Jux’s Rant: Notre Dame Vs Kentucky…The Luck of the Wildcats

images0X1VLYJEI’ve had it. I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of this bullshit. I’m tired of it.

Allow me to rant, so that you can know why I’m starting this post out like this.

It’s the Notre Dame-Kentucky game from last night. It’s bothering me. It’s still bothering me. A lot. And I do not root for either team. But man, it is burning me up.

First things first. Some credit to Kentucky. The Wildcats didn’t miss a shot down the stretch of a close game, a huge game, the hugest game of the season thus far. I think 9-for-9 including two swished three-pointers was the tally. Basically, with their backs against the wall and their perfect season about to be bashed up, UK rose up and got it done against an incredible Notre Dame Fighting Irish team.

With that said, let’s rewind back to the first half. Notre Dame was clearly the better team playing better basketball. The Irish were running their top-ranked offense beyond perfection. Side pick-and-rolls, cuts to the rim—-it was the college version of the San Antonio Spurs. The way Mike Brey’s team executed in that first half, it should have been about a seven-point lead at intermission.

But it was tied, 31 all.

And here comes the rant…

It was tied at half, f***ing TIED at half, because Kentucky and their mule shit offense were rewarded with many, many unwarranted trips to the free throw line. We counted at least four highly questionable foul calls on Notre Dame in that first half. TBS showed a replay of only one of them, of course, because everyone in the galaxy knew the calls were phantom but The Powers That Be didn’t want confirmation of the favoritism.

We’ve seen this all tournament with Kentucky and Duke, which is the way it’s been for decades—and that’s why 95% of America hates those blue blood schools. In the Utah-Duke game, an official called the 3rd foul on Delon Wright creating a jump ball/alternate possession with a Duke player for heaven’s sake!

Back to last night’s game. Putting aside the terrible brick thrown up by Devin Booker that banked in from 3-point land to tie the game at 6…….actually, wait, I’m not putting that aside. How the motherF*CK does THAT team, packed with 7-footers and lottery picks and already getting every call…how does THAT team deserve a BANKED THREE from the Basketball Gods???!!!

Okay, now back to that first half. The Irish should have been leading roughly by the score of 31-24 at the break. And if that’s the case, we’ve got a totally different ballgame. Every play matters, every horseshit foul call matters, EVERYTHING matters over the course of the 40 minutes. And Kentucky repeatedly—and when I say Kentucky I mean those daggum Harrisons—just recklessly drove into traffic with no notion of doing anything but hoping for a foul call and were rewarded over and over again. In addition to those dogshit free throw attempts, the officials were bailing out Kentucky’s gigantic post players against much smaller, lighter Notre Dame defenders, even when those smaller, lighter defenders played PERFECT fundamental defense (i.e. Zach August).

It was a total bail out. Kentucky had absolutely zero business being tied at the half in that game. And yet, they were. (I should also add that John Calipari was whining his face off to the officials during that first half in which his team was receiving that enormous benefit of the doubt. And that’s why most fans can’t stand him.)

And this is what burns my tush. I’m sick and tired of having to say/write things like, “Team B needs to play well enough to win the game by 10-15 just to win it by a bucket.” I wrote that before Cincinnati went to play UConn in the first round of the American Conference tournament in Hartford. I knew it would be the case in the Notre Dame-Kentucky game as well.

Here’s the deal. Anyone who watched that game last night has to say that Notre Dame was the better team that played better basketball. All things considered, especially UK’s piping hot shooting down the stretch, I’d estimate that the Irish played well enough to earn about a 4-6 point victory. BUT, since the usual, typical, obvious horseshit went UK’s way in that first half, the Irish lost the game by two points.

And sure, you could point to Notre Dame not having an answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, or the two missed free throws late by seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, or the botched opportunity for a 2-for-1 in a tie game with just under a minute to go. And you could say what all the rest of the media is saying about Kentucky coming up big late and “finding a way to win” etc etc etc.

But that’s not the point. The point is this: Notre Dame had that game. The Irish were better basketball players and the better team. Yet, Kentucky and their banked three-pointer and their crude, entitled, racist fan base won the game.

That is not how this shit is supposed to go. This is one of those times that I really envy people who never allowed themselves to get sucked into sports.

Bearcats 2014-15 Season Recap + 2015-16 Preview Podcast

It’s been a helluva ride this season. Thanks for coming along with me.

2014-15 Season Recap Podcast + 2015-16 Preview (19:16)

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Bearcats Hang Tough With Kentucky, Eye Deep Run In 2015-16

coreyukThey went down, but they went down swinging. They lost the game, but they didn’t lose the fight. The Cincinnati Bearcats, the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region, hung tough against the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats all the way until freshman guard Tyler Ulis dropped a 3-point dagger with 4:33 to go, eventually falling by the final score of 64-51.

As a Bearcat supporter and fan, it was one of my proudest days.

