What will sting the most of Cincinnati’s 81-66 loss to No. 2 Ohio State on Thursday night won’t be the fact that the Bearcats are heading home from the NCAA tournament.
Cincinnati was never supposed to make it this far. Not as a No. 6 seed. Not when they lost to Presbyterian at home. Not when the Bearcat faithful wanted Mick Cronin run out of town.
There are reasons to be disappointed about the outcome of any season for any team, but for this group, losing in the Sweet 16 to an Ohio State team stocked with all-americans and with a pair of future pros on their roster is not one of them, even if it is “Ohio State”.
No, what is going to hurt the most is the fact that, for the first eight minutes of the second half, the nation saw just what Cronin’s club was capable of.
Cincinnati used a 24-8 run to take a 49-45 lead after trailing by 12 at the half. They were hitting threes. They were forcing turnovers. They were making things happen in the open floor. It was everything that was good about Cincinnati basketball this season.
But it only lasted eight minutes, and basketball is a 40 minute game. In the other 32, the Bearcats were outscored 73-42, getting torched by Jared Sullinger in the paint, Deshaun Thomas everywhere and Aaron Craft on the defensive end of the floor. It didn’t help matter that Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates, in their final games in a Cincinnati uniform, were decidedly forgettable.
But don’t stress too much, Bearcat fans. Things are looking up for this program.
Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick will return to form one of the better back courts in the Big East, if not the country. Jaquan Parker turned his career around last offseason, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to improve this summer. Jeremiah Davis showed flashes of scoring ability this year.
The front line has loads of potential as well. Justin Jackson, at times, doesn’t have a clue, but there is something to be said for someone that plays as hard as he does. And as athletic as Jackson is, his natural ability pales in comparison to that of guys like Shaquille Thomas, Octavius Ellis and Kelvin Gaines.
And I haven’t even mentioned Cheikh Mbodj or Ge’Lawn Guyn.
So, Bearcat fans, while I won’t blame you if you washed down a cheese coney and a three-way with a couple Moerlein Lager Houses — in fact, I would have supported it — get over the loss when you get over your hangover.
The future is bright.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.