By: Tyler Dugan
Ooo Baby, alright alright alright. I quite frankly don’t know what the hell to feel. First off, I would like to apologize to all my fans for the hiatus I took on the blogs. I vowed to myself I wasn’t going to write another UC blog until March Madness began, so here we are.
First, what a turnaround for this group. After the home loss to Wichita I think it was easy for a lot of people to jump off. They weren’t making shots. Jake and Gary were disappearing. Something just seemed lost. Since then they have seemed to figure some things out. First, this is Gary Clark’s team, the offense must run through him, and he sets the tone on defense. Two, Jacob Evans needs to be assertive. He won the Wichita road game because he took over. 3, Mick must let Cane be Cane. Mick has loosened the leash off of the spark of the bench, and it has allowed him to open up the offense. Kyle and Jarron are key in crunch time. These guys are unorthodox, they can be mightily frustrating, but in crunch time, they have made huge shots, and are among the top competitors in college basketball. Those two play harder than anyone on the court at all times.
Before I get into my breakdown of March, I just want to spread my great love for this group. I actually feel an emotional connection with Gary, Kyle, and Jake. Especially Gary, that man has been the heart and soul, and the biggest reason this team is in the position they are. It feels like the last two weeks the Bearcats usually find a way to lose those games. They didn’t, Jake went clutch on one leg at Wichita, Kyle and Gary both came up clutch in the tourney championship. That never happens for UC. It just felt like something was lifted. They are learning how to win games late, that’s a good thing to have come March. I tweeted it out a couple days ago, but I will never forget 12 years ago, Jerry Mcnamara going the length of the court, and drilling a 3 to essentially knock the Cats off the bubble. Opening the door for Andy Kennedy to leave, and the flood gates open. They had no recruiting, no players to inherit, and they hired a little red head to try to turn this disaster around. It took a little while, and sometimes it seemed like it was never going to happen, but damn, here we are with a shot to do something special. It was hard to imagine this 12 years ago with Jamal Warren, Marcus Sikes, Connor Barwin and Marvin Gentry getting major minutes this team would be where they are. That, my friends, is a testament to Mick Cronin. I am probably one of the hardest people there is on Mick, I don’t agree with him in game, his rotations can drive me bonkers, he sometimes whines too much, but damn that’s amazing. Kudos to you Mick.
Alrighty, now for the good stuff. This is the first time in a long time I actually smiled looking at the draw. Basically the way I look at it is, man for man, head to head, who is the better team? I think UC is legitimately better than every team on their half of the bracket. Now that seems obvious when you are a two seed, but if Michigan State was the 3 in our region I’m not sure I could say that. I haven’t been able to say that the entire Mick Cronin era, so it feels good.
Opening up with Georgia State. Kenpom puts Ga. St. at 96 in the country. They are 101st in offensive rating and 106th in defensive rating. Obviously its a 2 vs a 15, Ga St has made some major upsets under Ron Hunter in March, but if UC comes ready to play they should wipe the floor. One of the big things in this game will be rebounding, Georgia State is one of the worst in the country at that. The Cats hold a major advantage there.
The second round poses for a much tougher contest. People are freaking out about this game, but if you want to make it far you have to beat good teams. The Cats will play the winner of Nevada/Texas. Nevada is one of those hot topic upset teams. They were a top 25 team all year that got upset in the conference tourney. They will be a trendy pick. My thing with Nevada is I actually like that matchup for UC. Nevada is going to try to push the tempo, UC has maybe the best transition defense in the league. UC will get the ball and slow it down. Make them play at their own pace. I think if UC sets the pace they win this game, it’s another game where if they play their game they win. I actually would be little more worried about seeing Texas. Mo Bamba can cause a ton of issues. They will press the hell out of them. So that could pose a little more trouble. Again though, just play their game.
That would set up for most likely Tennessee if the seeds play out. Tennessee is a good team. Will be tough and physical. That is the type of game the Cats want to see. Tennessee will try to beat them at their own game. That’s hard to do. I think UC is overall better, Tennessee overachieved this whole year. The Cats will cause them fits. I again favor that matchup.
That leads to a colossal showdown in the Elite 8. The most likely suitors are Virginia, Arizona, or Kentucky. I’d expect to see Virginia but wouldn’t be shocked to see any of those teams. Again, have to beat great teams to get to San Antonio. It is what it is.
That path isn’t impossible. It’s doable. Anything is doable in March. So here are my keys for the cats to make that run.
1. Cane Broome. The PUP List is the first official Cane Broome fan club. He just changes the game for the Cats. Adds such a dynamic piece to a team that can go through scoring droughts.
Cane usually minimizes that. He gets to the lane, and kicks so well. Also has the ability to knock down outside shots. He creates a lot of good things for UC. Also, extremely good on ball defender. He’s another guy that forces the attention of the defense, and he’s tough to guard 1 on 1. If he limits the turnovers, look out. If UC makes that run Cane may very well be the biggest reason.
2. Jarron Cumberland. Teddy has been lights out down the stretch. Huge in big games. If Jarron is going to score, this team is going to win. He’s super aggressive. He makes you want to pull your hair out, but damn he’s needed. Again, takes pressure off Jake and Gary. Also is secretly their best defender. Jarron is wildly underrated.
3. Mick. We have seen a different version of Mick the last couple of weeks. He grew out the stubble. He also just hasn’t been yelling as much. He is letting the guys play. He talked a couple weeks ago about how they have to go out and play now. Mick has remained cool, and I think it has helped this team down the stretch. I hope he continues that.
4. Play their game. I have it at 4, but it may be the biggest. This team wants to win in the 60s and I love it. It used to get on my nerves, but they want to rock fight you to death. They want to beat you up. I’m done hearing about the offense. It goes through woes, I get it. Lean on the defense. Create shots through the defense. Wreak havoc. If they get to the Final Four it’s going to be because they continue to get stops and rebound the hell out of the ball.
5. Nasi, Scott, Nsome. These guys have been HUGE off the bench. Especially with the defense and rebounding. They’ve added some timely layups. When Gary and Kyle walk off the floor, the production from down low can’t go away. It hasn’t the last couple games and that’s a huge reason for the success. The 3 bigs must be productive in their limited time.
All in all, I really do like this team’s shot. There is just something about them. They have found ways to win lately, and like I said earlier that’s a good thing to have come March. Let’s hope I’m here a week from today writing a prep blog for the Sweet 16.
For the rest of the tournament. Just a couple thoughts. I don’t understand Arizona State and Syracuse getting in. Just nonsense to me. Oklahoma State and USC deserves that more but what the hell do I know. I never understood the ND talk. They lost to Ball State and Indiana with Colson, so clearly weren’t a top team with him, and they were really ass without him. Everyone keeps taking about the potential Kentucky vs. Arizona matchup, but it’s not out of realm of possibility that we see Buffalo vs Davidson. Kentucky better continue to shoot well because Davidison is going to. They can light it up. As for Buffalo, obviously Ayton is impossible to stop, but Buffalo is really, really good. ( gave UC fits earlier this year). They’ve been to the dance before, and they run and gun up the court. It will be tough but I liked them a lot before I saw the matchup. As for the school in Norwood I think they got the best 1 seed draw based on the 8/9 seeds in their region. Florida State sucks. I don’t think they are any good at all, and Missouri is a wild card with Porter, so that will be intriguing. But I’d take that over the other 8/9 matchups. Finally, my sly final four team of the year is Florida. Florida can lose in the first round or win the whole damn thing. I love Chiozza. They live and die by the three. I think they’ll live this tournament. I think Chiozza could have a Kemba like stretch here. The Gators get hot at the right time and shock the country.
That’s all I got. This is our year Cats fans. See you in Atlanta next week.