UC and DePaul...these games have been taking place with regularity since UC's glory years in the Great Midwest. That's when DePaul was more competitive,. Joey Meyer was the coach and his dad, the legendary Coach Ray Meyer was usually nearby.
(For your history lesson, Ray Meyer won a ton of games at DePaul and coached Hall of Famer George Mikan. Back when I produced Sportstalk with Cris Collinsworth on a noteworthy local radio station, I remember being excited to have booked Ray Meyer on as a guest.)
Those DePaul teams were usually in the hunt and were led by Tom "Doughboy" Kleinschmidt, a rugged, blue collar player (pretty much a smaller Luke Harangody by today's terms). Sure, UC typically won, but the games were always exciting. Once, at Silky O'Sullivan's in Memphis after UC eliminated DePaul from the conference tournament, we saw DePaul guard Peter Patton "out on the town". Friends of ours bought him a beverage to which he replied, "That's the first time Cincinnati gave me anything!"
Later, in Conference USA UC had some good games when Pat Kennedy was coach and the Blue Demons featured Quentin Richardson. Those included the legendary Kenyon Martin-led comeback with DerMarr Johnson hitting the game-winner.
Well sadly, this DePaul isn't as good. But, they are dangerous. And, at 8-18 and 1-13 in the league, they're hungry. That could be unsettling for Bearcat fans if Mick Cronin's men don't bring the effort Wednesday night.
"The one thing our team has to understand is DePaul has been in every game for two months," said Cronin. "They were tied with Louisville with six minutes to play in their last game. They beat Marquette, they almost beat Syracuse, they lose by seven to UConn. they lose by eight at Seton Hall. People are not blowing them out. They play too hard and they have athletes."
For a team that lost to Seton Hall, St. John's and Marquette, underestimating DePaul would be foolish. They've already canned their coach (Jerry Wainwright) and they're being led by interim Tracy Webster.
"Tracy Webster brings Bruce Weber's defense from Illinois," said Cronin. "You can tell he worked with him by the way they defend you."
If Bruce Weber doesn't ring a bell, it was his Illini that gave UC one of it's most embarrassing NCAA tournament losses ever, 92-68 in Columbus.
Fortunately, this DePaul team has struggled offensively. Still, they managed to beat Marquette 51-50, something the Bearcats couldn't do this past Sunday.
"Big East, they're averaging 59 points a game," said Cronin. "They struggle to make shots at times. When they do make shots they can play with anybody. You'd be remiss if you didn't give Tracy (Webster) credit. Keeping today's kid positive and competing and playing hard is not an easy thing to do. It's also a credit to their kids."
What this turns into basically is a game where DePaul has nothing to lose and UC has everything to lose. If the Bearcats lose, they not only disappear from the NCAA picture, but the NIT probably wouldn't be a given either. If DePaul loses, it's not exactly "breaking news" on ESPN.
UC has their proverbial "backs against the wall". They must win a game that most have already penciled in with DePaul. Then, they get the trifecta of three ranked teams (at West Virginia, Villanova here and at Georgetown.
"There's no reason we can't do it," said Cronin this week. "We're just going to have to impose our will on other teams. It comes down to simply outplaying the other team. We have to display great physical toughness. We have to play smart, too."
Smart is not throwing the ball to the other team. Smart is not an errant cross-court pass. Smart is not fouling a three-point shooter. Also, smart is playing with the same intensity every game, not just for the over-hyped marquees matches.
"You just have to refuse to lose," said Cronin, borrowing from a number of famous coaches. "From the first man to the last man, we're all going to do what we've got to do to get a win. Nobody's going to take a bad shot, no one's going to turn the ball over or miss a screen, so we can become a more consistent team."
Consistency would be good.
Winning would be better.