Recreating '11 run not the focus

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Opening on a personal note, it's great to be back on the blog as I return from covering the Super Bowl in Indianapolis last week. Huge thanks to Chris Gundrum for holding down the fort while I was gone.

My first stop on the ride back into town was Clifton for UC's media availability discussing the current state of the Bearcats (16-7, 6-4) as they head to St. John's on Wednesday tied for fifth in the Big East conference.

My concept going in was to talk to the players and Mick Cronin about how to recreate last year's late run that landed them in the Big East tournament and if they can pull anything from how they accomplished it. The answer was, well, not exactly as I expected. Sometimes you show up expecting one story and another pops up.

Remember, it was about this time last year the Bearcats were left for dead following a home loss to St. John's. Then, over the final six games of the regular season, they located an extra gear. The Cats went on to win six of their next seven and enter the NCAA tournament one of the hottest team's in the country.

With eight games remaining in the regular season, how much of what inspired some of the best basketball played during the Cronin era could be utilized in repeating the same task this season.

69105_Cincinnati_Georgetown_Basketball.jpg"You really expect me to remember that?" Cronin said. "I can't remember what happened two weeks ago."

Coincidentally, two weeks ago the Bearcats looked about as different from the current model as last year's group. They fell from the confident group that topped UConn to move into second place in the conference to a team seeking answers after losses to West Virginia, Syracuse and Rutgers.

For Cronin, the key to recreating last year isn't revisiting the origins of what caused their late surge, rather, forgetting about all of it.

"I'm not interested in last year," he said. "I'm just worried about tangible things with each guy. I don't look at the big picture at all. I don't look at the Big East standings. When people are worried about the wrong things it's hard to be effective. Our guys come in (the interview room) they get asked about the NCAA tournament, they go everywhere and they ask about the Big East standings. I got to get Dion Dixon to worry about getting a defensive rebound because he had as many as my mother did the other night."

In the game of motivating and inspiring streaks during the most pivotal time of the year in college basketball, Cronin chooses to keep the tasks as simple as possible. Find a way for Dixon to rebound. Find a way to take better shots. Find a way to increase offensive efficiency.

All the talk about hustle and effort determining wins made for warm, cuddly talking points in November and December, but at this time of year the art of motivation only takes a team so far.

"You can't just play hard," Cronin said. "You got to play well."

Both came at the same time during last year's run. Somewhere at the intersection of effort and execution, UC took off. Sean Kilpatrick believes that was based in the wake-up call of realizing the NCAA tournament was slipping out of their grasp.

The same urgency has begun to seep into his veins as the clock ticks away on UC's season. In today's ESPN Bracketology, UC was placed as the No. 12 seed and far from secure in their standing.

"We know that we want to get there this year and get there and win more than win game," Kilpatrick said.

If so, they will need to replicate last year's surge. Can this team, with many different components, pull that off?

"I don't know," Kilpatrick said. "We are going to have to see."

In the meantime, while they wait to see, others will debate the big picture of how to make the tournament happen again. Just don't expect it to be Cronin or his players.

"That's why they have the Sports Rock, Sports of All Sorts, Sports Authority," he said. "We need to worry about making free throws and executing our offense."

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