Heard it From Hoard: Column 79
What the heck happened?
A week-and-a-half ago after the West Virginia win, the Bearcats were a legit NCAA bubble team and seemed destined to finish no worse than 10-8 in the Big East. It was probably the highlight of the Mick Cronin era so far.
Instead, the regular season ended with the Bengals-esque thud - three straight losses, including two to teams below them in the standings, and for the 2nd straight year the 'Cats wound up 8-10 in league play.
I read enough of the message boards and receive enough e-mail from disgruntled fans (usually in ALL CAPS with lots of exclamation points!!!) to know that many of you are ticked off. Shoot, UC beat Louisville, Pitt, Villanova, Syracuse, and West Virginia last year - where's the improvement?
Time for a reality check.
Cincinnati is 18-13 despite not having a true point guard. The Bearcats were picked to finish 11th by the coaches in the Big East preseason poll and wound up 9th. Do you know how many teams finished more than two spots ahead of where they were picked?
Don't get me wrong - I was bitterly disappointed by the way the regular season ended, but I don't share the doom-and-gloom mentality and I remain firmly in Mick Cronin's corner. As much as we all want UC's rebuilding phase to be finished yesterday, progress in the Big East is measured in inches not miles. Think about it - in Cincinnati's four years in the league has any program taken a quantum leap forward?
I've said all season that next year will be the Bearcats opportunity to climb into the league's upper echelon and return to the NCAA tournament, and I continue to believe that will happen. I've seen Cashmere Wright, Ibrahima Thomas, and Sean Kilpatrick play…trust me, they'll make a difference.
Of course, this year isn't finished and if UC takes care of business against DePaul on Tuesday, I'm guessing the 'Cats would at least be assured of a trip to the NIT.
Sure, it's not the tournament we were hoping for, but I remember Cincinnati's NIT run being pretty exciting in Andy Kennedy's year as head coach. Furthermore, I love Andy and think he's an outstanding coach, but why does he get abundant credit for taking a team with an NBA draft pick (James White), a first-team Big East all-star (Eric Hicks), and a point guard who's currently 3rd in the SEC in scoring (Devan Downey) to the NIT, while Mick is taking heat for doing the same thing?
Here's what I want to see in the next two weeks: at least one win the Big East tournament and at least one win in the NIT. That would mean a 20-win season and a better postseason showing than last year. Anything better than that would be gravy.
To me, that's a pretty good year. And I'm not going to let a lousy week ruin it.
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Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad.