Last night the Bearcats walked into the arena at the University of Tulsa and locked up a nearly-certain bid to the NCAA Tournament. UC played as if their lives depended on it, because in some ways they did. They entered the game as a bubble team according to most experts, including Joe Lunardi. Tulsa, too, was considered a bubble team and was projected as an 11 seed by CBS.
Truth be told, I am very excited that this team will play in the postseason. However, I remain confused as to whether this team is playing at or above it’s talent level. I think Shaq Thomas and Jermaine Sanders are terrific illustrations of my trepidation. Sanders started the season a little slow, but then really got rolling in December. But something happened in January, be it confidence issues or what have you, and his point production fell off a cliff. On the absolute other side of the universe, Shaq has gone from ice cold to white-hot. He began the season struggling in transition, from the floor, maybe even from the bench. Now, it seems as though he can do little wrong.
The roller coaster progression and regression of this team confuses me. If you look at the early-season projections, very few would’ve had the Bearcats competing for a top spot in the American. They entered the season with seven new players, and they’re leading scorer returning averaged only six points a game. So maybe they are overachievers?
But the moment I say that, I remember how well they played in the second half against Xavier. Come to think of it, I recall how well they played in just about every second half to undo the harm that was done in the first half. Interestingly, I think they are capable of much; their ceiling is higher than they’ve played thus far. The shooters are there – Cobb and Johnson can flat light it up. Sometimes. Ellis and Clark can dominate the low post. Most of the time. Troy can make it happen with his feet off the dribble. Usually. And my goodness they can defend. All of the time.
March is a funny time of year. The weather starts cold in the morning and feels like spring by late afternoon. Some teams are like that, too. As I survey the college basketball landscape, I see a couple dominant teams. The rest of the field is flat. I think this Bearcats team can play with anyone, maybe excluding a certain University in Lexington (but I’m not certain anyone is going to compete with them come tournament time). Accordingly, I think UC could go deeper than most of the pessimistic fan base believes. I think we are a dangerous team when the three ball starts going in.
So, can I project how the season will finish?
Drumroll please… no.
I predict the Bearcats will make it to the tournament. Elite 8? Sweet 16? Maybe? Assuming they don’t draw Kentucky in the first couple weekends, there’s no telling how far they’ll go. I’m just relieved they’re not going to the NIT.
By Brian Fox