With the conclusion of UC's season coming at the hands of Creighton and Doug McDermott (who, of course, couldn't make a shot against Duke) here at the Bearcats Beat I want to hand out my awards for the season that was.
The year didn't end as anybody inside UC would have like or hoped when it opened five months ago. And certainly not as well as when UC sat at No. 8 in the country in December. But that doesn't mean there weren't plenty of incredible plays, players, moments, games and performances worth chronicling.
Here we go (Reminder: These awards are mine and mine only, not discussed with coaches, players, staff):
Team MVP: Sean Kilpatrick
When determining the MVP, there was a need to assess true value. Should the dramatic change in the team without a healthy Cashmere Wright display his true value to the team? Of course, imagine what this team would have looked like without Sean Kilpatrick. In a closer battle than some would think, Kilpatrick takes this nod.
If the team needed a big shot or push toward the end of a game, it relied on SK. He finished the season averaging 17.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while earning Second Team All-Big East honors for the second consecutive season. His 36 points against Marquette marked the biggest win of the year and all his achievements came with a constant clawing, scratching, double-teaming and use of any other tactic imaginable by opposing defenses. His 3-point percentage dropped this season primarily because of so many times given the ball with five seconds left on the shot clock and nowhere else to go. The defensive attention made it more difficult for Kilpatrick but did open more one-on-one opportunities for other players.
A big decision awaits him this offseason, but nobody meant more to the Bearcats this year.Honorable Mention: Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker.
Most Improved Player: Shaquille Thomas
This award would have been up for serious debate only two weeks ago, that was before redshirt freshman Thomas left no doubt through an emergent postseason. Given an opportunity for more playing time by Mick Cronin with a switch to a more athletic lineup, Thomas took full advantage. Over the three postseason games Thomas averaged 7 points and 5 rebounds in an average of 20 minutes. Prior to that in regular season conference play he averaged 1.8 points in 1.5 rebounds in 9.0 minutes per game.
His confidence looked apparent on the biggest stage of the season when he piled in a season high 12 points using a variety of pull-up jumpers, layups and athletic plays. Oh, and he did this.
After a rocky first year, Thomas appears to have found himself while entering his second year of play in the program. With the departure of JaQuon Parker, his services will certainly be needed. Honorable Mention: Cheikh Mbodj.
Toughest Player: Cashmere Wright
We may never know the severe extent of Cashmere Wright's injuries this season. We know he had to have his shoulder popped back into place about six times, according to Cronin. We know he sprained his knee bad enough that he was supposed feel pain for about a month, but played through it midseason. We know the injuries severely limited his explosion and shooting stroke during the homestretch. Yet, there was Wright, playing hurt -- as he has his whole career -- racking up the most games played of any basketball student-athlete in UC history.
An argument in this category could be made for JaQuon Parker, but that probably means redefining toughness. Parker epitomizes toughness on the court as far as never quitting and finding a way against all odds. As far as leaving any personal pain or discomfort behind in a charge to lead the team, everyone this season takes a back seat to Wright. Honorable Mention: JaQuon Parker.
People forget, Wright struggled mightily that game. He couldn't find a rhtyhm and only had six points. Yet, when he took the ball and dribbled toward the bucket only to find 7-foot center Moussa Gueye in his face. To fade away, manage to get the floater over his outstretched block attempt, slide into the first row of seats and bury the game-winner is one of the great moments in Fifth Third Arena history.
The most amazing part was Cash couldn't even see the rim and didn't know it went in until he heard the crowd reaction and saw his teammates charging toward him.
"I just shot the ball hoping," he said.
Best Play: Jackson dunk off deep pass vs. MVSU
In a non-conference game against Mississippi Valley State, the highlight play of the season occurred when JaQuon Parker attempted a steal near midcourt. As he grabbed the ball he was nearly falling out of bounds, but instead of safely tossing it into play behind him he launched a rainbow pass to Cashmere Wright down the floor. Wright didn't just track down the pass, he immediately flipped into a behind-the-back bounce for a trailing Justin Jackson, who put the exclamation point slam on the end. Phenomenal plays all around. Honorable mention: Wright buzzer-beater vs. Alabama, SK over Marquette.
Best Game: UC 71, Marquette 69 (OT)
Best Individual Performance: Sean Kilpatrick
No Cashmere Wright. A Top 25 team in the house. Allowing 50 points in the second half to the Golden Eagles. Heading to overtime. Sean Kilpatrick dropping 36, including the game-winner on a rival. Yeah, this game had it all. Epic swings in both directions and ended up with heroics from the team's MVP. Was an incredible game and the best night to be in Fifth Third Arena all year.
Kilpatrick always can be counted on for offense, but beyond his 36 points this night illustrated the intangibles that make him a special player. He withstood the mental grind of being denied the ball with a 94-foot faceguard the majority of the second half and overtime that limited his touches. He happily allowed his teammates to take advantage of the space. He then made one of the most athletic, instinctual plays of the year tracking down an overthrown pass near the sideline to save valuable seconds from running off the clock in OT. And after the game he jokingly referred to Cronin as "the little guy." He did it all. Here was the full game story from that night, all about his Kilpatrick's signature game at UC.
Honorable Mention Game of Year: Creighton, @Syracuse, Alabama.
Honorable Mention Best Individual Performance: SK vs. Iowa State (32 pts, 5 rebounds, 5 steals), Cashmere Wright vs. DePaul (20 points, 7 assists in 22 minutes before injury)
Best Storyline: Cheikh Mbodj Senior Day
Certainly my favorite gameday story to write this basketball season. The parents of Cheikh Mbodj flew in from Senegal for the week of his Senior Day game against South Florida. They hadn't seen him play basketball live in six years and hadn't seen him at all for two years. What happened next? Mbodj churned out the best 25 minutes (second half/OT) of his UC career, including a crazy block to help save the game.
