UC vs XU
UC losing to UCLA to bring an end to a 30-win season was been tough for the Bearcat faithful.
Knowing Xavier is still alive and going back to the Sweet 16 has rubbed salt in the wound.
It has led to these questions being the most asked of me this week:
1. Why can't UC do what XU is doing?
2. How can XU make six Sweet 16 appearances in the last 10 years, while UC has made just one Sweet 16 ('12) in the last 16 years?
Yea.......I know......can of worms....but it sounds like a topic for Sports Talk.
Where to begin? I talked with various college basketball people, from analysts to recruiting experts to current and former coaches.
Let's take a look at the last decade: 2007-2008 to present
Record: Xavier: 242-95 (.718) Cincinnati: 226-116 (.658)
NCAA tournament appearances: XU 9, UC 7
NCAA tournament record: Xavier 14-8, UC 6-7
Sweet 16 appearances: XU 6, UC 1
Elite 8 appearances: XU 1, UC 0
XU is making its sixth Sweet 16 appearance in 10 years. Only nine teams had made at least six Sweet 16's since 2008: Kansas (7),North Carolina (7), Michigan State (7),Wisconsin (7), Xavier (6), Louisville (6), Duke (6), Arizona (6) and Kentucky (6).
UC is one of only eight schools to appear in each of the last seven NCAA Tournaments: Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, MichiganState, North Carolina, VCU and Wisconsin.
Answering the questions posed to me:
Areas to consider:
Xavier has turned over coaches, from Skip Prosser to Thad Matta to Sean Miller and Chris Mack, and not only not skipped a beat, but continued to get better as a program. Mack has three more NCAA Tournament wins (9) than any Xavier head coach in program history. He is the first XU head coach to lead XU to four Sweet 16's (2010,2012, 2015 and 2017), twice as many as any other XU coach.
The UC program was burned to the ground by the actions of Bob Huggins and Nancy Zimpher. The Huggins DUI was a large nail in the coffin, Zimpher's delay in firing him sealed the coffin shut and allowed the basketball program to decay. Mick had to rebuild from the ashes. He had to make UC relevant again, re-entering UC into the "lunchroom conversation" for recruits.
Cintas Center vs 5th/3rd Arena is an NC.....No Contest. The Bearcats are finally taking a step in the arms race of college basketball, investing $80M+ to renovate 5th/3rd.
Big East vs the American. Again, no contest. While this new edition of the Big East might not match the 80's version, it still carries star power and name recognition. Playing the conference tournament at historic Madison Square Garden only adds to that. The American is the conference UC can't wait to get out of, offering opponents like Tulane, South Florida and East Carolina.
A former coach posed this to me: "Let's me ask you a simple question: If you were a recruit, which conference would you rather play in? Which arena would you play in? This isn't that hard."
The Big East offers nightly challenges to prepare Xavier for the tournament. Six other teams in the conference made the tournament. The Big East was ranked 3rd in the RPI, while the American finished 7th. Which school was more prepared for the tournament, as a result?
Whether in the Atlantic 10 or Big East, XU has always backed up conference play with a challenging non-conference schedule.
Xavier 2017 SOS: 13th overall, 19th non-conference
Xavier played at Baylor this year and faced Missouri and Clemson in the Tire Pros Invitational.
2016: @Michigan and @Wake Forest last year and hosted Missouri and Auburn.
2015: Alabama, @Missouri, @Auburn.
2014: Tennessee(2), Iowa, @Alabama, Wake Forest, USC.
2013: @Purdue, Vanderbilt, @Tennessee, @Wake Forest
Cincinnati 2017 SOS: 63rd overall, 31st non-conference
In UC's defense, Michigan backed out of a scheduled game this season. Duke would have been an opponent in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic, if you UC had not lost to Rhode Island.
I'm told by an individual versed in the scheduling game that UC has to schedule teams outside the top 200 or 250 of the RPI because they can't afford the extra $5,000-$15,000 for better buy games.
But according to a college basketball analyst I spoke with: "It's insulting to guys like Mario Mercurio
(XU Dir. Administration) and whoever used to do Bob Huggins' scheduling in the Conference USA days. Figuring out how to manipulate the RPI and SOS while playing in a terrible conference is not a new and impossible task that only UC has to figure out. UC already did it in CUSA. So did Xavier in the A10 and
plenty of other schools that have tried to make that jump from mid-major to high-major."
As an assistant coach countered: "UC won 30 games and loses two seniors, why would we want to go play at their place next year?"
"Scheduling is a lot about relationships with other coaches. Chris is a likable guy. That pays off when lining up non-conference games," said a recruiting analyst.
