NCAA Notebook: Bearcats Ready for March Madness
March 15, 2017

KochBy Bill Koch

CINCINNATI – For most of the past month, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats were projected by analysts as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the selection committee didn’t agree, making UC a No. 6 seed in the South Region when the bracket was revealed Sunday.

Two days later, UC coach Mick Cronin had a message for those UC fans still upset by that development: Seeding doesn’t matter.

“I’m a believer that everybody in the NCAA Tournament is good,” Cronin said. “That’s why, a couple weeks ago when everybody got caught up in what I said, my whole point was that the number next to your name doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. You don’t let other people define you. You’re gonna have to play somebody. Every team’s fan base thinks they got a bad draw, every team. Everybody’s pretty good. Everybody’s hoping that they’re gonna get to play 15 or 16 seeds all the way to the Elite Eight. It’s not realistic.”

Cronin dismissed a suggestion that his recent public decry that seeding and location were based primarily on selling tickets might have irritated the committee, which retaliated by sending the Bearcats out west for the third time in the last four years.

“I’ve got news for them,” Cronin said. “If they think that I lose one ounce of sleep worrying about anything that they say or do it would mean that I respected their opinion of my team, which I don’t, unless Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino are in that room. They’ve got a tough job to do. It is what it is. It’s guesswork, which is what I really tried to tell you two weeks ago and it is a big business.”

The Bearcats will play in the first round Friday against either Wake Forest or Kansas State, which were scheduled to meet in a play-in game Tuesday night for the No. 11 seed. If the Bearcats win their first-round game, they’ll face the winner of the game between No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 14 seed Kent State.

“If you’re asking me why we were seeded six, I don’t really understand all that,” Cronin said. “Again, they can do what they want and they can justify it any way they want to. And anybody that challenges them, they’re gonna say that they’re off base and they’re a bad guy and threaten to reprimand them. It’s comical. But it doesn’t bother me, even in the least bit. I don’t think about it all.

“What I would tell you is that our league was disrespected because SMU (also a No. 6 seed) is in our conference. But that’s not what we’re worried about. I haven’t thought about it, don’t care about it. In my opinion, us and SMU are as good as three seeds and have had the same kind of year as three seeds. If we’re fortunate to win our first game and we end up playing UCLA, it’s the same thing. So we’ll see.”

SECRET TO SUCCESS: The best way to advance in the NCAA Tournament, Cronin said, is to secure a favorable matchup, play great defense and ideally have one of your players get on a hot streak.

“If you have one player get really, really hot and start carrying your team to wins, that  would be great,” Cronin said. “I’d like to have Troy (Caupain) get on a massive roll and put us on his back.”

Cronin said it would also help if Kevin Johnson, who failed to score in the Bearcats’ final two games in the American Athletic Conference while going 0-for-7 from the field, could regain his shooting touch and if forward Kyle Washington could avoid the early foul trouble that plagued him against Connecticut and SMU.

“We’ve got to get Kyle Washington to quit fouling,” Cronin said. “He’s got to play. Let’s be honest. If we’re going anywhere he can’t be on the bench with two fouls in the first three minutes of every game. That can’t happen.”

Cronin was not pleased with UC’s defense against UConn and SMU.

“What works for us is we try to not let you get comfortable,” Cronin said. “UConn got comfortable against us in the second half and SMU was comfortable all day against us Sunday. In my opinion, that’s why teams make shots, when they get comfortable. So we have got to get back to being a disruptive team. Now that doesn’t mean we’re trying to steal the ball all the time, but we’ve got to get back to taking people out of their comfort level and finding a rhythm. When people get into a rhythm against you, that’s when they’re gonna make shots and they’re gonna be able to make the plays that they need to make to break you down.”

SMILING CLARK: Gary Clark proudly displayed his smile for reporters Tuesday after he had his chipped tooth fixed Monday morning.

“I’m glad to get my smile back,” he said.

Clark, who made the AAC all-tournament team despite playing with half a front tooth, said the Bearcats have already put their loss to SMU on Sunday behind them.

“You’ve got to,” Clark said. “That part of the season is over with. Here comes another opportunity to really make a name for the University of Cincinnati. We feel confident if we go out and play defense and take care of business everything will take care of itself.”

MOM WILL BE THERE: Caupain said his mother, Renee, will be in Sacramento for the tournament. The Caupains live in Midlothian, Va., but his mom has made it a personal quest to attend as many of Troy’s games – home and away – as she can. This one will be no different, despite the long distance.

“She’s gonna be there for sure,” Caupain said. “That’s just something that she takes pride in. She hasn’t missed any games this year and I don’t think that my last time playing in a Cincinnati uniform that she’s gonna miss it.”

Of course, if the Bearcats win two games in Sacramento, it won’t be Caupain’s last time playing in a UC uniform. The good news for Renee Caupain is that the South Regional next week is in Memphis.

SUPER SCOUTS: UC associate coach Larry Davis was assigned to scout Kansas State and assistant coach Antwon Jackson to scout Wake Forest. Darren Savino has the UCLA assignment.

t neither Davis nor Jackson went to Dayton to personally scout the game between Wake and Kansas State because NCAA rules prohibit it.

“This day and age with technology it’s so easy,” Cronin said. “It’s easier than it used to be.”

Bill Koch covered UC athletics for 27 years – 15 at The Cincinnati Post and 12 at The Cincinnati Enquirer – before joining the staff of in January, 2015.