This came after his parents walked out to mid-court with him before the game, all dressed in native garb. Mbodj was smiling ear-to-ear in the postgame press conference when he talked about it and one of the true good kids in college basketball finally had his great moment. And it couldn't have come at a bigger time considering how important the win against USF would prove to be toward UC's postseason aspirations. Honorable Mention: Cashmere Wright steals record #FindPuffy
Best Quote: Justin Jackson
In a win against Rutgers Jackson showed off his game-changing energy with 7 points, 6 blocks and 7 rebounds and a new career high for number of #JustinJacksonMeanFace's. I wanted to get to the bottom of what type of energy goes through him when he makes a big block like the one that landed on the SportsCenter Top 10 that night.
After a few attempts to elicit the answer where he said he couldn't explain it, I fired one more attempt asking him if he could try and do his best. He then snapped off this gem to me and it fit perfectly:
"It's like getting a new pair of shoes," he said.
Best Atmosphere: The Crosstown
Concerns were abound regarding the move of The Crosstown downtown following the 2011 brawl at Cintas Center. Had this event been neutered? Did these games belong on the home court? Would people show?
Certainly, tweaks to pricing points and other exterior elements will be necessary, but it provided the best atmosphere of the season. Honorable Mention: Ring of Red vs. Marquette, Final Big East Tournament MSG.
As always, I want to hear from you! What were your favorite games, moments, plays and performances. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my winners and send me your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
For three years Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright have been at the forefront of UC's return to national relevance, now these two friends hope to be at the centerpiece of one unforgettable final chapter. (photo: Cincinnati Enquirer)
CINCINNATI - Reality struck Sean Kilpatrick the moment he saw Cashmere Wright walk to center court at Fifth Third Arena with his family on Senior Day.
The junior from New York couldn't help it. He began to tear up.
Much of his emotional moment came in realizing the tumultuous, painful path Wright endured to reach this final chapter. Another underlying understanding tagged along that day. As much as this would be the final home game for Wright, JaQuon Parker, Cheikh Mbodj and Alex Eppensteiner, this would be the final home game for Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright to play together.
This duo stood at the forefront of a movement that changed the face of UC basketball. Over the course of three seasons, they willed this program out of the dark, irrelevant corner of the college basketball landscape and into the brightest stages the game offers.
In 103 games played together they amassed 2,507 points, 72 wins against 31 losses, three NCAA tournament victories and a spot in the Big East tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden.
They've redefined the prism through which the program is viewed. They've done so not only as the team's premier players on the court, but close friends off it.
Decades from now they may better remember the moments away from basketball best, as so many alumni of the program do. They'll recall their jokes in the locker room, late nights at Waffle House or football Sundays at Hooters.
Yet, as the swan song of this rejuvenating basketball era commences Friday in Philadelphia, these two would love nothing more than write the definitive final chapter of their friendship between the lines.
"Actually, we were talking about that in the training room the other day," Kilpatrick said. "Me and him came a long way. We played a lot of games, a lot of minutes together. It's been a ride. That's something we are going to miss, but I know that he wants to go out with a bang and that's something I am going to try and help him do."
Wright, as the fifth-year senior, imparts a wise, introspective tone while discussing their careers - past, present and future. In many ways he takes on the role of older brother, even though he's actually born three days after Kilpatrick in January 1990.
When describing his backcourt partner, Wright begins and ends with an appreciation of his drive and focus.
"He's that whole other beast," Wright said of the team's leading scorer who averages 16.9 points per game. "He's that person who shows you how to put in the work and you see him put in the work and you see him getting better and you realize it. He's really outgoing, he wants the best for him but also pulls everyone alongside him with him."
On the contrary comes Wright, with his high-pitched laugh and optimistic personality. Neither of these two could have imagined how much this optimism would be necessary during a season they believed destined for elite status. Expectations altered under the pressure of the late-season losing streaks and a team as worrisome as any Mick Cronin can remember needed a fixture to keep their spirits from crumbling.
Enter Wright, with one good knee, one good shoulder and one important leadership skill set.
"One of the funniest, motivated, high-spirit guys you'll ever meet," Kilpatrick said. "Even if right after a loss and everyone is sitting here and down and everything about it, the whole room will be quiet and you'll just hear Cash, 'C'mon y'all, we all right, we all right!'"
This attitude didn't form overnight and didn't necessarily come from his youth, he learned the most from watching senior Deonta Vaughn's final season when the Bearcats finished with a disappointing trip to the NIT. Vaughn didn't post the numbers he hoped for in his final year and the external pressures were as much responsible as any defensive strategies.
"We were ranked that year," Wright said. "We came back and we lost and we made the NIT, I realized one thing with Deonta, I was looking at him he let that whole season just stress him out. When it got toward the end he was so stressed out he couldn't even help us. Me seeing that, I'm like I can't even let that happen to me."
From that moment forward, enjoying the opportunity trumped all other aspects. Combining Kilpatrick's work ethic and focus with Wright's light-hearted reality check created the culture to lift the team to new heights.
On the court, that means a look or single comment to bring the best out of each other. When you play together more than 100 games, timeouts and huddles to impart urgency aren't needed.
"He'd be the first person I look at if we are in the game and got a tough stretch going on, or going to have a tough stretch," Wright said. "He'd be the first person I'd look at, like, 'C'mon now.' He'll look at me and say, 'C'mon now, help me, do what you got to do.' We look at each other first and say, 'It's time you start playing.'"
Playing will look much different next year with Wright bound for the next level of basketball and Kilpatrick with one year of eligibility remaining. SK bellowed a laugh thinking about the amount of defensive pressure he would see returning for his final season at UC without Wright and other graduating seniors.
