Mick Cronin, like every other coach who's had a team playing in the NCAA Tournament this week, has talked a lot in recent weeks, and he's said a lot of things that have gotten him, and his program, a lot of attention.
No statement made by UC's head coach, however, was as loud or as profound as the one made by his team last night.
The Bearcats were fantastic against Kansas State, picking apart the Wildcats with one of the best offensive performance ever by a UC team. Name a Bearcats player, and chances are, you're mentioning the name of someone who was either superb or at the very least, a contributor. The headliner, though, was Troy Caupain with the way he controlled the game, made open shots, and canned his free throws.
The Cats played on a neutral floor the way they often have at home this season. Free-flowing. Confident. Aggressive. They hardly looked the part of a team burdened by the pressure of either playing in the tournament of being led by a coach willing to (accurately) speak his mind, and the team I watched last night has more than a puncher's chance against UCLA late tomorrow night.
It will require last night's effort and then some for the Bearcats to upset the Bruins, and even if they're as good as they were offensively, Cincinnati's defense is going to be challenged by arguably the most dynamic offensive team in college basketball. But the team I watched last night - and really, with the exception of the gassed team that was whipped by SMU last Sunday, the team I've watched for the better part of the last three weeks, will not only not back down against UCLA, but they'll take the fight to them.
The beauty of the NCAA Tournament is that a lot of the factors that determine who gets in, who plays who, and what seeds are given are a thing of the past, and teams that get in have a chance to either validate what the committee did, or prove them wrong. I don't know if by winning a game they were favored in, the Bearcats proved much of anything, but they've at least earned themselves a chance tomorrow night to make their loudest statement yet.
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