My Brilliant Conclusion

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Do you know what brilliant conclusion should be drawn from the Villanova game?


That Cincinnati isn't going to go undefeated.


Anybody who is pointing toward that loss as proof that the Bearcats are "pretenders" is either:


A)    Not paying close enough attention, or

B)     Trying to get under the skin of a UC fan.


Here's the deal.  It's perfectly legitimate to question if Cincinnati is a Top 25 or NCAA Tournament team, but a mediocre team doesn't beat Xavier by 20 and Dayton by 34.


By the way, I find it amusing that a bunch of people said that the Xavier game would be Cincinnati's first legitimate test before UC dominated - then many of the same folks said that the Villanova game was the true test.  If the Bearcats had pulled off the big upset at 'Nova, somebody probably would have written, "Nice win...but let's see how they do at Syracuse."


In all seriousness, I did draw a significant conclusion from Sunday's loss:  The Bearcats have to get better guard play to beat the elite teams in the Big East.


Villanova has two McDonald's All-American point guards who play at the same time in Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns.  Against Cincinnati, they combined for 36 points and 8 assists (7-for-16 shooting, 4-for-8 outside the arc).  UC's starting backcourt of Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon combined for15 points and 0 assists (3-for-17 shooting, 0-for-6 outside arc).  Villanova puts as much defensive pressure on the ball as any team in the country and the Bearcats guards struggled to handle it.


"They do an unbelievable job - and TV doesn't do it justice - of taking you out of what you want to do on offense," Coach Cronin told me.  "They speed your guards up and we never could get settled on offense.  When we were tough enough to do it, we got the shots we wanted.  But initially, when they took us out of our first option, Dion and Cashmere put their heads down and took off dribbling.  That's when we got in trouble.  You can't take the bait when you're being pressured.  We have to be able to stay in our offense and make them guard us.


"In fairness to Cashmere, he's had issues with his shoulder and knee and has been pretty banged up.  He really hasn't been himself since the St. Francis game (12/23) to be honest with you.  It's at a point where he either needs to practice full-go or take a week off.  He elected to practice on Monday and he's been trying to fight through it.  He didn't really practice the day before the Villanova game because his knee was really sore and I think it affected his performance."


The stats back that up.  Since leaving the St. Francis game early with a shoulder injury, Wright has gone 4-for-22 (18%) from the floor and 0-for-8 from 3-point range.


Another huge factor in the Villanova game was fouls . . . and please note that I didn't say bad officiating.  Sure there were a few lousy calls, but the Bearcats took too long to adjust to the way the game was being officiated.


One of the biggest reasons why Cincinnati is holding teams to 54.9 points a game is that the Bearcats have played aggressive defense without fouling.  The 'Cats are fourth in the Big East and tied for 31st in the country in fewest fouls per game at 16.2.  Against Villanova, UC was whistled for 24 fouls (including two technicals) and sent the Wildcats to the line 33 times. 


"You can't commit the fouls that we committed," Coach Cronin said.  "We have our own stat sheet and keep track of 'bad fouls.'  We average about four a game, but we had 10 against Villanova.  We fouled two 3-point shooters which is the worst foul in basketball, and the second-worst is fouling a guy without the basketball.  You can talk about officials all you want but we committed some dumb fouls."


The Bearcats did some good things against Villanova.  They forced a team with one of the best backcourts in the country to commit 19 turnovers, won the rebound battle 35-33, and scored 36 points in the paint.  If they didn't go 2-for-20 from 3-point range, the 'Cats might have even won (FYI, after reviewing the tape, Coach Cronin determined that 7 of the 20 3-point attempts were bad shots).


I obviously disagree with skeptics who dismiss anything that the Bearcats have accomplished this season, but there is one thing that we can all agree on:


They have to beat USF at home.


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