"I thought I'd seen double teams this year," he said. "Imagine next year."
For two players so synonomous with each other, imagining next year seems impossible to envision one without the other. Along with Parker, his running mates will be gone. So, the question of next year does still hang in the balance. Kilpatrick will have a decision to make whether to move on to a professional career or return to UC.
It's maybe the only topic these two friends don't delve deep into.
"He's got so many people asking him so many questions, that's the last thing I want to talk to him about," Wright said. "I just tell him do what is best for you and make the decision that you are going to live with and you are going to be OK with. Either decision you make, I'm fine, I'm here with you, but make the decision because of you. That's all I tell him about next year."
"It will be different," Kilpatrick said. "But then again now it will be their chance to sit there and watch me - if things did pan out the way it was -- watch me basically try to carry a team and try to sit here and really keep growing as a player."
All thought of next year ends there. The final moments of any relationship are cherished more than any others. Perspective officially hit these two. Now, extracting one final run together would mean the ultimate celebration of their basketball bond. And a symbolic reflection of a characteristic which in many ways defined them and this three-year rise to relevancy.
"We are a group that really likes proving a lot of people wrong," Kilpatrick said. "That's something that got us this far because we've always had that chip on our shoulder. We've always wanted to really sit here and prove doubters wrong. It would mean the most, especially with the ups and downs we did have. If we could make this run and on top of that get to Atlanta for Cash, that would meant he most."
It might mean the most, but wouldn't mean the conclusion. Not for these two.
"It's part of growing up, like I tell him, that's why they made phones," Wright said. "But right now everyone is grown, we all got kids. Everyone's got to do what's best for their families.
"Friendships don't end, brotherships don't end. Only thing that's going to be different is we won't be playing together in basketball."
Adult life and decisions hold on the immediate horizon for these 23-year-olds, but prolonging these final moments on the court together would make for a fitting, unforgettable finale.
I want to hear from you! Send me any comments, questions or observations to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Spent much of the day down at UC yesterday and certainly no shortage of buzz in the building. I like to think everyone was talking about the massive NCAA tournament blowout podcast I put together. In a related note, I also like to think people are watching my flashy typing skills on press row during home basketball games.
Regardless, thanks to Dan Hoard, Tommy G, Rob Dauster and Darren Savino for taking the time to chat with me in what turned into an hour full of comedic stylings and all you could possibly need to know about the Bearcats in the NCAA tournament this weekend. Plus, the latest, greatest photoshop creation from VideoShane. Disappointed my face didn't get the all-white suit ensemble, though.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions shoot them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
As has been the case all, week here's another One Shining Moment.
Let's eat ...
--- Before I jump into more NCAA tournament talk, we have to start on one of the biggest moves to happen at UC in years. Now, this might not spike the radio talk show ratings or grab the headlines of a tournament win or the hiring of Tommy Tuberville, but make no mistake, Whit Babcock's decision to make all 19 sports operate at full scholarship allotment by the NCAA is as big a game-changing move as he's made at UC.
The decision to eliminate many scholarships to programs such as golf, baseball, swimming and track came down in 2009 and this essentially repeals that decision.
In a time when schools are chopping sports and cutting corners for money, Babcock and his staff are dedicating themselves to playing every sport at the highest level possible.
As Whit was telling me yesterday, if you say you want to be bigtime and not take a back seat to anybody, you have to back that up. This is him backing it up in the biggest way possible.
It will amount to 35-45 more schollys for Olympic sports that will gradually be added over the course of the next few years with probably an extra 15-25 next year. Few will be affected more than baseball and Brian Cleary, who has won over 400 games at UC, made evident with this statement:
"This is quite possibly the most significant development affecting the UC baseball program during my time at UC," he said. "The plan removes the largest obstacle we have faced and will allow us to pursue players in the same fashion as those schools with which we compete."
--- Here is Whit talking with Mo Egger yesterday on ESPN1530.
--- Kevin Goheen at Fox Sports Ohio wrote about how this unveils Babcock's mission and vision. As Gogo also rightly points out, this only solidifies UC's position in the grand scheme of conference realignment.
Speaking of ...
--- Details have been released about the TV deal for the current Big East with ESPN. As Brett McMurphy points out if two schools leave, the contract can be voided. While not a secret but important for UC fans, ESPN's McMurphy -- the absolute expert on all Big East realignment news -- also quotes sources as saying UC and UConn are "next in line" to move to the ACC if and when the conference gets plucked again.
Sing it, Axl.
-- OK, enough of the business side, back to the games.
--- The beginning of One Shining Moment and really every game on CBS in The Dance starts with the shot of a player dancing in the middle of the pregame huddle. As promised yesterday, I got to the bottom of who will be the UC huddle dancer on Friday. SK says they will decide on Friday, but it's pretty much down to him, Parker and Rubles. He's determined to get Cashmere Wright in the middle, but Cash informed me he only can do two steps and isn't interested in embarrassing his team on national TV. And hurting his knee trying to drop down and get his eagle on might not be greatest look.
It should be noted director of basketball operations Drew Seidenberger has been known to hop into the middle of a pregame dance huddle and sources tell me his moves have improved exponentially this year.
What is for sure is that they will be doing what's called the South Dallas Swag. Which according to this tutorial from "WhiteBoy Chris" in a high school parking lot on YouTube it is, indeed, very swaggy. No confirmation on if I will do the South Dallas Swag before beginning my story on the game.
--- My guy Dan Hoard, feeling fresh off his podcast appearance, with a fantastic piece about Mick Cronin setting a new goal for this tournament. He wants his team to have more fun than anyone else. Love this philosophy. Loose and free the only way to be with your season on the line.
