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A Tough Night For The Bearcats? That's The Plan

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"Winning has made us soft," Mick Cronin told his players at the start of their first practice following Sunday's loss at Syracuse.  "So I'm warning you:  We are going to work hard or we are going to run.  I'm not going to yell one time.  But work hard or run."

 

That gives you an idea of Cincinnati's mindset going into Wednesday night's game at #16 Notre Dame.  After being outrebounded in three straight games, including by an embarrassing 41-28 margin at Syracuse - the Bearcats are determined to get back to what made them successful during their 16-0 start including quality wins over Dayton and Xavier.

 

"My message to the guys was, 'You have to get back to being who you were and hungry,' Coach Cronin said.  "Our defense and rebounding have not been what they needed to be.  Most of my disappointment from the Syracuse loss was the fact that they shot 56% and outrebounded us.  We were not able to make it hard enough for them to score." 

 

But defending Notre Dame is difficult too -- especially in South Bend where the Irish are 11-0 with wins over Gonzaga, Georgetown, UConn, and St. John's.  Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis both rank among the Top 10 in the Big East in 3-pointers made, and Notre Dame takes care of the ball by only averaging 11.5 turnovers per game.

 

"They are a totally different basketball team at home," Coach Cronin said.  "If we give Abromaitis and Hansbrough open looks, they are going to make it.  We have to do a tremendous job with our defensive pressure.  There will be no change in our style of play.  We are who we are, and we try to get after teams defensively.  Hopefully, if we can get after Notre Dame without giving up wide-open three point shots, then our pressure will be effective."

 

The Irish are looking to bounce back from a rough week as they got blown out on the road by Marquette (22 points) and St. John's (18 points).  Notre Dame is missing a key player as 6'8" Carleton Scott, who averages 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds, who will miss his 5th straight game with a hamstring injury.

 

"Oh, it's a loss, no doubt because they don't have the depth that we have," Cronin said.  "He's their longest guy.  Their biggest problem with their starting lineup is that they lack size.  The problem that they pose for us is at the power forward position with Scott Martin, the transfer from Purdue.  He's a face-up player who shoots the three and can put the ball on the floor and he's a match-up problem for Ibrahima Thomas.  They really spread you out and can shoot the ball at different positions."

 

While he has not been specific, Coach Cronin has strongly suggested that there will be a change in his starting lineup tonight.  Regardless of who starts, the guys who are going to play are the ones that give him the toughness and maximum effort that he's looking for.

 

"One thing you have to do in coaching is know what your players are capable of," Cronin said.  "If they don't do what they're capable of, then they don't get to play.  Whether it's playing with size around the rim and fortifying the paint, or diving for a loose ball - whatever the case may be.  We have some guys who can do some things that they haven't been doing on defense and rebounding-wise."

 

Winning at Notre Dame will require the Bearcats to play one of their best games of the year.  The Top 10 teams in the Big East standings are an astounding 27-2 at home. 

 

"There's a difference between good and great," Coach Cronin said.  "You have to be great to win at Villanova, Syracuse, and Notre Dame.  You can't just be a good team - good teams don't win those games.  Heck, great teams lose on the road - Duke lost at Florida State.  The road is tough, and it's doubly tough when you're playing highly-ranked teams on the road.  What is the difference between good and great?  It's competitive toughness.  Getting your job done under adverse situations.  If the other team has big, strong guys, you still have to rebound the ball.  You have to be able to guard the best teams in the country in their own gym.  In the conference that we're in, you can't fake it.  There are no fakes in our league.  If you're going to be at the top of our league, you're for real."

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com

 

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