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The Bearcats came into the season a ragtag collections of fill-ins, players simply waiting for the real ‘Cats to come in and replace them a year or two down the road when the official era of the Big East Cincinnati basketball was set to commence. They have had a collective chip on their shoulder ever since they've arrived in Cincinnati, which can be matched in size by the one that developed after being overlooked by the college basketball community dating back to the time they first left high school.
While many doubted them as a team, even their coach who looked to bring realism into a picture that had been plagued by idealized dreams by the players, this collection of JUCO transfers, walk-ons, a football player and an under-recruited freshman did their best sought to prove not only to the world that they could play but to themselves. They wanted to prove that they deserved to wear the name and famous color pattern previously worn by the legendary likes of Oscar Robertson and Jack Twyman, National Player of the Year Kenyon Martin, and a host of former Bearcats that have gone on to play professional basketball. And prove to the world they would - sort of. Getting out to early success, winning nine of their first 11 contests, the Bearcats instilled allowed many of the UC faithful to buy-in to the optimism of the players had had since they arrived. While an NCAA Tournament bid was still a ways away from the mindset of all those surrounding the team, players and fans alike began to believe.
However, the early hopes soon faded into the realistic worldview that Coach Cronin tried to instill from the onset of the season. With signs of such trouble obvious from the beginning of the year, dropping a pair of late-minute home losses to both a rebuilding UAB squad and Wofford, a mid-major to whom the Cincinnati, a squad renowned for their defensive toughness, allowed 91 points. As reality set in, as well as the Big East portion of their schedule, the losses began to mount, as did an internal "wait ‘til next year" chant that echoes through the minds of many of UC's most devout and often delusional fan, to whom in the past nothing can tarnish the luster of their the program. As December became January and fall became winter, the only thing that could match Cincinnati's drop in temperature was the drop in shooting (and winning) percentage of the Queen City's university. Fitting with the change of season, both the Bearcats winning and shooting percentage began to drop. Since their last win over interstate rival Miami (OH), the ‘Cats have proceeded to drop 11 of their last 12 games, which includes a current six-game losing streak, the longest such streak in almost a decade (Jan. 6-25, 1987-88 season).
The most frustrating part of the recent stretch, which has seen Cincinnati's record to 10-14 (1-9 Big East) on the season, has been the fact they could very well have three extra victories on the season. If you include the losses to both Wofford and UAB, the Bearcats have had five games this season that they should have won. During conference play, UC has dropped three contests similar in fashion to the disappointing loss Cincinnati suffered at the hands of Alabama-Birmingham, including their two most recent Big East affairs (Providence and Rutgers). Victories over the likes of UAB, Wofford, Providence, Rutgers, and Syracuse, in game that saw last-second free throws by both teams hinder their winning efforts, would have placed Cincinnati's record at 15-9 (3-6 Big East), a total that would have made them a likely postseason contender. However, the NCAA and NIT selection committees do not operate select participants based on should-have-been records. Instead, Cincinnati is forced to deal with the is-in-fact reality that they occupy the basement of the 16-team Big East Conference, two full wins behind a Rutgers squad that has defeated them twice this year, and that their streak of postseason appearances (NCAA Tournament or NIT) is likely to end at 17 years (1989-90).
As the Bearcats begin their stage to closeout the 2006-07 campaign, a portion of the season that leaves them six games to make a miraculous run at postseason success, it will teach Cincinnati Basketball onlookers just what this this team (and its fans) are made of. Are they (or you) already looking toward next year or is their a hidden fight left in them that we are poised to see down the final stretch? Judging from the comments of players and coaches alike, the chip on their collective shoulder will refuse to allow this team do anything other than give it everything they have. After all, this this is just one more opportunity to prove all their doubters wrong. Personally, I believe this is the biggest and most uncomfortable chip any member of this UC squad has ever had on their shoulder.