Shaq, Bearcats Operating in “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” Mode; Will It Be Enough?

shaq thomas bearcats

Shaquille Thomas, 6’7″ forward

Redshirt-junior wing Shaq Thomas is lookin’ to deal on fools and your Cincinnati Bearcats are in full-on Attack Mode. Finally, right?

Up until the 83-60 home win over Central Florida this past Wednesday, we had only seen UC in Attack Mode when:

  • They were trailing at halftime
  • They were coming off of a loss
  • They had a chance for payback

As we know, the fact that this team has often come out of the gate tentative and sloppy has been a problem. This issue has frequently led to subpar first halves (particularly the first ten minutes of first halves) which has cost the Bearcats over the course of games. Case in point: The 13-point first half at home vs. Tulane. UC put up a solid 36 in the second half, but the struggles added up, and the Green Wave ended up winning 50-49.

I’ll bet you can list another ten games when the Bearcats put forth particularly wack first halves. Some of the time UC has recovered to win the game (both W’s over SMU [19,20]), in other instances it has caught up to ‘em (L’s at East Carolina [23], at Memphis [24], vs. Ole Miss [25] and vs. Xavier [24]).

So what’s the answer? Look to attack right from the opening tip. Have the mindset that “When I get the ball, I’m ready to roast this defender’s ass!” And, probably the most important thing for a team that ranks 97th in Adjusted Offense (kenpom.com), when a defensive possession ends, PUSH THE BALL UP THE FLOOR. See what’s available. Maybe you’ll catch the opponent off guard and get 3 or 4 easy scoring chances over the course of the game that you wouldn’t have had if you consistently walk the ball up the floor.

The Bearcats, to their credit, made a concerted effort to attack early and often against UCF and at Tulane. Two lesser opponents, yes, but in both cases, UC did what you need to do against teams you should beat: Bury their asses early and never let them get to the point that they believe they can beat you.

But it’s about to get real. On Wednesday night, the Bearcats will fly down to Tulsa, Oklahoma to take on the Golden Hurricane, a Frank Haith-coached team that is 14-2 in American Conference play. This team devoured Temple a couple of Sundays ago by the score of 55-39. Tulsa’s guards (James Woodard, Shaq Harrison and Rashad Ray) are very impressive. Haith’s squad, like UC, wins with defense, ranking in the Top 30 in Adjusted D.

Because Tulsa is currently No. 37 in the RPI, a win down there would virtually stamp a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. UC is 50th in the RPI right now. If they can finish the regular season closer to 40, there will be no need to sweat on Selection Sunday.

But with recent signature wins by other Bubble teams (BYU won at #3 Gonzaga, Texas just knocked off #14 Baylor on Monday night, Oregon and Purdue are making pushes), UC needs to take advantage of any opportunity to state its case. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi (also known as “That weenie who coined the term ‘Bracketology'”) currently feels that the Bearcats would be one of the “Last 4 In” if the brackets were to come out today.

All the more reason to continue operating in “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” Mode.

Turn on CBS Sports Network Wednesday at 9:00 EST. Let’s see what our boys are made of.

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.

Bearcats Get What They Deserve: 3 Theories For Offensive Struggles

All they had to do was hold serve. In position for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid if the selections were made today (well, earlier today), the objective was pretty simple: Don’t lose to anyone you shouldn’t lose to, especially at home.

But the Tulane Green Wave and their No. 183 RPI and their five-game losing streak and their 257th-ranked (KenPom) offense had other ideas. After Bearcat freshman Gary Clark banked in a go-ahead shot with four seconds to play, Tulane point guard Jonathan Stark dribbled down the floor, threw up a contested 30-footer and SWISHED IT as time expired.

tulane buzzerTulane 50, UC 49. For the second time in two weeks, the Bearcats lose a game to a sub-150 RPI team when allowing FIFTY POINTS. So if we’re being completely honest here: Cincinnati did not deserve to win the game on Saturday. If you can’t score more than 50 points at home, you deserve what you get. Stark’s buzzer beater was justice served by the Basketball Gods.

Say hello to The Bubble. And say goodbye to the “look how good our RPI is” argument.

