Not much good came out of UC's 67-51 loss to No. 8 Louisville on Monday, but the most efficient offensive night since a knee injury for Cashmere Wright could mean he's beginning to turn the corner just in time for the postseason.
LOUISVILLE -- Cashmere Wright may be 178 pounds while holding two bowling balls all while serving as a walking, talking commercial for athletic training, but night after night he takes a bantam-weight body into the heavyweight division of Big East basketball.
He's done so for four years and suffered every injury imaginable along the way. None has proven more difficult to heal than his broken shot over the last 10 games.
Even in the dark shadows of a 16-point defeat at Louisville (25-5, 13-4) Monday, a silver lining poked through in the form of his most effective, efficient offensive performance since that dreadful day in Chicago.
His first shot of the night, buried from the top of the key. He quickly followed with another. The excitable Yum! Center silenced. Perhaps, many Bearcats fans did as well, not wanting to talk, move or change any luck leading to signs of life from the season's most confounding development.
Only, as always lives in the footnotes of Wright's frustrating senior year, success seems to arrive hand-in-hand with pain. On this night, it was Wright popping his shoulder out and needing to return it to the rightful socket at halftime.
Cronin estimated that's the sixth time he's dislocated his shoulder this season. Six.
"Just something you deal with," Wright said. "After the season I will get it taken care of but right now I don't have time so you just keep pushing."
He pushed Saturday, but Cronin admitted he wasn't the same after haltime. Although, even through the pain he also wasn't the same as he's been the last month. He was definitively better.
After hitting a silky jumper over a Louisville defender midway through the second half, he swung a low fist pump and focused clap. Two fast-break jumpers in rhythm later and Wright resembled a December version of himself.
He finished 6 of 11 for 15 points, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Not only was this the second-most points he's scored since the injury but far and away his best shooting night. He hasn't shot better than 35 percent from the field since hurting his knee and not better than 33 percent from deep. Remarkable, considering he lingered around 45 percent from downtown leading up to that moment.
Entering a March where his turnaround will be more vital than any other variable for the Bearcats (20-10, 8-9), this could have been an encouraging sign on a not-so-encouraging evening.
"We lost, that's the only thing that mattered," Wright said. "My shot is coming on, but everybody kept saying keep shooting. It's all about confidence and doing what your teammates ask you. Just getting more comfortable. Legs starting to feel better, moving around and the injury was starting to feel better."
Of course, with one healing injury comes another. As if a certain degree of difficulty always must exist.
"If he can stay healthy, I got confidence in him," Cronin said.
Wright admitted last week his health continues to improve and the confidence his knee will respond the way he'd like it to reached levels not seen since the DePaul game.
The final hurdle for him, he explained, would be finding a way to put consecutive quality halves together. Spurts of success showed up over the frustrating journey back to normal. They nearly always be quickly replaced by another disappointing drought.
Even through the pain of his shoulder injury, he managed to achieve his goal of stringing together a full game. Certainly, he'd love to see his zero assists and three turnovers switch places, but he was far from the lone culprit in a game where 21 UC turnovers held as the only stat truly worth mentioning in Cronin's postgame media gaggle.
Perhaps, that's all most Bearcats players, coaches and fans will take out of the final true Big Monday game ever. Or perhaps, as he walked toward team bus with ice wrapped around his shoulder, the pendulum has begun to swing back in the positive direction for Wright and this disappointing loss will be spotted as the turning point. We'll find out more on Saturday' Senior Night, but it certainly would be much more important than any regular season loss.
I want to hear from you! Send me any questions, comments or let me know how quickly you would snap to the fetal position if you had to pop your shoulder into socket six times in three months. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Even in a sweep of New York Tech this weekend, the baseball Bearcats are hoping to clean up defensive concerns with a game against No. 13 Kentucky on deck.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- After wins on Friday and Saturday by a combined score of 29-3, the bats were a little more silent Sunday afternoon at Marge Schott Stadium, even as the Bearcats (4-5) completed a three-game series sweep of New York Tech with an 8-3 victory.
Rather than swing for the fences, they capitalized on NYIT's errors with timely singles and heads-up base running. Five of the Bearcats' eight runs scored were unearned.
"We were able to sneak some runs across," head coach Brian Cleary said. "With the stolen bases we got two runs, [and] a run on a wild pitch."
