There will be two familiar faces on the floor for those who scour recruiting message boards, including shot blocker extraordinaire Chris Obekpa, but Saturday's game will be about UC honing focus on the grind of the BIg East than any recruiting battle.
By Joe Gryniewski/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- When the No.14 Bearcats welcome St. John's to Fifth Third Area on Saturday at 4 p.m., they are going to be facing the best shot blocking team in the Big East. With them comes a player head coach Mick Cronin knows all too well. Freshman forward, Chris Obekpa, was a player Cronin heavily coveted during last year's recruiting season.
Obekpa has become a force defensively for the Johnnies, by suffocating shooters, and showing flashes of the shot blocking potential that caught Mick Cronin's eye. While St. Johns currently ranks last in total team defense, Obekpa has been the lone bright spot, as he leads the country in blocked shot percentage while averaging 5.2 blocks per game. Cronin isn't surprised.
"He is a great shot blocker," he said. "Is, has been and always will be."
However, Cronin isn't concerning himself with Obekpa, as he has his eyes squarely focused on the task of shutting down St. Johns on Saturday. Truth be told, coaching against a recruit who chose another school happens every game in the Big East.
The same coaches fill the same AAU gyms and drool over the same players.
"I like a lot of guys during recruiting," Cronin said. "In recruiting, you lose way more than you win."
While the pursuit of Obekpa drew headlines on many scouting boards, the UC coach said what the media didn't know was he probably recruited Obekpa's teammate Jakarr Sampson harder. Averaging 13.7 points and 6.7 rebounds for St. John's the attention was well placed.
In order to avoid a repeat of what occurred last year against this group, he'll need to be concerned about much more than a few recruiting battles. Last year, the Bearcats suffered a home defeat to St. Johns following a big win against Notre Dame. Cronin is looking to avoid having the same fate as UC comes off of a Monday night win in Pittsburgh.
"We came out flat and got caught sleeping," said Cronin. "It's important for us to stay focused on one game at a time."
Nobody realistically expects to go undefeated in the Big East. There will be peaks and valleys. Cronin knows that to avoid the drastic dips, the leaders on this basketball team will need to convey the importance of playing every game with the same level of intensity as the last. With a veteran team containing strong leadership from Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker and Sean Kilpatrick that tends to take care of itself.
The attitude can't change, though. Cronin believes the team needs to "come out ready to play the best game of the year, each and every night."
This will be a tough task, playing against players like Obekpa, Sampson and sophomore Guard D'Angelo Harrison, whom Cronin believes to be "the best scorer in the Big East."
As far as playing against Obekpa, it doesn't register on a radar packed with larger concerns.
"No big deal," Cronin said.
The game itself has become just that -- a huge deal for the Bearcats to test their ability to avoid the normal trap games and pitfalls of a season, the game proves to be a major benchmark for the No. 14 Bearcats.