Blogger spotlight: Bearcatsblog previews Cincinnati-Xavier

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Today kicks off a weekly feature where we spotlight a college hoops blogger and hit ‘em with a serious of questions heading into one of the week’s big games.

This week, it’s Scott King, who runs Bearcatsblog.

His Cincinnati Bearcats play Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout tonight. We chatted about that, the best Cincinnati team he’s seen the team’s fast start this season. When you’re done, be sure to check out Bearcatsblog, where Scott’s done a bunch of great posts on the Shootout, including the worst games and the biggest villains. (Well, from his point of view. Sorry Xavier fans.)

Q: Critics point to Cincinnati’s unimposing non-conference schedule as the main reason for a 14-0 start and why it just joined the AP and coaches’ polls. Fair or unfair?

A: It’s absolutely fair. Cincinnati played one of the absolute worst non-conference schedules in the country. It was easiest the worst slate of games that I’ve seen them schedule. The only tests they took were against Dayton, who seems to be a little down, and Oklahoma, who was a replacement for Duke.  I said it a day or so ago, I don’t think this team should be ranked. Rankings should be on merit, and I don’t think this team has done enough. And I write a Cincinnati blog.

Q: Last season’s Cincinnati squad featured two high-profile players in Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson, yet was largely unimpressive throughout the season. Yet Cincy’s off to its best start since 2004. What do you expect from here, both overall and in the Big East?

A: That’s the $64,000 question right now. Things really step up with the schedule now, with Xavier, and 3 of the next 4 games after that at Villanova, at Syracuse and at Notre Dame. If Cincinnati could get 3 wins out of that, I think it would be a huge boost to the team for the Big East slate. I think this team has the potential to be a top 6, top 7 team in the conference. I expect them to be around 9, 10 and in the bubble discussion.

Q: Biggest difference between this season and last?

A: I think there are a couple of huge differences. Yancy Gates has progressed nicely, and the combination of him and Ibrahima Thomas on the interior play very good defense, and they are great rebounders. Thomas especially on the offensive end. The guards, especially Dion Dixon, have really worked hard to improve their games. This team seems to have players that know what their roles are on the team, and they like playing with each other. Larry Davis, Sean Kilpatrick, and Darnell Wilks have all contributed quality minutes off the bench. Davis and Kilpatrick have both gone for 20 in games this year, Kilpatrick a couple of times.

I think last season there was a whole lot of deferring to Deonta Vaughn and to Lance Stephenson. They were good players, but everyone else took a back seat. This year, the guys seem to be all for one.

Q: Who’s your go-to guy? Do you need one?

A: I would say the go to guy is Dion Dixon. He wants the ball in his hands. He has really worked on his shot, despite his recent mini-slump, and when that’s not falling, he gets to the line. And to top it off, he’s second on the team in assists.

I think every team needs a go to guy. That guy doesn’t need to take all of the shots at the end, but he has to have a hand in them. You need someone to make a play when you team is in trouble and needs a score.

Q: Yancy Gates, Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, Sean Kilpatrick. When’s the last time Cincinnati’s had a core group of players this solid?

A: You have to go back a ways. I think it was the 2005 squad that had Jason Maxiell, Eric Hicks, James White, Nick Williams, Armien Kirkland. Coincidentally, that team was the last UC team to make the tournament. The team the next year was pretty solid, and nearly the same group minus Max and Kirkland, who got hurt in the Big East opener I believe.

Q: The defense reminds me of how it used to be played under a certain coach who always wore black. Is it there yet? Will it ever be?

A: It’s been there so far. All the defensive metrics have Cincinnati as a team who’s been very, very good. Most of that is due to playing bad teams, but Cincinnati has held both Big East foes to substandard shooting percentages, and controlled the tempo. I think that things could get back to the way they were definitely. Mick Cronin has a nice recruiting class coming in next year, and Wright, Gates, Kilpatrick and Dixon should all return. 

Q: It’s gotta be strange to see Huggins standing in front of the other bench when West Virginia comes to town, right? People still miss the guy?

A: The first time a few years ago was pretty surreal. It’s really weird watching the man who was the face of your program for years end up at a place where he’s also beloved, and that team is a conference foe. The first game was pretty good closure for me. Now, he’s West Virginia’s coach. I know that people still miss him, because people still say him getting fired is a reason they aren’t UC fans anymore. I mainly feel bad for them.