What’s the deal? How can a seemingly-NCAA-Tournament-worthy team struggle to score points this often? Especially a team that had its coach proclaim before the season: “Offense won’t be our problem.”

Well, after a beyond-dismal first half in which the Bearcats mustered just THIRTEEN POINTS on Saturday, I think it’s safe to say that offense is this team’s problem.

To be fair, substandard rebounding was also a big reason why UC allowed Tulane to hang around today. The Wave beat UC 39-27 on the glass, grabbing 14 offensive rebounds to UC’s six. That’s eight more extended possessions that UC and its unwatchable offense couldn’t afford to allow.

That said, let’s dive directly into the issue at the forefront of your mind.

Why Do The Bearcats Often Have Trouble Scoring?

mick cHow does a game like this happen? How does a game like the East Carolina game happen? How does this team have high turnover games against teams that don’t press? Why is it a complete shock when UC scores more than ten points in the first ten minutes of a basketball game?

And, as you know, it’s not just the 2014-15 Bearcats. Take a look at where UC has ranked in offensive efficiency (points scored per possession) per Teamrankings.com over the course of Mick Cronin’s tenure at his alma mater:

2006-07: 229
2007-08: 226
2008-09: 143
2009-10: 149
2010-11:  56
2011-12: 102
2012-13: 165
2013-14: 119
2014-15: 156

Only once in nine seasons has UC’s offense ranked inside the Top 100. That’s a trend.

Now, before we continue, there are two things to remember:

1) UC’s defensive efficiency ranks the past five seasons, starting with this season and moving backward: 14, 8, 10, 40, 19

2) The Bearcats have made the NCAA Tournament four straight seasons, despite those Jah-awful offensive numbers.

And those two things to remember are real, and they talk, and UC has a chance to win every game because of that consistent defensive prowess.

But you’re tired of hearing about defense. You want offense. You want offense and you want it right now and you want it consistently.

Hey, I don’t blame you. So while I’m inclined to say that you can’t argue with four straight NCAA Tournaments, you can argue with the fact that Cincinnati’s average offensive efficiency rank under Mick Cronin is a hair under 150th in the nation.

In the immortal words of Keegan Michael Key playing a Latino gangster in the Key & Peele sketch, Proud Thug, “You know what, but why though?” Why has UC consistently had trouble scoring? We have a few theories:

Theories For Cincinnati’s Offensive Struggles

Theory 1: Subpar Point Guard Play

You know what UC rarely gets? Easy baskets.

Troy Caupain, point guard

Troy Caupain, point guard

You know why? Because Cronin has yet to bring in a lead guard with the ability to consistently beat his man, draw defenders and dish for easy scores. This season, Troy Caupain leads the team with 3.5 assists per game. Last year, Sean Kilpatrick led the team with only 2.5 dimes a night. Guess how many times a UC player has averaged 5 or more assists per game under Mick. The answer: Zero. Cashmere Wright finished at 4.6 in 2011-12 and Deonta Vaughn was at 4.7 three seasons earlier.

Some point guards just know how to make the game easier for their teammates. You look at a guy like Dee Davis for Xavier. Little guy, not athletic, not a great defender. But he averages 6.2 assists per game for Xavier, who ranks 22nd in the nation in offensive efficiency right now.

Now, personally I’d rather have Caupain any day of the week. And in Troy’s defense, he’s still very young. But still: 3.5 assists for a guy like Troy who’s only getting up about seven shots per game—-that number has got to be higher.

UC has yet to suit up an effective point guard in terms of running an offense consistently and distributing the basketball under Cronin. Hopefully that will change next season with the arrival of Justin Jenifer.

Theory 2: Great Athletes, Average Skills

This is something I hear quite a bit from UC fans. And if you listen closely, you heard CBS Sports Network analyst Alaa Abdelnaby allude to it before the Temple game this past Tuesday.

Here’s the deal with this one. It’s real simple. Take a look at the best offensive teams in the country. What can the majority of those teams’ players do? SHOOT, PASS, and DRIBBLE.

It’s seems fairly obvious, right? You’d think that a kid couldn’t get a high-major college scholarship without being able to shoot, pass and dribble. But plenty of kids get offered those scholarships without being able to do one of those things, and some, you could argue, can’t do ANY of them!

