Deonta Vaughn never made it to the NCAA tournament in his time at UC. While he's far from alone in that category, it is disappointing given the four-year starter put up numbers that made him one of the top scorers at UC ever. (Plus, putting it in perspective, those figures came from four years in the Big East--the toughest conference the Bearcats have ever played in.)
The upside of all of this is that Deonta and fellow senior Steve Toyloy DID NOT play their final game at Fifth Third Arena in the Senior Day loss to Villanova. Much like Eric Hicks in 2006, Vaughn will have a chance to continue squeaking the Adidas on Ed Jucker Court as UC could host up to three NIT games. The first being Wednesday night at 7 p.m. against Weber State.
"It feels kind of good," said Vaughn "It ain't the tournament that I wanted. What can we say? We lost a tough one and that kind of hurts deep down inside for everybody. But, you know, it's the NIT. Ain't never been there neither."
A lot of the Bearcats I talked to, bypassed the NCAA Selection Show, knowing that their name wouldn't come up on the big screen. Others, like Yancy Gates, had other viewing plans. Gates claimed he was more interested in the "Reggie Miller Show" that ESPN had to offer.
Then there's Deonta Vaughn who said he didn't watch the show on purpose. Nor, did he watch the Big East final that he'd hoped to play in.
"Nah, I didn't want to watch it," said Vaughn. "I saw on Top 10 (Butler's shot to beat Georgetown). He traveled too. You know it's the Big East. It's a whole different atmosphere when you play top teams and top players. They get a lot of respect. My hat goes out to Butler."
His hat goes out to Butler, but his heart remains torn. Deep down he knows UC could've been there. Their shooting touch might still qualify them for an honorary membership in the Greater Cincinnati Homebuilders Association as "brick" experts, but the 'Cats played with the toughness and "Maui Mojo" that we saw back in November when they knocked off Vanderbilt and Maryland and were a missed foul call from beating Gonzaga.
By the way, the Commodores, Terrapins and Bulldogs are all in the field of 65.
While Vaughn passed on the Big East game and the NCAA Selection Show, he did take in the NIT event on ESPNU. He there found motivation to play hard on Wednesday against Weber State. While he didn't know much about Weber State in the Big Sky, he did find out about one talking head who was flinging stuff around to see if it would stick.
"I haven't ever heard of them," said Vaughn of Big Sky runners-up. "I don't like the comment that the sports announcer made saying they were going to beat us (Mike Kelley on ESPNU, former Wisconsin guard). We just have to go out there and show them different. They're a little conference and we're Big East and we still we don't get no respect though we play a little school. We're still a Big East school. We should have the upside against them because of the teams we play against and how physical we play."
Mick Cronin chimed in immediately after Vaughn's diatribe, "Actually, I paid him to say that because I knew you guys would watch."
"Mike Kelley's fired!" said a still-perplexed Vaughn.
For motivational purposes, I wouldn't be shocked to hear that Kelley's comments were played in and around Weber State video sessions. Heck, I might put it on the scoreboard right before gametime if I were Cronin.
Once he settled down, Vaughn admitted that the NIT appearance should still be good for the program. With eight teams in "The Big Dance" it has to be frustrating to miss out (especially when you've beaten several teams that made it). Then again, UC might still be playing when a good many NCAA teams fall short Thursday and Friday.
"It'll mean that we made a lot of progress," said Vaughn on continuing play in the NIT. "Then next year, with Coach Cronin and those guys they can go on and make it to the NCAA tournament. First we had CBI, now we have NIT and hopefully next year they'll make it to the NCAA."
It's not the way Cronin and Vaughn had it all planned, but given the cards that were dealt, it was the best they could do. Truthfully, many of the NIT teams are flat-out better than some in the NCAA field.
But, the tournament's success relies on those "underdog" schools that get in and knock off a "Goliath". It's one of the more popular sporting events going, so it's not going to change anytime soon.
Sure, some want everybody in, and UC would be in if that happened. But, it's something that isn't broke--so don't fix it!
In the meantime, enjoy the NIT and enjoy the opportunity to watch your team extend their season.
For those that return this fall, it could be a meaningful experience.