Cronin- "We're Going To Play"
The inaugural College Basketball Invitational will begin first round play Tuesday and Wednesday evening, and conclude with the championship series during the first days of April. The championship series will differ from play in any other college tournament, as it will be decided by a best of three series, with games one and three both on the higher seeded team’s home court, if necessary.
Cincinnati’s first round game will be played Wednesday night in Peoria, Illinois on the campus of Bradley University. The Bradley University Braves finished the regular season with a 17-15 overall record, including a 9-9 mark in the Missouri Valley Conference. Head coach Jim Les has taken his Braves to post season play the past two seasons. Last year they took a second round exit in the NIT, while taking a trip to the sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament the season before that. This year BU has posted impressive wins over the likes of Illinois State, Creighton, and Drake. The Braves were the lone team this season to defeat the Bulldogs of Drake on their home court.
The Bearcats will take the floor against Bradley for the first time since 1981, when they played their historic seven overtimes in a 75-73 Cincinnati victory. The game remains the longest played in NCAA history to this day. UC holds a 19-13 lead in the overall series versus the Braves, as the two were once rivals in the Missouri Valley Conference.
After losing their previous six games, many thought the Bearcat’s basketball season had come to an end. Post season play seemed highly unlikely, and fans, coaches, and players alike had assumed that Cronin’s second season in Clifton would yield no post season birth.
“I thought it was over, but we got another chance,” said senior forward Marcus Sikes Monday. “We were all surprised.”
UC leading scorer, sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn, couldn’t believe it when he was told the team would be playing another game.
“They told me this morning that we were going to have practice at 3:00,” said Vaughn. “I thought they were pulling our strings.”
But it was no joke. Cronin had accepted the invitation the night before.
“Just like nobody turns down bowl bids (in college football), if you’re a competitor and people ask you if you want to play, your answer’s going to be ‘yeah, absolutely,’” said Cronin before his team’s practice Monday.
Cronin emphasized that the tournament would in no way be used as any sort of tool for preparing UC’s young crop of underclassmen for upcoming seasons. Both Cronin and Vaughn are excited to have the opportunity of the CBI for Cincinnati’s group of seniors to continue their collegiate careers, hopefully on a positive note.
“I’m happy for our seniors,” said Cronin. “They’re excited.”
“We want this more for our seniors than anybody else,” said Vaughn. “Our seniors are happy to be back out here on the court,” he added as he pointed to Sikes, taking jump shots on the other end of the court.
By reaching post season play in just his second season as head coach, Cronin realizes what the CBI berth could mean for his program’s future.
“It shows it’s a step forward for us,” said the coach. “Obviously, we’re looking to be in the big tournament but hey- we’re going to play.”
They’re going to play. Wednesday night, their season continues. After suffering their worst winning drought of the season, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for Cronin and his Bearcats.
“I’m looking forward to us getting a second life and getting these guys a chance to play,” said Cronin.
That chance will take them to Bradley, a team that was plagued with injuries for the majority of their season. Healing has come, however, and for the first time in over a month the Braves look to have their entire roster intact for Wednesday’s contest with Cincinnati. Senior Jeremy Crouch leads the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game, while fellow senior Daniel Ruffin, the second player in MVC history with 1,200 points and 600 assists, is averaging 14.8 points and 5.8 assists each night this season.
The style of play BU employs is what has Cronin the most concerned, however.
“They’ll be a challenge for us to defend,” said Cronin. “They’re not a typical team that we’ve seen in the Big East. They don’t have size, they’re not physical in the paint the way Big East teams are. But they do steal the ball, they pressure you on defense.”
The victor will advance to play the winner of Ohio vs. Brown next Monday night. The tilt with the Bradley Braves will tip off at 7:00PM Wednesday and can be seen on FSN Ohio in most cases.
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