Alex Frank | Sports Director
1. What Bearcats women’s basketball head coach Michelle Clark-Heard is doing in her first season is remarkable and exciting to be a part of. The game against UConn on Saturday is a culmination of that. Yes, UConn may have won by 10 points, but those who went to the game know the energy, pride, heart and effort the Bearcats played with. I’m not sure where I stand with my belief in moral victories, but given UConn’s storied success it almost feels like a win for the Bearcats.
2. In the bigger picture, Cincinnati is positioning itself well for the possibility of hosting an NIT game. Clark-Heard has the Bearcats at 14-8 overall and 6-3 in the American Athletic Conference. At least for me, I’m seeing what she talked about in her introductory press conference last March when she was named head coach. This team gets up and down the floor, a testament to the conditioning leading up to the season. They also have the ability to make adjustments at halftime. Against Temple and Houston, Cincinnati trailed in the second half and then managed to win by double-digits. They’re a second half team, which is a great skill for any team to have.
3. There is a possibility the Bearcats could run into UConn again in the conference tournament. Rather, they’ll most likely have to go through them to win the conference tournament just like every other AAC team. But after Saturday, this team can beat the Huskies.
4. Compare Cincinnati’s 44-point loss to UConn back in January to only losing by 10 on their home court to one of the country’s esteemed programs. That shows how far this team has come since mid-January. The Bearcats also had a five-game winning streak before the loss to UConn. Clark-Heard was adamant after the game in her interview with Bearcats TV announcer Matt Noonan when she said they’re coming and there’s something special going on here in Cincinnati.
5. Speaking of something special, I don’t know if we’re there yet with the Bearcats men’s basketball team, but we’re getting there. This team reminds me a lot of the 2017 North Carolina Tar Heels who won the national championship. Hey, you never know what this Bearcats team can do.
Any way, this Bearcats team is doing something that the 2017 Tar Heels were doing: winning conference games with a target on their backs. Like the Bearcats this season, North Carolina was coming off a season where they won a regular-season and conference tournament championship but had a devastating end to their season in the NCAA Tournament. They also lost two very potent players after 2016, much like how the Bearcats lost three formidable players after last season.
6. Did I mention I grew up a Tar Heels fan, on the good side of the Tobacco Road Rivalry? 🙂
7. While a majority of the conference wins have been by close margins, wins are wins. Get used to these close games my fellow Cincinnatians- if that wasn’t a word before, I just invented it. There are no easy games the rest of the way. Every game will be a battle, but I truly think this team has the mettle to win these conference games.
8. This week the Bearcats will be at Memphis Thursday at 7 p.m. – wish I could go and eat some serious barbecue – and then at Houston Sunday at 4 p.m.. I’m going to be honest and say that I’m nervous for these two games. Memphis and Houston are both either really good or solid teams. It doesn’t help the fact that both games are on the road, either. If the Bearcats can get a split on the road, I’ll consider that a successful week and think the Bearcats still have a shot at the regular-season title.
9. Takeaway from the SMU game: As I have stated before, every team is going to give the Bearcats its best shot. That includes an SMU team that only played seven players on Saturday. But the Bearcats showed they have the championship mettle to win any conference game. Jarron Cumbelrand was once again the star with 24 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. This is his third straight and fifth game in the last six overall with 20 points.
10. For the first time all season, the Bearcats are ranked in the AP Top 25. To me, this is right where they belong. Mick Cronin said he didn’t want his team to be voted in the top 25 because he likes this team flying under the radar. Well, they’re just inside the AP Top 25, so there’s still plenty of motivation to play with and not too much pressure on this team, yet.