How Soft Is The Schedule And What Does It Mean?

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Let's talk about that schedule shall we?


No one is going to suggest that the Bearcats face a brutal non-conference slate this year.  But is it really drastically different from the rest of the Big East?  And more importantly, what does it mean?


Here's a highly unscientific look at every team in the Big East and what I consider to be their tough* non-league games.


(By tough, I'm going with opponents from major conferences or teams that are traditionally good.  Some of them are probably not so good this year, and I'm sure I've left out a few small conference schools that have solid teams.  I have included mid-majors like Cleveland State, Oakland, Drexel, and St. Mary's that appear to be strong.)


UConn (5):  Wichita State, Michigan State, Kentucky (all three in Maui), at Texas (Jan 8), Tennessee (Jan 22)


DePaul (2):  Oklahoma State, Stanford (both in Anaheim)


Georgetown (6):  at Old Dominion, NC State, Missouri (in KC), Utah State, at Temple, at Memphis


Louisville (4):  Butler, UNLV, Drexel, Kentucky


Marquette (4):  Duke, Gonzaga (both in Kansas City), Wisconsin, at Vanderbilt


Notre Dame (5):  Georgia, Cal, Wisconsin (Old Spice Classic), Kentucky, Gonzaga


Pittsburgh (4):  Rhode Island, Maryland, Texas (2K Sports Classic), Tennessee


Providence (3):  Rhode Island, at Boston College, Alabama


Rutgers (5):  at Princeton, Miami, St. Joseph's, Auburn, North Carolina


St. John's (4):  at St. Mary's, Arizona St (in Alaska), possibly Northwestern (MSG Holiday Festival), Duke (Jan 30)


Seton Hall (8):  Alabama, Xavier, Clemson (all in Paradise Jam), at Temple, Arkansas, at UMass, Dayton, Richmond 


USF (5):  BYU, Texas Tech (both on S. Padre Island), VCU, Auburn, at Cleveland State


Syracuse (5):  Michigan, Georgia Tech (both in Atlantic City), NC State, Michigan State, Drexel.


Villanova (5):  UCLA, Tennessee (both NIT), St. Joe's, Temple, Maryland (Jan 15)


West Virginia (6):  Vanderbilt, Minnesota (both in Puerto Rico), Oakland, at Miami, Cleveland State, Purdue (Jan 16)


That's an average of 4.7 "tough games" per school and many of the toughest games have come in early season tournaments.


So what about UC?  I would put four games in the "tough" category:  Dayton (US Bank Arena), at Oklahoma (OK City), at Miami, and Xavier (Jan 6).  Admittedly, they are not as tough as many of the games listed above, but I still consider them to be good tests.


Dayton is obviously not off to a great start, but in a weird way, I think UC is actually getting less credit for hammering the Flyers by 34 points than if the game had been close.  It was such a rout that many people concluded that Dayton must be awful instead of UC might be really good.


Similarly, it will be interesting to see how much credit the Bearcats will receive if they are able to win at Oklahoma on Saturday.  When the game was scheduled, the Sooners appeared to be loaded . . . then sophomore Willie Warren and freshmen Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin all left school early to turn pro.  As a result, Oklahoma is 5-5 including a loss to Chaminade in Hawaii.  Still, it's a virtual road game against a Big 12 opponent.


The bigger question is "What does it mean?"


We know the Big East is going to brutal.  Based on the current AP rankings, Cincinnati will play eight games against Top 25 teams (five on the road), and that does not include matchups against West Virginia or Marquette.  In other words, the Bearcats will have plenty of opportunities to impress the NCAA Tournament committee. 


Playing a less-challenging schedule before facing that gauntlet has benefits beyond piling up wins. 


"I think it allows us to stay in a good frame of mind," Coach Cronin told me.  "If you're winning, guys are receptive to coaching.  We're trying to build a style of play with our pressure defense, and we're trying to share the ball on the offensive end.  It's given us some time to really work on those things."


But will this schedule prepare the Bearcats for the start of Big East play in two weeks?


"We play against Big East players every day in practice," Coach Cronin said.  "As (Syracuse coach) Jim Boeheim says, 'It's not who you play; it's how you play.'  I don't know how you could have played better on a neutral court against Dayton than we did.  We just have to keep getting better.  It's doesn't matter who you play, you just have to make sure that you improve." 


It's hard to argue that they haven't been improving. 


* * * * *


At this point of the season, is anyone in college basketball shooting the ball better than Rashad Bishop?



In his last two games, Bishop has made all 11 of his field goal attempts (including five 3-pointers), and for the season he's a perfect 17-for-17 from the line.  The senior is shooting 58% overall and 58% (14-for-24) from outside the arc.


"He's been great in practice and his mind is in a great place," Coach Cronin said.  "He's given us great leadership just by the way that he's playing.  He's got the senior sense of urgency and I'm proud of him because it's taken me three years to get him to assert himself and put in the extra time.  Darren Savino has done a great job with Rashad.  Being from New Jersey, he's been able to bond with him and get him to spend extra time shooting the ball.  I think some of our off-season talks probably helped where I questioned his commitment.  I told him that we needed him to be more than just a guy who didn't make mistakes; we needed him to be a good player.  In our league, you can't just be OK, you've got to have guys that are a threat to put the ball in the basket and make plays."


* * * * *


Thursday night's Mick Cronin Radio Show at the Original Montgomery Inn will be preceded by the annual "Struggle for the Steak" dinner.  Chuck and Mo tied for the top spot last year meaning I have to don the Montgomery Inn apron (with the "Loser" name tag) and serve up the feast.




We'll be joined by the winner of the online version of the contest - Larry Crawford.  If you would like to compete for great prizes including a seat at the dinner table next year, don't forget to sign up and play at  The online version starts with the beginning of Big East play in two weeks. 


I'd love to hear from you.  The address is


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at


Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad.


Sunglasses Sam.jpg 


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1 Comment

Thanks for another great article, Dan! Great perspective. You know, I had hoped that some of the people still in Huggsville would have thawed out and come back into the real world some day, but I no longer think that will happen. We need new UC fans that are true fans of the programs at UC, not just of the firey head coach. I believe THAT will happen in time, hopefully in a short time. Keep up the great writing! Merry Christmas to you and your family.