Favorite Bearcat team ever?
Saw some folks hinting this might be their favorite team ever - and I can't dispute that. From the time I went to see them play at Wright State (they were arm in arm during the National Anthem), I can't recall enjoying an entire season more. Is it in seeing how far they've come? Enjoying the individual transformations blend with the team chemistry? The slow but steady progress they've made in bringing the fan base back to 5/3rd Arena? Hard to say, but the game against Florida State the other night certainly elicited some memories of tough Bearcat teams gone by. Here's my ranking, 3 through 1, of my favorite Bearcat teams.
#3 - '97-'98 was the team that ended up with the 2 seed and lost to West Virginia in the 2nd round (I hope Jerrod West is pumping gas in Wheeling), but I really thought that team played way past their talent. Not that talent wasn't there - Kenyon, Mel Levett, Brannen, Fletch, Ruben Patterson, D'Juan Baker - but most of it was very young and raw. Brannen was the Center most nights, Patterson and Baker had yet to play to their potential, and the guards (Michael Horton, John Carson, and Shawn Myrick) could barely dribble, much less hit anything longer than a layup. Brent Petrus got major minutes early, for pete's sake. They lost to Arizona State early and were crushed by Xavier (see a similarity). But they somehow gritted out an amazing comeback overtime win against a good UMass team in Cleveland and took off from there. Against WVa they turned the ball over at least 25 times but still took a 2 point lead after D'Juan Baker drilled back to back cold-hearted 3 pointers (SK, anyone?), and THAT was on the heels of doing the same thing in the previous game vs. Northern Arizona. Only that fluke 3 kept this team from the Sweet 16 and I'll never forget the inconsolable D'Juan ripping his jersey off and crying his eyes out afterwards. That team had a lot of athletic ability, but very little real basketball skill - what they accomplished that year was a testament to how hard they played.
#2 - this season - ongoing :)
#1 - '92-'93 was the year directly after the Final Four season, but this team holds a special place in my heart that hasn't faded in the 20 years since and probably never will. Just a team of strong willed, hard working junkyard dogs that played the game with a fire no team has ever come close to matching. They played with little skill (nobody would confuse Terry Nelson or Erik Martin with Yancy Gates or Danny Fortson from a skill-set perspective), a short bench (Gregor and Durden were freshmen), they played short-handed (Corie Blount early in the year, AD Jackson late), and yet it's safe to say that they were one of the 4 or 5 most feared teams in America. They took a 10 point lead, they wanted it to be 30. They wanted to win, sure. But they also wanted to rip out the opposition's heart and stomp it flat.
Their 92-55 2nd round win over New Mexico State is as complete a basketball game, and as thorough an a$$ stomping as I've ever seen ANY team play. And the Elite 8 overtime loss to North Carolina is, to me, the gold standard of modern Cincinnati basketball. Chest to chest, nose to nose with a team of All-Americans and took the eventual national champ to the absolute limit. And the best part was, they were crushed afterward because they EXPECTED to win. My brother and I were 2 of hundreds of people that greeted the team at the airport after the game - we shared a laugh recently remembering Curtis Bostic complaining to us about having to go back to class.
That team, to me, will always be special. And now, this one will too - not because of making the Sweet 16, but because of everything that's happened over the past 6 years and what it took for this group of players and coaches to get here.
I hope they all enjoy it - it's a remarkable feat and they deserve every bit of praise they're getting. Who knows? I might have a new #1 here in a few weeks :)