Freshman catcher Woody Wallace had a season-best three hits and an RBI after starting the season with a .188 average. One of those hits came with a runner in scoring position after a NYIT error and another came in the form of a leadoff hit. He then later scored on a passed ball.
"I got a lot of confidence under my belt now," Wallace said. "It's good to get back in the groove."
However, even though the team did capitalize on NYIT's errors, Cleary feels like they still gave away potential runs, leaving eight men on base throughout the course of the game.
"I thought we got really unaggressive today in the sixth inning [with] bases loaded, nobody out and Perron and Glass and Wenzel and we can't cash in a run," Cleary said. "There's certainly some things we can keep doing better."
While NYIT committed three errors, the Bearcats didn't play much better in the field. They did not commit an error, but looked shaky, especially on the infield. Cleary knows they have to get better at certain aspects of the game.
"We've got to play better on the infield," he said. "We cost ourselves a couple runs today because we can't finish a double play."
Freshman Ian Happ played shortstop on Sunday and had some poor throws. It was possibly a little out of character for him as he has been a solid defender through the beginning part of the season, with no errors in 55 chances.
"Today was a chance to just try to get Perron in the infield [and] Happ at short," Cleary said. "I think we were fortunate that we felt like we were swinging the bats well enough that we were going to get away with playing some different people and still get away with a win."
The team next heads to Lexington on Tuesday to play No. 13 Kentucky.
"Kentucky will be a good test, [and a] good opportunity to test ourselves against what might be the best team they've had in awhile," Cleary said. "And they've had a couple different good teams the last couple years."
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The Bearcats defense created enough offense to grab a desperately needed 61-56 win against UConn on Saturday and its effectiveness will determine how March plays out for UC despite any discussion of offense.
Fittingly, a week overflowing with emotion and tension, concern and frustration, boiled down to a deflection and a forced turnover.
While the world surrounding UC focuses on an inefficient offense, all those inside the Bearcats locker room hold tunnel vision on one concept: defense.
They must. It's how they win. Has been for months.
"That's who we got to be," Mick Cronin said.
The topic of discussion with the Bearcats constantly revolves around the offense. When Cronin merely mentions his defense the Twitteratti react as if he openly supported North Korea bubbling up nuclear weapons.
Bottom line: When this team makes runs, more importantly, when this team wins games, the defense always stands at the source. Always.
"Our defense picked up today," Cronin said. "Our effort and our energy was much better. That was probably the difference in the game since our offense -- other than not turning the ball over -- continued to struggle."
Cronin could drop the probably out of that last sentence. Saturday, they reeled off a 21-1 advantage in points off turnovers. When analyzing Cincinnati 61, Connecticut 56, no need to look further. When analyzing Bearcats wins post-Cash injury, the same script plays out..
Consider, in their five victories they've outscored opponents 93-46 in points off turnovers. In their six losses, they've been outscored 77-40.
Wins (UC points off turnover/Opponent points off turnovers)
Seton Hall: 14/17
The victory over Seton Hall represents the only game in that stretch where the result went a different direction than the points off turnovers battle.
For better, worse or indifferent, defense defines this team.
At face value, the final nine minutes Saturday looked eerily similar to six losses from the last three weeks. The Bearcats struggled to close, going without a field goal the final 7:04. Every possession turned the knuckles a lighter shade of white on the death grip UC held on the slimming lead.
The only difference was the Bearcats defense willed deflections and disruption, steals and stops, including twice in the decisive final two possessions. Ironically, concluding with an over-and-back call 10 days after the same decision doomed an overtime loss in Hartford.
"We've been having trouble closing out close games," Sean Kilpatrick said. "Today our main focus was just defense. We knew that down the stretch if it was going to be a close game ... you got to be able to not only get easy buckets, but defend.
Every team needs a signature in March, a footprint capable of bailing them out when the chips are down. It did so in the most critical of spots Saturday. During halftime, a three-week run where the Bearcats backs inched closer and closer to the tournament wall pressed them square against it.
The result was an inspirational - and incredibly comical - technical foul from Cronin sparking a 16-4 run. As much as any boiling point with officials, though, the run came from the defense allowing the offense to play on instinct and shoot without thinking.
JaQuon Parker trapped and scrapped to break Jermaine Sanders for a layup. Kilpatrick poked a pass out for a free bucket of his own. Meanwhile, fast break chaos helped Cashmere Wright forget about his 0-for-8 streak to start the game and bury back-to-back 3-pointers in rhythm.
