Sports analysis is a fickle monster. One week you have a team/league/conference figured out and the next week your opinion is completely different. Last week, I threw my hands to the sky and admitted I couldn't determine just who the Cincinnati Bearcats were. Now, I've fixed all the kinks in the engine of the Bearcats for American Athletic Conference champs bandwagon. Why? Well let's list the reasons.
First, Cincinnati pulled off two victories last wekk, giving it four in the last five games and marking just the third time since November the Bearcats have won back-to-back contests.
Secondly, UC is now 15-6 overall and 5-3 in league play, putting it in striking distance of second place in the congested AAC standings.
Finally, previously unbeatable SMU finally got taken down by the thorn in everybody's side (Devin Coleman and those damn Temple Owls), meaning there is still a chance that last game of the season against the Mustangs could be for all the AAC marbles (or at least all the regular season ones).
With hope renewed, let's take a look at some stuff we learned over the last week.
Return of the Shaq
New phone. Who dis? It's Shaq Thomas goshdarnit! We at Down the Drive have not shied away from critiquing the senior during what has been a largely unimpressive season. But last week, Thomas turned it all around, at least for the time being, finally looking like the type of Y-factor (credit to Brent Wyrick for that one) capable of bolstering the roster.
In the Bearcats' tight-as-heck battle with Memphis, Thomas matched his career-high with 18 points on an extremely efficient 8-of-11 shooting, while adding six rebounds and two blocks. His encore was solid as well, with Tulane feeling the pain of his 17 points (on 6-of-8 shooting no less) in a 97-75 landslide of red and black.
What has been fairly interesting about Thomas this season, is how much more he has relied on shooting from 3-point range. Like the Bearcats as a whole, he has suddenly fallen in love with it. His 3PAr is .230 this season. He has never posted a season-long total above .100. He has already set a career-high in 3-pointers attempted (31) and his 11 made triples equal his total from the past two seasons. Last week, that reliance finally bore fruit, as Thomas went 3-for-5 from long range, mixing in long shots with ones closer to the basket. In essence, he looked like a well-rounded offensive threat and not just a guy chucking shots at the rim with reckless abandon.
Beating Tulane on a random Sunday in January may not warrant many headlines most years. But Sunday's crushing of the Green Wave had a special piece of trivia attached to it. The victory was the 200th of Mick Cronin's tenure as UC head coach. He is now 200-124 during his decade on the sidelines for the Bearcats. He is just the second person to ever accomplish the feat, as he continues to chase Bob Huggins' total of 398. Apparently, that should only take another 10 years or so.
"Survival I guess. I’m the son of a coach, I’ve been around this a long time. You realize it’s not about you when there are so many other things in coaching," Cronin said on Sunday. "I’ve got a great staff and I’ve had a lot of guys play here giving me a lot of help. It’s really not something I think about other than survival. They mentioned something to me, but I thought I had two more to go to get to it. They asked if I would be okay if they did what they did after the game, but I thought it was two away. I can’t remember when they asked me. My life’s a little crazy. You try to prepare for Memphis, prepare for Tulane and in the middle of that be a father to a nine-year old. I was at nine-year old volleyball yesterday, so that was interesting."
Survival is a word that really resonates with this program. Every game is a fight and the Bearcats are as rough and resilient as they come, no matter what names are on the back of the jersey.
The Bearcats can only hope they are lucky enough to have Cronin around for another 10 years. Sure, every now and then his seat has warmed up a bit, as folks called for his head because of the lack of offensive firepower or shortcomings in the postseason. But the culture he has cultivated at Cincinnati has given the program an identity that it lost when Huggins left and has kept it in contention year in and year out. You can't ask for much more than that.
Still on the outside looking in of the national polls, Cincinnati may have at least crossed a few voters minds this week. SMU dropped to No. 13 after losing to Temple, while UConn and Navy, yes Navy, earned a handful of votes in the AP poll. The Huskies also garnered 11 votes for the Coaches poll. The Bearcats did move up in the most recent RPI rankings, as they are now at No. 69 (insert childish laughter), up from No. 73. That puts them in the same neighborhood as Georgia Tech, Washington and Temple.
Highlight of the Week
An old friend came home this week, as Kenyon Martin, the only Bearcat to ever even hint at dethroning Oscar Robertson as the greatest to ever do it at UC, came around for a visit. Cincinnati's all-time leader in blocked shots (292) and the 2000 Consensus National Player of the Year's appearance is this week's best.
Quadri Moore Minutes Watch
Can you say 17 minutes, ya'll?! That's right, on Sunday, while the Bearcats were giving Tulane the business, Quadri Moore was on the floor for 17 minutes. That was enough time for him to put together four points and four rebounds and make up for his four-minute cameo against Memphis. He is up to 159 minutes this season and is now on pace for 234 for the season (excluding postseason play).
All phasers have been set to destroy and are pointed directly at Hartford, Connecticut, home of the UConn Huskies. Cincinnati will visit those long-time pests on Thursday in its only game of the week. There is plenty on the line in this one, as UC and UConn (14-5, 4-2 AAC) could both use another resume-boosting win and a victory to keep their league title hopes alive.