Washington DC Here We Come!

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There's one bad thing about covering the NCAA Tournament - it actually makes it difficult to follow the NCAA Tournament.  Between attending practices, news conferences, and doing your job, you wind up missing a lot of action going on in the other regions.


But I'm obviously not complaining.  After five long years as a tournament-watching couch potato, it is a huge thrill to be back on the Bearcat beat for March Madness.


Mick Cronin has obviously been there before, including two appearances in his three years at Murray State, but he's justifiably proud to be returning as the head coach of his Alma mater.


"There's a huge feeling of satisfaction to not just be in the tournament, but to be solidly in the tournament," Mick told reporters on Sunday night.  "For the last week we've known we're in, and you want to get the program to the point where you know you're in the tournament, it's just a matter of what your seed is going to be.  We have a bit of an older group, so hopefully we'll have enough maturity to handle it well."


Cincinnati (25-8) earned a #6 seed and opens tournament play on Thursday in Washington, DC vs. #11 Missouri (23-10).  The Tigers, under former UAB coach Mike Anderson, feature a frenetic full-court pressing style of play and rank 2nd in the nation in steals (9.8) and 9th in scoring (81.4).  Their team slogan is "the fastest 40 minutes in basketball."


"I have not seen Missouri play - it's probably the only team in the country I haven't seen play all year," Coach Cronin said.  "The second part of Big Monday, I'm driving home from my radio show at the Montgomery Inn and putting Samantha to bed.  I haven't seen the Big 12 in the second half of the doubleheader all year, so I have a lot of Missouri tape to watch."


I watched Missouri play Georgetown on TV in November - a game that saw the Tigers blow a late lead in regulation by missing key free throws down the stretch.  Georgetown's Chris Wright hit a 3-point buzzer beater to force overtime, and the Hoyas went on to win 111-102. 


Mizzou rebounded from that loss to win nine straight, and at one point had a 14-1 record.  But since then, the Tigers are 9-9 and have dropped four of their last five games.  Missouri is one of only four teams in the country to have five players averaging double figures in scoring, but the Tigers are not a great rebounding team as they finished the season with fewer rebounds than their opponents.


The Bearcats will get to work on preparing for the Missouri game on Monday afternoon.  On Sunday night, they were allowed to savor the accomplishment of getting the program back to the Big Dance.   


"I wanted the guys to enjoy the moment," Coach Cronin said.  "I feel really good for the seniors.  I felt really bad for Deonta Vaughn last year.  But for this group of guys - our first real recruiting class - to be able to go out knowing that they've been a part of rebuilding a storied program with great tradition is a source of great pride for them.  They should take a lot of pride in what they've done."


It's great to be back isn't it?


I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.


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