As UC's play-by-play announcer, I'm often asked to be a guest on sports radio shows in other Big East markets.
This year, one of the most frequent questions I've been getting goes something like this: "The Bearcats appear to be a better team this year without Lance Stephenson. Is it addition by subtraction?"
There's no question that the Bearcats are better this year -- especially on offense -- but I hate that Lance is being viewed in a negative way as a result.
Last week while doing some homework before the Villanova game, I came upon a quote from Wildcats' coach Jay Wright that I found interesting for how it relates to UC. Wright was asked if he thought his team was better this year despite losing the school's #2 all-time scorer in Scotty Reynolds.
"When you have a kid that talented you want to use him, but sometimes it's easier to stop one guy," Wright said. "Take him out of the mix and everybody takes advantage of the opportunity."
Last year, Notre Dame was in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament when it lost Luke Harangody for several games in mid-February with a knee injury. During his absence, the Fighting Irish reeled off consecutive wins over Pitt, Georgetown, and Connecticut and made the Big Dance. This year, Notre Dame is ranked 9th in the country after losing its 3-time All-American.
"We had to play without Luke Harangody at the end of the year and had some success while he was hurt, so our nucleus had some confidence going into the season," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "Kids are competitors. They all have chips on their shoulders or they wouldn't be on college basketball scholorships. They love to show, 'Hey, we're pretty good too. We can play alright even though we lost that guy.' I just think that it's a competitor trait."
But it's more than that on the offensive end. Former Notre Dame player Zach Hillesland did a blog for the New York Times during the Big East tournament last year, and described why his his former teammates were thriving without their star.
"When Harangody was in the lineup, the offense was structured to get him the ball on the low block as much as possible," Hillesland wrote. "A negative side effect of that style was that it encouraged players to stand around and watch Harangody make his move instead of continually moving, cutting and setting screens."
"When you have a great player, other guys have to sacrifice," Jay Wright said. "When that great player leaves, the other guys don't have to sacrifice as much -- they get to do a little bit more. Sometimes that's better."
Villanova fans don't think negatively of Scotty Reynolds, Notre Dame fans will always love Luke Harangody, and UC fans should not impugn Lance Stephenson.
It's not "addition by subtraction" but it is basic math: 5 is greater than 1.
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As many of you know, I am a Syracuse grad and always look forward to returning to my Alma mater when the Bearcats face the Orange.
In case you're wondering if I am conflicted in any way when the two schools meet, the answer is no -- I am definitely rooting for the Bearcats.
The last time UC traveled to the Carrier Dome, the result was a disaster. Cincinnati went 1-for-15 from outside the arc in the first half and trailed 40-17 at halftime. The final score was 87-63.
At 17-0, Syracuse appears to be even better than it was two years ago, but the Bearcats are too.
"Syracuse is arguably one of the best teams in the country -- especially now that Kyrie Irving of Duke is out," Mick Cronin told me. "You can argue that Syracuse is just as good as Kansas, Ohio State, or Duke. The teams that have played Syracuse would probably make that argument. It's going to be a great challenge for us. I'm excited about the game, and it's nice to play them where physically we can compete. I don't know if we've ever had a team where we could physcially compete with Syracuse. The key is going to be execution of our zone offense, but our defense is also going to be big. If we can defend the way we defend without fouling and get some easy baskets because of our pressure -- then you don't have to attack the zone all of the time. Obviously, I don't like playing in that dome at noon with the sun and snow shining though, but we're going to go up there on Friday morning and practice in the Carrier Dome. Hopefully, that helps our guys adjust."
It obviously helps to have a "zone-buster" against Syracuse's 2-3 zone, and Sean Kilpatrick will certainly get an opportunity after drilling 4 of 5 three pointers on Wednesday vs. USF.
"He could be a big key for us on Saturday because of his ability to make shots against the Syracuse zone," Coach Cronin said. "He's a huge weapon for us and he's getting better every game. I've said this all along about him - he's the future captain of our team and the face of the program because his love for basketball is second to none. He eats, sleeps, and drinks basketball. And he's rubbed off on his teammates. On Tuesday, I came to practice and said, 'Where are Sean Kilpatrick and Rashad Bishop?' They were in the practice gym with Coach Savino an hour before practice. That's when you know that you have guys whose minds are in the right place."
It should be quite a test for the 16-1 Bearcats. Our pre-game coverage on Saturday from the Carrier Dome will start at 11:30 in the morning on 700 WLW and 700wlw.com.
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