--- Cashmere Wright told me really ever since the USF game when Mick started telling the team they were in the tournament, the atmosphere and attitude of the team changed dramatically. That all started with the coach loosening everything up. That was evident during Tuesday's practice open to fans -- which drew a pretty impressive number for 18 hours notice on a Tuesday afternoon.
The guys were joking, laughing and really enjoying the moment. This all feeds back into more of what Cronin said Sunday about this being one of the most conscientious, worrisome groups he's ever coached. He doesn't need to drop the hammer to keep them focused and going, he needs to relieve their self-imposed pressure.
--- As Bill Kochwrote about here, Corie Blount and Terry Nelson came down to practice to hang out and talk to the team. Mick didn't ask them specifically to come, but welcomed them. Says the door is always open to past players. Part of what makes the program great. Who better to discuss the possibilities of March?
--- The team flew out this morning for Philadelphia. They will take part in practices and media availability tomorrow. Look for all your coverage from Dan, Chuck, Tommy and the video team from the city of brotherly love all week here at GoBearcats.com. And obviously, keep it locked to the blog.
With such a big stage as the NCAA Tournament, it's only fair to bring the biggest Inside The Bearcats Podcast of the season -- by far. Tommy G and I anchor the pod as I bring in Voice of the Bearcats Dan Hoard, NBC Sports Senior Writer for College Basketball Talk Rob Dauster and hear from assistant coach Darren Savino.
We all discuss this weekend's trip to play Creighton in Philadelphia plus all the other topics surrounding UC and the Big Dance.
As with any special episode, there needs to be special artwork thanks to Video Shane Harrison. Thanks, Shane. Really made this look prestigious.
Busy day as activity ratchets up in preparation for the basketball team's trip to Philadelphia. I'm wrapping up a podcast extraordinaire this morning and should have it up by about lunchtime. You'll hear from Dan Hoard, NBC Sports' College Basketball Talk Senior Writer Rob Dauster and assistant coach Darren Savino as well as my guy Tommy G talking all about Creighton, The Dance and so much more.
You'll want to hear this. Huge thanks to all of the above for joining me, tons of great stuff that should make for a must-listen for UC fans getting ready for Friday.
This is tournament week. While I love to typically fill your ears with a combination of 90s hip hop and Pearl Jam, this is all about One Shining Moment. Here's the 2011 version. Is there anything better than the shots of players dancing in the center of the huddle before games? As far as I could tell, Titus Rubles has been this team's preferred dancer this season, but alas, don't worry, I'll get the for sure answers from the players today. Spot the Bearcats!
As always, send any comments, questions or suggestions to me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Cool idea. I think many fans would love to know how practices run and will have one final chance to send off the team before they leave.
If you are there and see my bald head reflecting off the lights, give me a shout.
--- Time to take a look at the recent history of 10 vs 7. Historically, the 7 wins 58 percent of the time over the 10. As far as how it has gone the last three years, though, it's a coin flip -- here's the results:
10 Xavier 67, Notre Dame 63
7 Florida 71, 10 Virginia 45
7 Gonzaga 77, 10 WVU 54
10 Purdue 72, 7 St. Mary's 69
7 Washington 68, 10 Georgia 65
10 Temple 66, 7 Penn State 64
10 Florida State 57, 7 Texas A&M 50
7 UCLA 78, Michigan State 76
10 Georgia Tech 64, 7 Oklahoma State 59
7 BYU 99, 10 Florida 92 (2OT)
10 Missouri 86, 7 Clemson 78
10 St. Mary's 80, 7 Richmond 71
TOTAL: 10 seed 7 wins, 7 seed 5 wins.
--- If there is one expert out there you want picking your team, it's Jay Bilas. Congrats, Bearcats fans. Trill is riding in red and black. You can check his bracket out here.
--- Scott at Bearcats Blogposted his initial thoughts on Friday's game. He discussed who will guard McDermott, which is the question of the week. Rubles would seem to be the best physical matchup. His length and ability to track McDermott around the floor will be key. Remember, you need to put your best OFF THE BALL defender on McDermott, because he moves as well without the ball as anybody in college hoops. He's not a one-on-one type, except he has nice moves in the post.
--- Mike DeCourcy has been all over every media outlet this week, here was him talking with Lance. He also likes the Bearcats to pull the upset on Creighton. Mike also ranked the teams 1-68 in order of chance they can win entire tournament. He checks the Bearcats in at 39 while ranking Indiana over Louisville at the top.
One I will call here and now, Syracuse will upset Indiana in the Sweet 16. I think the Hoosiers struggle with that zone and the Orange showed the signs of breaking out of the offensive slump of the last few weeks in NY. Just feels right.
--- Jason Lisk from The Big Lead with fantastic analysis of scheduling and its effect on your tourney resume, specifically playing the bottom quarter of Division I teams. This has been why UC's RPI tends to be lower than it's other metrics, the cupcakes they've played (as everyone does) in recent years haven't been from the 220-275 range, rather too many in the 275+ range. In the end, it's a matter of paying money for those teams to show up. And those back end teams really anchor down the RPI number.
As Lisk points out, playing Division II teams, which doesn't factor into the RPI at all, seems to be a better way to go in order to increase your number. The Mountain West with their 14 games against D2 teams and five bids serve as the perfect example.
Hate that manipulating an archaic metric is still a part of how we choose the field of 68. Just when you think the committee takes steps in seeing the light, you realize 36 of the top 37 at-large RPI teams made the tournament. Much of it due to stupid manipulation like this.
Only one way to start the NCAA Tournament post. The ball is tipped ...
Welcome to your one-stop shop spectacular Bearcats postseason blog extravaganza bonanza. It's a working title. I have here all you need to know and so many pieces of information you probably don't about UC's NCAA Tournament draw, particularly the Bearcats against Creighton on Friday.