"When you on the floor and see your coach get fired up like that, he's playing for you," Wright said. "It's like your father fighting for you so you have no choice but to fight for him."
They now exhale as their name drifts away from the dreaded bubble and by all accounts comfortably in the NCAA tournament, barring disaster.
Cronin referred to the anxiety and emotion as the same as any other week for him, he'd have "gone to law school" if he didn't expect stress. He worried about his players.
"Make no mistake about it," he said. "They knew they had to win."
The stress was as evident in all-business run through opening warmups as the reaction once inside the locker room with the desperately needed win in tow.
"I walked in the locker room and I just started staring at the ceiling, like, sheesh we needed this," Kilpatrick said. "About time we got one we actually needed.
"(The week) was a little draining, but when you have great coaches and you have great teammates when we are in the practice gym everyone's focus is on the same thing. We know things aren't always going to bounce our way and we know everyone isn't going to always be there behind us when things are going wrong. That's why we have each other. That's something we stuck with the whole year."
They have each other. And they have defense creating offense. It was enough Saturday and will be the primary weapon when the Big Dance comes calling.
I want to hear from you! Send in any comments, questions or how you would sum up Cronin's technical fall to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Nearly important as breaking down film at this point in the season is breaking down the exterior pressures building on college athletes grinding out spots in the NCAA tournament. For few teams right now is this more important than the Cincinnati Bearcats.
CINCINNATI -- This time of year, as bracketologists construct the hopes and dreams of 20-year-olds on a weekly basis and plaster successes and failures on the Internet for a thirsty public to judge, coaches and players search for any means necessary to rise above the noise.
At Minnesota, Tubby Smith called in a sports psychologist as they spiraled from No. 8 in the country to losing eight of the next 11. At Illinois, John Groce banned Twitter attempting cut off detractors while losing six of seven. At Kentucky, where John Calipari's latest collection of future NBA All-Stars cascaded from defending champs to outside The Dance, Cal called for a game of dodgeball to lighten the mood.
Mick Cronin desired to keep the atmosphere light and the pressure lighter this week on a Bearcats team attempting to regain form prior to losing five of six. Although, he didn't bring in a sports psychologist or dial up a game of dodgeball. Self-promoting gimmicks don't fall in his wheelhouse.
"I've never seen either one of those," Cronin said. "I think people believe in different things ... I have the job that I want in my career, so, I don't feel a need to promote myself. It's just really not the way I operate to brag about 'look at this genius thing I came up with to do in practice.' So, we kind of do what we do and keep it quiet."
Maybe he's never been around a coach whose broken out those unorthodox motivational ploys -- not saying he doesn't wonder how they might have unfolded.
"I'd have liked to seen dodgeball in '97 with Danny Fortson with a chance to throw the ball at Huggs, that would have been interesting," Cronin said of his former boss Bob Huggins. "I'd have made sure that I was on Fortson's team."
Dodgeball and shrinks were dismissed for intermixed games and laughter this week. It's that time of year for all teams in college basketball where the focus on mental begins to outweigh strategy -- for no team more right now than the struggling Bearcats. Cronin uses a mixture of analysis and prep, while attempting to insulate his players as much as possible from negativity that creeps up during a rough stretch in the rugged Big East.
In the end, however, the players must be the ones to keep their minds straight and play free. Playing with the weight of an NCAA tournament bid blanketing the body doesn't make hitting a jump shot any easier. Actually, it makes it nearly impossible. Even the fans play a significant role in molding the mental state of a team chasing a sweat-free Selection Sunday. When offensive shooting and struggles come at a premium, any backlash from the home base only exacerbates the fragile mental state of a team already dealing with dozens of exterior pressures.
"If you are coming Saturday, please help me," Cronin said, pleading. "We have to make sure our guys are worried about one thing, that's defense. We can't control whether shots go in. Most teams make one out of two, on a bad night you make one out of three, but you can control your effort and your energy and your hustle. That's what we have to make sure that we do and we don't need to have a nervous breakdown or the crowd have a nervous breakdown any time we miss a shot."
If ever calm nerves and leadership fall onto seniors Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker, now is the moment.
"Us, as the core, we are kind of old," Wright said. "We really don't, the pressure, we just got to stay mentally together. Everybody got to realize that and be on the same page and get back on the page of playing for each other like we was at the beginning of the year."
