Every day there are three things, here are those three things.
I'm back at it after a five day trip to Arizona for spring training, a trip that was solely non-work-related. I saw the Reds a couple of times, visited my two favorite parks, drank a few local brews along with some non-local ones, took a selfie with Tom Hume, and generally sat back and enjoyed watching some baseball.
That said, it is nice to be back for my favorite two weeks on the sports calendar.
(Photo: Getty Images)
1) The Bearcats. For about 90 seconds, right after yesterday's UC road win over Wichita State, I sat on my couch wearing a giddy grin of contentment, saying repeatedly to no one in particular "I can't believer they won. I can't believe they won."
The Bearcats snagged their signature win of the season, clinching a league championship, and bolstering their NCAA resume with an intense one-point win over the Shockers in loud, raucous Wichita. If you're like me - and for your sake, I hope you're not - you had visions of UC losing in agonizing, heartbreaking, or even controversial fashion.
I mean, would there be a more UC thing to have happen than for the game to essentially be decided on a ball going in off of a Bearcat player's face?
Cincinnati had so many chances to extend their lead late and kept coming up empty. When Jacob Evans - who was the toughest player on the court yesterday - somehow missed a wide open floater with 21 seconds to go, I had visions of Wichita State getting a cheap putback at the horn to win it, something that seemed destined to happen when Darral Willis Jr. grabbed an offensive board with three seconds left.
Except that Willis never got a good shot off, the horn sounded, UC players temporarily looked like they didn't know what to do, and I was sent to my couch to make sense of what I'd seen.
The Bearcats are American Athletic Association regular season champions. I'm sure if you can't stand UC basketball, you're going to send me the tweet that reminds me of how shitty the league is. Save yourself some energy. For UC to win the league, they needed to beat one of the most consistently good programs in college basketball on their home court in front of a ravenous crowd. (UC/Wichita State has the early making of a very, very good rivalry, BTW) It was a well-earned title, and as a fan, a very gratifying one.
Even if I still can't believe they won.
2) The Musketeers. I was at an establishment in Scottsdale Saturday morning, finishing off one Bloody Mary while considering ordering another, when I asked our bartender if she could put on the Xavier/DePaul game.
She did the thing where she scrolled up and down the guide - even though I told her specifically what channel the game was one - before settling on a high school girls game between Xavier College Prep and someone else. When I objected, she gave me a look that said "close enough."
By the time she was able to locate the game, XU doing what it could to hold off the Blue Demons in the second half, not looking completely disinterested, but not looking like a team hungry to polish off the Big East title either. They were just good enough on Saturday.
They were far better than that all season long.
Regardless of how far Xavier advances in March, their first-ever Big East regular season championship should be treasured. The Muskies had to outlast a Villanova team that not only beat them twice but spent much of the season playing like the best team in college basketball, and has had a stranglehold on the conference since it was re-formed five years ago. They emerged as the top dog in a conference that should send six teams to the NCAA Tournament, and they did it playing under the burden of huge expectations, increased attention, and a scheduled filled with opponents determined to give XU their best.
Winning the Big East is a big deal.
I don't know who won the high school girls game.
(Photo: Getty Images)
3) Conference tournaments giveth, conference tournaments taketh away. Last March, the NKU Norse qualified for the NCAA Tournament by winning the Horizon League Tournament title. They did not win the league's regular season championship.
This March, the Norse were bounced from the league tournament in the quarterfinals, losing to Cleveland State. NKU's season will continue with a guaranteed berth in the NIT, but the real Madness of March will take place without the Norse.
I feel bad for NKU's players, who had a marvelous season that ideally would be rewarded with a second consecutive NCAA bid. I understand the argument that people will make against conference tournaments and/or automatic bids based on the Norse not getting an invitation to the Big Dance.
But the reality is the criteria for schools like NKU is clearly spelled out. The regular season championship the Norse won hasn't be rendered meaningless - it's an accomplishment that should continue to be celebrated - but teams in conferences like the Horizon League are told well before the season begins what's needed to make the NCAA Tournament. Win your conference tournament championship, and you're going. I feel for NKU because I like their program and I'm a big fan of John Brannen. The Norse are the best local college basketball success story in an area filled with them. But I'm not going to use what happened to them as an excuse to rail against the same system that no one seemed to have a problem with NKU benefiting from one year ago.
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