Blog Entry

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

Posted on: January 18, 2012 10:37 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2012 10:45 pm
Cincinnati's win Wednesday night at UConn improved the Bearcats to 5-1 in the Big East. (US PRESSWIRE)
By Matt Norlander

STORRS, Conn. — Cincinnati flew into Hartford, took the 30-minute bus ride to Storrs and stole the title of Big East’s Second-Best Team from Connecticut Wednesday.

The Bearcats hung on at Gampel Pavilion, 70-67, after Sean Kilpatrick sunk a kill shot on Connecticut with 2.7 to go. I was sitting 10 feet from where it happened. It was awesome, and it positively froze the frenzied Gampel Pavilion crowd just seconds after Shabazz Napier tied the game, completing a 10-point comeback in less than two minutes for the Huskies.

The win offered more answers about who Cincinnati is, its dynamics, how tough it can be and why it’s as stable a group as you could ask for in wake of what will most certainly go down as college basketball’s ugliest moment of the season.

Yeah, that fight, it needs to be mentioned again. You think I want to get into this? Not really, but it’s legitimate subtext to Cincy’s season. Going to be that way the remainder of the way, through March or April. Fair or not, it’s a prologue to every big game they play. That will diminish as the season goes on, but it merits mention in mid-January because, Wednesday night, Cincinnati earned its Marquee Win (it was the first home loss for Connecticut this season) and biggest moment following that fracas against Xavier more than a month ago.

The players don’t much care about their perception; it’s refreshing to see how light-hearted they are about it. Afterward, the press peppered them with questions about really hitting a stride more than a month away from the fight. The players took all the questions, answered them in full and without a stock, trite tone in their voices. Throughout the game, UConn fans taunted the Bearcats, particularly Yancy Gates, who threw the sport’s more infamous sucker punch. Gates didn’t ignore it.

“We laugh when we come in and student sections are still yelling about it,” he said. “Actually, it’s kind of amusing. It happened, we’ve moved on, and become a better team. It could’ve easily gone another way.”

The way it’s going (15-4 and 5-1 in the Big East) is turning into one of college basketball’s most surprising storylines. UConn will still be considered a better team than Cincinnati right now by some, but the record shows the Bearcats are No. 2 in the standings with wins against Georgetown, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and UConn. Think the Huskies can claim better? Florida State, West Virginia Harvard … Notre Dame. And 4-3 in the Big East.

It’s these kind of wins, the wins no one really expects them to get — hello, UConn was considered (still is?) a national title contender — that tussle convention and expectation on its side. The Bearcats needed 11 3s to do alter the national perception of them tonight, but Mick Cronin will take it any way he can get it. Especially tonight's oh-thank-you-God way. The Bearcats don't win normally get these kind of games to end on their side.

The confidence is there, consistently, for this team now, as high as it’s been all season, players said following the finish. Cronin looked as loose as I could ever remember him after he traded in his suit and tie for Cincinnati wind pants and a gray hoodie. He shared a moment, one of his favorites from this season, so far. It didn’t come Wednesday night.

“I saw a change in our team recently,” he said. “There was a comment made in our locker room — because Pitt is still Pitt; I don’t care what anybody says, and the way they’re playing, they’re back to playing well — and I heard one of our players say, ‘We just beat Pitt at Pitt. We must be really good.’” The mental state in this league, when you’re trying to build a program and break down the hierarchy, as coach you don’t know how real all that stuff is. I hear the media talk about it, but anyway, when I heard one of our players say, ‘We’re better than Pitt,’ you can tell it meant a lot to them.”

For Kilpatrick and other Bearcats, the Pitt W was the big one this season; they admitted as much. (Pretty big of Kilpatrick to say that after winning Wednesday's game the way he did.) Cronin said tonight was bigger. Of course it was. When the schedule was released over the summer, Cronin scoped it immediately, but carefully. His eyes looked for the big games, particularly the UConn one, which he knew would be on the road. He was hoping it would be at the XL Center, in Hartford, where the Huskies play many of their home games. Nope. “STORRS, CONN.” it read. And so he knew how big this would be, even before knowing how good his team would become or the PR mess that awaited him a few months down the way in the Cintas Center.