Nobody understands the effect of an altered mental state more than Wright, whose averaging only eight points per game in the nine contests since his knee injury against DePaul. He believes his health has finally turned the corner. The key to becoming the dominant player he was prior to the Chicago trip is believing in the recovery process. He feels closer now than ever before.
"I'm getting better, I'm getting way better, physically, now it's the mental part," said said. "I realize [the difference between] thinking that you are OK and knowing everything will be all right once you move."
The quest to refuel confidence resumes Saturday at 2 p.m. at Fifth Third Arena against UConn, a team that delivered a brutal overtime blow to the psyche only nine days prior. Cronin said his team was devastated in the locker room following the loss. As whispers begin to grow regarding tournament standing, the devastation with each passing defeat becomes more and more difficult to brush under the rug.
Cronin preaches an important message to his players this week, whether this team won five of six or lost five of six, none of those results matter on the first day of the NCAA Tournament. Continue grinding out a way to get into The Big Dance and nobody will remember this valley in retrospect of the season in the same vein nobody remembers the regular-season peak of No. 2 seed Missouri who was upset by Norfolk State in the first round.
"A lot of it is staying mentally fresh, not doubt about it," Cronin said. "At the end of the day you got to get to March. You don't get to carry wins with you when you do get there ... It's an interesting world, college basketball."
We want to hear from you. Send me any comments, questions or your obscure motivational tactics to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
CINCINNATI -- As a freshman, UC third baseman Devin Wenzel spends most days adjusting to the high level of college baseball compared to Fleetwood Area High School in Pennsylvania. Maybe that's why when he hit his first collegiate home run Feb. 17 against Florida Atlantic, he described the moment precisely.
"Surreal," he said.
The UC baseball team started the season 1-5, but considering they boast 15 true freshmen on the roster and six of them in the starting lineup, including Wenzel, their youth just might be one cause for this slow start.
As the season opens the home portion of the schedule Friday for the first of three against New York Tech (4 p.m., Marge Schott Stadium), one of the ongoing adjustments for incoming freshmen will be the difference in pace at the college level.
"The speed of the game is so much different than what they're used to in high school," coach Brian Clearly said. "For every player, I would say, this is the first time in their baseball career they've had to actually show up and play with skill. Most of their success to this point in their career is due to the fact they're more talented than the guys that they're playing with and against."
Despite his team's slow start, Cleary is pleased with the way the collection of newbies are contributing early in the season.
"I think they're doing a great job," Cleary said. "That adjustment doesn't happen in the first game or the second game or the first weekend. It happens over a period of time."
Cleary compared the process to growing grass. Someone can water the grass, feed it, and do whatever they want to do to make it grow, but it's still going to take time.
"You can only speed the process so much," he said.
From playing both fall baseball and six games already this season, the freshmen also understand the step up from high school.
"It's night and day, definitely," Wenzel said. "Just the speed of the game, the quality of the pitching, [and] the way the game is played is so much more business-like."
Wenzell has been taking care of business as he's tied for the team lead in hits (6) and RBI (4). Classmate Colin Hawk leads the team with two doubles, but agrees finding his footing at the next level has been a process.
"The biggest adjustment I would have to say, for me, is just the speed of the game," Hawk said. "Everything moves so much faster, the pitchers throw harder, the runners are faster, more talented."
The Bearcats freshmen could be starting to make that adjustment to college pitchers. They beat Western Carolina 7-6 in 10 innings on Sunday for the first win of the season. The offense collected 10 hits altogether, with the freshmen collecting seven of those 10.
"I think all we have to do is just build our confidence," Hawk said. "And that confidence is key when it comes to hitting."
Cleary isn't too worried about the offense. Through six games this year they've belted four home runs, averaging .67 home runs per game. Last year, they only managed .41 home runs per game over the 18-38 season.
"I think we've got a fair balance of speed and power and I think we've got some guys in the lineup that can hit some home runs," he said.
After six straight games on the road, the team is eager to get back to Marge Schott Stadium and continue their offensive surge. They're looking for more than just a win against New York Tech on Friday night. These freshmen are interested in a few more "surreal" moments.
"I hope not only that we get a win on the home opener, but that we get a sweep and improve our record to 4-5," Hawk said.
