I've been reluctant to completely buy in that this Bearcats team was legitimate. I've been reluctant to concede they are this good and not their competition being this bad. I've been reluctant to believe they are an upper-echelon Big East team.
Not any more.
What we saw Tuesday against
The Bearcats did everything right.
They doled out 26 assists to 9 turnovers. Six players scored in double figures. For the second straight game all five starters scored at least nine points.
They knocked down 50 percent from 3-point range (6 of 12). They owned the glass, 42-28. Heck, they even hit 77 percent from the free throw line.
In the end, they scored more points than in any game during the Mick Cronin era.
The Bearcats are untested. They haven't played anybody anywhere near Big East quality. Their SOS is in the 300s.
But, a lot of teams are playing poor opponents. They aren't owning them from the opening tip until the final horn, night in and night out. They aren't challenging scoring and margin of victory records on a weekly basis.
Notre Dame played
It would be hard to believe there are a lot of teams in the country that would have beat UC Tuesday night. That's my eyes speaking, not any statistical construction put together by KenPom or computer RPI.
"Probably the best game we have played for 40 minutes," Cronin said. "The guys did a great job. They couldn't have played any better. I am a happy coach tonight."
We really don't know if it will translate into more Big East wins and they don't deserve to be ranked in the Top 25 yet. But there is no arguing this team is better.
I distinctly remember half efforts last year in games at UAB and
Yet, this team brings relentless energy and intensity for 40 minutes in a December game against
What we think really doesn't matter, either. That's the beauty of the setup from Cronin's perspective.
"There are other teams that haven't played the greatest schedule, haven't played a game outside their building and they're ranked," Cronin said. "But they have a different name. They maybe have a different coach. But, that's the great thing about it, we'll have our chance. We just have to worry about getting better every day in practice."
--- Tuesday was quite a show to witness. Unfortunately, not many did. The attendance was listed at 4,523.
The line of questioning postgame turned to the dreaded attendance topic at one point and I thought Yancy Gates allowed some telling thoughts.
He opened by saying he didn't care if people are taking notice of what this team is doing.
"I don't care, not really," he said talking about the small numbers in the stands. "In a way, yeah, because you like to play in front of a lot of fans, but we know what we are doing and we are trying to do, so, I mean, if they do it's a great thing if they don't we try not to let it bother us or worry about it. We just worry about trying to play."
It's impossible not to notice the empty seats missing out on some of the fireworks this team is putting up. While the wind chill dips to single digits outside and the game is on FoxSportsOhio, I can't say I blame anybody for staying home.
But it certainly doesn't go unnoticed by the players.
"You don't have a choice but to look in the crowd and see the crowd, but we try not to let it affect our energy and how we play even though when you have a better crowd it is easier to have a high energy level, because you kind of feed off the crowd," Gates said. "The fans that come out we appreciate it, because those are loyal fans and we try to play hard for them."
Cronin has taken on the attendance issue in the past, but clearly wasn't interested in touching that topic on Tuesday.
"In all seriousness, for me and our team we stay focused on winning games and getting better, make sure we continue to improve," he said. "Worry about stuff that matters. I choose to focus on people that come to games and we appreciate the people that come to our games, we will just continue trying to give them a great show."
--- Rashad Bishop still can't miss. After going 7 of 7 from the floor and 3 for 3 from 3-point range against
He went 4 for 4 from the floor, dropping back to back 3-pointers to open the game.
Gates was asked what is going on with Rashad Bishop who hasn't missed a shot since early in the second half against
"I don't know," Gates said. "He don't know. We see him open we just going with it right now. He's hot. If he's open you have to get it to him right now."
Or just send him to line. There have been a laundry list of crazy numbers the Bearcats racked up during their 9-0 start. None is more ridiculous than Rashad Bishop being 17 of 17 from the FT line.
He shot 57 percent from the line last year.
"I will say this, I'm glad he got to the foul line," Cronin said. "It doesn't do any good to have a great free throw shooter if he never gets fouled. He's giving us great leadership right now, as well as all our seniors. Their attitudes are tremendous."
--- JaQuon Parker enjoyed extended minutes and contributed 6 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. He played some off the ball and also ran the point the majority of the second half with Cash Wright resting on the bench.
"This was by far (Parker's) best game," Cronin said. "It was really good to see him have a good game. He's been frustrated; he's been working hard every day in practice. I was really happy to see him play well."
--- Cronin talked about the improved chemistry among the team that has made such a huge difference in the Bearcats sharing of the basketball and general team attitude.
It's been a topic before. Cronin has told anybody who would listen that this team's chemistry will positively affect their performance.
However, he took an extra step to debunk a thought floating around right now.
Usually, people talk about the loss of Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson as addition by subtraction when looking at this group. While pieces of that argument are true defensively and with sharing of the basketball, it's not true in team chemistry or overall improvement.
"A lot of that is unfair to Deonta and Lance," Cronin said. "A lot of that has to do with guys in the locker room now taking ownership with why we lost some close games last year. Because of what they went through together and the tough losses have made them better. Now, they are easier to coach because they understand the things they did wrong that maybe cost us some games and cost us the NCAA tournament.
"It's not Deonta and Lance being gone, it's what we all went through as a group. It's all part of building a program."
Considering how much was learned from losing last year, BearcatReport's Andrew Force asked if this team is missing out on some of that learning by opening 9-0.
"We learned enough last year," Cronin said with a smile.