Kentucky starts two bulky seven-footers, a 6’11” forward and two 6’6″ guards. But the Bearcats drove the lane hard and posted up strong on offense, ferociously sent back numerous shots on defense and attacked the glass fervently on both ends. It was The Bearcat Way: We don’t care who you have on your team, we’re here to fight you to the end and impose our will.

When it was all said and done, the Bearcats snatched down seven more rebounds than the Kentucky trees and held UK to just 37-percent shooting (they usually shoot 47%). And really, when you look at the 2014-15 edition of the Cincinnati Bearcats, other than 6’9″ 275-pound Coreontae DeBerry, this is not a team with a lot of beef. Shaq Thomas, Gary Clark, Oc Ellis, Farad Cobb, Kevin Johnson, Troy Caupain and Jermaine Sanders……no big pipes, no broad shoulders. But led by the no-back-down mentality of Ellis and Caupain, UC took the fight to UK, and that’s a testament to the architect of the current program, head coach Mick Cronin.

We’ve Come A Long Way, Huh?

mick cThink back to that butt-awful 54-49 win over Eastern Illinois in the 3rd game of the season. After, during his postgame interview, Mick said: “The expressions on our kids’ faces when we make a mistake are unbelievable. We look like somebody stole our dog. We need to develop some toughness, and in a hurry.”

A few games later, Ole Miss bullied the Bearcats in a 66-54 loss. NCAA Tournament, we thought, this team? I’m not seein’ it. But wait: An overtime home win over No. 18 San Diego State. Okay, okay, that helps.

But then: Cronin goes down with a vascular condition, the kids find out an hour before a Saturday home game versus VCU. VCU 68, UC 47. Oh shit. This season might be over.

But wait: A 76-60 bashing of NC State in Raleigh. And then: A 56-50 Bearcat Grinder Special over Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs. Hmmm, NCAA Tournament hopes still alive

But then: What? A 50-46 loss down at East Carolina? Are you kidding me? But THEN: UC goes down to Dallas and fugging completes the sweep over SMU! Holy shit. Up goes the RPI. I think we’re gonna make this tournament!

But hold the phone: A buzzer-beating home loss to TULANE? A three-game losing streak? Uh oh.

And THEN: UC is struggling, down 10, in the first half at last place Houston when Oc Ellis gets ejected. It’s over. We’re gonna lose to HOUSTON. But wait: Enter Shaq Thomas. A career-high 18 points later, UC wins that game, goes home to crunch UCF, gets revenge over Tulane in New Orleans, goes down to Tulsa and owns those fools, and then sends Jermaine Sanders off with a win on Senior Day over Memphis.

The Bearcats are in! 5 straight NCAA Tournaments! (Only 10 other schools can say that.)

That toughness Mick was pining for back in November? Consider it developed. It was on display in a World War 3 loss to UConn in Hartford. It was there when the Bearcats faced a seven point deficit with 48 seconds to go versus Purdue. And that toughness reached its crescendo when Ellis, Caupain and the ‘Cats took it RIGHT TO the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday in Louisville.

Lemme quickly yell this: I LOVE BEING A CINCINNATI BEARCAT FAN!!

On The Brink?

troygwIf you’ve paid close attention to this 2014-15 Bearcat group over the course of the season, you’ve seen improvement on offense—a longtime area of weakness for UC. You’ve seen an identity formed: We’re going to punish you inside first and that’ll create space for driving lanes and open 3-point looks for the wing players.

It’s worked. UC has three low-post threats, two of which can pass the basketball. Caupain led the conference in 3-point field goal percentage, Cobb had room to operate and his firepower was the difference in several key victories, and down the stretch, Shaq found his confidence and identity and played an integral role in helping his team survive and grab the program’s fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.

Overall, the team shot 45.3% from the field this season. That’s up from 42.5 last season and 40.3 the year before.

As we look ahead to 2015-16, other than departing senior Jermaine Sanders, everyone else will be back, and you’ve gotta believe that these guys will be extremely hungry to get after it this offseason on the heels of an opportunity to measure themselves against the nation’s best and finding out that they can hold their own.

The 2015-16 Bearcats will feature four seniors (Ellis, DeBerry, Cobb and Thomas) and two juniors (Caupain and Johnson). Gary Clark started every game as a freshman and was, in the words of associate head coach Larry Davis, probably asked to do too much, but Clark did more than enough anyway and showed that he may end up being an all-time great Bearcat. GC will be a sophomore next year and will likely add 10-15 pounds of upper body strength this summer.

With the emergence of DeBerry this past weekend and the experience gained by the rest of the group, Mick and Larry will have a solid core heading into next season. And then consider the two incoming freshman guards being added to the mix…

Yes, it’s a good day to be a Bearcat fan.

That was quite a season. I want to thank you for reading my blog, listening to my podcast and sharing both with other fans.

Enjoy the rest of March Madness!

