Heard it From Hoard: Column 75
I think I get why some people don't like the idea of a tribute to Bob Huggins when West Virginia comes to Fifth Third Arena on February 26th.
I actually think I do understand. Those who object find it hypocritical and insincere. In other words, why honor a guy that you didn't want to keep? They think it's a blatant attempt to try to appease fans that are still angry over Huggins' departure.
Here's what I think. It's the right thing to do.
No one at UC has ever disputed that Bob Huggins is a great coach, or that he gave Cincinnati fans 16 years of incredible memories.
Before last year's game at West Virginia, I mentioned the following stat which demonstrates how dominant UC was during Bob's tenure. Beginning in 1992, UC made it into the AP Top 10 in 8 of the next 10 seasons. That's Top 10...not Top 25! Furthermore, the Bearcats cracked the national polls and qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of his last 14 seasons.
I don't know all of the details of the upcoming tribute, but I do know this: Everyone associated with the Bearcat basketball program - from UC administrators, to Coach Cronin, and fans - is grateful for what Huggins did in returning Cincinnati to national prominence.
There is nothing insincere about that.
As the old saying goes, "time heals all wounds," and 3 1/2 years after Huggs left, the scars are gradually fading.
The Bearcats (17-8, 7-5 BIG EAST) have clinched a winning season in Mick Cronin's third year on the job, and are a legitimate candidate for the NCAA tournament despite only having one senior that sees regular playing time.
Coach Huggins is happily back at his Alma mater, surrounded by long-time friends and family, and also has a young team in the hunt for an NCAA bid (16-8, 5-6 BIG EAST).
And Dr. Nancy Zimpher will no longer have to deal with those who blame her for what transpired, as she has accepted a high-profile position as the chancellor of the 64-campus State University of New York.
I look forward to taking part in the lengthy standing ovation Coach Huggins is certain to receive when he takes the court at Fifth Third Arena in two weeks. It should be a special night and a great game. If you look at the remaining schedules for UC and West Virginia, it could also be a pivotal game in the BIG EAST race. Cincinnati has two games left against teams with losing league records (USF and Seton Hall) and WVU has four (Notre Dame, Rutgers, USF, and DePaul). If the 'Cats and Mountaineers win all of those games, they would each have a minimum of nine league wins.
On Wednesday I asked Coach Cronin how many BIG EAST victories it would take to feel comfortable about an NCAA tourney bid.
"You would like to think 10-8 would make you a lock, but you never know," Mick told me. "It depends on who you listen to. 11-7 would surely make you a lock and I had people tell me earlier in the year that 9-9 would get you in. The problem with our league is that we're beating each other up and that makes people question whether certain teams should make the NCAA tournament. You just don't know. You have to keep winning. We just try to take it day by day with our kids. We don't talk about the NCAA tournament. We talk about getting better and what it takes to win games. We try to focus our guys on improving because we still have a lot of guys who have not reached their potential as individual players and as they get better our team is going to get better."
My favorite story in the BIG EAST this week involves Louisville freshman Samardo Samuels who has his smile back after having a tooth knocked out against St. John's. Team trainers saved the tooth by preserving it in milk on the way to the hospital.
Sounds like a perfect candidate for the "Got Milk?" campaign when his college eligibility is finished.
Also, one quick injury update. Ibrahima Thomas, the 6'11" transfer from Oklahoma State who will be eligible to play for UC next December, does not have a broken left hand as he told me before the St. John's game. It's just a badly strained thumb. If Thomas were on the active roster he would probably keep playing, but since he's currently ineligible, the medical staff is allowing it to completely heal before he resumes practicing.
I'd love to hear from you. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad who, like his dad, is looking forward to the start of spring training.