UC at No. 4 Pitt at 6 p.m. on Saturday. This will be among the toughest games UC plays all year, if not the toughest.
The Panthers rarely lose at home despite Notre Dame pulling out a win there last week. They are 9-0 at the Peterson Events Center against Top 5 opponents.
What will it take for UC to shake the Big East landscape? Let's eat...
--- Before media availability yesterday, I thought about writing the story Bill Koch did on needing a signature win.
I decided not to because I knew the response I was going to receive from Mick Cronin. (Which he did give at one point, "You win games in our league they are all signature wins.") Last season, I asked him about postseason resume and other factors affecting their NCAA status and all were quickly discarded. If you take Cronin at his word -- which we have no reason not to based on track record -- he doesn't concern himself at all with his NCAA resume.
He lives by the one-game-at-a-time mantra, at least in the media.
"I worry about winning the next game and getting my team to improve. I'm not on the selection committee so why worry about it? We need to win games."
Yancy Gates wasn't quite so guarded when asked about the need for a signature win. In fact, he snapped off his answer before the question about signature wins was even finished.
"Yeah," he interjected. "We all feel that way. We got some wins, but like St. John's beat Duke. You need those kind of wins to build a strong resume to get into the tournament. Not just, OK, we play in the Big East so we are going to be in it. You need those signature wins to get in it.
"I think we need to still go out and get one."
I'd say beating PItt at Pitt would fall into the signature win category. Of course, so would beating UConn, Georgetown or Louisville.
--- Some questions about Ibrahima Thomas worked their way in yesterday. His recent slump has been well documented here. Thomas himself admitted he needs to rebound the ball better, in particular.
Cronin gave some precise analysis of his expectations for Thomas from this point forward. None of it involves seeing more effort from him.
"At the end of your senior year, you are who you are. Thomas is a very effective rebounder. His shot selection, he has to have more discipline. If he gets a rebound he has to put it up and in or pass it. He has to stop getting the ball taken from him. But effort is never a problem."
--- Thomas stepping up on the boards will be a necessity at Pitt. Nobody in the country rebounds like they do. In fact, they lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. They are grabbing 44 percent of their misses. In conference play, they rank second at 40 percent. UC is 10th at 34 percent.
Who is No. 1 in the conference? WVU at 42 percent in conference games. What was a major factor in UC's loss to the Mountaineers on Saturday? Defensive rebounding. WVU pulled down 11 of 25 potential boards (44%). On the opposite side, UC pulled down 13 of 38 (34%).
Allowing Gary McGhee and company dominate the glass at that rate would doom the Cats once again.
--- For Cronin, a larger factor on Saturday will be turnovers. Looking at how Notre Dame was able to beat Pitt last week and Rutgers able to play within three points at the RAC, some of it goes back to taking care of the basketball.
Rutgers only turned the ball over six times, Notre Dame eight.
UC leads the league in turnover margin in conference play. Pitt typically doesn't force many turnovers. Even in their biggest wins against Syracuse and Georgetown, the opponents turnovers were in single digits. Bottom line, that's a stat UC must dominate to spring the upset.
"You got to take care of the basketball, you got to get good shots," Cronin said. "You can't give them layups in transition. You go in there and take bad shots, you turn the ball over you are not going to win. Two years ago we went up there and shot 54 percent from the field, 46 from 3 and lost. We gave up 85. That's because we had seven turnovers for layups, that was the difference in the game. You give them seven uncontested layups off your offense you are not going to win. You can play great every other possession of the game but you are not going to be able to make that difference up, they are too good at home."
--- I asked Cronin what was the toughest venue to play in this season: Syracuse's Carrier Dome, Villanova's Pavillion or Pitt's Peterson Events Center.
For my money, I would have said the Pavillion, but Mick showed the smooth avoidance skills of a politician in answering the question.
"Tough to say, I'll tell you that one after the game," he said. "Let's hope it's not Peterson."
--- The game will be on FSO SD Channel in Cincinnati. DirecTV 685 & Dish 478. H/t to Tommy G for the TV breakdown.
--- Mike DeCourcy takes on ethics in the new age of journalism with the Syracuse point shaving story as a jumping off point. No argument here.
--- Adam Zagoria breaks out the midyear All Big East awards. UC doesn't receive much respect, except Sean Kilpatrick makes the All-Rookie team.
--- Bill Koch caught up with Deonta Vaughn during some recent time off from his team in Poland. Great to see Deonta having success over there. He's averaging 12.3 points a game.
Vaughn will always hold a special place for Mick Cronin who relied on him through some of the thinnest rosters this school has seen since the 80s.
The guy bought in and always gave effort. Easier said than done on those teams.
--- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote a story about Cronin turning UC around. There are some interesting quotes from Jamie Dixon in there attempting to compare UC's situation to when Pitt turned their program around.
Cronin was asked yesterday if Pitt is the model he tries to build his program from, but balked at the concept.
"I'm worried about building Cincinnati's program," he said. "I love Jamie, but we have to have our own identity."
--- Do you know your opponent? Well, if you don't, Bearcats Blog does. All the concerning metrics and analysis you need to know about the trip to Pittsburgh.
--- Luke Winn's power rankings divide up who is feeding Jared Sullinger. I would love to see the same graph on Yancy Gates.
--- Some more recruiting analysis from NSD, this time from ESPN.
--- On to some randomness...
--- Did you know Needlenose Ned was on Heroes and Deadwood? Bing!
--- Baby Super Bowl pick most everyone in Cincinnati can relate to.
--- I was surprised to hear Mick Jagger was still alive, much less that he would be performing at the Grammy's.
--- A UC mustache silhouette t-shirt with Connor Barwin's epic stache as the template would make my year.