Take a look at UC’s team right now. How many Bearcats can shoot, pass and dribble? (And when I say pass, I mean understand when to pass and who to pass to.) Honestly, I’d lean toward Caupain and Farad Cobb on that short list, however, with only 3.5 assists for Troy and 1.3 for Farad, can they really pass the ball?

And take a look at UC’s fast break opportunities. You see cardinal sins all over the place and you rarely see conversions.

When you look at this team overall, most guys are severely lacking in one or more of the three criteria. And that’s why UC has committed more turnovers than it has dished out assists. Tough to win that way. Puts a lot of pressure on your defense. And even with a top-level defense, it’s unrealistic to “pitch shutouts,” which is what a win over Tulane on Saturday or at East Carolina on Feb 1 would have been.

Theory 3: Too Much Time & Energy Spent on Defense

In order to consistently be among the nation’s best on defense, well, it doesn’t happen by accident. Tons of film watching and prep work, allocating what I imagine is a large portion of each practice to that side of the ball…..not to mention the draining exertion of each possession on the players.

Does the coaching staff spend enough time on offense? Do the players have sufficient energy left in the tank after busting it hard on D to score enough points? I don’t have the answers to those questions. But I’m guessing both are on your mind.

What’s the answer? You tell me. Post a comment below, e-mail me or Tweet at me.

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Bearcats Podcast (6:27): Cincinnati (17-7) vs Tulane (13-10) Game Preview + Stretch Run Look-Ahead

The Bearcats battle Tulane today (UC -12.5) at 2:00 EST (ESPNU) and they’ll see the Green Wave again in two weeks down in Louisiana — so I’ll tell you what to look for……I’ll also run through the final seven games of the regular season with you and talk about what UC needs to do to be in position for a 5th consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Game Preview Podcast: Cincinnati (17-7, 8-4) vs Tulane (13-10, 4-7)

Click Here To Listen (6:27)

Rightclick Here To Download (6:27)

 

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Hall-Of-Famer Larry Brown Can’t Figure Out Cobb, Bearcats

I heard a rumor that after his No. 23 SMU Mustangs lost to the Cincinnati Bearcats (for the second time this season) Thursday night, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown mistakenly ordered a “Farad salad” at a Dallas diner.

The waitress, reportedly a bubbly, buxom brunette with a nose full of freckles, replied, “You want a what-now?”

Brown looked down at his menu and pointed to his meal of choice.

“Oh, a Cobb salad,” the waitress realized.

“What’d I say?” Brown wondered.

“You said ‘Farad salad,'” the cute server replied. “What’s a Farad?”

Brown forced a smirk and then dropped a couple of seltzer tablets into a glass of water as the waitress jiggled back to the kitchen.

(Okay, that story isn’t true. The truth is, I recently asked my buddy Schmidt: “Do you think when it’s all said and done, it’s gonna be called a ‘Farad salad?'” His reaction was the same as most people’s when my brain does that sort of thing: “You’re out of your mind.”)

Farad Cobb, sometimes known as “Farad salad,” torched a stout SMU defense (20th nationally in points allowed) Thursday night in Dallas, just as he did back on January 3 in Cincinnati. Cobb poured in 18 points in Cincy, and followed that up with an efficient 14 at Moody Coliseum. Overall, “Salad” is 11-for-19, including 6-for-12 from downtown, against the Mustangs (18-5, 9-2).

“Larry Brown’s gonna have nightmares about Farad Cobb,” Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis joked.

While Cobb was a big reason why UC (16-6, 7-3, No. 25 in ESPN RPI) was able to grab an improbable road win Thursday night, a handful of other Bearcats were vital:

1) Troy “Clyde” Caupain

It’s no secret that as Troy goes, the Bearcats go. The 6’4″ point guard came up large against UConn last Thursday, sticking 8 of his 9 field goal attempts and finishing with a career-high 20 points in UC’s romp. On Sunday, Caupain only had 4 points and 2 assists in a shocking loss at East Carolina. He wasn’t aggressive at all in that game.

But Troy came to play in Dallas. He drove the lane and popped in a floater for UC’s first hoop, then confidently nailed a 3 and found Jermaine Sanders for a right-handed lay-up to give the ‘Cats an early 7-5 lead. Caupain finished with 14 points (wetted all three of his 3-point attempts), 4 rebounds, 4 assists and only two turnovers.

