The Morning After: St. John's 57, UC 55

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Nobody on press row could say they saw the Bearcats loss coming against St. John's on Saturday. Mick Cronin on the other hand spotted the loss coming like a NY Subway train.

"The lack of focus began the minute we started today," he said. "You know in practice, I knew this morning."

Consequently, the Johnnies broke out to quick starts at the beginning of both halves and turned out to be too much for the Bearcats to recover from.

What was Cronin's concern going forward? Was it 56 missed shots? Was it taking 32 3-pointers and only hitting seven? Was it the tip-in at the buzzer?

None of those, really.

The problem was he hoped this team would be beyond this. He hoped they would be able to do what they traditionally haven't the last few years: Handle success.

Did he think they were past that?

"Honestly, no," he said. "But you hope, you hope as a coach."

Instead, the latest setback displayed a team not veteran enough to keep the everyday intensity while riding the wave of success.

Even more concerning from Cronin's angle, those not handling it were the centerpiece veterans of the team's resurgence.

"I can't get my senior guards to pressure the ball, I have to yank them and put in freshman," Cronin said. "The reason we lost, we were not ready to play. We played as individuals, we played with no focus, no energy, poor preparation, poor leadership, failure by the coaching staff to get the team ready, failure by players to get themselves in a mental state ready to play.

"That ought to answer why the final score said what it said.

It certainly creates a great jumping off point. The critical question going forward is why did this happen and how do the Bearcats avoid this in the future?

Let's explore...

--- As for putting a finger on where the lack of focus and motivation came from? "You'll have to ask them that," he said.

So, we did.

Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright, both as down as I've seen them in a long time, took the blame on their shoulders.

Something we got to fix," Wright said. "We got to figure out a way to get everybody going everyday in practice. We can't come out like we did today. We came out not ready. We came out like we knew we was going to win and wasn't ready for the fight."

Cronin talked this week about the need to keep their mojo going. The team needed to maintain the edge and energy that epitomized their seven-game winning streak. Granted, making 20 of 76 shots doesn't help any mojo.

But in the eyes of the Cats, that shouldn't be the deciding factor in victory/defeat.

"Because you don't make shots, don't mean your mojo is gone," Kilpatrick said. "You got to prepare yourself to make them shots and you have to prepare yourself mentally to win the game."

--- While the Bearcats players took in an earful after the game from Cronin, they weren't alone across the country in letting their guard down, certainly not alone in their conference.

Take a look at some results from yesterday:

- Notre Dame 67, No. 10 Louisville 65 (2OT). That's ND going into the Yum! Center and pulling off a win.

- Rutgers 67, No. 8 UConn 60. The Huskies fell at the RAC to The Rut, who were 0-2 in conference to this point.

- West Virginia 74, No. 9 Georgetown 62. Maybe not a huge upset, as WVU has been playing well, but this was a Hoyas team not ready to play Saturday as well.

None of these results make the Bearcats performance OK, they do make them standard. And with a win at Georgetown on Monday night, nobody will care about what happened on Saturday against the Storm. The biggest concern being when you face young, inexperienced teams like St. John's at home in this conference, you need to win. When a stretch of four of five games against the Top 25 awaits, there's not denying that truth.

--- Great quote from assistant coach Darren Savino on Twitter this morning: "One day a peacock, the next day a feather duster."

--- Cronin thinks he may have figured out some of the reasons why the Bearcats have played so well on the road lately. Dating back to last season, they have won seven of eight games on the opponents' home floor. The only loss came in this year's Crosstown Shootout.

I think I figured out why, we seem to only play hard when our backs are against the wall," he said. "Maybe that is the reason. We'll see. At some point you think this group of guys, especially our upperclassmen would realize that it's fun to win, it's fun to play hard and people will respect your individual game you'll have a chance to actually make it as a player. But you have to show up to play every day."

Can't deny their spurt at the end of last season came from the team feeling backed into a corner following the St. John's loss and Gates being put under heavy fire.

This year's spurt came as the Crosstown Shootout forced them into survival mode. Cronin is trying to learn where the motivational buttons lie with this team.

That said, I'd be shocked if they don't come out with maximum effort and focus on Monday. The only problem being, max effort and focus won't be enough at the Hoyas. They'll need to make some shots.

--- Cronin also mentioned
the trend of struggling in these early afternoon games.

"Look at our record in day games," he said. "Two o'clock or earlier the last two years."

