The other day I was accused of being an relentless optimist on The Twitters. I took some offense to that. I personally believe I focus on truth, logic and context. Those often become lost in the knee-jerk world of college fanaticism, social media and FireMyHeadCoach.Com.
Guess I'll feed into the stereotype tonight, but so be it. The truth often shines brighter than the final numbers beaming off the scoreboard --- in this case, Notre Dame 66, Cincinnati 60.
The Bearcats lost to a Fighting Irish team who beat each of their last 11 opponents by double figures, including Kentucky, Purdue, Seton Hall and BYU. They lost as players like Jerian Grant hit hanging NBA jumpers with the clock expiring for demoralizing daggers. Notre Dame moved the ball with the precision and speed of a customized pinball machine.
Notre Dame belongs among the country's elite. Results and the eye test agree with the thought Monday.
The Bearcats, on the flip side, lost three of four, with all three coming at home. Seven second-half turnovers doomed them.
Looking beyond the score reveals a more encouraging, perhaps essential truth. This season will ultimately be defined by the evolution of an often-convoluted offense. That offense took an important step Monday.
UC dished out 18 assists on 23 baskets. They entered 251st in the country in points assisted on. Ideally, UC could move the ball with the brutal efficiency of the Irish and their mature, basketball IQ Masters students. They aren't there yet. And probably won't be, but if they share as well as they did Monday, they will win more than a fair share.
"Our passing was way better than it's been in a month," Mick Cronin said.
Despite being held to only five points, Cashmere Wright effected the game with the pass dishing out eight assists to one turnover. Shaq Thomas provided encouraging minutes with five points, two assists, one block and three rebounds in 24 minutes. Kelvin Gaines offered the best basketball he's played at UC as Justin Jackson sat out because of a coach's decision.
All 10 players scored a point because ball movement more often than not allowed the open shot to be obvious instead of a hurried indecision.
That's how you end up with 46.2 percent shooting, the highest field goal percentage since Dec. 8 against Maryland-Eastern Shore.
The effort wasn't without fault, the engine hardly hummed with Corvette beauty. But it was also far from the messy confusion of the previous few weeks.
"I told the guys I've lost games before, nobody goes undefeated, it's how you play," Cronin said. "We have two rules, you give great effort and you have great attitude. Thought we had both tonight. Technically, we got to clean some things up and make some more free throws. When your team does that to me that's how I look at things. You are going to be able to build a program and win a multitude of games if you have great effort and great attitude."
The offseason and non-conference prognostications of Big East title runs and talk of trips to Atlanta officially now give way to the cold reality of surviving this conference grind. A defense that held Notre Dame to 12 points less than their season average --- despite a slew of poorly executed rotations allowing open 3-pointers --- could be enough to carry this team into the conversation. A more efficient offense could help them rise above it.
"It's the Big East now," Sean Kilpatrick said, after leading UC with 15 points. "That's something we have to really sit here and figure out now. It's not like it's December anymore, it's January."
Clearly, they aren't there yet --- Grant's NBA audition tape made sure of that. But as the critics begin to swirl like vultures, the Bearcats do find themselves in a familiar role seen on a seemingly annual basis around Fifth Third Arena.
"We are used to being in this spot," Cronin said. 'I'm used to people second-guessing me as the coach of Cincinnati and I'm used to people bagging it on our team, national people thinking we are not any good. So, we are right back to where we are comfortable."
This is the same group most left for dead after a three-game losing streak last January. Two years ago, the season obits were written on Feb. 13 after a loss to St. John's supposedly stole any NCAA tournament hope.
Both those seasons concluded with wins in The Dance and progression of a program. The story of this season wasn't written Monday night, but a chapter about fixing the offensive puzzle was - despite what the scoreboard read.
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