Typically, on Senior Night, you'd like to have a team you can beat on the schedule. Not a horrible, inferior team, but a team you feel pretty good about defeating.
That's kind of tough to work out in the Big East though. Consequently, UC will say goodbye to Seniors Deonta Vaughn and Steve Toyloy Tuesday night against Villanova, who has hovered about the Top 10 for most of the year.
It's certainly not impossible to beat them (UC did in '08) but at 23-5 'Nova is the favorite in this one. And, it's doubtful they'll come in overlooking UC as the Wildcats have dropped three of their last four games.
Nothing like having an angry ranked team to deal with.
"Villanova's a good team," said departing Senior Deonta Vaughn. "They've got a lot of great ballhandlers. They run a lot of pick and roll to where it's hard to guard them. We've just got to come out as a team with a defensive mindset--don't worry about our offense, worry about our defense--try to outscrap them at every position"
Should that happen, Vaughn and Toyloy will depart in style. It would be a big boost to any tournament chances.
"I feel like these last couple games is where we're really going to show it and then make a run to get into the tournament," said a still-confident Vaughn.
Realistically, UC is two behind last year's win total and that 18-win squad sat home with nary a call from the NCAA nor the NIT. Vaughn is just fighting to get in the postseason (which doesn't include the infamous CBI invite two years ago for purposes of this article). The four-year starter sits fourth on UC's all-time scoring list, but minus the proverbial "dance ticket".
"That just comes with hard work and playing good throughout your four years you were here," said Vaughn. "I may not have had the senior year I wanted, but still being one of the top scorers in UC history, it means a lot as an individual. All of that can be erased if I never get to experience the NCAA tournament."
Vaughn knows all about Villanova as the Bearcats had them on the ropes here a couple years ago.
What UC's missed all year is exactly what they need Tuesday night--the knockout punch. While the Bearcats have won some big games, they've also "let slide" a few that would have been "significant wins".
"They've got Scottie Reynolds, they've got Corey Fisher, they can create their own shot," Vaughn said of the 'Nova talent. "They do all the little things in order to get a win. They dive for loose balls, they're a real scrappy team. We've just got to outplay them and that's what we're going to try to do as a team."
Specifically, Mick Cronin looks at defense (again) as the key to stunning Villanova.
"Well, we've got to defend them--83.5 points per game," said Cronin of Jay Wright's team. "Top 10 in the nation, they're a hard team to defend. They've got a lot of weapons. Tremendous shooting team, tremendous dribble-drive quickness team. Very aggressive team. We're going to have to be strong with the basketball and get to the foul line."
The great disparity in free throws and free throws made that has haunted this team on occasion, cannot be there once the stats are handed out late Tuesday night.
"Everybody that's beat them has shot 35-plus free throws and made a pretty good percentage of their free throws," said Cronin. "That's going to be a big focus for us. We're going to have to get to the line. If they have on weakness, it's sending kids to the foul line. We've got to capitalize when we get there."
It all could make for a memorable Senior Night for Steve Toyloy and Deonta Vaughn.
For toughing out four years in a program that was undergoing extensive rebuilding, he deserves to sit in the interview room afterward with a grin on his face and a gleam in his eye.