THE PARTICULARS: UC (22-11, 9-9 Big East) vs Creighton (27-7, 13-5 Missouri Valley), Friday approx. 2:45 p.m. in Philadelphia.
In the same pod will be No. 2 seed Duke (27-5, 14-4 ACC) and No. 15 seed Albany (24-10, 9-7 America East)
THE TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller and Lewis Johnson on the call.
NEED TO KNOW: Dougie McBuckets, aka, Doug McDermott. He's one of the premier scorers in the country -- he's second nationally at 23.1 points per game. About as efficient and savvy as it gets offensively. He's a 6-10 power forward who spends a majority of his time in the post and hitting pick-and-pop shots from the perimeter. And he can fill it up.
He hits 49.7 percent from deep and shoots plenty of them (74 of 149). He is the best 3-point shooter in the tournament. Period. End of discussion.
This scouting report video does a great job breaking down his strengths and weaknesses. Has had trouble with longer, athletic defenders, so I'd imagine a combination of Titus Rubles and Justin Jackson will draw the assignment of slowing McDermott with plenty of help from their friends.
ELITE OFFENSE VS ELITE DEFENSE: This will be the ultimate battle of elite offense against elite defense. Creighton enters with the No. 6 most efficient offense in the country. UC is ranked as the No. 12 most efficient defense in the country.
Creighton leads the country in 3-points percentage (42.1%) and effective FG percentage (59.1%). The Jays are a full three points better than any other team in the country in eFG. That is the best percentage in college basketball since 2007 (Florida 59.6). Think about that -- since 2007!
I was able to find two like games from the 2012 tournament pitting elite offenses against elite defenses in the first round. Incredibly, Creighton is a near identical first-round matchup with Alabama last year.
Top 15 offense vs. Top 15 defense 2012 Tournament
7 seed Florida (3O) vs. 10 seed Virginia (6D): Result -- Florida 71-45
8 seed Creighton (5O) vs 9 seed Alabama (8D): Result -- Creighton 58-57
Here's the highlights of that game. Scroll to the 5:30 mark to watch the conclusion or enjoy all of the Creighton buckets in their entirety
THE NOTRE DAME COMPARISON: The best team on UC's schedule in terms of eFG% is Notre Dame, who ranks 44th nationally. Now, I fielded a few Notre Dame comparison questions on The Twitters and would say that comparison doesn't hold as much water because what made them one of the toughest opponents on UC's schedule was how well they passed and consequently didn't turn the ball over. That's not the case with Creighton, they will turn the ball over (rank 112th nationally in turnover %) and they won't turn you over, either. They rank 327th nationally in turnover percentage on defense.
On Friday, I broke down the two key stats for any matchup with UC because the Bearcats play their best and win games when offense is created from second-chance points and points off turnovers. You can read that here.
Since Jan. 27th Creighton has not forced more than 12 turnovers in a game. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have averaged more than 12 turnovers a game by themselves.
For a UC team that relies so, so heavily on the points off turnovers statistic, that is an area where the Blue Jays are susceptible and exactly how the Bearcats will have to win this game.
BEARCATS VS ONE GREAT PLAYER: Sure, Dougie McBuckets averages 23.1 points per game, but he doesn't receive much help from his supporting cast. No other player on Creighton averages double figures.
F Doug McDermott: 23.1
C Greg Echenique: 9.6
G Grant Gibbs: 8.6
G Ethan Wragge: 7.7
The UC defense has been solid, but how have they done against opposing teams leading scorers in recent games? Here's the list (minus UConn without Napier in UC home win):
Georgetown (loss): Otto Porter (16.3): 18 points
Providence (win): Bryce Cotton (19.4): 12 points
USF (win): Victor Rudd (12.3): 22 points
Louisville (loss): Russ Smith (18.1): 18 points
Notre Dame (loss): Jerian Grant (13.4): 13 points
UConn (loss): Shabazz Napier (17.1): 27 points
Georgetown (loss): Otto Porter (16.3): 16 points
Despite the great defense the Bearcats have for the most part played, they have allowed the other team's top player to at least hit his average regularly. That will be a trend they will need to stop in order to beat Creighton.
How bad can McBuckets beat a team single-handedly? Look at some of the Blue Jays biggest wins this year:
Wisconsin (84-74): 30 points, 8 rebounds
Arizona State (87-73): 29 points, 9 rebounds
@California (74-64): 34 points, 9 rebounds
Wichita State (91-79): 41 points, 6 rebounds
Wichita State (58-56: 14 points, 4 rebounds
DON'T BET ON IT: Of course, for recreational and perspective purposes only, the good folks in Vegas opened with Creighton as a 2-point favorite over the Bearcats. KenPom has them winning 66-62.
While we are talking prognosticators, plenty of the experts were liking the Bearcats. In one ESPN roundtable, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams and Dick Vitale all picked the Bearcats to pull the 10-7 upset.
"The guys are talking about it on Bracketology, but yeah, the Cincinnati matchup is utterly brutal for Creighton."
BATTLE TESTED: Creighton doesn't exactly come from a land of heavyweights, though, the Missouri Valley has earned respect in recent years. The conference only put two teams in this year's Dance (Creighton, Wichita State) compared to eight from the Big East.
To break it down, Creighton has played 12 games against the KenPom Top 75. In those games, they are 7-5.
Compare that with UC, who has played one team ranked outside KenPom's Top 75 since Feb. 2. The Bearcats are 8-10 on the year against those teams.
"One thing about us, we play multiple games in a row against NCAA Tournament teams ... we played seven straight in February against tournament teams," Mick Cronin said. "We understand every game is tough. Every game brings different challenges. That is the one thing about our team and playing in the Big East. So, you see different types and different styles."
