At 7 o’clock tonight, Mick Cronin will sit down next to his father Hep in the front row of the team bus to head from the InterContinental Barclay Hotel to Madison Square Garden to play in the Big East Championship game against Louisville.
The trip is roughly 20 blocks, but it represents the light years that the program has traveled since Mick signed on in March of 2006 to rebuild the Bearcats.
“I’m happy for the kids,” Mick told me. “We’ve been through a lot and our togetherness has been tremendous. I know they’re excited and I’m like a proud parent. We know we’re in the NCAA Tournament and the real running begins next week, but there’s nothing like a Big East Championship. My kids have worked really hard to get into this position. I’m hoping for them that they play well individually because it would be great for their careers. It’s stuff they would never forget and boost their stock as individuals because they’ve done so much to elevate our program.”
After Friday’s stunning 71-68 win over Syracuse, I couldn’t help but think of my first in-depth interview with Mick after he took the job six years ago. Here was my final question:
Describe the perfect day?
“I wake up in a hotel in New York City and prepare to play in the Big East Tournament championship game. Win the game and have dinner afterwards at some great restaurant in New York with friends and family. That would be…that’s going to be a great day.”
That day is here.
“The Big East is the granddaddy of all conference tournaments,” Mick told me last night. “The electricity at Madison Square Garden is second to none. You turn on some of the other tournaments and nobody is even at the games. It’s going to be the experience of a lifetime.”
Now time for another Big East Tournament Top 10 List:
The big guy has been phenomenal in New York, scoring 23 points in the double-overtime win over Georgetown and 18 (15 in the second half) in Friday’s victory over Syracuse.
In his first Big East Tournament in 2009, Yancy went 3-11 from the floor in a stunning loss to a DePaul team that did not win a regular season league game. Now he’s one win away from a tourney title and possibly being named the MVP.
“I’ve been through a lot of different things over my four years and this is an unbelievable feeling – to know that I will be playing in the Big East Championship,” said Gates.
There’s no way the Bearcats would have rallied to beat Georgetown in the quarterfinals if Gates didn’t score 10 straight points in the last five minutes of regulation. Coach Cronin called it the best game of Yancy’s Cincinnati career.
“He put his team on his back and made them win,” said Coach Cronin. “That’s the mark of a great player. There have been times in the past where Bearcat greats have done that – Steve Logan, Danny Fortson, Kenyon Martin – I think that’s something that everybody has wanted Yancy to do and he maybe wasn’t ready to do it. It shows his evolution as a player. He’s still growing as a player and his best basketball is ahead of him.”
2. New York Newspapers.
I was up at 6:00 this morning to see what the local papers would have to say about the shocker over Syracuse. Here are two of the headlines.
I was disappointed that none of the papers took my suggestion from Friday night’s postgame show. At the time of the year where we often hear the phrase “one and done,” I thought a great headline (in reference to Syracuse’s record) would be “31-and-1-and-Done”
3. Bulletin Board Material.
When the Bearcats got to their locker room after beating the ‘Cuse, freshman Jermaine Sanders picked up a marker and wrote “1 More” on a dry erase board.
“That’s our mindset,” said Gates. “We came here to try to win the Big East Tournament and tonight we get that opportunity. Everybody is happy that we beat Syracuse, but not because of their record or ranking. We’re happy because we beat them to get to the championship. Winning tonight would be even bigger than beating Syracuse for us.”
4. Fatigue Factor.
After a double-overtime game on Thursday, Coach Cronin stayed with his starters for most of the game against Syracuse. Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon played 37 minutes apiece, and Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick logged 38 apiece.
Of course, Louisville had to play three games to get to the championship, but Gates doubts that either team will feel sluggish tonight.
“Honestly? I couldn’t believe how fresh my legs felt when I walked into the gym last night,” said Gates. “Bob Mangine is a great trainer and we’ll all get together with him to make sure that we feel the same way tonight.”
5. The Call.
I received several requests on Twitter for the radio call at the end of the Syracuse game. Here is a link to the audio, courtesy of WLW radio.
6. Record Breakers.
With one steal against Syracuse, Cashmere Wright is now Cincinnati’s single-season record holder with 67 steals, breaking the mark shared by Puffy Kennedy (1979) and Brian Williams (1977).
Dion Dixon played in his 133rd career game and needs two more to tie the all-time Cincinnati record held by Steve Logan.
7. Bagel Heaven.
Kudos to Bearcat superfan Greg Miller for turning me on to Ess-A-Bagel on Third Avenue. It’s about three blocks from the team hotel and people line up out the door for their wide variety of fresh (and gigantic) bagels.
If people are lining up for a bagel in New York City (where there is a bagel shop on every block), you know they have to be good.
8. Prime Time Exposure.
The Bearcats are likely to add a couple of recruits in the spring signing period, and tonight’s prime time ESPN telecast certainly can’t hurt.
“It’s a huge recruiting tool and our players tell the recruits all of the time that there’s nothing like playing in the Big East Tournament,” Coach Cronin told me. “It’s the ‘neatest’ thing that you’ll do as a college basketball player.”
9. The Freight Elevator.
One of the unusual things about Madison Square Garden is that the court is actually a couple of stories about ground level. It’s always somewhat amusing to arrive with the team because everybody piles into a gigantic freight elevator to go up to the court level.
I guess it an elevator is big enough to lift the elephants in the Big Apple Circus, it can handle a basketball team.
10. In Bed In The City That Never Sleeps.
Under normal circumstances, I would have loved celebrating at a pub near Madison Square Garden with Bearcat fans after the last two games, but I have been under the weather and have gone straight to bed. Brutal! I think I am the first person in history to travel to New York City on an expense account that hasn’t gone out to dinner for two days (you’re welcome WLW). I am hoping that if the ‘Cats win tonight; I will be able to join the festivities.