My Take on "Yancygate" and Bubble Trouble

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The headline in the New York Daily News on Sunday morning read as follows:  "Red Storm Out To Burst Bearcats' Tourney Bubble."


After St. John's 59-57 win, the bubble hasn't burst, but Cincinnati's margin for error is rapidly shrinking.


Say what you want about UC's non-league schedule, but if Cincinnati had simply taken care of business when favored in home games against West Virginia and St. John's, the Bearcats would be 8-4 in the Big East and in great NCAA Tournament shape.  But in a pair of low-scoring games on their home floor, the 'Cats were not able to protect second half leads.


"We play in a league where we're not going to win if we can't just grind out games," head coach Mick Cronin said.  "Eight out of 10 Big East games are like this one.  We've been through this before - it's not our first time.  You've got to just keep playing defense, you've got to keep running your offense, and you can't panic and force things that aren't there."


It doesn't help when one of your best players is acting up.


I like Yancy Gates personally.  He's always been candid with me and generous with his time.  I appreciate the fact that he spurned high-profile offers and committed to UC when the program was in the rebuilding stage.  But right now he's hurting the team and his hopes of having a lucrative pro career with his woe-is-me behavior.


It's pretty simple:  Play as hard as you can when you're in the game and cheer for your teammates when you're not.  That's really all that's required.  To see Yancy sulking near the end of the bench when the season is on the line is hard to stomach.


"Why would I play him?" Mick Cronin responded when asked about Yancy's 13 minutes of playing time on the radio postgame show.  "Give me a reason.  Tell me why he should be in?"


When Gates returned from his one-game suspension last week, the hope was that he would display renewed focus and dedication.  Following the St. John's game, I asked Coach Cronin if the opposite had occurred.


"No - he's the same," Cronin said.  "It is what it is."


And yet, despite "Yancygate", the Bearcats were in position to beat St. John's.  After trailing by 12 with less than 9:00 to, Cincinnati rallied to take a 3-point lead with less than 2:00 remaining.  But a series of missed free throws by UC, fouls that sent St. John's to the line, and an inexplicable lane violation by Rashad Bishop, allowed the Red Storm to score the last five points of the game.


"I'm as frustrated as I've been all year because my one goal coming into this year was that we were going to play hard and we were going to play smart," Coach Cronin said.  "These guys have been better, but I want them to win because they've put in a lot of work and the majority of our guys are good guys.  But you can't beat yourself.  That's not to take anything away from St. John's, but when you add up all of the little things I'm talking about, you beat yourself."


If ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi is right, the Bearcats need to win at least three of their six remaining regular season games to be in position for an NCAA tournament bid going into the Big East Tourney.  Ironically, the thing that has loomed as a huge obstacle all year is now the very thing that could save them - their brutal schedule down the stretch.  There are still plenty of opportunities for resume-building wins.


Four of the remaining six games are against Top 20 teams, including three at home.  The 'Cats still control their own destiny, but they're going to have to beat some of the league's best teams at home (Louisville, UConn, Georgetown) or win road games against three schools (Providence, Georgetown, Marquette) that are a combined 12-5 in Big East home games.


"We do not have overwhelming talent for our league," Coach Cronin said.  "We have to win playing really smart, really hard, and focused on details or we're not going to win."


Their bubble didn't burst on Sunday, but a pin got closer to the surface.


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