Well, you asked, coach. So here you go. I'll only use those against high-major teams.

@Villanova  Noon   L  72-61
@Syracuse Noon   L  67-52
vs STJ        Noon   L   59-57
vs UConn    Noon   L   67-59
vs GTown    2 p.m. W 69-47

@Xavier     12:30   L  76-53
STJ            2 p.m. L  57-55

--- That is 1-6 in games at
2 p.m or earlier against high-major teams. Their record against high-major teams at other times? 19-5.

--- This isn't exactly
a run through the CYO league. These were almost all against the conference big boys. That said, only the win against Georgetown and two losses to St. John's were really close. 

--- For what it's worth, Saturday vs. Villanova (noon), Feb. 26 @USF (noon) and March 3 @Villanova (2 p.m.) are the only games that will fit into that category, not counting possible postseason matchups.

--- Cronin pre-emptively struck on any questions about 3-point shooting with his opening statement and was sure to point out this wasn't about shooting.

"You play bad, you lose," he said. "Welcome to the Big East. Today we played awful. Again, not talking about shooting the basketball. That is a weak excuse. It's weak and it's soft. Has nothing to do with getting a rebound, getting a defensive stop. Stopping their best player late the game."

That being said, Saturday was the worst shooting performance of the season.

They finished 20 of 76 for 26.3 percent from the field. The previous season low was 27.9 percent twice (Xavier, Oklahoma).

They finished 7 of 32 from 3-point range for 21.9 percent. The previous low since the offense change was 23 percent against Oklahoma. On the season they have twice been worse, 6.3 percent at Xavier and 18.8 percent against Alabama State.

The emerging trend has been an all-or-nothing shooting cycle. When a few players are missing, everyone is missing. That was the case against Oklahoma and again against St. John's.

Talk about effort all you want, these were wide open looks missed over and over and over again. Apparently, this team will have nights like this and their success against the best teams will be determined by the shots are dropping or missing.

It's been a 50/50 shot through four games against high-majors. They've shot over 40 percent twice and under 30 percent twice.

Where is the middle ground? Hard to figure when there are seven players in the rotation that shoot 3-pointers on a regular basis.

--- I've tweeted this the last couple games: Sean Kilpatrick driving the bucket > Sean Kilpatrick shooting 3s.

Now, SK can shoot from the outside. He's hitting 38 percent on the season. But, he's so effective slashing to the basket, it seems like a wasted opportunity when he launches 3-pointers guys in his face. The tight defense his 3-point prowess has elicited would seemingly be able to open up his slash-and-cut game. Since the offense change, here are SK's splits:

2-pointers: 21 of 41 (51%) 1.02 PPP
3-pointers: 27 of 75 (36%) 1.08 PPP

Yes, the points per possession are better when taking 3s. Also, take into account his propensity to get to the foul line when he attacks the basket. He shoots 75 percent from the stripe, with free throw numbers that PPP would rise. Also, know the drive-and-kick philosophy fuels the four-guard attack.

UC ranks 331st in the country for percentage of points that come from the charity stripe (15.5%). Much of that is from their best contact offensive player avoiding it by firing 3s.

SK needs to keep taking 3-pointers -- he's an incredible weapon from deep and the points per possession dictate that. But keeping that in the 6-11 range would be more effective in the grand scheme of things than anything in the 12-16 range.

Stat of the night: It would be wrong to include any stat other than this one as stat of the night. UC missed 56 shots.

Here are the five lowest shooting percentage days in UC history with their total shots missed:

1949 LaSalle    65 16%
1949 Butler      65  20%
1949 Butler      62  22%
1952 Duquense49  22%
1949 Miami     54  24%
2011 STJ         56  26%

Morale of the story: The 1949 Bearcats struggled with accuracy. If there were more of these stats in the record book I could give you more of a modern era idea of most missed shots, but that would be a little too depressing of research for right now.

Quote of the night: Mick Cronin on the final tip-in at the buzzer:

"We tried to steal the inbounds pass instead of what we talked about in the timeout, which was everybody switch what need to switch, keep the man front make them take tough shots over it. We got beat, forget the tip-in, it should have went in. We try to steal the ball and let best player turn corner. So, poetic justice I would say on the tip-in. The Basketball Gods giving the team that deserved to win today the victory.

"It's hard to block out when you are in a scramble because somebody is getting beat off the dribble and you got guys running around trying to steal the ball, what were we going to do turn around and shoot a 70-footer?"

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