We want to hear from you! Shoot any baseball-related questions, comments or observations to Ashley Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
So much going on Saturday at the Varsity Village will be hard to keep up. Here's all the details on the men's/women's basketball doubleheader and baseball game all happening in a span of four hours.
You can get into the baseball game for free with your basketball ticket. Baseball should be throwing out the first home pitch of the season as those leaving the men's game walk along the outfield wall. Hey, it's free, might as well stop in. Don't forget your blankies, though -- mid to high 30s.
Plenty coming tomorrow on the blog including a story on baseball, I'll be hanging with Tubs as spring practice opens and have plenty of reaction from today's basketball media availability with Mick. For today, though, the fodder bucket is a little low.
We shall see, but he's been fighting some pain lately. Of course, he looked pretty painless in OT against UC. Regardless of health, there will be plenty of attention paid to 'Bazz on Saturday considering his last two games against UC he's dropped 27 each time. As Mick said on 700WLW earlier this week, "he sees us coming."
2. Isaiah Pead in line for more opportunities in St. Louis. Talked briefly with my guy in the St. Louis media trying to figure what was going on with #BestPlayerOnTheField last year and he said that was a matter of being beat out by seventh-rounder Daryl Jackson early in the season and never could jump back ahead of him. But, expectations are for plenty more chances for Pead next year as Steven Jackson looks to be on his way out of town.
Running backs are the most difficult position to project from college to the NFL. They are so reliant on factors out of their control when it comes to success on both levels, you never know who will be a stud and who will be a dud.
The two I believed to be the most sure-fire RBs for NFL success I covered were Knowshon Moreno and Pead.
I haven't been proven completely wrong on both yet, but neither off to the start I expected. Heck, maybe it's me, which certainly isn't out of the question.
Hoping to have @iPead on the podcast some time this summer. Love to talk to him not just because his NFL experience has been fascinating to this point, but, well, I just love talking to the dude -- he's got personality oozing out his high-top fade. He's perfect for a long pod.
3. The transformation of this offense is my No. 1 storyline entering spring football. Talked to TommyT a little about this on signing day and he inferred the switch from spread to pro style won't be as drastic as one might think. Says they'll be "multiple" in what they do. And, really, when you think about it, the Bearcats were more pro style than spread by the end of last year anyway. TE Travis Kelce was always on the field and they were pounding a heavy-hitting RB behind a tough offensive line the majority of the time. Still, different personnel pieces are necessary for what OC Eddie Gran and Tuberville have in mind. Look for plenty more on that topic in the coming weeks.
--- Had a long debate about this song last night and it's been stuck in my head ever since. One of the all-time classics.
Enjoy the day everybody and shoot any questions, comments or opinions on "Let's Get It On" as one of the most beloved opening five seconds of an R&B song ever to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.
The uni-geeks and sports fashion aficionados are all freaking out ready to go all Joan Rivers on the release of the new Adidas postseason jerseys. That includes UC who last year wore the infared jerseys during their postseason run along with Louisville and Baylor.
The release of these at UC are set for Thursday, the Adidas Twitter folks are releasing one small piece at a time depending on how many retweets they get.
I'm not sure how I feel about this, but my opinion could not mean less, nor should it. Do the players like it? The end. They are the only ones that have to deal with it. For instance, they love wearing the current bleed-out black jerseys because they are so light and fit well. Meanwhile, cranky scribes like myself and the eight people still without HD TV hate it because it makes it difficult to make out names/numbers from afar.
As for what these sleeve jerseys will look like, likely they'll be some variation of these Adidas McDonald's All-American Jerseys.
So, there's that. Expect for the full UC look on Thursday. Follow me on Twitter for photos from the unveiling (@pauldehnerjr).
Let's eat ...
--- Must start this post out with a warning: These numbers talk about Final Fours and national championships. I am in no way stating that UC will make it there, rather, pointing out their method of winning games is one that holds water in March.
I found some interesting stats and thought they were worth sharing and piggybacking to the next step which applies to the Bearcats and their specific style of basketball this year.
Jason Lisk at The Big Lead may love crunching basketball numbers more than I do, which is concerning for his personal life. He broke out an interesting look at predicting Final Four teams yesterday I found particularly relevant to the Bearcats.
It shows that one of the most sure-fire predictor of making the Final Four is KenPom's defensive efficiency ratings.