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Jux’s NCAA Tournament Picks: It’s Some Grown Ass Men Down There in Tucson

EAST REGION

Rd of 32/Sweet 16

1 Kentucky over 8 Cincinnati – If that’s the matchup, I’ll be in attendance. UC will have to play well enough to win this game by 10 just to win it by one (Kentucky will get lots of calls and breaks). That’s too much to ask for this Bearcat team this year, but it’ll be a great learning experience for next year, when I believe Troy Caupain and the boys will make a deep run.

4 Maryland over 5 West Virginia – Hate to pick against Bob Huggins, but to be honest, Buffalo could knock the Mountaineers off and I think Dez Wells and the Terrapins would beat either team.

3 Notre Dame over 11 Texas – The Irish score easily, the Longhorns do not.

7 Wichita St over 2 Kansas – Wichita State wants to schedule home-and-homes with in-state Kansas but Kansas won’t do it. That pisses the Shockers the eff off. They come out swangin’ and bangin’ and find a way to pull out a close one over the Jayhawks. (After I just typed that, I thought, “Yeah right, dude, Kansas has sooo much more talent than Wichita State. And Wichita State isn’t even that good this year. Kansas will bash them.” But, that’s my pick, if I’m wrong I’m wrong.)

Elite 8/Final 4

1 Kentucky over 3 Notre Dame – I really really want to pick Notre Dame to beat the Wildcats, but I feel like UK will find a way to make it tough for Mike Brey’s well-oiled machine to score at the clip they normally do, and on the other end, I don’t see how the Irish can keep Kentucky off the offensive glass. John Calipari and his stable of NBA talent make it to the Final 4. When they get there, though…

WEST REGION

Rd of 32/Sweet 16

1 Wisconsin over 8 Oregon – The Badgers have more weapons than the Ducks, plain and simple.

4 UNC over 5 Arkansas – Wouldn’t be surprised if 12 Wofford knocks off the Razorbacks, but I obviously don’t have the cajones to pick that. Either way, the Tarheels are pretty daggum good this year.

6 Xavier over 3 Baylor – I LOVE Baylor’s team this year, especially 6’9″ MONSTER Rico Gathers (averages over 11 boards a game), but I already know what will happen. Xavier’s crafty Matt Stainbrook will get Gathers in early foul trouble, the Muskies will shoot the shit out of the ball against Baylor’s zone, and they’ll get to yet another Sweet 16. Oh, and, Baylor knocked Xavier out of the tournament three years ago—-you think the Bears are gonna be able to do that two times in a row? Haiiiill no.

2 Arizona over 7 VCU – The Wildcats, led by veteran point guard T.J. McConnell will slice “Havoc” to pieces.

Elite 8/Final 4

2 Arizona over 1 Wisconsin – There’s no way (in my mind) that the Badgers beat Arizona in the Elite 8 two years in a row, especially considering Zona has two key players it didn’t have last year, 6’10” Brandon Ashley (broke leg last regular season) and 6’7″ freshman freight train Stanley Johnson.

EAST REGION

Rd of 32/Sweet 16

1 Villanova over 8 NC State – Popular upset pick in this matchup, but I think Ryan Arcidiacono and Nova figure out a way to escape the talented Wolfpack.

5 Northern Iowa over 4 Louisville – Tough one here because the Cardinals have the quickness and athleticism advantage, but UNI plays great D and Louisville suhhhhhucks at shooting the basketball into the basket.

6 Providence over 3 Oklahoma – The Friars have two straight-out DOGS in 6’3″ guard Kris Dunn and 6’6″ senior LaDontae Henton (just under 20 points per game) and I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something off with the Sooners.

7 Michigan State over 2 Virginia – I don’t like the fact that UVa is trying to work its best offensive player (Justin Anderson) back into the mix (coming off a hand injury) this late in the season (first game back was in the ACC Tournament). Plus, uh, Tom Izzo is a ****ing master.

Elite 8/Final 4

1 Villanova over 7 Michigan State – Nova shoots the ball well and Jay Wright makes it to his second Final 4 as a head coach.

SOUTH REGION

Rd of 32/Sweet 16

1 Duke over 9 St. John’s – Duh.

5 Utah over 13 Eastern Washington – Tyler Harvey (23 ppg) and his Merry Band of Foreign Pranksters (Venky Jois, Ognjen Milijkovic and my personal favorite, Bogdan Bliznyuk) give the Utes all they want and more, but Delon Wright and Jakob Poertl (Bill Walton’s adopted son) find a way to advance.

3 Iowa St over 6 SMU – I don’t like SMU’s offense. I ****ing love Iowa State’s.

2 Gonzaga over 7 Iowa – The Zags are really really good. The Hawkeyes are sort of good. Gonzaga wins.

Elite 8/Final 4

1 Duke over 3 Iowa State – Feels like one of those games where I root against Duke and of course, Duke wins.

FINAL 4

2 Arizona over 1 Kentucky

The way I see it: Arizona is a bunch of grown ass men out there and Kentucky is a bunch of kids. UK may be deeper and have the best NBA prospect in the contest, but dude, if you haven’t really watched Arizona this year, you’re about to see some DOGS. These guys are athletic, physical, cohesive, experienced, and after last year, hungry. Real motherfugging hungry.

I feel like when it comes down to it, Arizona is the only team in the nation that can stand up to Kentucky. They’ll have their chance in Indianapolis and I’m betting that not only will they stand up to ’em, they’ll end their perfect season.

1 Duke over 1 Villanova

You know, with Duke, the tendency is to focus on their shortcomings: Shoddy defense, small guards, not a great rebounding team. But man, when you take a step back and consider:

A) Duke’s coach is Mike Krzyzewski. He is, without a doubt, the greatest college basketball coach of our lifetime, and possibly greatest basketball coach of our lifetime.

B) They have Jahlil Okafor. That dude? Gigantic, skilled, sound, the likely #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

C) Duke has three guards shooting 40% or better from 3. Most teams don’t even have one.

As for Nova, they have a terrific team, a volcanic team, a connected & collected team. But they don’t have NBA talent like Coach K has. They hang with Duke, but fall short.

TITLE GAME

2 Arizona over 1 Duke

Duke generally struggles against real physical, athletic teams that push them around and stick right with their shooters like Buddy (“It was Dentyne.”) in Hoosiers. Arizona will for sure do both of those things and the Wildcats can put the ball in the bucket, too.

Tucson goes wild and wacky.

 

Cincinnati Bearcats Nearly Beat Mike Tyson (UConn) With Broken Controller

caupainpgDid that game feel fixed to you? It felt fixed to me. But we knew that would be part of it. After all, it was Cincinnati, with an interim head coach, playing at the XL Center in Hartford against Connecticut, the defending national champs. If UConn gets knocked out early, who the hell’s gonna fill the stands for the semifinals and championship game, right?

Now before I get deeper into this, I’ve got to throw some credit UConn’s way. Ryan Boatright made the game-winning shot. He did it. Nobody made it for him. He jumped up and made it. My hat’s off to that kid. Phenomenal player. Closest thing to Allen Iverson I’ve seen since Allen Iverson. Also, the Husky coaching staff and players deserve credit for taking Cincinnati’s hottest player, Farad “Big Shot” Cobb, out of the flow of the game. Cobb finished just 2-for-8 from the field with 7 points.

That said, this game reeked of a stacked deck against UC.

Let me interject (can you interject in your own article?) with a quick explanation of the headline I chose to use for this post for those of you who have never played Mike Tyson’s Punch-out!! for Nintendo. Punch-out!! is a game in which you, a challenger named Mac, have to win 13 fights, moving up from easy to moderately tough to difficult, until you get to Mike Tyson. And as you can imagine, Tyson is as difficult as it gets.

The Bearcats having to play a desperate UConn team (they need to win the whole American Conference tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament) on the Huskies’ home floor is basically equivalent to trying to beat Tyson in Punch-out!!

Now, when you battle Tyson, in order to not get knocked out in the first thirty seconds of the fight, you better have a game controller in working order, because you’ll need to be able to dodge haymakers and then recover quickly enough to sneak a couple of uppercuts in before the next haymaker’s a-comin’. But, if your controller isn’t working properly, it’s damn near impossible to survive the first round, let alone actually win the fight.

In my opinion, the way that game was officiated on Saturday night equates to a broken controller. The “benefit of the doubt” was so far swayed in UConn’s favor that your mind couldn’t help but drift into “Is this game fixed?” territory.

I hate to be That Guy who complains about the refs when my team loses. And look, we knew the Bearcats (and the Bearcats themselves had to know) that no calls would be going UC’s way in a game like that. Also, it’s not like the Bearcats didn’t make some costly mistakes. But dude, the disparity between things going UConn’s way and things going UC’s way was eeee-normous.

Off the Top of My Head

Here’s what I remember on the morning after…

– Troy Caupain had three drives to the bucket that resulted in turnovers: 

1) First half – Troy drove down the right side of the lane, jumped up, a defender slid under him, he made the shot, the baseline official began to make the signal for a blocking foul, but before he could make the call, he was overridden. And we knew some other official was calling a charge. Hoop wiped off, UConn ball.

CACfoH1UQAAe8Io.jpg-large2) Second half – Two in a row. Troy drives right from the left wing, Rodney Purvis (my least favorite non-Xavier player in college basketball right now) grabs Troy’s shoulder, the ball comes loose—no call. UConn gets the loose ball. Next play, Troy drives to the hole, 7-footer Amida Brimah meets him in the air with his arms down and a big body bump, gets the ball clean up top—again, no call.

That’s a potential seven points UC could have had.

– The old “shot fake and drive from the 3-point line” travel call:

You know this one. In college, when a guy catches the ball, pump fakes and then drives the ball, it’s at the referee’s discretion as to whether the player shuffled his feet before putting the ball on the floor. UConn had 5 or 6 of these types of drives in the game, yet miraculously never once walked! They just must have superb footwork, huh? And then, late in the game, Caupain pulled the same move, but of course HE traveled. Get the fu** outta here.

– Gary Clark posted up late in the game, the entry pass was made to the middle by Kevin Johnson, Gary sealed off Daniel Hamilton who went for the steal, then wrapped his arm around Clark. Clark caught the ball, Hamilton then blatantly reached in. No call on either action. Clark, a strong bull for a freshman, gathered and went up strong, finished the bucket amidst MORE contact, this time on his arm as he released the shot. Still no call. Three fouls on one play, none whistled.

– Shaq Thomas came up with a sweet chase-down block on Purvis, which was ruled goaltending. Replays showed that it sure was not goaltending.

The ‘Yeah Right’ List

This is a list of stuff that made you say “Yeahhh RIGHT!”

1) UConn only had THREE turnovers, huh? Seemingly every time UC got a deflection on defense, the ball bounced directly to a Husky player. Sure it did.

2) All UConn did all night was chuck threes. 30 of ’em to be exact. At the 12:22 mark of the 2nd half, Purvis hit a 3, and then UConn made 5 of their next 6 from distance. Sure they did. (But still UC answered that barrage of bullsh*t (Tyson haymakers) and hung in there. That’s a good sign and a testament to the Bearcats’ toughness.)

3) Caupain banked in a 3 with the shot clock running down midway through the second half. Lucky, maybe, but in the overall scheme of the world as Bearcat fans know it, Troy’s banked 3 was probably UC’s first banked 3 after at least ten banked 3’s by opponents. And the way this game was going, it seemed like “yeah, we f***ing deserve one of those.” Like it didn’t even feel cheap in any way.

But could we enjoy it? Of course f***ing not. Because with 3 minutes to go in a tie game, with the shot clock at one second, Daniel Hamilton banked in a 3 from even further out! Annnnnnd, for the record, Hamilton had already f***ing banked in a 3 against UC THIS YEAR.

Can’t make this stuff up.

But Still, UC Showed Major Toughness

Coreontae DeBerry (#22) and Octavious Ellis (#2)

Coreontae DeBerry (#22) and Octavious Ellis (#2)

In a game like that, the Bearcats were able to get several leads and answer haymakers. Oc Ellis was extremely physical down low. Shaq Thomas was all over the glass—-all 10 of his points were second chance points. Freshman forward Gary Clark, who was a non factor in the regular season game in Hartford (except for that big right-handed hammer all over Boatwright’s family), showed good toughness, putting up 9 points and grabbing eleven rebounds.

UC did not win the ballgame. In that kind of situation, the Bearcats probably needed to play well enough to win that game by double digits in order to win by a bucket. In reality, if we’re being fair, UC played well enough to win the game by probably 5 or 6 points, and with the way things went, that wasn’t enough to get the W.

But I think we need to applaud UC’s effort, toughness, resiliency, and refusal to back down. The Bearcats were up against a force larger and Higher than they’ll ever be able to realize. UConn goes on these postseason runs. They’re improbable, they’re impressive, and in a way, these postseason runs appear to be divine. I mean really, how many times can a UConn guard make a step-back game-winning jumper? 50? 75? A million?

Did the Bearcats make mistakes on Saturday night? Sure they did. 11 turnovers isn’t a ton, but four or five of those were pretty careless. Although the defense was stout (UConn shot 38% from the field), there were a few times when Bearcat players left UConn shooters wide open and paid the price. And then there was the curious substitution late in the first half of freshman Quadri Moore, which played a factor in UC going scoreless for nearly the final 3 minutes of the half.

That said, even a blind man could tell that something wasn’t right in that game. Yet despite all the quote-unquote bullshit, the Bearcats fought hard, hung tough, traded haymakers and showed that although it’s a young team (in Division I college basketball years), this UC team will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

Sure, the Bearcats may lose in the first round, but it’ll take a monumentally strong effort from the opponent and the breaks not going UC’s way for that to happen. I’m riding with Gary Clark and Oc Ellis. I’m going to war with Troy Caupain and Farad Cobb. I’m walking into the lion’s den with Coreontae DeBerry and Shaq Thomas. I’m showing up for the bout with Jermaine Sanders and Kevin Johnson in my corner. And I’m sleeping well at night as Mick Cronin, Larry Davis, Darren Savino and the rest of the staff draw up the battle plans.

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Bearcats Podcast: Regular Season Recap + Postseason Preview (16:09)

With the win at Tulsa, it looks like the Cincinnati Bearcat program has earned its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. (“From sun up to sun down, and it’s clockwork, and it don’t stop.”)

Check out the BergOnSports Podcast for reasons to be optimistic heading into this year’s postseason.

Regular Season Recap + Postseason Preview Podcast

Click Here To Listen (16:09)

Rightclick Here to Download (16:09)

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Cincinnati Bearcats: Good And Bad Potential 1st Round NCAA Tournament Matchups

ncaaA 22-9 record, including six wins vs the RPI Top 50 (three on the road), should warrant a fifth straight ticket to The Big Dance for the Larry Davis-led Cincinnati Bearcats.

(What a difference a few weeks makes, huh?)

The American Conference tournament next weekend in Hartford, CT opens up the postseason, but with UC’s resume and a five-game win streak down the stretch, it’s not a do-or-die situation. So let’s turn our attention to the NCAA Tournament.

As I figure it (and most “Bracketologists” agree), the Bearcats have earned at best a 7-seed and at worst a 10. There’s a chance UC could be slotted as an 11-seed, but it’s slight.

I’ve sifted through the rest of the teams expected to be seeded in that 7-10 range and will lay those teams out for you in categories based on the confidence level I’d have in UC advancing past that first game. (I’ll use Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings – http://www.kenpom.com )

Before I do that, though, lemme say this: I do feel pretty damn confident in UC heading into this postseason, mainly because unlike the past couple of seasons (when the Bearcats failed to win an NCAA Tournament game), this team is tough to scout on offense. It’s no longer a matter of shutting down Sean Kilpatrick. If you’re an opposing coaching staff, what do you take away? UC has four capable three-point shooters (two of which can make plays for others), three capable (and versatile) low post scorers (two of which can pass the basketball) and an athletic, long, experienced wing player gaining confidence of late.

You’ve got to be able to score efficiently to advance in March, and UC has begun to do just that, averaging just under 70 points per game over its last five. And with Cincinnati’s top shelf defense (5th in nation in points allowed), if you give Troy Caupain and his boys 70, smell ya later.

That said, oftentimes, teams make runs or get knocked out early due to favorable (3-seed Florida State in 2012) or unfavorable matchups (7-seed Creighton in 2013).

Teams I Wouldn’t Mind Seeing Matched Up With UC

caupainpgOhio State Buckeyes (22-9, No. 19 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Payback and spite. The Buckeyes ended UC’s season in the 2012 Sweet 16, and, as die-hard Bearcat fans know, Ohio State simply refuses to schedule games against teams in Ohio that have a chance to beat ’em. Last year, one of those teams, Dayton, knocked the Bucks out of the NCAA Tournament.
  • One-Man Show. Sure, OSU’s one man is a very talented man, a 6’6″ freshman named D’Angelo Russell. A projected NBA lottery pick, Russell averages 19 points, 6 boards and 5 assists. But with the way Cincinnati usually takes away the opponent’s first option, I’d like UC’s chances against Thad Matta’s squad.

Davidson Wildcats (23-6, No. 26 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • While Davidson can clearly score (ranking 5th in Adjusted Offense in the nation), the Wildcats have a hard time stopping anybody (142nd in Adjusted Defense). With the way UC has been executing on offense and taking away what opponents do best, the Bearcats would likely be able to get enough stops to move on.

Michigan State Spartans (21-10, No. 20 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • A chance for Cincinnati to knock out a blue blood program. (And maybe the AD’s would hit it off and cultivate a home-and-home in the future.)
  • Michigan State is just not that good. 55th ranked defense, no real explosive scorers, not much down low on either end. It’d be an ugly game, but a game UC could pull out.

Indiana Hoosiers (19-12, No. 56 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Tom Crean’s team is by far the worst defensive team with a chance for an at-large bid. 225th-ranked in the nation to be exact.

Ole Miss Rebels (20-11, No. 45 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Continue the end of season Payback Tour. The Rebels crunched UC back in November, 66-54.
  • Andy Kennedy’s team has no defensive identity whatsoever, ranking 135th overall.

VCU Rams (22-9, No. 39 KenPom)

Same as Ole Miss except VCU’s problems have been on the offensive end.

BYU Cougars (24-8, No. 29 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • 136th-ranked Defense
  • UC would have a significant toughness and athleticism advantage

Teams I Don’t Want To See UC Matched Up With

5x15_OuchGeorgia Bulldogs (20-10, No. 38 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Five double figure scorers = a very tough scout
  • Played Kentucky tough both times

St. John’s Red Storm (21-10, No. 33 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Remember when St. John’s used to beat UC at 5th 3rd Arena on a regular basis back in the Big East days? The players from those teams are now juniors and seniors (D’Angelo Harrison = yikes).
  • Elite shotblocker down low: Chris Obekpa 3.2 blocks/game
  • UC would not have quickness, athleticism, length or size advantage

Dayton Flyers (23-7, No. 42 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • One reason: Archie Miller. That dude can flat out coach, as he showed last year when UD advanced to the Elite 8. UC would have a depth and size advantage, but Archie is just one of those coaches you don’t want to face.

Texas Longhorns (19-12, No. 21 KenPom)

Here’s why:

  • Although the ‘Horns have been quite underwhelming this season, UT was ranked in the Top 10 at one point.
  • NBA talent + big-time size down low
  • Elite defensively

Boise State Broncos (24-7, No. 35 KenPom) 

Here’s why:

  • Boise’s best player is one of those guys who has the potential to come out of nowhere and make a name for himself in the NCAA Tournament. Derrick Marks, the 6-3 senior from Chicago, averages just under 20 a game and wets 46% of his threes.
  • BSU has won 14 out of its last 15, including a sweep of San Diego St.

