Happy Martin Luther King Day, folks. Fun one for the Bearcats as they take on the current top team in the Big East, Syracuse, in the Carrier Dome. Life in the Big East is officially brutal. From the moment the Marquette game ended the Bearcats has approximately 40 hours to sleep, regroup, travel to lovely Syracuse and prepare for one of the top teams in the nation and most confounding defenses in the game. Got to love this conference.
In case you didn't know, UC (16-3, 4-2) at Syracuse (17-1, 5-0), 3:30 p.m. today, ESPN.
Want to bridge the gap this morning between leftovers from the win against Marquette (in case you missed my postgame column, follow the link here) and preparing you for this afternoon's game. So, here's three back-to-back 3-pointers about the two tilts.
--- When Mick feels like he's gone through a press conference and is yet to give a few zingers to crack the room up, he'll always make sure to squeeze one in on his way out the door. He did that Saturday as he finished up talking about how difficult it is to win night in and night out in the Big East. There are no easy games, even against the back end of the standings. That brought out this one -- not the first time it's been used, but always effective.
"There's never an off night in our league," Cronin said."You may win but you don't just cruise to victory. I miss them days when I used to sit next to Huggs when he was 60 pounds lighter and we would cruise to victory in Conference USA."
You can't go wrong taking a shot at growing Huggs.
--- Another great atmosphere with the Ring of Red. And consequently the return of the uniforms where the names and numbers are actually visible. The place was rocking, especially from the final five minutes of the game on. The crowd of 12,812 was the largest of the year at Fifth Third and marks a rise of 26.7 percent in overall attendance from last season. The numbers aren't where UC would like them to be yet, but the fans have certainly responded and it makes a significant difference in creating a tough home-court advantage.
Sean Kilpatrick noticed.
"I love the Ring of Red games," he said. "That's when everybody in the city comes out. You can tell, at one point we was playing and we made a shot when we was running back it felt like the floor was shaking. I was like, what's going on here and seen everybody jujmping up."
--- UC's two staples this season have been defense and offensive rebounding. It's one of the biggest reasons they were able to beat Marquette. UC is crashing the boards as well as any team in the nation, they now rank eighth in offensive rebounding percentage. Sure, the Bearcats may be missing shots, but they extend possessions by crashing the boards. That's a testament to the effort of players like Titus Rubles and JaQuon Parker, who combined for nine offensive boards against Marquette.
Whose one of the eight teams better at offensive rebounding than the Bearcats (40.4 percent)? Syracuse (42.3). Segue!
--- Cashmere Wright expected to be a game time decision. My gut tells me, though, with a nine-day break after this he won't play so he'll be fully rested for the stretch run. Cronin said there was still some stiffness in his knee before the game so he decided to hold him back. If two days ago there was stiffness, doubtful that will be completely gone today. Even if it was, no sense in pushing it for a January game you aren't supposed to be able to win anyway.
"He's day to day, guys, I'm not making things up," Cronin said Saturday night. "And I got news for you, if he decides to play Monday, I'm not calling Jim Boeheim and telling him. I can tell you this, though, if he's out there and he's not 100 percent I'm not letting him play. At the end of the day, (trainer) Bob Mangine let's him get out there, he has to feel good about it, then I have to say, you know what, I feel good about it. Because I may not feel good about it. I may save him."
Syracuse will also be without one of their top offensive players as James Southerland (13.6 ppg) is expected to miss another game.
--- The Orange went into The Yum on Saturday and took down top-ranked Louisville. That's about all you need to know about the task in front of UC. Michael Carter-Williams leads the nation in assists and it shows in the way he sets up his teammates. Jay Bilas called him the second-best PG in the nation here. Oh, and he owns the biggest play of the Big East season. What a finish against Syracuse.
--- Much as was the case in the Big East semifinal last year, UC will need to fill it up from deep to beat Syracuse. That will be essential once again, but more importantly, UC needs to get to the free throw line. That's how Temple pulled off their upset of the Orange earlier in the year. They were 29 of 36 from the FT line in the 83-79 win. Combine that with sharp-shooting from deep and the Bearcats, even without Cash, would have a chance.
--- This game could be a block party with two teams that both rank fifth and sixth in the country in blocks per game. UC has now blocked 24 shots in the last two games, 12 apiece. The 12 blocks tie for the most in a game since December 2010.
Random, before we wrap this up, should tell everyone to take a peak at Groupon today, which is offering discounted Bearcats tickets.
Thanks to everyone for reading and keep sending in those emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr. I do my best to get back to everybody and you should be seeing another mailblog coming up in the near future.
Enjoy the game everybody. As I do every year, I'll post this today. Take the 18 minutes to soak in the message.