* 9 of 20 (45%) have been in Ken Pom's Top 5 for defensive efficiency * 16 of 20 (80%) have been in Ken Pom's Top 20 for defensive efficiency * 18 of 20 (90%) have been in Ken Pom's Top 30 for defensive efficiency
For the record, UC has ranked among the top 20 in defense all season and currently is stationed at 18th in the country.
This is not me standing on the mountaintop professing, "Book your tickets to Atlanta!" Not in the least.
Although, I will continue down this train by pointing out a conversation Ken Pomeroy himself had about what he believes to be the stat that most predicts success in the tournament and he specifically mentioned offensive rebounding percentage. Mainly because when trying to win consistently, handling poor shooting nights is imperative. Hence, defense and rebounding.
Take a look at the last five years and where the Final Four teams fell in offensive rebounding percentage:
Ohio State: 43
West Virginia: 2
Michigan State: 10
North Carolina: 21
Michigan State: 5
North Carolina: 1
The correlation in the numbers aren't as strong as defensive efficiency, particularly the last two years, but they sure aren't weak. Consider 55 percent of Final Four teams finished in the top 25 of offensive rebounding percentage. There are significant outliers, but clearly defense and rebounding is not a lost art in winning games in March.
--- Each of the last five national champs were in the Top 25 in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive efficiency. Here's the list of Final Four teams in those categories:
2012 Kentucky (nat'l champ), 2011 UConn (nat'l champ), 2010 Duke (nat'l champ), 2010 West Virginia, 2009 North Carolina (nat'l champ), 2009 Michigan State, 2009 UConn, 2008 Kansas (nat'l champ), 2008 Memphis, 2008 UCLA, 2008, 2008 North Carolina.
So, knowing what we know now, kids, let's take a look at KenPom's stats this year and find out who is in the Top 25 in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive efficiency:
If you believe what's happened over the last five years would happen again in the sixth year, there are your national championship contenders.
Want to reiterate here, I am in no way saying UC is going to win the national title or fans should be thinking along those lines right now, only pointing out that defense and rebounding are the key components to winning consecutive games in March.
--- Upon posting a few of those numbers on The Twitters yesterday, I was met back that I should look at the offensive efficiency numbers of past Final Four teams. Here are those:
Ohio State: 7
West Virginia: 11
Michigan State: 28
North Carolina: 1
Michigan State: 20
North Carolina: 1
Offensive rebounding is, obviously, a part of good offense, but yes, clearly you need to be efficient on offense to reach the Final Four.
Remarkable, however, the close connection between last year's Louisville team and this year's Bearcats. Louisville ranked 103rd in offense. The Bearcats are currently 103rd in offense. Last year's Louisville defense was the top defensive team in the nation, the Bearcats are 18th, but spent most of the season in the top 10. As I wrote earlier this week, Louisville also struggled mightily down the stretch last year, losing four of their final six before the Big East tournament.
Again, not saying UC will do what Louisville did, only the intriguing correlation between the two teams.
--- Sean Kilpatrick turning it up would also go a long way for UC to turning the negative momentum around. He's on the list of Top 30 candidates for the Naismith award for a reason, because he belongs there.
Always a great listen to take in the Mick Cronin Radio Show with Dan Hoard and Chuck Machock. Was again last night where we were given the fortunate telling of the story behind Chuck now being known as Tip Jar Machock.
Last night, Mick spent the first 15 minutes or so talking about Cashmere Wright and the difference in breaking the current slump. Good insight from the coach.
The moral of the story, he believes Cash lost his confidence and the coach's top priority is bringing that confidence back. I don't think anybody who watches UC basketball would dispute Cashmere Wright playing as he did in the weeks before the injury when he was the best player on the floor every time out would solve the majority of UC's problems.
"He's lost his confidence," Cronin said. "You go five, six, seven games, shoot 20 percent you would lose your confidence, too. And he's a conscientious kid who wants to play well ... Internal pressure players feel, external pressure from family, friends, fans some people let it affect more than others. He's a sensitive kid and there's no doubt he lost his confidence. He's trying as hard as he can to help his team."
The best way to help Wright is to allow him to play outside of his own head and strictly on instinct. That means focusing on doing what he does better than any player in UC history -- steal the basketball, play defense. When focusing on defense, deflections and activity he can relax and let his natural skill override any mental block. (By the way, this is a big reason Mick doesn't talk about offense being the problem all the time, like so many fans wish he would)
Cronin pointed directly to the Villanova game when his 14 deflections inspired his team to an absurd 46 deflections on the night and beating the Wildcats by 18 points.
