*Beating 1-9 Arkansas-Pine Bluff doesn't mean this team has arrived or will assuredly roll through the Big East. It only means the focused, locked-in mentality that sparked last year's run to the NCAA tournament has been prevalent the last three games.
Sometimes when you write a piece, you can already hear the criticism before checking an email or comment. While I welcome all emails (firstname.lastname@example.org) and criticism (pleasedontuseallcaps@Ihavefeelingstoo.com), I just wanted to preemptively strike on the "these opponents are garbage" motif.
I'll also say to that the same thing I said to it last year, in games like those against the Radfords and UAPBs of the world, you have to trust the eye test. Last year's team, as they blew threw the directional schools early in the year, passed the eye test. They looked like a quality team, not just one taking advantage of poor opponents. Same could be said here.
How will the game change when teams can take advantage of their inconsistency boxing out and height disadvantage? How will the offense change when perimeter defense can keep them out of the lane on the drive-and-kick, well, we'll see. That's why the Big East season is among the greatest in sports. Every team enters with questions like that -- except Syracuse, who looks like they could give the NJ Nets a run for Jay-Z's money.
--- In case you are looking for highlights from last night, here you go.
--- Before I jump into what was learned from last night's game, wanted to direct attention to Bill Koch's piece talking to Whit Babcock about Fifth Third Arena renovation. Every UC fan that has gone to or plans on attending a game, should take notice of his comments. Babcock senses the urgency of renovation. A great first step.
--- Speaking of Fifth Third, last night was win No. 300 in the arena. There have been some memorable ones since it opened in 1989. What was your favorite moment?
My snap top three probably looks something like this:
3. Kenyon. Pick a play, pick a game, pick your favorite moment. Martin's senior season made every game in that building the best place to be in college basketball that night.
2. Georgetown 2011. Maybe because it still is so fresh and my perspective altered from being a young kid in the stands to being a journalist on press row, but seeing the fan base rally around a program putting on a show that was the coronation of the completing the last phase of the rebuilding project to relevance was a special one.
1. Melvin Levett. You know the play.
--- Because I'm feeling like the master of the segue this morning, while we are bringing up Kenyon Martin, I wanted to mention some thoughts put forth comparing a current UC player to him last night.
Cashmere Wright said he believes Kelvin Gaines can be the next K-Mart.
"I think he's going to be like Kenyon Martin to me," Wright said. "Once he get it. I have yet to meet somebody who can jump straight up in the air that high and block shots. He has never played basketball before. Once he get it and learns what to do when to get in this spot when to go for a blocked shot, when to get a rebound, he is going to be awesome."
First off, to compare anybody to Kenyon is completely unfair to that player. Are there similarities to the raw athletic ability Gaines enters with and hopes to turn into a polished basketball product? Yes. Will he be Kenyon? Come on. I don't know if we'll ever see another Kenyon around here, no matter who you are talking about.
"He's only a freshman, but that is a pretty big tag," Mick Cronin said. "You are talking about probably the best player that's ever put on a (UC) uniform in my lifetime."
That said, Cronin has been using Martin as motivation for Gaines. He put together a five-minute edit of highlights to show him the fundamentals of what made Martin so great and how Gaines can apply them to his game.
"The whole edit is dunks and blocked shots," Cronin said. "Guy has done pretty well for himself. Every dunk was a two-hand catch. They are about the same size. He had a couple really good catches tonight that two weeks ago he wouldn't have made."
Gaines finished the night as a force on the inside with seven points, six boards and three blocks. As sports information stud Jeremy Martin pointed out, this was the second consecutive game he had a block with a piece of his body not intended for blocking shots. He had a block with his elbow Wednesday night. This comes after Saturday when he whiffed on his first block, but brought his other arm around and blocked it with his second arm through.
The guy is a pretty freak athlete. Ironically, this progress has come as Cronin backed off coaching him. He said Gaines gets down on himself often, so instead, he's leaving the instruction to Cashmere Wright, who said he's like Gaines' big brother.
"Coach Cronin just keep me working with him," Wright said. "When we are shooting, he's got me working with him all the time."
--- What do you need to know about the possibility this team can't keep up the current shooting pace as the season progresses?
Arguably, it's two best 3-point shooters, Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon went a combined 2 of 9 from deep on Wednesday -- and UC hit a season high 15 of 28 3-pointers.
