In the Big East Championships we saw a team playing with a renewed sense of urgency, and while it often wasn't pretty, UC was able to squeeze out two wins and were a banked buzzer-beater away from a third win at Madison Square Garden. However, last night's effort made the New York run seem like a lifetime ago.
Despite the loss last night there are some positives to look towards heading into the off season. One of the most encouraging development in the later part of the season was the sudden emergence of Darnell Wilks as a viable player. Starting with the Big East tournament, and coinciding with Rashad Bishop's suspension, Wilks showed flashes of being the player most thought he would be when he came to campus.
Wilks not only showed an ability to score, but also showed himself to be a capable rebounder and defender in the full-court pressure. While only averaging 3.4 points per game over the season, Wilks averaged nearly 7 points in the last five games of the season.
Another encouraging aspect heading into next season is the play of Ibrahima Thomas towards the end of the season. After sitting out all of last year and the first few games of this season, Thomas seemed to settle in with the team and find his game.
Also encouraging was Thomas stopped hanging around the 3-point line and began playing inside more. Thomas gave the team added length, athleticism and energy inside that simply has not been there with Yancy Gates and Steve Toyloy.
However, the thing most Bearcat fans can point to for the 2010-11 season is the play of Lance Stephenson. For most of the season Stephenson seemed passive and unaggressive, but once the postseason started we saw the Stephenson most of us thought we would see all season.
He stopped settling for threes and got back to attacking the basket, getting to the foul line and creating for other players. If he can continue that and play a little more under control Stephenson could be the kind of player that puts this team on his back and carries them to wins. As with any team that finished 19-15 there are big concerns heading into next season. The chief among those concerns being the Bearcats inability to score.
In the season ending loss to the Flyers, UC shot just 33.3 percent from the floor and 19.4 percent from downtown. This, of course, was nothing new for the Bearcats as they managed just 43 percent from the floor and 29.6 percent from 3-point territory, not to mention only 63 percent from the free throw line as a team.
Defense and rebounding go along way but at some point you have to put the ball in the basket. That leads to the next biggest concern for next season: the seeming regression of Yancy Gates. On Monday Gates showed why he is such a frustrating player putting up only two points and four rebounds. Despite high talent, almost no player can overcome a lack of playing hard.
While coaches have to shoulder some of the blame for not finding a way to motivate the player, it all really comes down to Gates and how good of a player he ultimately wants to be.
The final concern has to be the future of Rashad Bishop and if he will return next season. However, the argument can easily be made that the team played better since his suspension.
As with any team, the success of next season hinges on whether or not the positives can outweigh the concerns and if this team can carry the late-season effort of this season into the next.
About Chris Crawford
Chris Crawford was born and raised in Cincinnati and has followed the Bearcats most of his life. Chris covered University of Cincinnati sports for three years at the UC News Record, two of those years as the Sports Editor (2006-2008). Chris also covered Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky High School sports for the Cincinnati Post in 2007 in addition to doing live game blogs of college football and basketball games for CSTV.com. Chris is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati with a degree in journalism.