The Bearcats are enjoying their best start under Mick Cronin and perch atop The American but the coach and his star player take the court with a chip on their shoulder.
CINCINNATI -- This week, finally, the gloves came off for Sean Kilpatrick, Mick Cronin and the Bearcats. They weren't politely pulled one finger at a time like two hipsters leaving the cold entering a posh OTR restaurant.
The gloves were tossed aside, cascading across the ice like Canucks-Flames goonfest.
Kilpatrick and the Bearcats believe they've earned respect of the country with a 17-2 record, undefeated while leading a conference featuring powers Louisville, Memphis and UConn. Winners of 10 straight they've suffocated opponents allowing the second-fewest points per game in the country.
Sure, they've trickled their way up the polls to Nos. 15/16, but the rise came as slowly as it did quietly.
"Guys really bled and sweated UC and put things in perspective for the program," Kilpatrick said. "We beat teams that were ranked higher than us and played a huge role with going at teams like they predicted to be better than us. Now we are still not getting the same respect that we deserve so next question is what do we need to do in order to do that?"
The easy answer is simple: Win.
The more complicated answer requires a doctorate in the College Basketball Noticeability Theorem. Storylines, McDonald's All-Americans and primetime television slots grab the attention of the average voter and college basketball writer.
"People get caught up in 'We don't have talent,' yes we do," Cronin said. "There's a lot of skilled players that lose. Playing hard and playing to win is a talent, unfortunately, that talent is not accentuated by recruiting analysts. But it is a talent. It's a talent anybody looking to put a winning team together is looking for."
Polls serve as much of a true representation of college hoops achievement as looking at a resume predicts who would best fill a job. Voters and national pundits grazing box scores and headlines rarely view the relevancy of a team overachieving -- certainly not on Jan. 23.
The favorites will be exalted at every cost and risers struck down at the first possible moment. That's Cronin's message to his team this week regarding the current reality of UC basketball. Despite wins at Memphis and against Pittsburgh in New York City pairing with a perfect 6-0 record in conference, notoriety remains tenuous when colored red and black.
"It will all be gone quickly," Cronin said. "There's certain teams in college basketball that if they lose it would take them four losses in a row and they'd still be ranked. If we were to lose one game we will disappear. I make sure our guys understand that."
Those paying close attention know the difference between this Cincinnati team and one which stumbled down the stretch to close last season. Most notably, their biggest rival.
Rick Pitino thinks Cincinnati playing best basketball in AAC and that 5 teams from league will make NCAA Tournament.-- rickbozich (@rickbozich) January 15, 2014
Cronin doesn't concern himself with impressing anybody except his players and those he needs to beat. Luckily, in a sport which settles itself on the court, little else matters. He knows Rick Pitino wouldn't drop UC off his radar if one upset loss occurred.
"We wouldn't disappear from coach Pitino's mind because he is an educated basketball expert,' Cronin said. "From some AP voters or people that continue to write stories about teams that are 1-5 in their league on national sites. They couldn't wait to say, 'See, I told you they weren't very good.' People don't like to admit when they are wrong. When people say that team is not that good, that coach is not that good, that player is not that good they can't wait for that team to fail. That's just how it is."
Unfortunately, it often leads to injustice in the mind of Cronin and Kilpatrick. The Bearcats leader and leading scorer was left off the Wooden Award 25 Semi-Finalists list this week. Here's the list.
He can earn his way back into a top 15 cut which will happen March 8.
It didn't make the snub sting any less.
First, to The Twitters:
How is Sean Kilpatrick left off the Wooden list?? Very irresponsible by those involved. Look at his stats, his team, his impact. Disrespect!-- Mick Cronin (@CoachCroninUC) January 23, 2014
Next To The Instagrams of SK: (http://instagram.com/p/jb1h1tICT0/)
"I come from the bottom... Come from nothing... And I'm not saying that there's not a lot of great players out in the world BUT just know I'm one of them. The more and more you don't respect my teammates and my game the more and more it puts more anger into the tank. I've worked my tail off all my life and Nationally some people still don't respect it? Some players been spoon fed all their lives when it comes to this"
Kilpatrick broke out the hashtag #NUMBERSDONTLIE and when looking at the guards ahead of him on the Wooden team the truth shows through. Of the 14 guards on the team, only four rank ahead of him in the KenPom.com offensive rating rooted in efficiency.
He's second on the list in points per game, trailing only Jordan Clarkson of Missouri by one-tenth of a point.
He's sixth in rebounds per game and three players have fewer assists per game.
|Player (All Guards)||KenPom Off. Rating||Points/G||Assts/G||Reb/G||Record|
|Keith Appling, Mich. St.||116.7||15.6||4.6||3.6||18-1|
|Kyle Anderson, UCLA||117.3||15.5||6.6||8.9||14-4|
|Jordan Clarkson, Mizzou||114.9||18.7||3.4||3.9||14-4|
|Aaron Craft, Ohio State||105.3||9.2||4.9||3.5||15-4|
|Tyler Ennis, Syracuse||122.4||11.9||5.5||3.2||18-0|
|Nick Johnson, Arizona||123.1||16.3||2.4||3.4||18-0|
|DeAndre Kane, Iowa St.||111.0||16.7||5.8||7.2||14-3|
|Shabazz Napier, UConn||121.4||17.4||5.9||6.2||15-4|
|Marcus Smart, OK St.||113.7||17.8||4.4||5.8||15-3|
|Russ Smith, Louisville||112.4||18.1||4.8||3.4||17-3|
|Andrew Wiggins, Kansas||109.9||15.2||1.4||6.1||14-4|
|Chaz Williams, UMass||110.1||15.8||7.3||2.7||16-2|
|Joseph Young, Oregon||133.0||18.0||1.9||3.5||13-4|
Obviously, other factors come into play. But anyone claiming Kilpatrick as a key part of the fourth-ranked defense in the country in terms of points per possession falls shy as an all-around player isn't watching.
Even more so for Cronin, anybody claiming a player accepted more leadership and responsibility in carrying a team emotionally, mentally and physically toward overachievement, they likely haven't followed Kilpatrick's rise through UC.
Cronin and Kilpatrick can take to any form of social media or conversation with media types all they want. No louder message reverberates throughout the national landscape like winning and winning big games. With two against Louisville, two against UConn, a trip to SMU and home tilt with Memphis on the horizon, the opportunities will come.
After that, the ultimate proving ground of the NCAA Tournament will settle all debates. Finally.
"Can't wait," Kilpatrick said.
I want to hear from you! Send any comments, questions or suggestions about UC basketball to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.