Q: Xavier’s on Thursday. I consider your rivalry to be the nastiest in the country, and in a good way. Is there a way to describe the Crosstown Shootout to someone who’s never seen one?

A:It’s very intense. There was always the big school/small school dynamic. There is the Jesuit school v. school that dudes punch police horses. There is the Pete Gillen’s coaching staff grabbing their crotches thing. All the players play each other in summer leagues and the like, and there is a rivalry there. Now mix in the fact that not only is Xavier beating big, bad Cincinnati, but they are beating them in the worst scenarios possible. Charles Williams dribbles the ball off his foot and Lenny Brown makes the winner? Check. Lloyd Price lay up? Check. Stupid jerk Kevin Frey hitting 3s and running down the court like a moron as Xavier beats top ranked UC again? Check. Kenny Satterfield missing a runner off the front of the rim? Check. Derek Brown getting a big dunk late? Check. Double overtime heart breaker? Check. Now mix in the fact that, while not all, many Xavier fans are gigantic a-holes and the hate level rises. It’s 1 town, 2 teams. While not quite up there with Louisville/Kentucky and Duke/Carolina, I think X/UC is definitely in the top 5 rivalries.

 Q: The Bearcats own a 47-30 advantage in this series, yet the Musketeers have won three straight vs. Cincinnati and 10 of the last 14. When will that swing back to Cincinnati’s favor?

A: Hopefully starting this year. The only time Cincinnati has beaten Xavier lately was Mick Cronin’s first season, which was his worst team. The talent level has risen back to near even between the schools, and I think we are in for years of highly competitive games with Cincinnati beating Xavier every year. I can hope.  

Q: Time to reminisce. Ever find yourself wondering what would’ve happened if Kenyon Martin hadn’t broken his leg in 2000? That was one of the best teams of the last dozen years, yet people seem to forget just how good they were.

A: That use to happen all the time when I watched the Nuggets or Nets. That team was absolutely loaded. They had DerMarr Johnson, who said he went pro because of the injury, Pete Mickeal, who was a second team All-American I think, Kenny Satterfield, Steve Logan, Jermaine Tate, who could rebound. That team had skill at every position. They hammered nearly everyone they played. The only losses were to Xavier, ugh, and to a good Temple team, who UC seemingly never beat. UC won their conference games by an average of like 17 a game. They destroyed St Louis by like 40 a few games before, and everyone expected a walkover in the first round of the tourney. Unfortunately, bad things happened. I still think UC walks to that title. No way anyone was stopping Kenyon.

Q: Best Cincinnati team you’ve seen.

A: It was the 1999-2000 team. But, I’m going to shout out to the 2001-02 Bearcats. That was the Steve Logan team. That was not a team that was supposed to be that good. Marquette was supposed to win the conference if I recall. UC lost the first game of the season, and then didn’t lose until February. Coincidentally, that was to Marquette. UC lost later that month, but crushed teams in March, including a dominating performance against Marquette in the C-USA final. They ended up being matched with an underachieving UCLA team in the second round, and blew a double digit second half lead. Logan was amazing that season. Lenny Stokes had a very good season as well. That team featured a freshman Maxiell off the bench.

Q: Favorite player?

A: Kenyon Martin

Q: Why?

A: Because Kenyon was the most bad ass basketball player in the world. He blocked shots, he scored, he rebounded, he intimidated, he dominated. He did everything. Youtube the highlights from the DePaul game, or as it’s called around Cincinnati, the Kenyon game. Martin lead a UC comeback down 10 with 3:45 to go by hitting back to back turn around jumpers, went to his left for another bucket, blocked a shot that led to UC free throws, blocked another shot, hit the tying bucket, went baseline on two defenders to re-tie the score, and took the ball up the floor to get the assist on the game winning basket. Like I said, bad ass.

Q: Bottom line: Is Cincinnati a football school or basketball school?

A: Basketball school. I think Cincinnati is a football town, mainly because the NFL has become religion in America. When I think Cincinnati Bearcats, I think basketball. Some of that could just be the time I was growing up. I grew up with the Huggins era. The Final Four run was right in my formative years as a basketball fan. I still remember Nick Van Exel hitting a half court shot against Xavier. Plus, Cincinnati has one of the 5 greatest basketball players of all time, and 2 national championships. They have none of that in football. That makes you a basketball school. 

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller.