College football season is already upon us, but what many sports fans often fail to realize is that college basketball is just around the corner. With 10 more weeks of University of Cincinnati football scheduled to overlap the school’s November basketball exhibition games, it’s safe to say that this fall is going to involve watching many, many athletic competitions. (And don’t even mention to your life partner how important Sunday, Monday and the occasional Thursday NFL games are to your life.)
Today we’re here to debate which of UC’s major teams is going to have a cooler season — football vs. basketball. Arguing in favor of the currently 1-1 football squad is Danny Cross, who has never played organized football in his life. The basketball Bearcats will be represented by Isaac Thorn, who thinks he’s real good at shooting 3’s.
OK, so last week’s game against Tennessee didn’t go as well as the ‘Cats might have hoped, but a road loss against an SEC team is like getting slammed by your older brother — you try to land a quick kick in the groin early, knowing that you’re likely to pay for it later either way. The Bearcats were overmatched on the road against a veteran team. Fine, that happened.
But looking ahead to the team’s remaining non-conference games and the schools favored to win the Big East leaves reason for optimism. First, the two Big East teams currently ranked in the Top 25 are hardly unbeatable: West Virginia checks in a No. 18, while South Florida sits at No. 20 after a road win against Notre Dame, which is 0-2. The Big East, as in most years, could be won by any of five schools. And when it comes to outlasting a collection of above-average-but-not-great other teams, what’s the best attribute for a college football team to have? Offense!
You can scoff at the notion of UC’s young defense being able to stop the playmakers of West Virginia and Pitt. But do you remember Isaiah Pead going 65 yards for a touchdown on UC’s first possession against Tennessee? Such runs will undoubtedly occur in-conference. In addition to returning last year’s leading Big East rusher in Pead, the Bearcats have senior quarterback Zach Collaros, who led the conference in passing last year. Senior receiver D.J. Woods and junior college transfer Kenbrell Thompkins are really good at catching the ball and running really fast with it.
It can’t be denied that the Bearcats’ defense against Tennessee left much to be desired. But an inexperienced team playing its second game of the year against some giant dudes from down South deserves a certain level of forgiveness — at least until Sept. 17 when the team hosts Akron and Sept. 22 when it welcomes NC State to Nippert Stadium. The reasons for optimism include seniors J.K. Schaffer (linebacker) and Derek Wolfe (defensive lineman) and junior linebacker Maalik Bomar. There’s talent on that side of the ball, too.
Nobody here is predicting an 11-1 season for the Bearcats, but this team will finish somewhere closer such (previously achieved) heights than last year’s 4-8 finish. And until the ‘Cats have lost two conference games there will still be reason to enjoy the program’s quest for a third Big East championship in four years.
During the final seconds of UC’s loss to eventual champion UConn in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Yancy Gates sat on the bench and cried. The junior forward believed that if he had played better the Bearcats could have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and been within four games of winning the tournament. If Gates, one of the Big East’s most notable returning players this season, exhibits such passion this season it will be a major step for him as a player and for the UC program as a whole.
This argument for the promise of this year’s UC basketball season isn’t meant as a knock on the football team, but when the Bearcats get trounced by teams from other, far superior athletic conferences few in the football stadium are surprised. It’s hard to not see a blowout coming once players from the opposing team come out of the tunnel and it is immediately apparent how much bigger, stronger and faster they are. After Saturday’s loss to the Volunteers, UC is now 0-20-1 all-time on the road against the SEC.
What makes the upcoming season so exciting for UC basketball fans is picking up from where last season ended. Sophomore Sean Kilpatrick and junior Cashmere Wright, at shooting guard and point guard, respectively, showed immense promise last season and and figure to represent one of the Big East’s best backcourt tandems this year. While Gates and coach Mick Cronin’s relationship has had its rocky moments, the two now appear to be on the same page. If Gates can maintain his focus and energy throughout this year, he will be a dominant player.
The Bearcats have a strong recruiting class joining the team this season, another benefit of the stability Mick Cronin has returned to the program. Incoming forwards Shaquille Thomas and Cheikh Mbodj could factor into the mix for playing time, to spell Gates and fellow senior Dion Dixon, who will provide leadership and hopefully more vicious slam dunks come tourney time.
Our founding fathers fought both cowboy and alien to ensure their progeny would be able to drink beer and yell a lot while watching college sports. While UC’s football team has performed well recently, it still seems many miles away from being able to win against the sport’s best squads.
The basketball team will have its work cut out in the Big East, but with a straight face one can say that it will have enough talent to beat any team in the country on any given night.
John Kasich’s 2011 budget reduced higher education funding by $440 million. Help UC out by going to these games!
Home football games
Sept. 17: Akron
Sept. 22: North Carolina State
Oct. 15: Louisville
Nov. 12: West Virginia
Dec. 3: UConn
Home basketball games
Nov. 13: Alabama State
Nov. 15: Jacksonville State
Nov. 19: Presbyterian
Nov. 21: Northwestern State
Nov. 25: Marshall
Nov. 29: Miami (Ohio)