That’s a big-time performance out of the sophomore from Midlothian, VA.

2) Jermaine “Far Rockaway Style” Sanders

jermaine sanders cincinnati

Senior Jermaine Sanders has been key in latest UC surge

Speaking of big-time performances, how about ‘Maine Sanders? The lone senior in the rotation led UC in points (15), rebounds (9) and deflections (?), and yak-yak’ed a gigantic 3 from the corner to extend Cincinnati’s lead to 7 with 4:47 to go.

Since being inserted into the starting lineup six games ago, Sanders is averaging right around ten points and five boards per game. UC’s offensive efficiency has gone through the roof in that span. Scoring less than one point per possession for the season, the Bearcats are at 1.114 over the past six games, a clip that would rank 13th in the nation in offensive efficiency according to Teamrankings.com if that was a season-long pace. (UC is at 0.998 and ranks 153rd overall this season.)

Davis explained what Sanders brings to the table:

Click Here to Listen to Dan Hoard mention me and Larry talk about Jermaine before the East Carolina game.

3) Octavius “Oc” Ellis

After 14 points, 14 boards and 3 swats against East Carolina, “Oc” followed that output with 6 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 blocks against SMU on Thursday night. Brown believed Ellis was more of a factor than the numbers showed…

4) Shaq Thomas

Hip hop hooray for Shaq! The kid’s had an up-and-down season to say the least. He lost his starting spot six games ago (likely because he’s got 33 turnovers and only nine assists this season). But the New Jersey native hit three huge shots against SMU (while also contributing his customary 1-for-2 from the foul line), including an absolute heartbreaker:

UC had built a seven-point lead but saw the Mustangs cut it to three with just under 2:00 to play. With the shot clock running down, Thomas launched a 25-footer from the right wing………and canned it! Dagger! 

Coach Davis also praised Shaq for being in the right spot on offense while playing a new position (the 4 spot). Big contribution off the bench for the redshirt junior.

5) Gary Clark & Coreontae DeBerry

Clark struggled at times Thursday night, only playing 18 minutes and picking up three quick fouls to begin the second half. But the freshman still managed to grab five boards, dish out 4 assists and Bill Walton a 12-footer off the glass from the right baseline in the second half.

DeBerry, meanwhile, only logged four minutes. But the 6’9″ 280-pound behemoth was productive, converting an important jump hook late, blocking a shot and grabbing two rebounds.

Overall, the big key for UC was an encouraging display of MENTAL TOUGHNESS, adhering to the advice of Coach Davis before the Bearcats took the floor. “I wrote it on the white board before the game,” Larry said. “I knew mental toughness would be more important than physical toughness in an environment like this.”

What was head coach Mick Cronin’s advice to Davis before the game? “Defend and rebound,” Mick texted, likely using a shortcut key on his phone to send those words. The Bearcats did both: UC out-rebounded SMU 32-25 and held a team shooting nearly 50% on the season to 36.5 from the field (and 3-for-14 from deep).

Big, huge, enormous bounce back road victory for the lesson-learning Bearcats on Thursday night. According to ESPN’s calculations, UC now sits at No. 25 in the Daily RPI, putting themselves back in the picture for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. If they can pull it off, it’d be the fifth straight appearance for the program.

Next up: Saturday vs South Florida (8:00), then Tuesday at Temple (7:30). Both games will air on CBS Sports Network.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy your weekend!

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Can Basketball Be More Exciting? Is This The Brilliant Idea?

Norfolk State busted everyone's bracket back in 2012.

Norfolk State busted everyone’s bracket back in 2012.

A fellow writer named Nicholas Patrick may have come up with the best idea for improving a sport in our lifetime.

The sport: Basketball. The problem: The end of most basketball games consists of one team stalling and one team intentionally fouling.

You’ve seen it a thousand times, especially in the NCAA Tournament. Team X leads Team Y by 10 points with 1:46 to go. Team Y has no choice but to foul Team X, hope for missed free throws, then race the ball up the floor to jack a 3 or accept a gift lay-up, then foul, rinse and repeat until the game is over.

