So the early NCAA tournament projections have started to come out, and
So what does that mean?
But it does go to show all of us that the season didn't end when the Bearcats gift-wrapped and gave away the
Saturday's win over Notre Dame was absolutely critical. If you figure (as I do) that a 9-9 Big East record would put Cincinnati on the NCAA bubble while a 10-8 mark would give UC a strong resume heading into March, the Bearcats cannot afford to lose any more games that they are favored to win.
They also can't afford to keep shooting 32% from the field.
Fortunately, great defense, aggressive rebounding, and good offensive execution in the last 1:30 were enough to beat the Fighting Irish.
"We played with a lot of heart," Coach Cronin told me. "It wasn't pretty, we didn't make many shots, and we made our share of mistakes. But our heart was there and that's what carried us through."
No one embodied that more than Yancy Gates. Mick likes to joke that instead of a "5-Hour Energy Drink", he wishes someone would invent a "2-Hour Angry Drink" for Gates to consume right before tipoff.
"The thing that I'm trying to get some of our guys to do - Yancy being one, Rashad being another - is to get serious and get mean," Cronin said. "You've to play with some emotion and heart. This is a game of wills and competitiveness and talent is only going to take you so far. You have got to compete and show some emotion. Lay your heart on the line out there because that's what the teams at the top of this league have historically done. Those guys are good guys, but they have to get mean between the lines and that's what I have been challenging them to do."
Perhaps a few more shots will go in on Wednesday night vs. USF, but if they don't, a team that intends to stay in the bracketologist's projections has to find a way to win.
"I told the guys, you can't live and die with the jump shot," Cronin said. "We have to live and die with the offensive rebound. We have to go and rebound the ball because we are not going to win a game of horse. A physical game, an athletic game, a rebounding game, a game of toughness and defense we can win."
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In case you're wondering why Biggie McClain was not in uniform on Saturday, he took a nasty fall the day before at practice and hurt his knee. Fortunately, an MRI found no structural damage and he could see action on Wednesday night.
Additionally, Ibrahima Thomas has been hampered by a sprained left thumb. He's wearing a protective cover over it when he's off the court, but is only taping it during practice and games.
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The Notre Dame game drew the biggest crowd of the year at Fifth Third Arena and there were several clever Brian Kelly-related signs in the student section including one that said, "The 11th Commandment: Thou Shall Not Covet They Neighbor's Coach."
Mick Cronin would love to see a similar home court advantage against USF. As he jokingly pointed out on his radio show on Monday night, "Don't forget, they stole our defensive coordinator Joe Tresey prior to the season."
Something tells me that Tresey won't be the subject of any signs in the student section.
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Sam Hoard (AKA "The Handsome Lad") attended his first game of the season on Saturday. Special thanks to Director of Basketball Operations Chris Goggin, his wife Sonya, and their daughter Simone for showing Sam (and my wife Peg) a great time.
The only thing Sam enjoyed more than the win over Notre Dame was his first visit to Graeter's. The kid loves ice cream and classic rock.
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