At every NCAA Tournament game there’s a person who rapidly types out a description of the play-by-play. It’s similar to how a court stenographer produces an official transcript of the proceedings.
In Cincinnati’s season-ending loss to Harvard, that person typed the words “missed layup” 16 times for the Bearcats.
Call it the Sour Sixteen.
Harvard didn’t need Ivy League smarts to design its game plan: Do whatever necessary to prevent Sean Kilpatrick from dominating and take your chances with everybody else.
“Every time we tried to free (Sean) they doubled him,” explained head coach Mick Cronin. “Any time he came off a pick on the ball they doubled him. Any time he came off of a pick off the ball, they left the guy setting the screen and doubled him even off the ball.
“When we struggled to score inside the way we did today, when a team decides – any team decides – hey, we’re going to play them this way, we have got to score inside. Because the only other option would be SK running around taking bad shot after bad shot because they’re just not going to leave him open.”
When Kilpatrick had the ball and drew a second defender, he frequently fed it inside to Justin Jackson. But instead of powering toward the rim to try to score or get fouled, Justin flipped up off-balance shots with a high degree of difficulty. He finished 5-for-15 including nine missed shots from within a few feet of the hoop.
“I missed a lot of opportunities around the rim,” said Jackson. “I usually don’t do that – going one-handed flipping the ball.”
“We worked really hard on trying to make sure we finished with strength,” said Cronin. “But, like Justin alluded to it, we had way too many one hand shots. Way too many one hand shots. We just were sloppy and didn’t get the ball in the basket.”
That problem is being addressed. Next year’s roster additions include Jamaree Strickland (6’10, 270 lbs), Coreontae DeBerry (6’10, 270 lbs), Quadri Moore (6’8″, 230 lbs) and Gary Clark (6’7, 215 lbs). They are not freakishly athletic shot blockers who are projects on the offensive end. Strickland, DeBerry, and Moore are broad-shouldered post players who are comfortable in the paint, and Clark is a versatile big man who is capable of scoring inside. It’s hard to imagine seeing 16 missed layups on a play-by-play sheet.
What will be harder to replace is the leadership provided by the senior trio of Kilpatrick, Jackson, and Titus Rubles.
“When you see our seniors and you look at Titus Rubles – he couldn’t play any harder than he does,” Coach Cronin told me. “He’s maximizing his potential at this level. The same thing with Justin Jackson. He could not have had a better senior year. Sean Kilpatrick is a first-team All-American, he’s scored over 2000 points, and you couldn’t ask any more from him. That’s the biggest thing I learned from my father in coaching. You try to demand a kid’s best effort and when he gives that to you, you appreciate it. Don’t ask for more.”
Of course, we all wanted more in the NCAA Tournament: More games, more bragging rights, more memories. But when you honestly evaluate the season, 27 wins, a share of the AAC regular season title, and a 4th straight trip to March Madness was pretty remarkable.
“I think this team has given everything that they possibly could have given us as their coach and as their fan base,” said Cronin. “Whenever that happens it’s very rewarding because that’s what you’re shooting for as a coach.”
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