I was starting to write the Missouri preview, when the sadness that tomorrow night could be the last game of the reason popped into my head. It's hard not to think about those things when your team is in a single elimination tournament. March is the best, and worst, month of the season for college basketball. Like many of you, I love the NCAA tournament. Hell, I wrote about every single bracket the past 2 years, when UC was involved in one of them. I also hate the NCAA tournament. My memory goes back to 1992. The first year I distinctly remembering following college basketball. I'm sure I watched games and things before that, but that's the year that I soaked it all in and remember it. As you all know, that year Cincinnati went to the Final Four. I don't really remember much about the tournament run, other then them beating Memphis State. That amazing season that made me a Bearcat fan for life, and it ended in heartbreak.
1993 was another great year for the Bearcats. I remember that was the Penny Hardaway Memphis State team, and the Bearcats iced the game with free throws by Keith Greggor in the Great Midwest tournament. I remember the Coppin State game for some reason, which was the first round game. That year, the Bearcats got to the Elite 8, where they lost in overtime to North Carolina. That team won the National Title.
1994 the Bearcats weren't as good. This was the Dontonio Wingfield year. I don't remember if I liked him or not at the time, but my memories of him aren't good. UC played Wisconsin in the late game on a Thursday night. I wasn't allowed to watch it. UC lost. I don't remember a thing about the 1994 tournament. Besides the fact that Arkansas won with Corliss Williamson. 40 minutes of hell.
1995 was the LaZelle Durden year for the Bearcats. It's the year he did this.
UC lost 11 times that season. They once again won their conference tournament. UC played Temple in the first round. I remember Greggor knocking down free throws to ice that game was well. I know because I had a hoop in my room, and I made one and missed one, and he made one and missed the same ones. Fun story. UC lost in the second round to UConn. UC led early, but UConn caught them, and after Durden tied the game early in the second half, UConn was just better.
1996 was a return to excellence for the Bearcats. UC lost just 4 times during the regular season, by no more than 6 points. The Bearcats struggled in round 1 against UNC Greensboro, winning by 5. UC dominated their next 2 opponents to end up back in the Elite 8. I was supremely confident that the Bearcats were going back to the Final Four. I've told this story before, but I'll tell it again now. I had a mini-basketball that I took a sharpie to, pimping it out UC style. Unfortunately, UC fell down early to Mississippi State, and couldn't come back. I can picture Art Long, and Danny Fortson sitting on the UC bench so dejected. It's weird how things like that stick in your head, even 15 years later.
1997 was when the string of second round heartbreaks started. This was the year Danny Fortson was on the cover of SI. UC was supposed to win the national title. Ugh.
I'll list all these years in order out of sadness. 1997, Darnell Burton clearly fouled under the basket, called for a travel, I go ballistic, UC loses to Iowa State by 1 point. 1998, West Virginia fuck face banks in a ridiculous 3 pointer, UC loses by a point. UC nearly lost in the first round that year to Northern Arizona. D'Juan Baker won that game with a 3, and put UC up in the WV game with a 3 late. 1999 was a second round loss to Temple, in a game in which UC couldn't make a shot.
2000 was supposed to be the year that changed everything. Kenyon Martin and the Bearcats were THE team in college basketball. They could make shots, they could defend, they could go inside, could go small, could go tall, everything. They were the team. Then, St Louis happened. UC lost to Tulsa in the second round.
2001 the Bearcats were an unlikely Sweet 16 team. Kenny Satterfield and Steve Logan carried the Bearcats on their backs, just like Greg Jennings, through BYU, and Kent State, who upset Indiana. The Bearcats led top seed Stanford at halftime. The Bearcats hit a fucking sweet alley oop from Satterfield to Immanuel McElroy. The Cardinal took over in the second half. They pounded the glass, got to the line, and made shots. UC went down by 13.
2002 was the year of Steve Logan. My second favorite, actually, my favorite right now as of this moment, Bearcat team overachieved all season long. They won C-USA, they won the C-USA tournament, they got a top seed in the big dance. When UCLA popped up as a potential second round opponent, I was worried. UCLA was a preseason top 10 team who underachieved all season long. The Bruins had even lost 4 of 6 coming into the tournament. UC had a lead, but blew it late. UC had shots to win in regulation and in OT, but missed. UCLA pulled away in the second OT. That's the saddest I've ever felt after a loss. The Kenyon game against St Louis was the second. I remember watching the news after the St Louis game, and doctors were showing what happened to Kenyon's leg. Man. What could have been.
2003 was not a great year for the Bearcats. This was the first year I remember them being on the bubble. They played Oklahoma State late in the season in what was a must win, and locked the Cowboys down. UC lost 2 more right after that, so it was a big win. UC played Gonzaga in the first round. This was the infamous Chuck Machock game, where he, along with Bob Huggins, was run. UC made a late run after that, but couldn't get closer. Duh.
2004 saw the Bearcats bounce back into a top 4 seed. UC ran through the regular season with just 6 losses behind Tony Bobbitt. This was the year he was punched in the balls in a game against DePaul, I believe. UC was in a dog fight against East Tennessee St in the first round before a Bobbitt 3 gave them the win. Illinois was the next foe. Apparently, UC knocked over their sign after the first win, and the Illini didn't like that. They didn't like it so much, that they ran UC out of the gym. I think the final score was 95-50. It was really 92-68. I wasn't that far off with a joke guess.
2005, the year of Jason Maxiell. Mad Max carried UC to a 7 seed, where they would be matched up, in a dream match, with Kentucky. The Bearcats easily beat Iowa, in a game where Max made the first 3 of his career. The dream match went down in the second round in Indianapolis. UC was only a 3 point dog. The Bearcats fell down 11-0, and 24-12 before going on a 23-9 run to close the half with the lead. Kentucky built the lead back up to 5 in the second half, and UC could get no closer. A tough second round loss.
That's it. The past 6 seasons have brought nothing but a pair of NIT births. Then, this magical season took place. Magical? Are you on crack? That's what some people are saying I'm sure. Well yes, it's magical. This team, which is not blessed with any NBA talent, won 11 games in the Big East. They stormed through their non-conference foes. They didn't play them close, they beat people. The defense was amazing. The defense translated into Big East play. Sure, the Bearcats lost 8 times, and 5 by double digits. Those came to a 9 seed who was in the top 10 at the time, a 3 seed, a 5 seed, a 1 seed and a 2 seed. Besides the Notre Dame game and the Pitt game which was played under different circumstances, the Bearcats were in all of those games. When the doubters were out, UC went on the road and won at St John's. When the doubters came back out, UC beat Louisville pretty handily. Then, they beat Providence. Then, they dominated Georgetown. After a let down that got people talking again, the Bearcats won at Marquette and beat the holy hell out of Georgetown. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, but people are talking about the Bearcats in a negative light again. This team has risen to every challenge. That's one of the biggest reasons that I love this team. This is my 3rd favorite UC team. The Final Four team has a special place in my heart, and I still can rattle off players from that squad, but I don't remember more than 5 games they played, so they are penalized. This team has earned a place in my heart, just like they have earned everything else this season. They didn't have the spotlight given to them, they took it. I hope to hell that they take it, well, now tonight against Missouri. I believe in them. I know you believe in them. This can happen. I didn't expect them to be this far. The fact that they are is something every UC fan should be proud of. Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a great, memorable season. I don't want it to end, but I've sure as hell enjoyed the ride. I'm sure as hell going to enjoying turning on TNT at around 10 pm and watching the Cincinnati Bearcats back in the NCAA tournament. Despite the heartbreak of the past, hope is eternal. Go Bearcats.