QUOTENT QUOTABLES: Cronin on liking the way his team relaxed and played in New York compared to the tense weeks leading up to Selection Sunday:
"They are very cognizant of how they are doing and how their team is doing. I have a very conscientious group of kids. Probably the most conscientious, worrisome group I've ever had. To the point where I've had to change some of my tactics with them to try to get them to relax and just worry about playing hard. Sometimes thy put way too much pressure on themselves, are too hard on themselves. So, we are all equal now. Everybody is in. If you are a 2-seed or 7-seed or 10-seed it doesn't matter. Hopefully we can play relaxed, I thought we were really relaxed, I liked the way we played in New York."
THREE FOR THREE: UC makes the NCAA Touranment for the third time in three years, they are one of 23 teams to pull that off (h/t @xlax1306). With a victory on Sunday, they would be one of nine teams to have won a game for three consecutive seasons.
As a defending national champion failed to make the tournament for the second time in four years, everyone should be reminded of how difficult it is to make this happen, particularly in the rough and tumble Big East.
UC is one of six Big East schools to make the NCAA Tournament three years straight (Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Marquette, Cincinnati).
"These types of leagues can eat you alive, so I'm proud of what we have accomplished," Cronin said.
Regardless, it would be an intriguing matchup. And a similar gameplan for UC. Only five teams have an offensive efficiency better than Creighton -- one of them? Duke. They are ranked No. 4 in the category. (Also 8th in defensive efficiency)
We can get more into those logistics later, but for UC fans, it's mainly an excuse to break out this video of one of the most memorable moments in UC basketball history.
A change in the lineup helped bring a change in result for the Bearcats, who snapped a four-game skid with timely hitting against Western Michigan.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- With the Bearcats in the midst of a four-game losing streak, head coach Brian Cleary decided to tweak the lineup just a bit. He switched junior outfielder Justin Glass to the second spot and freshman Ian Happ to the third spot for the first game of a three-game series Friday against Western Michigan.
Obviously it worked for Glass.
He went two for five with a bases-clearing double in the eighth and a towering home run over the right-field scoreboard that hit off Fifth Third Arena in the third inning, as the Bearcats beat the Broncos 11-1.
"I knew I was going to see a lot of off speed [pitches] because he's a lefty pitcher and I'm left-handed," Glass said. "I always try to hit the ball hard, somewhere, and it just so happened it went over the fence."
Glass is not a newcomer to the second spot in the order. He hit there a couple times last year and during his freshman year. While he went 7 for 16, a .438 average. Over the past four games he had only one RBI and one extra base hit.
"I've been hitting some balls hard and stuff hasn't been dropping," Glass said. "It felt good today to finally do something for my team [and] produce some runs."
Cleary, however, looked at the bigger picture for his team.
"I thought it was far and away the best game we played all year," Cleary said. "We did everything well."
Sophomore Matt Lathuras made his first collegiate start and pitched five innings of two-hit, one-run baseball. The bullpen combined for four shutout innings. The base runners were both smart and aggressive, as evidenced by the five stolen bases. Freshman third baseman Devin Wenzel and freshman infielder Ian Happ completed a few web gems.
Cleary seemed most satisfied with the clutch hitting though.
"We got some really timely hitting today, which has been missing for us," he said. "We got some really good at-bats from guys with runners in scoring position with two outs."
UC had left 30 men on base during their four game losing streak.
Not only did Glass hit the ball well, but Wenzel also went 2 for 4 with four RBI and a home run onto Sheakley Lawn. Wenzel has now reached base in every game he's played this season.
"Devin's done really well," Glass said. Speaking of all the freshmen players, he said, "The scary part is they're only freshmen, so they're only going to get better. And they have a lot of time to get better."
Cleary doesn't know what his lineup will look like for future games, but there's a decent chance it'll stay the same for at least "a couple more days." After all, it already worked once.
With so many individual stories, trends and analysis necessary with spring football and the postseason tournaments going on, I've backed away from the Breakfast format recently to delve deeper into the individual topics happening around UC.
Well, not today. I'm coming at you in full Breakfast format. There's officially too many topics to hit on to do anything but chow down Farmer's Breakfast style.
Let's eat ...
--- Have to start with the Big East tournament. Another untimely scoring drought bogged down the Bearcats as they were eliminated by top seed Georgetown. No surprise as finding offense remains and will continue to be the stamp on this year's UC team. When they've been able to create extra opportunities through points off turnovers or offensive rebounding, they score enough to let their defense win the game. Sometimes they don't. That's when a second half like Georgetown happens.
Disappointing exit, particularly for Sean Kilpatrick who adores MSG and the Big East Tournament and will have his final game there be one to forget (4 points, 2 of 12 from field, 0 of 8 from 3-point range). As we've known for months -- and will be the case with 95 percent of the NCAA Tournament field -- this team's Big Dance will be all about draw and the right matchups. Such a wide open field and the proper matchups paired with a few made shots and UC could find themselves back in the Sweet 16 again.
For those of you who started swinging the negativity stick at that sentence, I'd only point out that there is negligible difference between the 2 seeds and 12 seeds this year. It's been as wide open a regular season as we've seen.
So, when UC sees its name on Selection Sunday for the third time in the last three years the characteristics of the opponent to look at will be their offensive turnover percentage and defensive rebounding percentage. No matter the strengths or stars on the opposing team, the Bearcats can overcome those. Drawing an opponent who occasionally struggles to hold on to the ball and can be susceptible to giving up offensive rebounds matches perfectly with UC's makeup.
Remember, points off turnovers has been the defining statistic between wins and losses in conference play and UC ranks 12th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
Now, complete weakness in both categories is difficult to find in a tournament of the best 68 teams in the country (theoretically), but with such a soft bubble, they will be out there.
With UC likely slated somewhere in the 9-11 range, let's take a look at some of the possible opponents. I'm drawing from all the current 6-8 seeds in Joey Brackets latest update for a sampling. There are great matchups out there.
