Bearcats Breakfast 2.29.12

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Happy Leap Day. I hope everyone is wearing their yellow and blue and on the lookout for Leap Day William. (If you don't watch 30 Rock, disregard this public service announcement)

Actually, considering tonight's opponent, the Leap Day yellow and blue might not be the greatest fashion combination.

Funny that once every four years this day comes because playing a game in your own building that will clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament comes around just about as often. That's the case tonight.

Make no mistake, if UC beat Marquette tonight, it's over. They are in. Period. End of discussion. Let's move on to seeding.

It's a rare opportunity and the Cats won't be buried if they don't pull it off, but by winning tonight, they can store the Selection Sunday sweatband in the drawer. It won't be needed.

In talking with Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates yesterday, they clearly understood the enormity of the event. Even though tonight is Senior Night for them, the festivities are far from the front of their mind.

"You know that it's Senior Night and we feel it," Gates said, "but I think we'll feel it more when we get on the court tomorrow. Right now, our focus is so much on we need this win that we really don't have time to sit back and think, 'Oh, tomorrow's Senior Night.'"

There would be no better way to celebrate these seniors than deliver the NCAA goal that's driven every minute they've spent in the gym since last March.

Let's eat...

--- In case you missed it, I wrote this column on Dion Dixon yesterday. Stories like his are one of the biggest reasons I love sports. The guy wasn't the most highly recruited and went through trying times his first two years, but nobody worked harder than Dixon. He was motivated by the worst of times and used it make his game better and he far outperformed the expectations most of the scouts placed upon him.

Put Dion Dixon in front of your kids as proof: Work hard, be determined and you can do whatever you want.

--- Bill Koch put together this lengthy interview with Yancy Gates. The reflections from Gates were so good he decided to run it as a Q and A rather than a standard story. Great call as Gates touches on all aspects of growing up in the spotlight.

I recommend reading the entire interview. Here are a few of the highlights for me:

How have you grown as a basketball player since you've been here?

When I was a freshman, I just wanted to be on the floor playing. Now the only reason I want to be on the floor is if I can help the team. The last home game against Louisville when we came out in the second half, I had a couple of turnovers and when Coach Cronin took me out, when I was younger I would have got an attitude. I would have had some excuse where now in that situation I wanted to come out because I needed to regroup and get my focus back to help the team win.

Would you recommend to a high school player that he stay home to play college basketball?

Definitely, but only if he can handle the criticism, because if you stay home you're going to have to take it. But overall, the experience of having your family here every night ... I haven't played a home game where my mom or my dad wasn't here. My sisters come to a lot of games, uncles, aunts, my granddaddy has been to a lot of games. Very few college players get to experience that. I walk into the locker room every night and I wave to my parents goodbye.

--- People focus on the criticism Gates received, but for him, the rewards of being around family far outweighed that. The snapshots of him waving goodbye to his family before every game are those that most people -- the media included -- don't get to see. In one of the most unique, difficult situations I've ever seen a player placed in to, it's fantastic to see Gates emerging gratified by the entire experience.

--- Through many of the tough times, Gates could have left. He could have taken the easy way out and transferred because things weren't going his way. He didn't. He stayed. He battled through to lead the way to UC's tourney run last season and be a big part of this year's push.

In the current landscape of college basketball, that means more than it ever has.

"It's a credit to those guys that they stuck it out, especially Yancy, because he's been through a lot in his career," Mick Cronin said. "Usually, this day in age, what happens with high-rated guys, if they struggle early, they transfer and blame the coach. Instead of looking in the mirror. Yancy Gates is a good kid and he comes from a great family. He's got great support at home. That's what's enabled him to grow up and mature and try to learn to be accountable for who he is and take responsibility for that because that is what he's taught at home."

--- Bearcats Nation writes that Gates deserves a standing ovation tonight. Absolutely.

--- Bearcats Blog with an ode to Gates here.

--- Remember, Senior Night festivities start at 6:40 p.m., so make sure you to be in your seats early. Dion and Yancy deserve it. Here is the promotional video the UC folks put together.

--- Mick looked and sounded like a coach whose spent every hour awake trying to figure out a way to beat Marquette. Here's video of yesterday's media session. His wearing down showed specifically in reference to a question about last year's group being called the foundation of the rebuilding project and what Dion and Yancy were.

"You just got to try to get better players, you know, I don't have nicknames for everything. I'm tired. I'm watching too much film of Marquette. It's March."

Good stuff. The fact Mick lost track of what month it is tells you all you need to know about how deep his is into the grind of this tournament push.

--- Scott from Bearcats Blog -- who rumor has it will covering tonight's game, score one for bloggers everywhere -- talks to the Marquette blog Paint Touches for some analysis of tonight's matchup.

--- As Snoop would say, back the lecture at hand...

How the heck can UC find a way to beat Marquette, now ranked No. 7/8. They own just one loss since Jan. 7. They are hearing the rumbling of earning a No. 2 seed in The Dance and still have plenty to play for.

Here's Mick on what happened and why in the 95-78 loss in Game 1:

"We turned the ball over," he said. "They got ti going. We got to take care of the basketball. They are a team that penalizes you for your mistakes. You can't throw gas on the fire with them they already play at a heated pace. They make you pay probably as good as anybody in the country, if not better than anybody in the country as far as conversion on the break. They have tailored their style of play to their current personnel as well as anybody. A credit to Buzz Williams, I think he's Coach of The Year in the Big East."

--- Three key statistics to watch tonight:

1. Turnovers. Marquette has won the turnover margin in each of the last six games and 10 of the 13 games on their current streak. In the last six games they've forced 94 turnovers and committed just 62. With they way they convert on the fast break, losing the TO battle 14-7 which occurred in Game 1 would be disastrous (that tied for the worst margin of the year and the worst in Big East play by two).

2. Second half. Marquette owns a habit of falling behind early and steamrolling teams in the second half. Just ask UC and its 16-4 lead in Milwaukee.

They have outscored their opponents in every second half and by a combined 40 points during their current five-game win streak.

3. Rebounding percentage.
If there is a weakness the Eagles (and that's a stretch) it's on the glass. They can be had for numerous second-chance points. They rank 12th in conference play in offensive rebounding percentage and 13th in preventing opponents offensive boards.

If the Bearcats can grab 45 percent or better on the offensive boards, they will have a great chance to win.

-- Hope to see everyone at Fifth Third tonight. Follow me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) for live analysis, observations, witticisms, quotes, from before, during and after the game. And, of course, check in with the blog for the postgame column and morning after.

--- On to some randomness...

--- Lindsay Lohan is hosting SNL this week. My expectation bar is about as low as her house arrest ankle bracelet, but the promos are strong.

--- The LinSanity Matrix.

--- UConn continues get RPI/SOS love,
but they haven't looked like a tournament team for months.

--- This is what it would take for me to actually consider enrolling in a Zumba class.

--- Snooki is reportedly three months pregnant. I give you that information, a bottle of spray tan, Bump-it and a techno CD. It's a make-your-own-joke kit.

--- This song only seems fitting considering what's at stake tonight. It's a bit of a sports cliche now, but I don't care. Still pumps me up.

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