Teams That Would Get A Neutral Reaction From Me

Oregon Ducks (23-8, No. 49 KenPom) – Dana Altman’s team plays Swiss cheese defense (123rd AdjD) but senior guard Joseph Young (20 ppg) scares the pee outta me.

Colorado State Rams (26-5, No. 63 KenPom) – For some reason, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Larry Eustachy’s team as a firm 10-seed in his Bracketology. CSU has home wins over San Diego State and Boise State, yes, but nary a win anyone gives a rat’s tush about in the non-conference. Either way, I have not seen this team play so I have no idea what kind of matchup this would be for the ‘Cats.

NC State Wolfpack (19-12, No. 36 KenPom) and San Diego State (24-7, No. 28 KenPom) – UC beat both of these teams already this season, but it’s always tough to beat a similarly-matched opponent twice.

Like I said, I’m confident that UC can beat any of these teams. But the NCAA Tournament is about matchups. I’d feel extra confident against the first group of teams I broke down and I’d make the same face Joey Tribbiani is making in the picture above if the Bearcats draw a team from the second group.

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Part 2 of 3-Game Payback Tour Complete; Bearcats Backhand Tulsa, 56-47

Yak-yak!

Yak-yak!

Can I get a scowl, a left-handed fist pump and a “That’s what I’m talkin’ about” from you? Farad Cobb, Larry Davis, Mick Cronin and the rest of the Cincinnati Basketball program deserve those three things right about now.

Fifteen years after the Tulsa Golden Hurricane knocked UC out of the NCAA Tournament (the year Kenyon Martin broke his leg and the Committee saw fit to relegate the Bearcats to a #2 seed matched up with 7-seed/#12-in-the-country Tulsa in the second round!), UC may have in effect done the same to Frank Haith’s team Wednesday night.

Led by your boy “Farad Salad” (Cobb), who poured in a career-high 22 points (with 2 steals and nary a turnover), the Bearcats went down to Tulsa and suffocated the first place team in the American Conference in front of their home crowd. The final score was UC 56, Tulsa 47, but it should’ve been worse for the Golden Hurricane because seven of Tulsa’s points came on unplanned bank shots and the referees negated an Oc Ellis tip-in on suspicion of goaltending. So, the adjusted score would be UC 58, Tulsa 40. Beat Down.

Lock Down

Yet another Cincinnati road win over a tough opponent due to squeeze-the-life-out-of-you defense. Remember the post I wrote looking back over all the big road wins in the Cronin Era? Add this one to the list. Tulsa shot a wiggy-wack 34 percent from the field, and its two best players, James Woodard and Shaq Harrison, shot 7-for-28.

Balance & Options

In addition to Cobb’s diabolical double-deuce, Davis received strong contributions from Ellis (13 boards, 4 get-that-shit-outta-here’s), Troy “Clyde” Caupain (12 points, 6 boards, 2 dishes and no turnovers), Gary Clark (3-3 FG, 7 points, 8 snares and 2 helpers) and Kevin Johnson (8 points, 2 offensive rebounds and just one giveaway).

Dancin’?

This was an opportunity for the Bearcats to pretty much prove their worth for this year’s NCAA Tournament. Coming into the game, UC’s RPI was right around 50, a precarious number if history serves as any indicator. Well, after dispatching of Tulsa on the road, that ranking is currently in the mid-30’s, and UC now has six wins (three on the road) over the RPI Top 50. (Ohio State has only one, by the way. One. And they’re ranked!)

Is UC a lock for The Dance now? Perhaps. But Davis and his crew don’t care about that. One more leg on the Payback Tour to complete: Sunday at noon (EST) vs. Memphis (regular CBS!). The Tigers shellacked the Bearcats way back when, 63-50. It’s Jermaine Sanders’ Senior Day and it’s a chance for more payback. The way this team has been focused on scouting reports on defense, attacking on offense and extra effort on the glass, you’ve gotta like UC’s chances of a victory in Maine’s final home game as a Cincinnati Bearcat.

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Cincinnati At Houston: It’s Do Or Die Time

caupainpgWhen I looked at the schedule before the 2014-15 season for the Cincinnati Bearcats, I immediately circled Feb 21 At Houston. Reason being, it’d be the game right after the Crosstown Shootout. And as you know, the Shootout is the absolute height of emotion and intensity for these college kids. Win, lose or draw in that game, the following game, especially if it’s against a lesser opponent, will be difficult to get up for. Factor in that the game is on the road and you’ve got yourself a tall challenge.

But now, after losing three straight, including at home to 171-in-the-RPI Tulane, the Bearcats are squarely on The Bubble for the NCAA Tournament, meaning one more slip up and somebody else will get that ticket to The Dance. And wouldn’t ya know it? Houston is the last place team in the American Conference.

UC now treads water at No. 53 in the RPI, after sitting in the 20’s just a few weeks ago. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index has the ‘Cats at 57th. Guess what Houston‘s RPI number is: 259.

