A little over one hundred miles separate the front doors of Fifth Third Arena, the Cincinnati Bearcats on-campus home and gymnasium, and the entrance to the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, KY, the site of UC's second round NCAA Tournament game this Thursday.
On a clear day, Google suggests you'd need roughly 35 hours to walk every mile standing between the two locations. And I have no doubt Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin would take each and every step with purpose, if it were the only way he could get to Louisville.
On that fateful day in December - back when Cronin's Cats were still discovering themselves - their fearless leader, oddly enough, discovered something about himself. His now-widely documented arterial dissection was a surprise that nearly threw a catastrophic wrench in this year's plan. A plan, no doubt, methodically built to replace 57% of the Bearcats scoring, 51% of their rebounding and 100% of Cincinnati's heart thanks to the graduation of Cronin's previous senior class.
The rest is, as they say, history - both literally and figuratively. Cronin missed the next 23 games as his more-than-capable associate head coach, Larry Davis, took the reigns. But now it appears the once-fiery head coach can abandon his doctor-ordered rest, more-or-less, as Cronin will accompany his team to Louisville - while still serving in his general manager-esque role.
Ironically enough, Cronin's Cats are still discovering themselves while smack dab in the middle of their fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance - a feat accomplished by only 11 active schools.
To fully appreciate how unbelievable this year's postseason berth is for the Bearcats, one needs to only look at what happened when one of the most celebrated and decorated head coaches in all of college basketball had to take a medical leave mid-season.
The year was 1995, and the Duke Blue Devils were off to a 9-3 start when head coach Mike Krzyzewski felt a debilitating pain in his back. He handed the team over to then-assistant Pete Gaudet, and Duke finished the season 13-18 overall and way out of contention for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Which should make most marvel at what Mick Cronin has built here in Cincinnati.
And that brings me to the point of this long, rambling post. I love the Bearcats draw.
Many weren't sure the guys in red and black would sniff March Madness this year before a ball was ever tipped off. And when UC was in the midst of a three game losing streak in February, I think most were so far off the Tournament bandwagon you'd have thought it was plagued with dysentery.
So give me Purdue, a team much like the Bearcats, as their first opponent. A team from a major conference; one that the Bearcats will immediately respect. And if victorious, I'd love a shot at Kentucky, the only team ever to be crowned national champions before actually playing a tournament game.
Heck, no one thought we'd be here in the first place. Then our coach missed 72% of the season. And now we're here. What's there to lose?