Who to root for: 1) Memphis (as undisciplined a team as in the entire tournament), 2) UNLV, 3) Butler
Who not to root for: 1) Colorado State (apparently all they do well is board and hold onto the ball), 2) Creighton, 3) UNC
I'd rank turnover percentage as more important than defensive rebounding, which is the reason why some of the rooting ranks are what they are. UC ranks 12th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
--- The most encouraging development from two days in NYC was the verification Cashmere Wright appears to be back to his old ways. He drove and finished in the lane and knocked down shots from deep. We started to see the turn against Louisville, which I wrote about that night, and it truly looks to be a turning point for him.
With Cash playing like he did against Georgetown, UC will have a chance. He does need to stay more involved with his shot, unlike the final 15 minutes where his attempts were limited.
Next 10 games: 19.7% (14-71)/// 22.9% (25-109) /// 8.2
Last 4 games: 50% (10-20) /// 47.2% (17-36) /// 12.5
--- For those who scoff at making the NCAA Tournament three years in a row, understand how difficult it is to win year-in and year-out in college basketball -- particularly at this major level. Finding the right chemistry, momentum and pieces, all while staying free of key injury can be as difficult as it gets with a cast of 20-year-olds.
Look no further than Kentucky this year. This time last year the thought was rules needed to be changed to break up his superpower system. Now, they're bubble babies. Three years ago, all-powerful North Carolina missed the Big Dance and joined UC in the NIT. Jamie Dixon and Pitt played in the CBI last season.
Even the best, most powerful programs with Hall of Fame coaches have years when the cards don't fall as they would like.
Here are some other programs that missed out on The Dance at least one of the last two years or are going to miss this year: Arizona, Tennessee, Miami (Fla.), Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Baylor, Cal, Clemson, Maryland, Indiana, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Texas, West Virginia.
These are tradition and talent rich programs with quality coaches. Understandable the expectations for seeding and a run in the BET were higher this season for UC, but understanding the highs and lows of college basketball is important perspective.
If your worst year is 22 wins and a middle seed in the Big Dance, you've made it. Just ask Roy Williams or John Calipari or Jamie Dixon or Bob Huggins.
--- Speaking of Huggs, his WVU team will finish the season 13-19 and 6-12 in Big 12 play. But everyone can keep clamoring for the "old days."
--- The semifinals of the BET, not a bad night of basketball. Georgetown-Syracuse and Louisville-Notre Dame. Toss in Raf, Bilas, McDonough. You can take the batteries out of the remote.
Oh, and Bill Clinton showed up in the Louisville locker room last night and snapped this photo. Just another night at MSG.
--- I know ripping on uniforms has become more popular than pope jokes on Twitter the last few days, but at some point it makes little sense. Are they different? Yes. Do they look bad? Sure.
But what does this essentially devolve into? Old people ripping on what young people like to wear. Been happening for generations upon generations. Somewhere a cavemen slapped his caveson for chopping the sleeves off his tigerskin.
This is a bunch of older media types judging a younger generation's fashion choices. Sigh. It's not about us, despite as self-entitled as we often act.
Should expect anything other than Travis Kelce joining his brother there after this draft?
--- Also, spoke with Travis at UC's Pro Day on Wednesday, he informed me he actually suffered a sport hernia last season in Week 3 but played through it all year. Imagine how he could have played healthy. He expects to be fully healed from it for his April 4 workout for scouts at UC.
From all that I've seen or heard he should go somewhere on Day 2, either second or third round.
He also told me he plans on starting a beard-growing contest with his brother, Jason, whose beard is the stuff of NFL legend. Worth monitoring, to be sure.
--- Most significant number from UC's pro day came from RB George Winn. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash. That was a dramatic improvement from the 4.75 he ran at the Combine which hurt his stock. Still believe somebody takes a shot on him late.
--- Samsung releasedtheir new Galaxy. I've joined #TeamiPhone and am pretty partial, but I could see this making a run at the Apple folks.
--- For those of you wondering about The Killers, here's probably their most popular song. Have a great weekend everybody and make sure to keep it locked to the Twitter feed (@pauldehnerjr) for reaction to UC's seeding in The Dance. I'll have all you need to know about the draw Sunday night and Monday morning. For any reaction you can shoot an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bearcats continue to be as comfortable in New York as a $12 cocktail. With their 61-44 victory against Providence on Wednesday they won at least one game in the Big East tournament for the fourth consecutive season. Unless Notre Dame wins their opener tonight, UC will be the only team in the conference to have accomplished that feat.
They are 6-3 in the BET the last four years.
The victory over the Friars didn't have as much to do with earning the win, rather how they did it. Mick Cronin tinkered with the lineup and personality to create a more uptempo, pressuring defense designed to keep teams out of rhythm.
Instead of staying big when Cheikh Mbodj came off the floor, he decided to go small and aggressive by leaving David Nyarsuk/Kelvin Gaines on the bench and opting to move Justin Jackson to center with Shaq Thomas seeing increased minutes at the 4 spot.
The move added an offensive weapon when Thomas can grab eight rebounds as he did, not much is lost on the glass. Going deep into the bench and not being afraid to run serves as a change in philosophy and one that fit the team well in the win.
"We just tried to evaluate some things of how we wanted to play in the postseason," Cronin said. "Just wanted to be a faster team, more athletic team. Tried to get us in full-court mode, attack mode. We are just a better team when we play that way."
Indeed. Not only that, but receiving production from Thomas (5 points, 8 rebounds) and Mbodj (8 points, 7 rebounds, 5 blocks) changed the dynamic of the entire team.
Cronin was well aware of Thomas' effect on the game: "Best game he's ever played for us."