Mack has taken XU recruiting to a new level in recent years. The Big East is a big card to play on the recruiting circuit. Xavier’s five-member 2017 recruiting class has been ranked in the Top 10 in the nation by Scout.com, 247sports.com, ESPN.com and Rivals.com. I'm told incoming point guard Paul Scruggs is the highest rated recruit ever at XU.
"If you are selling the American and 5th/3rd, who exactly is buying?" said a coach I talked with.
"Keith Williams (in-coming UC recruit) picked UC over UD because of the higher level of prestige,but if a Power 5 conference were in the mix, he would have gone there," said a recruiting analyst.
Per a recruiting analyst: " I think Mick is good at identifying the types of players he likes and then he does a good job of getting a lot out of them. But I also think he sells UC short at times with regards to his philosophy on recruiting highly ranked players. That, and he seems to take pride in proving recruiting experts/scouts wrong in their opinions and rankings. He has good coaches. I'm not sold on any of them as great recruiters."
Resources, or lack thereof, is an issue for UC. Mack has a private jet at his disposal.It's routine for him to fly from Vegas to Augusta back to Vegas on the recruiting showcase circuit. Cronin has had 'occasional' use of a private jet in the past, but he did not have access to a private jet this season.I'm told there are times Mick will be forced to fly in to see a player, rent a car to drive two hours, see the player, drive two hours back and get on a plane. Wasted time on the recruiting trail is death for coaches.
Every team needs luck in the NCAA tournament. There is no question Xavier has benefited from breaks on the tournament path.
2015: 6-seed XU beat 14-seed Georgia State to advance to the Sweet 16, after the Panthers upset 3-seed Baylor in the opening round.
2012: 10-seed XU faced 15-seed Lehigh in the second round, after the Mountain Hawks upset 2-seed Duke.
2009: 4-seed Musketeers faced 12-seed Wisconsin the second round after the Badgers upset 5-seed Florida State in the opening round.
Compare that to road blocks UC has run into in recent years:
2015: 8-seed UC faced 1-seed Kentucky (No. 1 and 35-0 at the time)
2012: 6-seed UC faced 2-seed Ohio State (Final Four/31-8/Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft)
2011: 6-seed UC faced 3-seed UCONN (National champs/Kemba Walker)
"Mick's only tourney loss that raises an eyebrow is losing as a 5-seed to 12-seed Harvard in 2014," said a college basketball writer.
Style of play:
At least up until this season, which team's style of play would have been more enticing to you as a recruit? Xavier's offense has averaged 75-81-73-72 over the last four seasons. Until averaging 74 points this season, UC's offense has been more conducive to rock-fights played in the 50's and 60's. The Bearcats have averaged in the 60's in 9 of the last 11 seasons.
Several college basketball people I talked with, mentioned UC's defense first mentality. One analyst said he believes that has hurt UC in the tournament, "Great offense always beats great defense and it's easier to be skilled on offense without elite size and athletes than it is to be a lockdown defensive team without them."
*The football factor:
XU athletics operates without the anchor of a football program pulling dollars from the budget.
UC basketball plays second fiddle to football. The university went all in with $86M to renovate Nippert Stadium first and put all their eggs in one basket when it came to marketing football.
"Book it. Xavier will continue to do what Xavier does. They know who and what they are. They have an arena. They have a good conference. They have a name that is carrying more and more weight with recruits. Can they keep Mack? Well see. If he leaves, can they keep turning over coaches and still rolling on? How many hits before a swing and a miss for that school?" said a former coach.
"How different is your topic if Xavier doesn't beat Butler in the Big East tournament? We'd be talking about an 18-11 team that missed the NCAA tourney for the second time in five years, played in a First Four game and has Big East finishes that include 7th, 6th and 6th. People overlook that XU has seasons with 13, 6, 14, 13, 14 and 13 losses in the last six seasons. Not to mention losing as a 2-seed to 7-seed Wisconsin last year. Why? Because our business has been reduced to tournament results determining your season's success or failure," said a former coach.
"It really is amazing to consider what Mick has accomplished with one hand tied behind his back. He will keep winning and keep making the tourney. But how long does he want to do it while banging his head against the wall? I would have left by now." said a current coach.
"There are excuses and there are reasons. UC critics, and even UC fans, have a hard time understanding reasons. This is almost a no-win situation for Mick. Think about it. They won 30 games and still couldn't get a protected seed (Top 4). A five seed is the best they could have done. The reality is the American Conference sucks," added a college basketball analyst.
"I just wish Mick would stop with the public grandstanding against the committee and scheduling and everyone this else that seems to bother him. It's not a good look. He needs to leave that to others," said one college basketball writer.
What else can we add to the conversation?
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