"I got to do a better job making sure his mind is on defense and leadership," Cronin said. "Lose himself in the game getting us steals."
Anybody that has followed this team and the career of Wright wants to see him regain his form down the stretch. The guy in so many ways defined the great teams of the last few years with his grit, hustle and defensive ability pacing this team. Still time left to make it happen.
Everybody remembers the guy from this highlight video. Maybe Mick showing him some of this will refresh the mojo.
The bigger point of the post, however, involved a point Mick talked about last night with Dan and Chuck. The focus shouldn't be as much about if this team is getting into the tournament or not, but rather about finding a way to make a run when they get there. Getting to The Dance makes a man feel nice, but that's been done here before and the expectations are higher than that.
Here's Mick on the topic:
"Getting in is great and I know that's what everyone wants," Cronin said. "To me, you want to be playing well or what's the point. I don't believe in playing in tournaments for funsies. Whether the Big East touranment, NCAA, preseason NIT, I don't believe in playing in tournaments for funsies to say hey we were in it. I'd like to get us to where we are playing well."
--- Jay Bilas ranked the six most clutch players in college basketball and slotted Sean Kilpatrick as third. Here's the video.
--- I went on with Lance McAlister last week and when I posted for people to listen on Twitter I came off the interview to see a bunch of angry mentions in my feed. I don't know exactly why UC fans have such a problem with Lance other than he's doing his job to keep people talking. I thoroughly enjoyed being on his show and think he cares about his job and local sports about as much as anybody in any media business around here.
If you have a year at your job that is considered among the top 25 percent or better in your business, do you expect to be fired? Should you be fired? If UC makes the tourney this year, that would mean since 2010, 7 of 9 seasons of Reds, Bengals and UC hoops would end in the postseason. Yet, all we hear about are the need to fire all three. Certainly an odd development.
--- Just when you start to jump on the Villanova bandwagon they lose in insane fashion to Seton Hall, who hadn't won in 33 days. Devastating blow for the schizophrenic Wildcats. The result was actually good for UC's chase for seeding in the BET. If they can end up tied with Nova they would own the tiebreaker head-to-head. They are currently 1 1/2 games back.
--- Really tough news out of the combine yesterday as Walter Stewart was red-flagged because of injury and not allowed to participate. He's hoping to participate in UC's pro day on March 14. A situation that has been in the air since the initial diagnosis midseason endures the latest odd turn.
--- UC Spring Practice begins Friday in the bubble. The first practice of the Tommy Tuberville era is nearly here. Keep it locked here at GoBearcats.com for all your spring ball information and storylines.
--- Big weekend for all sports on campus, actually. UC hoops home game Saturday, followed by women's game for a doubleheader. First home series for UC baseball with games Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
--- BTW, the women are heating up. They earned their second-consecutive win and have taken three of four. Saturday was their first blowout of Big East play as they throttled Providence by 19.
--- Michigan State Community Coalitionis begging students not to burn couches. Somewhere, West Virginia points and laughs with gasoline in one hand and tear-stained ticket stubs from another Big 12 loss in the other.
--- I'm not sure how Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z will be on tour, but they are playing some massive arenas. I'm sure it won't be cheap, but I'd pay double if I could have been at Hova's Unplugged performance back in the day. Heart of the City is still one of my favorites since that show.
Enjoy the day everybody and remember to shoot and comments, questions or your own freestyle raps to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
The latest edition of the Fox Sports Ohio Podcast welcomes pod newbie Kevin Goheen, the newest writer for FSO based out of Southwest Ohio. He joins the FSO team after 15 years spent covering sports in the area, including the Bengals beat writer for the Post from 2001-07.
He's been tracking the Bearcats all season and especially since jumping on the job a few weeks back. We talk about the travails of being a prep cross country writer, how to UC can shake the current negative momentum, the Bearcats relative to the bubble, Kevin's sights and sounds from his time spent with Bearcats at the combine, George Winn=Alfred Morris, Travis Kelce=Rob Gronkowksi and we also break down the life and times of Lil' Dawg the most famous bobblehead in Cincinnati media.
If you are looking for a specific topic, the basketball convo ends around 18 minutes and the final 18 minutes flip to the football Bearcats conversation.