--- Elsewhere, Sean Kilpatrick spent more time attacking the basket and less time bombing 3-pointers than in previous games. It led to on of his more efficient efforts.
For only the third time in Big East play more than 50 percent of his shots came from inside the arc. He finished 6 of 16 from the field and 2 of 6 from long range. He canned two critical and-1 drives to the lane, including one late that put the game away.
--- Now, we'll see a repeat of last year's 2OT classic against Georgetown. The Hoyas come in as the No. 1 seed and fresh off an annihilation of Syracuse to win the Big East title. They haven't been perfect, however. They lost by 10 at Villanova the second-to-last game of the season and needed 2OT to beat UConn two games before that.
The last time these two met, UC led 51-50 with seven minutes remaining before eventually losing 62-55. In that game they went 4 of 24 from 3-point range and missed 13 free throws (17 of 30). Without doubt, a game they could have won. Even with average shooting they would have won.
Another effort like the one given Wednesday and they will certainly have a chance.
--- The Bearcats historically have been good slowing the Hoyas back-cutting offense and that's why they've enjoyed so much success against them of late. Prior to the Hoyas win earlier this year, UC ran off four consecutive victories against GT.
Of course, this Hoyas team has won 12 of 13 and owns conference player of the year Otto Porter.
"We know they are a great team but we are a great team as well especially when we are playing defense the way we are," Kilpatrick said. "We're a team that's hungry. We are a team that is not going to back down from anyone. We are going to come out and give our best fight every night."
--- In the postseason since 2010 (Big East Tournament, NIT, NCAA) the Bearcats are 10-6, including a Sweet 16 and BET runner-up.
--- Cronin never likes to leave a press conference without keeping them laughing. When the players were asked about the uniforms and the media took a shot at them, he pointed out how much his players like them.
"If you guys were going to go out tonight, they wouldn't dress like you, either," he said.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or predictions to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
In order to fill the new fullback position in the offense, Tommy Tuberville pulled from an unusual position group to make it happen.
CINCINNATI -- Patrick Coyne proudly discusses his tradition as a fullback and running back. Sure, the standout from Hamilton Badin ranked as the No. 17 dual threat QB nationally by Rivals.com upon arriving at UC, but as the coaches asked him to move to the newly created fullback position in the offense, he could draw on his past.
He could also draw on his astute mastery of sarcasm.
"I played running back and fullback until seventh grade," Coyne said, tongue in cheek. "That's the last time. I played guard in third grade. I think that's the closest thing to it. All the way back in third grade, I think it carries over. Everyone is about two feet taller and 200 pounds heavier."
The concept of moving a quarterback to the fullback/tight end position may seem like a joke, but in the world of fitting old pieces into new parts thinking outside the pocket doesn't arrive on a whim, it arrives with necessity.
Tommy Tuberville and the pro-style offense reintroduces the fullback position to the offense for the first time since Mark Dantonio roamed the sideline. When analyzing the current players capable of handling a move, Tuberville spotted candidates with the skill set to make a successful conversion - regardless of position.
That meant Coyne, the redshirt sophomore stuck in a quagmire of quarterbacks on the depth chart, but the biggest of the bunch, could increase him frame and trade the no-contact red jersey for that all-contact black.. Despite being a bit shocked at first, he happily responded to a chance at playing time by adding 20 pounds - he's now up to 244 - and lugging a different attitude into the Sheakly Athletics Center.
"It's the complete opposite end of the spectrum than playing quarterback," Coyne said. "It definitely goes from mentally strenuous to completely physically strenuous. It's definitely more physical, I'll tell you that. I don't miss (the red jersey) at all. It's good getting in there and mixing it up, getting to experience what all the other guys do every day which you didn't get to, the soreness every day."
While Coyne endured true soreness for the first time following the spring's first scrimmage on Saturday, he was joined at the position by a player all too accustomed to new experiences in spring football. Jordan Luallen has joined Coyne in the backfield in what appears to be his journey to play all 22 positions at career. He's previously played quarterback, wide receiver, running back and linebacker.
Now, he can check off fullback and tight end.
"Camp is pretty much been a mystery to me at this point," Luallen said. "This is my sixth one and this is my fifth position. It's pretty much a new adventure every time."
Don't expect the latest position change to erase Luallen's patented smile.
"I'm great with it," said Luallen, whose also joined by former linebacker E.J. Junior at the position. "Anything to help the team. I think I've kind of showed that over my career. Anything they've asked me to do I've done. This is just another step in that. If I can help the team win by doing this then I am happy to do it."
Happy? Yes. Learning? Oh yes.
Tuberville didn't expect the transition to be smooth. The first scrimmage showed a position group trailing as far behind in the technique department as any on the team, but far ahead of the curve mentally. Really, for a couple of heady former quarterbacks, the results make sense.
"It's just different," Tuberville said. "What the fullback has to do is either cleans up on pass protection someone we didn't block or has an assignment on a blitz he has to protect. They knew what to do it was just being able to be physical at the point of attack when your mind is spinning 100 miles per hour or so."
The spinning likely won't stop for a while. Nor will living in the training, dining and weight rooms. In order for these players to be sizeable enough to take on B1G linebackers on Aug. 31, the growth of the last few months must continue, particularly for Luallen, whose tipping the scales at 232 after gaining 14 pounds this offseason.
"Obviously I need to get bigger," said Luallen, who does boast his bench press numbers to be on par with most of his competition around 400 pounds. "I'm the smallest guy in the room right now. If I can keep getting bigger, get my shoulders stronger I'll be ready to block those guys."
Once they begin to drop the hammer from the fullback position, perhaps the first fullback pass play in UC history will be right around the corner? Incredibly, there would be a battle to see who gets the nod to throw it.
"I don't think we could have a double fullback pass," Coyne said, "but we are in thick competition for it right now."
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