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The NCAA Tournament is the biggest event on the Basketball calendar. Everyone knows this. As the biggest event the media will always mine for the best storyline they can for each and every team. For UC that storyline is easy. "Team involved in a massive and massively embarrassing fight is galvanized by the event and channels anger/frustration to positive end." That narrative is designed to to draw in the casual sports fan. It's a redemption song, and there is nothing that the American public loves more than redemption stories. It's the easy way out, and almost everything I have read about Fridays game has included at least one paragraph about the fight. Mick Cronin is having none of it.
"I can tell you right now we’re not going to talk about it," Mick Cronin said today. "We’re going to talk about our team and talk about Texas and our season."
As for the notion of the fight being a catalyst for change Cronin isn't buying that either.
"It’s not an issue," Cronin said. "It’s the most overrated concept in maybe the history of UC athletics. Seriously, it really is. But everybody loves sensationalism. Just watch the presidential debates."
So how much of an impact did the Brawl have on this team? Split the difference.
It is disingenuous to suggest that the impact of the Brawl wasn't meaningful or sizable. It was. How could it not be. More than a couple columnists are likely to take aim at Mick for his refusal to answer the questions about the fight. You can hear them firing up their few remaining brain cells thinking of a new way to start a story that has been told thousands of times. The lazy, hackish manner in which the issue will be broached is my issue with it. Not because what they say won't be a relevant point.
I have no problem siding with Mick on not talking about it. It was three months ago. Things have changed, this team has changed. And while it certainly played a role in the change, it isn't the only reason for the change in this team. Cronin for his part wants to talk about JaQuon Parker.
Cronin downplays the role the fight played in the Bearcats’ resurgence, crediting it instead to Parker’s return from a groin injury that kept him out of UC’s first seven games and to a decision to change the offense to one the Bearcats had worked on in the preseason before Parker got hurt.
"We were going to have to figure out in November and December what’s going to be the best way for this team to play," Cronin said, "what’s going to be our best lineup, our best style of play that fits this team. Getting him healthy was the key."
Or the improved leadership of Cashmere Wright.
Cronin also points to Wright, who assumed more of a leadership role, and to his players being so humbled by their early-season losses that they decided to play with the toughness and tenacity they had lacked.
Those are two really big factors for this teams success in the last 20 some games. But to discount the impact that the fight had on this team misses the boat. The fight wasn't the transitive event that transformed this team from the lazy, disinterested and soft team that played in the first part of December to this team. A group that always plays hard (if not always smart), that never quits and a team who will scrap and do the dirty things needed to win.
The Brawl didn't make this team as the media will contend. And the return of JaQuon Parker and the leadership of Cashmere Wright played a smaller role than Cronin will tell you. In the end the role of that fight in changing the makeup of this Bearcats team lies somewhere in between.