With their first Big East win in the books the Cincinnati Bearcats are set to go for number two against Seton Hall on New Years Eve.
Room For Improvement
While the Cats were impressive in building a 40-21 half time lead in a 76-60 victory over DePaul, head coach Mick Cronin was not pleased with his squad's performance in the 2nd half as the Blue Demons outscored UC 39-36 and outrebounded them 23-17. Cronin was ready to use the showing in the final 20 minutes as a teaching tool as they prepare for Seton Hall.
“Coaches are perfectionists by nature, so you're never going to be happy unless you play 40 minutes the way you want to,” said Cronin. “When that stuff happens, you don't play well in the 2nd half of a big win, it gives you a reason to stay sharp. It gives you a reason to come to practice upset. It allows you to get after your players and make sure they're sharp.”
Pirates A Threat Despite Injuries
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard and Cronin worked together under Rick Pitino at Louisville as assistants, and the two remain close friends coming into their first meeting as head coaches. They both look to play the same brand of basketball, but things have been tough for Willard since losing star guard Jeremy Hazell to a broken wrist in November.
“We're all trying to play to our personnel,” said Cronin. “He's obviously had some tough breaks personnel wise. He had to change everything when Jeremy Hazell went down. They're not as aggressive as he would like them to be from a defensive standpoint because he's got to protect some guys from foul trouble.”
While Seton Hall is without its best player, there is still high major talent on the roster and point guard Jordan Theodore leads the way with 12.5 points per game while dishing out 5 assists a contest. Cronin knows if the Bearcats want to stay unbeaten shutting down Theodore is critical.
“They really spread the floor on you and Jordan Theodore is one of the best guards in the Big East if not the country,” said Cronin. “He's got great speed and quickness, he's a tough kid. He can make shots off the dribble, off the catch and he can really get to the rim. He's going to present a lot of problems for us. They don't quite have the depth because of injuries. When you talk about base 5, 6 maybe 7 players they have plenty of talent.”
Pope Rules Glass
While Theodore runs the show for Seton Hall, big man Herb Pope is relied on to do the dirty work in the paint. He has been slow to round into form after a rare heart condition almost cost him his life last spring, Pope is widely considered one of the best offensive rebounders in the country and is pulling down 8.4 boards a game including 2.5 on the offensive glass. After the trouble UC had keeping DePaul off the glass, Cronin knows slowing down Pope is no easy task.
We made (DePaul guard) Jimmy Drew look like Dennis Rodman,” Cronin said. “He got 4 offensive rebounds against us, so everybody with a heart beat concerns me. Obviously Herb is a great offensive rebounder. You can block him out and he still gets the offensive rebound. He's got uncanny timing and tremendous hands.”
Senior forward Darnell Wilks has been asked to slow down Pope in previous meetings between the two teams, and he knows the Bearcats will have their hands full trying to keep the 6'8” 250 pounder off the glass.
“You've got to meet him before he even gets close,” said Wilks. “If he shoots a 3 or somebody else shoots a 3 and he's behind you've got to meet him before he even gets to the free throw line before he even gets close to getting it.”
Davis Riding Hot Hand
The latest member of the Bearcats 2nd unit to add offensive pop to his role as a high energy defender is senior guard Larry Davis. After slumping in a major way during his junior year, Davis was ready to do anything asked of him to go out a winner.
Cronin needed a veteran guard to apply pressure on the defensive end, and Davis was glad to take on the role, but that role has expanded over the last two games as he exploded for 18 points against St Francis and followed up with a 20 point game against DePaul. Cronin attributes his improved play to Davis buying in to his role.
“It says a lot about his character,” Cronin said. “I think the fact that he's so concentrated on us winning and defense that he's not hunting shots. He's recognizing when he's open and he's trying to play in the team concept and he's playing his best basketball. It says a lot about his character that he embraces his ability to play defense.”