In another scenario, Team X leads Team Y by 10 points with 4:00 to go. Team X will generally abandon what got them the lead and begin using the majority of the shot clock on every possession, oftentimes waiting too long to get a quality look at the basket.

In both scenarios, the general flow of basketball is nowhere to be found. And in both scenarios, the culprit is the same: THE CLOCK.

Nick told me that he first realized this flaw back in 2004 when watching the end of a Duke/Xavier Elite 8 game with his college buddies at the University of Dayton. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that all of basketball’s late-game flaws are directly attributable to the influence of the game clock,” he wrote to me in an e-mail. “The question was (and is) how to compel teams to keep playing our beloved, crisp style (of basketball) through the end of each game.”

Now, I should interject here: You may not think there is anything wrong with basketball the way it is. The first weekend of March Madness is already plenty exciting, you might say—- we’ve got filling out brackets, betting in Vegas, upsets and the occasional buzzer beater to enjoy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? But maybe it IS broke, and most people haven’t realized that. Further, most people wouldn’t be able to tell you a way to fix it.

Nicholas Patrick is not most people. This dude not only thinks outside the box, he punts “the box” out the window.

“Fixing” Basketball

Here’s how Nick would “fix” the ends of basketball games to ensure better quality of play and more importantly for you, exponentially more game-winning shots: Eliminate the game clock from the equation at the ends of games.

You get it? NO GAME CLOCK.

Okay, you say, so then how does the game end?

Nick’s idea: Play the 20 minute first half. Then play a timed 16 minutes of the second half. Shut the clock off. Add 7 points to the leading team’s score. THAT IS THE FINAL TARGET SCORE.

For example, Cincinnati leads Kentucky 56-50 at the end of that 16-minute second half. We shut the clock off, and the first team to 63 wins the game. Now both teams have equal incentive to both score and play sound defense without fouling. And, best of all, unless the final point comes via free throw, virtually every game will end with a walk-off bucket. No stalling, no foul-fests, no lengthy official clock reviews.

Scrapping the game clock would eliminate all the intentional fouling (which rarely works anyway, as Nick’s article points out) and encourage both teams to simply play basketball the correct way until the game is over. And while you wouldn’t have the traditional “buzzer-beaters,” you would have many more game-winning shots.

It’s an idea that turns conventional wisdom on its head. Nick has presented his idea to hundreds of media, coaches, and owners. So far, nobody has taken it seriously.

What do you think? Brilliant idea or unnecessary idea?

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Bearcats Lose At East Carolina, Say Hello To “The Bubble”

Troy Caupain (#10)

Troy Caupain (#10)

The last thing in the world that you’d want to happen to your favorite basketball team happened to the Cincinnati Bearcats on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon in Greenville, North Carolina.

I don’t know if it was a foreshadow or a gut feeling or a jinx that I need to profusely apologize for, but over the past month or so, as UC has accumulated NCAA Tournament resume-building wins (vs #18 San Diego State, vs SMU, at NC State), I’ve repeatedly said, “They’re in good shape to get back to the Tournament, as long as they don’t lose to anyone they’re not supposed to, like East Carolina.”

Well, now they’ve lost to East Carolina, a team ranked 240th in the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index). That, my friend, is exactly what the NCAA Tournament committee views as a “bad loss.” Making it more deflating for a Bearcat team that had won four in a row leading up to the game: UC led 46-39 with 3:23 left to go….and then failed to score a single point as the Pirates reeled off eleven straight to win the ballgame.

The failure to score a single point in that span, coupled with the inability to make a single field goal in the final eight-plus minutes of the game, validates a quote by head coach Mick Cronin after the third game of the season: “First year guys are inconsistent – that’s our biggest problem this year and it’s gonna be that way all year.” You see, over the course of the previous four games, all victories, the Bearcats were scoring at a clip of 1.201 points per possession, which over a full season would rank second in the nation for offensive efficiency (UC ranks 155th overall) per Teamrankings.com.

But inconsistency reared its ugly head, and a good old-fashioned ‘trap game’ bit UC in the keyster. And Bearcat fans everywhere muttered “What the f***?” and “G*d D*mnit, I can’t believe they lost that game” throughout Super Bowl Sunday and likely had trouble sleeping Sunday night.