“Coming into adversity like this, at UConn, you need to know how to close it out. We did,” Kilpatrick said.

Most recently, Cincy was the one in need of a chase late to get a win. Not tonight. The Bearcats staved off a rally, led by Napier, who was throwing the ball at the hoop from 23 feet again and again, from the same spot on the far left side of the floor.

There was no buckle for Cincy. It earned a 10-point lead with less than two minutes to go and got a brand of road win that 10 other teams won’t lay claim to this year. This team is better than you want to believe. Time to set your notions of what this team is to the side for now. The Big East, in a down year, has Cincinnati as its second-best team. It may not last for more than a week or two, or maybe this team gets to Manhattan with a 14-4 league record and a complete tonal change on its season.

The group is capable of a lot right now. It remains to go the good way.


Since: Aug 1, 2007
Posted on: January 19, 2012 2:20 pm

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

Good Theory but simply saying such a thing with no evidence doesn't make for a very good idea now does it? You want us to believe the Big East isn't good this year and you can certainly point to a few key losses, but you can do that for EVERY conference. You want us to ignore the key WINS? Please show us how your wild thought applies doesn't!

Since: Jun 6, 2009
Posted on: January 19, 2012 1:43 pm

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

Has anyone even entertained the thought that majority of the teams in the BIG E just arent that good this year??? Just becasue majority of them played cupcake schedules during non-conference and got high rankings in the polls doesnt mean they are GOOD.

Now conference play starts and everyone just assumes that the BIG E is good. History tells it self. It happens every year the BIG E gets all kinds of credit for weak scheduled games and majority of them go out in the first round. Not to say there are no good teams just like every conference has but to put this hype every year about how good the conference is, is just crazy.

Watch again this year as they put 7-9 teams in the dance and see how many get out of the first round...!!!

Since: Dec 4, 2006
Posted on: January 19, 2012 1:08 pm

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

To the Cincy fans crying about Palm leaving them out of his bracket, he uses RPI primarily to pick teams and until last night Cincy hadn't cracked the top 100 in RPI. Even now they are a bubble team probably on the outside looking in.

Since: Oct 9, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 1:08 pm

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

We will see just how far down the second best team is when SU comes to town on Monday and Kicks their doors in.

Well you must be talking about SU getting their doors kicked in...Colbuffs thinks Marq is the best team in the Big East..ha

I'm thinking maybe SU should watch this weekend. ND tends to show up for big games. SU is a great team but they will NOT go undefeated. They will slip up just as all the great teams have through the years and it's not a bad thing at all. They will still win the Big East. 

Since: Nov 6, 2006
Posted on: January 19, 2012 12:39 pm

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

Marquette is the best team in the Big East...and they will have no trouble sweeping the lowly Bearcats in February.

Since: Aug 1, 2007
Posted on: January 19, 2012 11:53 am

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

"kick their doors in"? I will be happy, INCREDIBLY happy if Syracuse wins at the buzzer. Cincy is a darned good team and has anyone noticed Jerrimy Palms forcast? he excluded Cincinnati from even making the big dance!?

Since: Dec 11, 2009
Posted on: January 19, 2012 11:27 am

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

We will see just how far down the second best team is when SU comes to town on Monday and Kicks their doors in.

Since: Nov 27, 2007
Posted on: January 19, 2012 10:59 am

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

At least UC is getting some love from someone...Jerry Palm doesn't even have them in his useless bracket.  Moron

Since: Oct 9, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 9:28 am

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

They didn't just win a game...seriously?! They are 9-1 in their last 10! 5-2 vs Top 100 RPI. They have given both UConn and GTown their first home losses of the year. Nebraska won at home so you just sound silly trying to compare the two games. You apparently don't have ESPN networks nor have you watched Cincinnati during this stretch to think they aren't a good team.

Since: Dec 6, 2009
Posted on: January 19, 2012 9:04 am

Cincy, quite clearly, second-best in Big East

Man, all you do is hang your hat on this week's flavor! Cincy beat Uconn...hooray...good for them.  But quit putting them in the final four because they one a game (on a buzzer beater no less).  Is Nebraska a final four team after nipping Indiana? Let the conference schedules play out and the cream will rise to the top...and in the Big East it will not be Cincy.

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