The Morning After: ND 66, UC 58

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Can't help but feel the Bearcats missed an opportunity Wednesday night. I started counting the missed bunnies midway through the first half and eventually accounted for about 8-10 points.

In Mick Cronin's postgame show on 700WLW he estimated UC missed seven shots inside two feet and four layups.

There's nothing wrong with falling behind on the road at No. 16 Notre Dame. Many will do it. Check that, most will do it. Keeping within striking distance is the key. UC moved the ball well. They created some of the shots they wanted and weren't settling for contested 3-pointer. They weren't turning the ball over.

They missed easy shots.

If they make three of the four open layups, Dion Dixon's 3-pointer with 1:20 left gives UC a 1-point lead and they aren't forced to place Ben Hansbrough on the line.

Other reasons exist for the loss, but despite the struggles with off the ball defense and as sluggish as the offense was in the first half, if you look at just converting 75 percent of missed layups and you would have had the lead at ND in the final minute -- it's tough to swallow.

"(Ibrahima) Thomas was 0 for 2, Rashad (Bishop) had a layup and for some reason went up and under," Cronin said on radio. "He never does that. Cash (Wright) had an easy two-footer and charged, which you could see (Notre Dame's) Scott Martin standing to take the charge a mile away. It's hard to beat these teams. When you get the ball within two feet you've got to get the basket. They are not a shot-blocking team."

--- Cronin spoke extensively after the loss about intensity. The difference in UC's defensive pressure and urgency was evident the final 15 minutes of the game. When you have an offense that has a tendency for droughts, defense can never relent -- particularly on the road against top 20 teams.

That was his point. And it's hard to argue. Had UC's defense grinded as it did the final 15 minutes for the full 40, UC wins that game 66-58.

 "My general thing for us is that we're a different team all of a sudden with great intensity and everybody's locked in when we're down," Cronin said. "That can't be that way. It's like I said after the South Florida win, `We should've beaten them by 20.' The problem is that you can't drive on cruise control. You don't win a road race that way. That's the safe way to drive home tonight, but that's not the way to win the Indianapolis 500. Whoever goes the fastest wins. We've got to go full speed all the time.

"When we get down, we've got kids that want to win. I love my team and they're fun to coach, but you see our intensity level change. We've got to get to a point, if we're going to get over the hump and be able to win these type of games on the road, where play that way for 40 minutes where everything matters. A big part of it is that you've got to play with your heart. It's not easy to win these games."

--- Carleton Scott's surprise return sparked Notre Dame. The residual effect it had on Tyrone Nash was the most influential aspect. Nash played extremely well and called them "Batman and Robin" after the game. (Bengals fans cringe)

Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune talks about what their connection meant and includes a quote from Cronin calling his offense "inept."

--- Cronin evaluated a possible starting lineup change this week, but stuck with the standard five that have started all but two games this year.

Fan favorite Sean Kilpatrick didn't step on the floor until 12:59 in the first half. It should be noted he had the third most minutes by the time the game was over. UC was down 11-6 when he entered.

Bill Koch broached the SK topic in his game story.  

--- Ibrahima Thomas and Rashad Bishop struggled on offense of late.

Over his last nine games Bishop is 18 of 63 from the field (28.5 percent). He's gone 6 for 30 from 3-point range (20 percent) and 12 for 33 from 2-point range (36 percent). 

Thomas is averaging two points a game during the last five games with two scoreless games. He's 2 for his last 13 from the floor.

--- UC did a nice job of attacking the basket and creating contact in the second half. Unfortunately, after reaching the bonus with 11 minutes left in the game they never once went to the line for a 1 and 1.

In fact, they only took three trips to the line the rest of the game, all on shooting fouls.  

"And our whole offense at that point changed to where we tried to spread them out and drive the ball to take advantage of our quickness," said Cronin, whose team shot 16 less free throws than ND. "You've got to get more free throws. You can't let them double up on foul shots. Our shot selection was better, but we've got to finish better."

--- Quiet very nice game from Cashmere Wright last night. Nothing flashy, just strong decision-making. Seven points, six assists, three rebounds, just one turnover.

His charge on Scott Martin wasn't the best play and put him in foul trouble but he kept the team in positive shot selection situations all night.

--- Matt Norlander talks about UC still being the toughest team to rank nationally or in any conference because of the few games against "like competition." He rightly points out, Saturday at St. John's will be just that.

--- Speaking of St. John's, they followed the Jekyll and Hyde Big East trend of laying an egg on the road as Louisville pounded them from opening tip to final horn, 88-63.

--- Dan Hoard pointed out a great tweet by MSG and CBS college basketball insider John Rothstein last night: "Game between St. John's and Cincinnati on Saturday will be an all out war. Huge 40 minutes for both teams."

No doubt about it. STJ and UC are among the three or four teams fighting for one or two spots at this point in the Big East schedule. How they do against each other will ultimately determine their fate. And having lost three of these big road games, winning the STJ game would be a huge lift returning home for two against Rutgers and WVU.

STJ (11-6, 4-3) has also lost three of four games and needs a win with games @ Georgetown and vs Duke up next.

--- I sort of ended up in the Lion's Den and didn't realize I would when I agreed to go on 1160 AM with Andy Furman this morning. The backlash against Mick Cronin which came from the Twitteratti last night after the game certainly is the default mode I saw from Furman and those associated with the show.

I spent the hour defending UC and pointing out how far this program has come in the last five years. By the end, I even turned them into understanding the reality much better.

I know everyone wants to point me out as a company man spinning the message, but facts are facts. This team -- despite the loss last night -- is better than last year and in the national conversation. (In fact, looking at the fight this team put up last night in comparison to the listless game at ND last season should be all you need to know as far as improvement) Cronin has pushed many of the right buttons this season. Don't let a few losses in hostile enviornments change that. Don't knee-jerk. Understand the Big East slate needs to be judged as a body of work not instant analysis.

People who are calling this team frauds right now know very little about what constitutes success in college basketball.

--- Media availability at UC today at 3 p.m. I will do my best to make it down there, though, I think I will be at the hands of an angry Mother Nature and the Deer Park snow removal crews. Not a great combo.        

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This is an outstanding column, the only one that satisfies my need for Bearcats news.

Why is it that Cincinnati teams so quickly get called "frauds" ? The Reds were called frauds - with "no chance" to defeat the Cardinals - all season.

Is Andy Furman the guy who used to do Reds talk radio ? If so I listened to him a lot in the 2006 season. He's an entertainer, not a journalist, and a front runner.