So, watching the NCAA Tournament can be a good way to measure where your team is relative to being a postseason contender.
Whether you want to compare UC's basketball team to Northern Iowa and Butler or Michigan State and West Virginia, there are lessons to be learned from teams who have put on an amazing show over the past few weeks.
What that in mind, here is a wish list of sorts for the 2010-11 Bearcats:
1. Find/recruit/develop a designated 3-point shooter or two (or three). I think about guys like Field Williams, Darnell Burton, LaZelle Durden - players who will nail a wide-open 3 a high percentage of the time. How many teams advanced in the NCAA when a reliable outside shooter hit a clutch shot in the final seconds? If you can't hit them regularly, you're unlikely to sink them when it counts most. I thought maybe Larry Davis or Darnell Wilks could be that player last season. They weren't. If I were them, I'd be shooting 1,000 3-pointers a day. At least. UC needs someone with the mental makeup of an Ali Farokhmanesh (See Northern Iowa over Kansas).
2. Bring in a team psychologist and a shot doctor to help with free-throw shooting. The end of so many games comes down to fouling and free-throw shooting. Anyone think any of the Bearcats would sink three straight free throws at the end of a game like Terrell Holloway did for Xavier with five seconds left at the end of regulation against Kansas State? Not me.
3. I once covered a coach whose goal for this team was to "play harder longer" than any opponent. We've watched teams compete at an unbelievable level during the NCAA Tournament - and several NIT games (the Dayton Flyers come to mind). They may kick it up a notch during the postseason, but these are teams that are accustomed to playing and competing with that kind of intensity throughout the season. That's how you get to the NCAA - you can't just turn it on and off. After watching the Bearcats in the Big East tournament, how could you not help thinking: What if they played that hard every game all season?
4. There have got to be a few bread-and-butter plays a team can use when it's going lengthy periods without scoring - kind of like a stopper in a baseball team's rotation who can halt a losing streak. I have not seen many teams over the years regularly go 7, 8, 9 minutes without scoring like this past season's UC team. Somebody has to be able to design a few go-to plays that prevent those kinds of droughts.
5. While I appreciate that there were a lot of capable players on this year's team, it did not seem like natural roles developed for each guy. It was hard to point to the best player to run the offense, the best on the fast break, the defensive stopper, the spot-up shooter, the relentless rebounder. So many guys played different roles every night that I am not sure whether they found a rhythm in their roles.
I have been fortunate enough to cover some great head coaches and former assistants who are now head coaches: Gene Keady, Skip Prosser, Bob Huggins, Bruce Weber, Kevin Stallings, Steve Lavin, Dino Gaudio, not to mention Mick Cronin and Chris Mack. I would never claim to know more about basketball than any of these guys.
Just sharing some thoughts I've had while watching this fabulous NCAA Tournament. Hope the Bearcat players are watching, too.