All I see and hear about following this string of five losses in six games for the Bearcats is how they are NIT bound. I continue to attempt to explain to people they are not even in the bubble conversation yet. Are they trending in a bad direction? Obviously. But to contend they are already on the bubble or not going to the tournament is refusing to look around at the rest of college basketball.
Most of the respected bracketologists have them in the 8/9 seed range. Here's their rankings from the various metrics used by the committee:
ESPN BPI: 31
UC (19-9, 7-8) still owns a number of quality wins -- Oregon, at Pitt, Marquette, Iowa State, Villanova -- and next to no bad losses.
The rest of the regular season schedule includes Saturday home vs. UConn (19-7, 9-5), at Louisville (22-5, 10-4) and home against USF (10-16, 1-13) then start by playing one of the bottom four seeds on Wendesday in the Big East tournament. Assuming at the very least they win one of these games, with USF a game the Cats will be heavily favored in, they will win 20 games.
Take a look at the Big East teams the last five years with 20 wins entering Selection Sunday.
Year: Teams with 20 wins (NCAA tourney status)
2012: 9 (Seton Hall out, 15th SOS in league)
2011: 11 (All in)
2010: 9 (South Florida out, played no teams in KP Top 75 in non-conference)
2009: 7 (All in)
2008: 8 (All in)
TOTAL: 44 (Seton Hall '12, USF '10)
--- If you play any type of schedule in the Big East (Bearcats currently 32nd SOS in RPI and fifth in conference according to KPom) and win 20 games you get in the tournament. Period. Fact.
Seton Hall didn't get in because they had the second worst strength of schedule in the league. Same was the case for USF, who didn't play anybody in KenPom's top 75 in their non-conference schedule.
UC challenged themselves, won games and while people will point to their struggles down the stretch they must also point to the close losses that show a team competitively keeping up with anyone. That's all part of the scenario the committee weighs when they rank the S-curve. That's why they only use everyone's favorite RPI as one of many factors in slotting teams, because the RPI doesn't take into account individual performance in games -- only W or L. Which is crazy, losing at the buzzer to Syracuse counts the same as being throttled by 21 at Notre Dame? But I'm not about to go on an RPI rant, if you want one, just check my archives here each of the past two years at this time.
--- Even further, let's take a look at the team's that are currently on the bubble and compare their situations. Here are the eight teams that were straddling the bubble by Joe Lunardi entering this weekend.
Cal (18-9, 10-5): Oregon 2x, Arizona -- rank 44 in RPI and 52 in BPI
--- These are your bubble teams, people. Southern Miss and St. John's are in the middle of the conversation. There is quite a bit of distance between where UC stand and where the likes of Temple, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Southern Miss and St. John's stand. (Villanova will certainly move to the correct side of the bubble with their win over Marquette)
This chart doesn't include bad losses, where it's hard to find many, if any on the Bearcats run. You could possibly count St. John's and Providence as bad losses, but both are middle of the pack in the second-toughest conference in the country.
These SEC teams need much better records to make up for the fact they only have two/three tourney teams in the conference. The Big East will have about 8 or 9. You can make a similar statement about CUSA and to a lesser degree the A-10.
Point being, look relatively at the competition before placing UC on the bubble with them.
--- The grander point is that this team needs to start playing better. Nobody can deny that. Sean Kilpatrick said as much himself to Bill Koch after Sunday's ugly loss at Notre Dame.
"There's a lot of things that have got to be changed quick because this season is going down the drain and we're letting it," Kilpatrick said.
He's right, the high hopes talked about through the preseason and into non-conference about Big East championship games and Final 4s look far off. But those that are dismissing the season as over haven't paid attention the last two years inside this conference.
Each of the last two years a team has played poorly in Big East play, particularly down the stretch, and gone on to the most successful postseason in their program's recent history.
In 2012, Louisville lost four of six to close the regular season and finished at 10-8 in the conference. They went on to win four games in NYC, take the BET title and advance to the Final 4 before succumbing to Kentucky.
In 2011, UConn went 8-10 in Big East conference play, including losing five of their final 8 before heading to NYC where Kemba Walker helped them win five games in five days and then they went on to win the national championship.
These are literally the last two examples in this conference following the exact same path as the Bearcats. Am I saying this will happen? No, and we can discuss a number of reasons why it can or can't, but for anybody to be giving up hope or considering all lost hasn't been paying attention to their surroundings.
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