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The Morning After: UC 66, NKU 54

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The theme of Mick Cronin's postgame press conference was one of disappointment. For 15 minutes he used the podium as a therapy couch and voiced concerns over what he saw. He brought them up because they're concerns he's held since the day practices began. Maybe sooner.

They stem from productivity and toughness of the wing positions.

"Some of my concerns about our season reared their head tonight because we don't really have a perimeter guy who views himself as a dirty-work guy," Cronin said in his opening statement. "Both our perimeter guys had seven turnovers and they each had one more rebound than John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. That's not going to get it."

Cronin was referring to the dress rehearsal performances of Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon. Kilpatrick finished with six points, four turnovers and one board while playing 31 minutes. This came one week after collecting four points and two rebounds against overmatched Canadians.

Last week, Dixon also only managed two boards.

For all the offense SK and Dixon can provide -- and they will -- they lack the rebounding versatility and length 6-foot-6 Rashad Bishop and 6-foot-7 Darnell Wilks provided. Neither top 6-foot-4.

"
We're a little too small with Dion and SK in there," Cronin said. "We are going to have to toughen up -- if that is our best lineup."

It is. Or at least it should be. They are both among the most dynamic wing scorers in the Big East and will be depended upon to average double figures this season. But to play for Cronin, a player needs to bring more than points to the table.

"
I got to do a better job at the end of the day," Cronin said. "My job. My team. I got to get my two wing guys rebounding the basketball."

Granted, Justin Jackson and Yancy Gates sucked up 21 boards. Still, UC missed 23 shots on the night, but only grabbed nine offensive rebounds. That's a 39 percent offensive-rebound percentage -- not a bad number, actually one point over last year's average. However, against an NKU team playing four guards and 6-foot-7 Ernest Watson, the numbers were far from good enough in Cronin's eyes.

"Nine (second chance points) is bad," he said. "We didn't make a 3 in the second half and we didn't come close to getting an offensive rebound. We recruit athletes that play big, strong and physical."

Not coincidentally, this grand search for wing toughness comes while JaQuon Parker sits on the sidelines with a groin injury. Parker believes he can provide that role. Cronin hopes that holds true.

The toughness and hustle doesn't apply to the defensive end. From point guard to wing to center, the Bearcats showed intensity, grit and hustle. They blocked shots, dove for loose balls, deflected passes and displayed all the attributes of a tough defensive team.

What Cronin wants to see is that same hustle and intensity flip to the offensive side of the court.

"We've got to become a better, more efficient offensive team and that goes with getting second-chance points," he said. "You can't just hope that you make every shot."

The greatest aspect of Jackson's 24-point performance Tuesday was he only had to make two difficult shots. He made his points with inside post moves and free throws. Those are the scoring lines Cronin seeks out of his wings.

"True scoring is layups and free throws," he said. "Carmelo Anthony, leading scoring in the NBA, leading free throw shooter in the NBA. You can't live with jump shots. That's where SK gets no free throws, Dion gets one." 

Don't take Cronin's therapeutic airing of the grievances as doubt about Kilpatrick's ability. Anybody who saw what SK did for this team last year knows what to expect as the season progresses.

Don't forget, the sophomore is adjusting to a new situation as well.

"I think he is trying to figure out his role on the team," Cronin said. "It is early. He is starting for the first time. He is trying to figure out when should I attack. He's got to attack and get fouled. Twice tonight he had great attacks and instead of going up and trying to get fouled he went with the Triple Lindy up-and-under airball layup. He's really strong for a guard. He's still learning."

--- Of course, credit to Mick for the Back to School reference. A nice touch for the guy who played the Rodney Dangerfield, "We get no respect" card perfectly last season.

--- All five UC starters played at least 30 minutes. With Cheikh Mbodj and Parker out nursing injuries, the rotation will be tightened for the time being. Cronin knows those guys need to be in shape to handle those types of minutes when the regular season opens Sunday.

--- The funny element of Justin Jackson's great game Tuesday was the sophomore was tossed out of practice on Friday.

"Justin was great (Tuesday)," Cronin said. "It was amazing, though, dealing with young people in sports. He got thrown out of practice Friday. I didn't like his effort. He's got Octavius (Ellis) battling him for playing time and he knows how good Cheikh is."  

"It's amazing what that does for a guy isn't it? He's a great kid."

--- And Jackson pulled up for a 3-pointer and buried it in the second half. He hit another jumper just in front of the 3-point line.

The reaction from most of us on press row was, "Are you kidding me?"

As Cronin pointed out after, we shouldn't have been surprised.

"He's pretty confident with his standstill 3, too," Cronin said. "That shocked our fans, it didn't shock our bench. He's worked hard on that all summer. He can make that if they don't guard him."

--- For the free throw haters: UC 11 of 19.

--- Eric Hicks, who has been practicing with the team, and Lance Stephenson were both in the house Tuesday night. Judging by the current state of the NBA labor negotiations, that won't be the last time we see Stephenson at a UC game this season.

--- Party Rock Anthem
count: 2. Season total: 5.

--- Stat of the night:
Justin Jackson played the first 21 minutes without a foul.

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