Too many people can fill it up for this team to not hit shots on a daily basis. Four players buried multiple 3s. Wright (6 of 10), SK (2 of 6), JaQuon Parker (3 of 3), Jeremiah Davis (3 of 4).
--- Over the last three games, UC is 39 of 81 from 3-point range. That's 48.1 percent.
For reference, tops in the country this season is Indiana at 46.8 percent through 11 games.
No team has finished a season hitting better than 43 percent since Illinois State (44 percent) in 2003. Not that this pace will continue for the next three months, but that's a pretty good measuring stick for how hot UC is right now.
--- Check out the last six halves for the Bearcats: 43, 35, 55, 46, 50, 51.
--- As noted in the story last night, this was the first time UC hung back-to-back 100-point games since 1976. On Friday against Chicago State they will shoot for a third consecutive 100-point game. When was the last time that happened? How about never.
"That's never a goal," Cash said. "Our goal is to go out there and play hard. Hopefully shots fall and you get 100.When it get close you think about it."
--- Tweet this morning from assistant coach Darren Savino: "
--- What are the chances UC hangs a third 100 on Chicago State? Well, they are currently 0-12 on the young season and have given up at least 92 points in three of the last four games. DePaul is the only team to score 100 on them this season.
--- Parker continued to show why he was so sorely missed early in the season. At the beginning of the second half, he went on a run that may have been his most spectacular five minutes as a Bearcat. He scored 14 of the team's first 16 after the break and every field goal.
I've been saying all year that Parker would be this year's Dion Dixon, the guy who breaks out to become a key piece of the puzzle. Hard to deny that is the case right now. Parker appears to be better in all aspects of his game and that is his perspective.
"Everything, rebounding, ball-handling, shooting, playing defense," Parker said. "I think I can pretty much do it all and be a help to the team."
Most importantly, in the four-guard offense, he is the essential piece. He can step out and hit the 3-pointer (6 of 7 on the season) and has nice handles (remember, he played point guard some his freshman year). Then, on the interior, he's unlike many that Cronin has seen.
"He gives us that toughness," Cronin said. "He's guy that is just going to go in and rip the ball out of another guy's hands. His mind on defense and rebounding, in his mind he is 6-6. He truly believes that it doesn't phase him to guard a bigger guy. Saw him in high school that is how we found him. We went to see a different guy. He was just a physically dominant player."
--- Cronin has been begging Cash to realize this is his team and even when Yancy Gates returns, that will continue to be the case. Wright has been reluctant to view it that way, but during one portion of the postgame last night he twice in one sentenced referred to it as "my team."
When called out on it, he didn't realize he had even said it. He corrected himself to say, "it is our team. It is everybody's team."
It appears Cronin's urgings are finally seeping into the subconscious, though, the coach admitted he doesn't need Cash to say this is his team to be satisfied. He just needs him to continue to talk and lead on the court in the same manner he has been.
"He doesn't mean that in a selfish way," Cronin said. "That's what it is all about. Tom Brady doesn't say that but does anybody want to guess whose team the New England Patriots are?"
--- Wright had six 3-pointers Wednesday night, a career high.
Check out his stat line average over the last three games: 19.6 points, 6.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1 turnover.
The guy is dealing. Cronin sees more than just numbers as a reason to be thrilled.
"More importantly, what he is learning is, when you preach and preach and preach to a guy to take ownership and give maximum effort and try to be great and he does it and it pays off for him -- you don't have to preach anymore."
--- In the world of turnovers, watching Arkansas-Pine Bluff play is like watching da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa. Just a work of art.
The 29 turnovers tied for the most between two Division I teams this season. They had 17 at halftime.
--- Doc offered his two cents on UC hoops last night and opened with a nice first line: "If you like irony, you'll love these guys." The rest of it is a nice inspection into the latest resurgence and the important question of what they'll do when Gates returns, but I personally enjoyed the lead.
--- Stat of the night: A key number in UC's defense, particularly when they go small, will be how many deflections they get. It's not on the stat sheet, but is a number kept by the UC assistants. On Wednesday, they had 43 deflections, which from what I gather is a season-high. Regardless, it is a ton. They also set a new record under Cronin for most steals (16). Though, undoubtedly, a tip of the cap to UAPB on that one.
--- Quote of the night: As Cash went off covering his tracks when he realized, he called it my team, he kept saying how it is everybody's team. Then, when told Cronin said it is his team, he fired this off.
"He is just talking."
Upon reading this, I realize you probably had to be there, but trust me, it was funny.