When I woke up this morning, I brushed my teeth and got dressed for work. After that I took a look at my phone, booted up my sports app of choice and looked at the scores from Sunday’s NCAA Tournament games. The Cincinnati Bearcats had still lost to UCLA 79-67. I knew it hadn’t changed but looking at it made it more real and allowed me to start a Monday in March (not exactly prime real estate in the year) in a dismal mood.
UC wasn’t a national title contender by any means, so its not as if I was expecting a run through the Final Four, but this was a team that seemed destined to reach the Sweet 16 and go down as Mick Cronin’s best to this point. Unfortunately, Lonzo Ball and the Bruins are really good at basketball and they showed it in the second half. Now we have to tearfully say goodbye to Troy Caupain, Kevin Johnson, Zack Tobler and the 2016-17 season.
But beneath all the sadness you and I might be feeling, there are still the memories of what was a sensational year for Cincinnati basketball. Here are a few things to brighten your mood.
UC won 30 games for the first time since 2002
Cronin is consistently measured against Bob Huggins (who made it to the Sweet 16 this year with West Virginia) and many people argue he comes up short. (Pun not intended). While that may be true since UC hasn’t gone to a Final Four under Cronin, there has been plenty of success for the Bearcats during his tenure. This season, he did something that Huggins did only once, as UC won 30 games for the first time since 2002. That squad featured Steve Logan, Leonard Stokes and a young Jason Maxiell and finished No. 5 in the AP poll. It also lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Being in the same ballpark as that squad, or any of Huggins’ many legendary rosters is something to celebrate, even if you don’t feel like celebrating today.
It was nationally ranked in 16 of 18 weeks of the regular season
Do rankings actually matter? Maybe not. But they at least serve as a barometer of where your team is playing in relation to the rest of the nation. That means that UC was playing in some relatively excellent company. A 2-0 start to the year put the Bearcats at No. 24 in the AP Top 25 and even though they dropped out the next week, they got back in on Dec. 5, following a 55-54 overtime win at Iowa State, and never left. Their 15 straight weeks in the AP poll was their longest since 2004 when they were ranked from start to finish. That 2004 squad, by the way, was another coached by Huggins. This year’s team got to No. 11 along the way, which was UC’s highest ranking since 2014.
It made it to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh-straight year
In Cronin’s first four years, UC failed to make the NCAA Tournament. In the seven years since, it has not missed the Big Dance. The program is tied with VCU and North Carolina for the sixth-longest active streak. Being a team that consistently expects NCAA Tournament berths is an incredibly rare feat and its one fans sometimes take for granted. UC is a program lucky enough to be in that camp as the Bearcats were pretty much a lock for the tournament from the get-go.
Troy Caupain showed out in the NCAA Tournament first round
Although Caupain didn’t have the best final game of his Bearcat career, going 3-for-11 from the field to score nine points while turning the ball over four times against UCLA, he was unstoppable on Friday against Kansas State. He scored a season-high 23 points, shooting 7-of-10 from the floor and a perfect 7-of-7 at the free-throw line. Caupain isn’t likely to get much of a shot in the NBA, but he will always be a Bearcat great and Friday’s performance is the type of performance he should be remembered for.
The Bearcats won the Crosstown Shootout
Yes, Xavier is in the Sweet 16, but that doesn’t take away the fact that UC won the Crosstown Shootout this season. The Bearcats trailed 44-36 at halftime, but dominated in the final 20 minutes, connecting on 17-of-33 from the field while holding the Musketeers to 26.7 percent shooting. The win was the official coming out party for Jarron Cumberland and also featured huge games from Gary Clark (13 points, 11 rebounds), Jacob Evans (21 points), Kyle Washington (12 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks) and Caupain (16 points 5 assists). The win ended a three-game losing streak for UC in the rivalry series and is hopefully the beginning of a UC run.
This isn’t the end
We may have to say goodbye to Caupain, Johnson and Tobler, but the Bearcats have a lot to be excited about next year. Cumberland is poised to be a star, Washington still has a year of eligibility, transfer Cane Broome will be on the floor next season and Clark and Evans will be back in the fold once again, while youngsters Nysier Brooks, Tre Scott and Justin Jenifer have another year of development.
So while today is a sad day for UC, it is not the last day either. See you next season. Now back to baseball.