Rashad Bishop's case for Defensive Player of the Year

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Mick Cronin has been outspoken that senior Rashad Bishop is the best defensive player in the conference and the coach makes a convincing argument.


CINCINNATI - When Rashad Bishop arrived at the University of Cincinnati, playing defense didn't exactly excite him.


He averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds and 5.4 assists his senior season at St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey. Bishop created. He finished at the rim. He was a scorer.


Sure, he played defense, but more as a means to a fast break end. When he arrived at UC under Mick Cronin, the game changed.


Thumbnail image for Bishop.jpg"Cause he told us if we don't play defense we aren't going to play," Bishop said.


Suddenly, Bishop cared. Not only did he care, he excelled.


Four years later, he's doing it as well or better than every player in the Big East.  


"He's by far the best defensive player I've ever been around on the perimeter as a college player," Cronin said. "Rashad Bishop is the best defensive player in the Big East. Period. All you have to do is look at who he has guarded, look at the situations. It's not even close."


The art of playing defense often becomes lost in the tangled web of offensive ratings, possession percentages and assist rates.


No advanced metrics measure frustration caused. There are no tempo-free statistics for altered angles. As much as scouts mention basketball IQ, nobody ever filled out Scantron bubbles on that test.  


If any of those existed this season, Bishop would be in conversations with Kemba Walker and Ben Hansbrough - at least, if Cronin had any say in it.


The offensive player on UC's opponents this season wouldn't shy away from chiming into the debate, either. No matter if a point guard like lighting-quick, 6-foot-2 Dwight Hardy averaging just shy of 20 points a game or 6-foot-5 slashing forward like Marshon Brooks leading the Big East in scoring, Bishop draws the assignment. Every time.


Taking a look at UC's latest win streak epitomizes his defensive value. At DePaul he blocked two shots and the Blue Demons perimeter players shot just 34 percent from the field.


Against St. John's, Bishop hassled Hardy in one-on-one situations which the Johnnies went to during the final eight minutes of the game. The Storm didn't score a field goal as UC stormed back in the eventual loss.


Mick Cronin knew UC needed to keep Peyton Siva out of the lane to prohibit him from penetrating and kicking out. So, he placed Bishop on one of the premier dribble-drive guards in the conference. At halftime, Siva contributed zero points, zero assists and a turnover. UC owned a 36-24 lead it wouldn't relinquish.


Faced with the task of containing Brooks and his 25.6 points a game in Big East play on Sunday, Bishop played 44 of 45 possible minutes. He never played more than 34 in a game all season.


Sure, Brooks finished with 27 points, but he needed 26 shots to do it, had five turnovers and only shot two free throws. He shot 32 free throws the previous three games. 


"(Brooks) got all his points on other players or in transition," said Cronin, who will match Bishop up with Georgetown's leading scorer Austin Freeman on Wednesday. "Where Brooks gets everybody on a shot fake, he couldn't get Rashad Bishop on a shot fake. He does not score on Rashad Bishop. He never scores on Rashad Bishop one on one. The whole game."


Bishop always excelled defensively, but this year he's ascended to another level. Cronin attributes much of it to his knowledge of the game and attention to the details of how players will attempt to hurt him.


Oh, and being an elite athlete at 6-foot-6 with an even longer wingspan doesn't hurt, either.


"I just use my length," Bishop said. "I give them a step and if he takes a challenged shot, I am there because my arms are long enough to challenge."


In two weeks, the conference will hand out its Defensive Player of the Year award. While everyone knows how the Bearcats head coach will be voting, the question is if the rest of the conference will follow suit.


Over the past 10 years, the award went to a center seven times. Owning the paint and leading the conference in blocks almost always equals a DPOY. Three times it went to a guard. Jerel McNeal in 2007 set Marquette's all-time record for steals in a career. In 2001 and 2002 John Linehan went back-to-back nearly setting the NCAA single-season steals record in the process.


You won't find Bishop on leaderboards for blocks (16) or steals (28). In fact, he doesn't even lead the Bearcats in either category.


To not own one of those two statistics and win the award would be unprecedented in the recent history of the league. 


Siva owns 31 steals in 14 games, including seven in a win against St. John's. Rick Jackson's pulling down more than seven defensive rebounds a game and leads the league by far with 46 blocks.


Those two own the glamour statistics. Bishop guards the best non-center on every opponent for a Bearcats team that leads the conference in points allowed per game. His track record should speak for itself.


In Cronin's eyes, however, Bishop's prowess has been buried along with the rest of the team behind the Big East's big names.


"We don't exist, I don't know if you guys know that," Cronin said. "He's by far the best defensive player I've ever been around on the perimeter as a college player. It's not even close. But he doesn't exist. You'd think we were 6-21."


Jon Rothstein, college basketball Insider for MSG Network and CBS College Sports knows Cincinnati exists and believes the DPOY is clear cut.


"Rashad Bishop. No question," he said.


The coaches will make the final call and debate will be heard soon enough. Don't expect the senior to spend much time arguing his case.


"I don't' know," Bishop humbly said. "That is their opinion. I think I am pretty good at defense; I think I am pretty solid. I don't let my man get off too much. There are a lot of good defenders out there."


He's treating it the same way he does every frustrated offensive player left in his wake this season. 


"I don't really pay attention to it," Bishop said. "I just play defense."

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