Bearcats Breakfast 1.16.12

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I could only place my head in my hands in disappointment. I felt somewhat responsible.

On a great day for the UC basketball where the team and crowd combined for one of the better program wins of the Mick Cronin era, all I could see in my memory when I left was the single Nick Lachey big head taunting me in the student section.

(I will reiterate, though, a great crowd on Saturday, all 10,255 should be proud)

Now, this is no knock on Lachey. He's a great public ambassador for UC athletics and while we'd rather have Ashley Judd as our courtside celebrity, he certainly represents the city with passion.

I opened the Big Monday Big Head initiative last week and while we are training for Monday against Syracuse, one did pop up at Nova and it was Lachey. Let's remember here people, we want to create Big Heads that elicit the ire of the opposing team. Not poke fun at ourselves.

That said, most I've talked to said they were saving their heads for Monday, so I expect a great Big Head turnout against Syracuse. And while the effort of the Lachey head is appreciated, let's just remember this lesson going forward.

I personally apologize for that, I will try to teach us all to do better. Or at least bring Vanessa Minnillo big head to place next to him.

On to serious topics, let's eat...

--- The wins against Georgetown and Villanova were two of the most impressive back-to-back games in Mick Cronin's tenure. Maybe last year's Marquette/Georgetown close to the season would top it. But the conversation about ends there.

Going on the road to beat a top 15 team then following it up by taking down a team with four McDonald's All-Americans that plays to its potential in a big way and gets a heroic performance like that from Maalik Wayns is nothing shy of incredible.

(Seriously, 39 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, what a show. He was single-handedly carrying Nova down the stretch. Mick Cronin called him "like Barry Sanders with the basketball." Agreed.)

UC couldn't ask to be playing much better entering the roughest three-game stretch of the season. @UConn, @West Virginia, home against No. 1 Syracuse on Big Monday.

Bill Koch wrote about that topic.

--- Let's take a second to discuss what this stretch means to the Bearcats and the NCAA tournament.

The Bearcats still fight an image of pretenders among the elite analysts. Jay Bilas ranked UC No. 43 in his latest index. His primary point: UC only ones one victory (Georgetown) against the and Sagarin top 50.

While so many love to throw around the outdated RPI stat, those two are much better predictors of success and end-of-the-year position because they eliminate so much of the strength of schedule which dramatically shifts -- specifically for UC's backloaded tough games -- as the year progresses.

Point being: In the eyes of the committee, UC still needs a load of quality wins. Not just a few. Nobody in the room in Indianapolis will give a hoot that Villanova played one of their best games of the season Saturday. They'll only care that they are now 8-10 overall.

In the next three games, UC will play three teams in the current KenPom Top 50. UConn (31), West Virginia (24) and Syracuse (3).

Then, they will only play four games against teams owning that distinction the rest of the season. Marquette 2x (23), Louisville (39) and Seton Hall (33). Three of those four are at Fifth Third Arena.

Nothing impresses a committee like road conference wins against top teams. That's why Georgetown was so big and why UConn and West Virginia will be as well.

Nobody will trash UC for losing to any of these three teams, but not coming away with at least one victory would be the Cats in line for the nervous bubble chair come Selection Sunday. There are only so many opportunities to earn signature wins.

Moral of the story: The time is now.

--- The good news is this team picked the right time to face them. There is no better team in the conference at possessing the basketball than UC right now.

The Turnover Margin Express is clicking on all cylinders.

They currently rank first in Big East play in both turnover percentage on offense (10.4 percent of possessions) and in creating them on defense (25.4 percent).

Those numbers are good for ninth in the country and 21st in the country, respectively, when, taking the entire season into account.

Along those same lines they lead the conference in steal percentage on offense (4.3 percent) and steal percentage on defense (16.9 percent).

UC only turning the ball over three times against Villanova belongs as stat of the year so far in my book.

--- Question: How good is the 10.4 percent conference play turnover rate?

Here are the national leaders on the season:

Team          TO%
Purdue        14.7
Missouri      14.9
Wisconsin   15.1
Weber St.   15.2

How about the significant differential at the top only counting conference play. Only four teams are even under 20 percent, with UC all the way down at 10.4.

Team           TO%

Cincinnati     10.4
Notre Dame  15.7
Syracuse     16.4
WVU           19.1

Also, for the record, no team ever finished a season below 12.4 percent since the stat first started being recorded in 2003.

To also be turning teams over on defense at the top rate in the league makes for the perfect storm of frustration for opposing coaches. Though, the margin isn't near as wide there.

Team        TO%
UC           25.4
Syracuse  25.2
Rutgers    24.1
DePaul     24.1

--- Bad news for UConn considering the above stats: Freshman guard Ryan Boatright continues to miss time as a review of his eligibility is conducted.

He's averaging 10.5 points and 3.5 assists while playing 26 minutes a game as their primary ball-handler beyond Shabazz Napier.

--- Chad Brendel with some extras from the weekend, including Mick Cronin's discussion about rebounding. That's a legit concern entering this stretch of games against three top rebounding teams.

--- The turnover margin being the best part of the smaller offense, the rebounding would be the flip side. UC ranks 15th in the conference in offensive rebound percentage and 12th in defensive rebound percentage.

--- Jermaine Sanders didn't play
Saturday, but nothing is wrong with him. Cronin just said he couldn't find a time to sneak him in there.

--- Congratulations to Dion Dixon for being named the Big East Player of the Week. He averaged 22 points in two wins against Georgetown and Villanova.

Dixon was relieved about his 4 of 4 start from 3-point range Saturday after hitting only 8 of his last 44 coming into the game.

"Finally," he said. "It feels so good to make some shots."

--- Headed to UC media availability in a bit, so I'll have to post one quick bit of randomness for you.

--- All eyes and ears were on Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes last night. He did his best not to disappoint.

--- In honor of the Bearcats' big week and importance of these three games in the big picture, I'll offer a little Foreigner.

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