What does this loss mean? I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. The Bearcats (15-6, 6-3) are now on thin ice. UC absolutely can NOT afford to lose to anyone not named SMU, Tulsa or Temple the rest of the way. And it might be a good idea to beat one or two of those teams as well as hated rival Xavier on Feb 18 to climb back into good standing with The Committee. Otherwise, we’ll be sweating out Selection Sunday for the first time since 2006…..and you know what happened that day.

Can these kids bounce back? We’ll find out Thursday night when the ‘Cats travel to Moody Coliseum, arguably the toughest place to win in the league, for a rematch against Hall-of-Famer Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs (18-4, 9-1 American, No. 22 in RPI). That game will air on ESPN at 9:00 EST.

Thanks for reading.

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3 Minute Preview Podcast: UConn Huskies (11-7) at Cincinnati Bearcats (14-5)

Click Here to Listen

Rightclick Here to Download

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Bearcats Grab Road Win; Jux Discovers Taste Heaven on UCF Campus

Sophomore guard Troy Caupain

Sophomore guard Troy Caupain

Central Florida’s campus is the home to a bar and grill called Burger U, and Burger U offers a side item that I had never heard of before. Well, actually, the side item is common, but the dipping sauce accompanying it was truly unique.

We’ll come back to that.

There was a basketball game played between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the UCF Knights in the arena just across the street from the heavenly side item that you’ll learn about shortly. The Bearcats (14-5, 5-2) traveled to Orlando without a conference road win to their credit. And although UCF (9-10, 2-6) is no stalwart, the Knights are no slouch, especially at home. Back on New Year’s Eve, UCF battled conference leader Tulsa for 40 minutes, only to lose by a single bucket. The Knights also played Top 20 RPI SMU tough, eventually losing by nine.

Cincinnati had played two road games in conference play and lost both—-to UConn and Memphis. The Bearcats turned the ball over 37 times combined in those two L’s, so the coaching staff no doubt preached valuing the basketball coming into the game at CFE Arena on Sunday.

UCF wasn’t scared. After a Daiquan Walker trey just after the 10:00 mark, the Knights took an 18-12 lead. But the Bearcats, as is customary, would clamp down, allowing just one more made field goal the rest of the first half, taking a 29-24 lead into the locker room.

The Bearcats came out with good energy in the 2nd half, and after a Farad “Salad” Cobb (more on that nickname later) steal and conversion with 12:35 to go, UC stretched its lead out to nine. But UCF answered with a thunderous right-handed slam by Kasey Wilson, a three-ball by Adonys Henriquez and a lay-up by Brandon Goodwin, while UC managed a single free throw by Shaq “Captain 1-For-2″ Thomas.

We’ve got a ballgame. UC 42, UCF 39.

But then Troy “Clyde” Caupain took over, scoring the next five for UC while Goodwin notched a bucket in between, and then a three by Kevin Johnson stretched UC’s lead out to nine again. From there, the Bearcats played exceptional defense and made their free throws down the stretch, eventually leaving the building with a 56-46 victory. UC committed just nine turnovers in the ballgame.

Not to be lost in the shuffle was the defensive gem right before Johnson’s triple. Kasey Wilson drove the lane hard, went up for the shot……and was REJECTED by Jermaine “Far Rockaway Style” Sanders with the right hand. That five-point swing likely sealed the win for Larry Davis and the ‘Cats.

UC now sits at #28 in the RPI (ESPN.com) and third place in the American Conference. A home game against UConn looms this coming Thursday.

Now, back to Burger U on UCF’s campus. The taste-bud-tantalizing side dish was an order of waffle sweet potato fries with marshmallow dipping sauce. Oh baby. Oh baby. I’m telling you. If UC plays in Orlando next season, you better get your behind down there and get yourself some-a that. You’ll thank me repeatedly for the rest of your natural life.

(P.S. As for “Farad Salad” —- I was out with friends down here in Tampa and Cobb salad was on the menu, so I asked, “Do you think when it’s all said and done, it’ll be called a Farad salad?” After taking a few seconds to realize what I meant, laughter followed by a token “You’re out of your mind, Jux” declaration ensued. So if you see or hear me refer to Farad Cobb as “Salad,” now you know why.)

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