the defensive end."
Pitt doesn't let that happen. Let's hope it's a lesson learned for UC.
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I've received a bunch of e-mail from fans that made the trip to
I'm still amazed by the sheer amount of red-and-black that I saw in the French Quarter, and the pep rally is one of the coolest things I've even been involved with. Kudos to the folks from the UC alumni association for putting together such a great event.
I had a chance to visit with Nick Carparelli, the Big East's Senior Associate Commissioner for Football, and he said the UC fan support had definitely made a statement that will help the Bearcats in future bowl negotiations. We've come a long way in a very short period of time.
I took one of team busses back to the hotel after the game and got a lump in my throat when I walked with the Bearcats through a roped-off line of thousands of cheering UC fans. I can only imagine how much that meant to the players and coaches. Thank you to everyone who waited at the Marriott to lift their spirits.
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I also want to thank all of you who stopped me in
Finally, a number of you also wondered why I haven't posted any photos of the handsome lad lately. It's a very good question. Here is 3-year-old Sam, proudly wearing his Bearcat gear.
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