Yep. It’s Do or Die Time.

Ahh, but Houston only has one conference victory, you say. It’ll be tough because it’s on the road, you continue, but UC should be able to handle ’em.

I agree. UC should be able to get this game. The Bearcats, after all, have handed the first place SMU Mustangs their only two league losses, including one down in Dallas. If UC can beat the first place team twice, they should be able to do the same with the last place team.

Which is why this is Life or Death in NCAA Tournament terms. The Selection Committee expects the Bearcats to win this game. We expect UC to win this game. The players and coaches expect to win this game.

But it’s gotta be tough on the players. After completing that sweep of SMU, the wheels have fallen off the train. Temple exacted revenge in a big way, Tulane avenged a buzzer beater from two decades ago and then, of course, that team in the blue jerseys from a few miles down the road lobbed in a late three-pointer to keep UC on the skid. Nothing’s going these kids’ way. The pressure’s on.

Meanwhile, for the host, pressure isn’t even on the radar. And the Cougars have talent, they have athletes, they have a coach who’s led a team to the Final 4, and they have home court.

Turn on ESPNU at 9:30 tonight. Let’s see what our boys are made of.

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Avoiding the Crosstown Shootout: Sparing the Universe a Boatload of Negativity

Instead of watching UC-Xavier, I'll think about Keri Russell from 7-9 and then watch The Americans at 10:00 on Wednesday (FX). Much better way to spend the evening.

Instead of watching UC-Xavier, I’ll think about Keri Russell from 7-9 and then watch The Americans at 10:00 on Wednesday (FX). Much better way to spend the evening.

If you’re like me in your sports fandom, you possess visceral hatred for your team’s rivals. You hate the opposing players, the fans, the broadcasters—-deep down, you even hate former players from that team that end up playing for your team, even if they help you win.

In Cincinnati, this means you have a sworn vendetta against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the St. Louis Cardinals and then either Xavier or UC (University of Cincinnati) basketball, depending on which college team you pull for.

We’ve spent many-a day and night watching a Bengals-Steelers game, or a Reds-Cardinals game, and more often than not, it’s an unmeasurably aggravating way to spend the ever-decreasing precious moments of your life. Take the Reds-Cardinals “rivalry.” First of all, it ain’t no rivalry. The Cardinals OWN the Reds, and have for nearly two decades. Anyway, you sit down to watch a Reds-Cardinals game, and it’s a big ol’ hate-fest. You hate St. Looie’s leadoff hitter, the #2 hitter, the 3-hitter, the clean-up hitter, and everyone else in the entire lineup and on the bench, regardless of who it is. And as the game wears on, you start to yell at your own Reds players: “Come ON!” “Why would you throw him a fastball??!!” “Nice #$%@ing at-bat.”

And more often than not, the Reds lose to the Cardinals. Swirling around in your brain: “Why did I watch that!!!!????”

Same thing with the Bengals. The Steelers urinate all over the Bengals nearly every time the two franchises meet on the gridiron. And you know that urine is a-comin’. Especially in a merciless night game in the Steel City. Yet you still plan your day around the game! And then the game starts and you’re just locked in a rage, hating this guy and that, getting angry with your team’s players, being way too sensitive about what the broadcasters say about your team (even though it’s all a billion percent true).

When it’s over, and your team has lost, you wonder: “Why do I keep watching this sh*t!!??”

But you keep watching it. (I don’t.)

Same thing the Crosstown Shootout. If you’re a Bearcat fan that is. In 1996, Xavier knocked off #1-ranked Cincinnati on a Lenny Brown game-winner (after Charles Williams dribbled the ball out of bounds!) then did the same thing in 1999 (when UC had Kenyon Martin). From the Lenny Brown game until now, Xavier has won 12 out of 18.

Regardless of the result of the game, all I do is sit there on edge, blood boiling, spewing hate at all things Xavier, at the refs, at the broadcasters—-and expecting perfection out of my team. There is absolutely no joy involved whatsoever.

crazysportskidFor me, after mulling it over for years, now, when the Reds play the Cardinals, I’m somewhere else. Baseball ceases to exist in my world. No thank you. Bengals-Steelers? Sh*t, try Bengals vs. ANYONE. Why put myself through that aggravation? And starting this year (tonight), I will no longer be participating in the UC-Xavier Crosstown Shootout. I’m out. I originally thought I’d DVR the game, check the score later, and if UC wins, I’ll go back and watch. But I decided I’m out. Out on the whole deal. And in doing so, I’m sparing The Universe a mountain of negativity. Not to mention keeping my sanity, taking care of my heart and blood pressure and best of all: I won’t ever have to watch another one of Xavier’s nebs celebrate nebbily ever again.

Call me a poor fan or tell me you’ve lost respect for me (like my boss just did). You’re entitled to that stance. You do what you gotta do, I’ll do what I gotta do.

Watch the game if you want. But don’t waste your time calling or texting me. My phone will be off and in my world for a few hours, college basketball will cease to exist. You’re welcome, Universe.