The Lede. As we head into the first weekend where almost every conference will be in action — the ACC, Big 12 and SEC finally kick it into high gear — tonight was a pretty interesting night of hoops with the Crosstown Shootout turning into a blowout, the Pac-10 providing us with a couple of good games, and Northwestern showing everyone once again why you should never count on them to man up and make the NCAA Tournament. Let’s dive in.
Your Watercooler Moment. Does the Crosstown Blowout Legitimize Cincinnati? Let’s be honest: this was an undefeated Cincinnati team playing at home against a beat-up Xavier squad. On paper, if you covered the names of the teams and players and looked at the stats and what each team had done so far, this wouldn’t have appeared as much of a contest. But this is the Crosstown Shootout. The schools’ names are what matter the most, not the least. Everything else can be thrown out the window of your nearest chili joint. Forget analysis. Forget what it means in terms of the rest of the year. To ask those questions implies that you don’t quite get the depth of this rivalry.
But there was no romanticism tonight. 66-46, Bearcats, and that’s no surprise. Cincinnati’s deeper bench, confidence, and enjoyment of the home atmosphere were too much for the Musketeers, and, even though the game wasn’t truly out of reach until late, you knew at about the 8:00 mark of the first half that there wasn’t much of a fightback coming from XU. When you realize that 6’9/265 pound Yancy Gates (22/14), who looks 7’2 with 35 more pounds of arm when you get up close to him, is hitting outside fade-aways off one foot, and that Tu Holloway (5 pts on 2-13) — he of the 21.4 PPG average — will probably not get to double-figures, well…you know the outcome well ahead of time. Holloway was the most glaring casualty of UC’s intense defensive effort, but he wasn’t the only frustrated Musketeer. On eighteen field goals, XU had only four assists, and they were flummoxed from three-point land, shooting 1-10.
Now that it’s over, we can ask that question: what does this mean? Should a 15-0 Cincinnati team be considered a national championship contender? It would be unwise to let the magnitude of this rivalry make this victory appear bigger than it is. In fact, the Bearcats were warned of this before the game. According to both Gates and reserve guard Larry Davis in their post-game comments, the team adopted an “all-business” approach at the behest of head coach Mick Cronin. His thinking on this is a product of how tough life is in the Big East. “You can’t just be ‘rivalry-tough,'” Cronin said. “We still have to play five teams on the road who are ranked in the top 14 in the country.” In other words, he got across to his team that there is life outside of the Crosstown Shootout. That said, this will probably be filed as yet another win over a mediocre team and won’t do much to persuade UC’s detractors. Does Cincinnati belong in the Top 25? Certainly. Are they a championship contender? Hey, this is a very good team. After a 15-0 start, they definitely deserve a little more attention than they’re getting, but whether they’re 15-0 or 8-7, with a Big East schedule looming, whom could you say that about with any assurance? That record will boost their confidence, and in terms of wins and losses, they’ve given themselves some wiggle room. They deserve credit for possessing more maturity than recent Bearcat squads, and it appears that this group has bought in to what Coach Cronin is teaching them. Cronin has his players’ trust. He’s gotten through to them early. That means a lot, to be sure. But it’s the only definite thing you can take away from their season so far, because what’s to come is so much more meaningful for their season than what’s already happened. Cronin doesn’t mind if you underestimate his team, of course. He knows the value of that, and he said so after the game: “Nobody thinks we’re any good, still, and that’s a good thing. So I’m just going to keep telling them that. As long as I can keep playing that card.”
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- St. Mary’s as the Class of the WCC. With the Gaels’ easy 98-75 win at LMU tonight, a team that was expected to push St. Mary’s and Gonzaga from the third-place spot, we’re becoming more and more convinced that Randy Bennett’s team is the class of the WCC this year. From our viewpoint, they simply have more offensive weapons and a more diverse attack than the Zags, and in a league that isn’t known for sticky defense, that should be the difference. With one of the toughest road venues already out of the way after this evening and a supreme home court advantage at the McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, we’re looking at a 13-1 record for SMC, good enough for the Gaels to knock Gonzaga out of first place for the first time in a decade.
- The Other Terrence: Terrence Ross. Washington’s Ross was the much-less-heralded recruit named Terrence out of Portland last year, but in his introductory few games of Pac-10 play, he’s making himself known very quickly. The 6’6 wing torched his home state Oregon Ducks tonight for 25/4/4 stls, and in his last three games, he’s pouring in 17/3 on 57% shooting. With Abdul Gaddy done for the season with an ACL injury, Ross and the other backcourt Huskies will be asked to pick up his slack — this rising freshman is showing himself capable of the job.
- Corey Stokes & Dominic Cheeks En Fuego. Nine treys fired, nine threes entered into the score books tonight against South Florida. The two Villanova guards have gunner Corey Fisher to blame for the team’s only three misses from outside the arc tonight (9-12). Not bad for a squad that came into tonight’s game shooting a rather weak 32.8% from deep this season. The Wildcats have generally played one of the weaker schedules in the Top 25 to date, but that will change soon with unbeaten Cincinnati arriving over the weekend and games against Louisville, Maryland, UConn and Syracuse in successive contests.