UC Basketball Steps Up, Jim Bowden Steps Down

More than once during his 16 years coaching the University of Cincinnati basketball team, Bob Huggins remarked that the Bearcats are written off locally before they're written off nationally. A case in point might have presented itself just three days af

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More than once during his 16 years coaching the University of Cincinnati basketball team, Bob Huggins remarked that the Bearcats are written off locally before they’re written off nationally. A case in point might have presented itself just three days after the Bearcats beat Huggins to enhance their chance for a return to the NCAA Tournament.

Almost at the moment the Bearcats wrapped up an 87-63 loss at Syracuse on March 1, one could hear anguish from those longing for UC’s resurgence and Schadenfreude from those who will forever curse the university for exiling St. Huggs. The Bearcats took a blowout in their last opportunity for a good road win. NIT.

Yet that’s all premature. The Bearcats would finish 20-11 overall and 10-8 in the Big East if they close out the regular season with wins against South Florida and Seton Hall, which should happen. And that should be good enough for the NCAA Tournament, if just barely.

The ESPN “bracketologist,” Joe Lunardi, spends a lot more time on the matter than anyone ought to and generally hits on 33 of the 34 at-large teams. He thinks the Bearcats are barely not in the tournament. Of course, he’s been wrong about UC before. He thought the Bearcats were in for the 2006 tournament (didn’t everyone?), and they weren’t. Maybe he’s wrong about UC the other way this time.

We can’t guess how the Bearcats will look in two weeks after all the conference tournaments are done and the selection committee has made its decisions. But we can decide that UC has a good argument right now.

We might begin with reasonable assumptions. For one, RPI is the only measure that the entire selection committee has in common. RPI isn’t everything, but it matters more than any other rubric. For another, it’s almost impossible to make the tournament without winning 20 games overall and finishing with a winning conference record.

With wins in their next two games, the Bearcats would meet those marks. Given that much, where would they stand?

Because we’re sensible and refuse to pay for an RPI duplication, let’s start with the freebie at warrennolan.com, which puts UC at No. 52 through March 1. Next, figure the NCAA will take the best 34 at-large teams. Assume, for the sake of argument, that the top-ranked team by RPI in each conference will win that conference’s automatic berth.

The 51 teams ahead of UC come from 14 different leagues. Subtract 14 teams from the pool. Suddenly, UC ranks 38th among the at-large candidates.

Now note this list of teams that are ahead of UC in the RPI but didn’t have winning records in their leagues as of March 1: Arizona, Georgetown, Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and Texas A&M. Suddenly, UC is No. 31 in the at-large pool.

And is there any argument against the Bearcats? Their strength of schedule is 19th nationally. Their worst losses have come against Providence, which is RPI No. 68 with a winning record in the Big East and a win against No. 1 Pittsburgh. Five of UC’s losses have come against teams in the RPI top 11 and nine against teams in the top 27.

The Bearcats’ best win came against West Virginia (RPI No. 20), and their best road win came against Georgetown (RPI No. 40). So they’re close to the edge and they’ll be one of the last teams in or out, but if they just win those last two games against South Florida and Seton Hall, they’ve got a good case.

It’s easy to be discouraged by the loss at Syracuse, but it’s not the end of the world. Teams do go to the NCAA Tournament despite blowout road losses against ranked opponents. It happens all the time.

The Bearcats clearly wore themselves out to beat Huggins’ West Virginia team 65-61 at Fifth Third Arena on Feb. 26. Playing on an emotional night when even Huggins shed a tear remembering his good times at UC, a young UC team beat him with a huge, draining performance.

In order to think the Bearcats were going to come back strong three days later in front of 25,000 screaming fans at Syracuse, which really needed the win, one would have to think they’re better than they are. But they don’t have to be be better than they are to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Indeed, Syracuse might have needed that game more than UC. Maybe that’s a stretch, but consider where Syracuse would be if UC had won: 8-8 in the league with their last two games against Rutgers (easy win) and at Marquette (likely loss). Thus the Orange would finish the year 9-9 in the Big East. Even at No. 23 in the RPI, 9-9 in the league couldn’t help.

If the rest of the Big East season goes according to form, UC would finish in a four-way tie for sixth place with Providence, Syracuse and West Virginia, all at 10-8. In head-to-head games among that group, UC would hold the worst record at 1-3, Providence would be best at 3-1, while Syracuse would be 2-1 and West Virginia would be 1-2.

But none of that is going to shake out over head-to-head play during the regular season. If it has to shake out, it’s happening in the Big East Tournament. And guess what would happen there? UC would play West Virginia in the first round, while Syracuse would play Notre Dame and Providence would play Georgetown.

Could it be then that we had it wrong, thinking UC’s win against Huggins last week would put it in the tournament? One supposes not. But if it wasn’t enough, then it’s apparently coming down to the next time those two teams play.

While we’re at it, though, we might as well keep an eye on Arizona, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State and Texas A&M. They’ll have a lot to say about it, too, if they can salvage winning conference records out of the next week.

* * * * *

Where are all the deposed Jim Bowden Reds going to go now that Bowden has resigned as general manager of the Washington Nationals? Days after making his most recent such acquisition, signing free agent slugger Adam Dunn, Bowden resigned on March 1, saying he’d become a distraction.

But the truth of the matter, probably, is that Bowden is distracted. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly is investigating Bowden in connection with a deepening scandal across baseball that involves scouts skimming off bonuses paid to Dominican teenagers. Last week, the Nationals fired their Dominican point man, one-time Reds ace Jose Rijo, who played a key role in signing 16-year-old Esmailyn Gonzalez to a $1.4 million bonus. Turns out that Gonzalez is really 20-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo.

Though Bowden blamed the media’s reporting on the investigation, his real problem appears to be the FBI. One hates to imagine Bowden in prison, though many others no doubt love to imagine it.

Knowing Bowden, there’s absolutely no way he lets go of that job unless either the Nationals told him to go away or the heat is really close and he needs to burrow down and defend himself. Even his detractors will tell you that he lives to be a big league general manager, that no one works harder or longer and, perhaps, that no one is more likely to lose track of his own foibles because of it.

By accounts, Bowden’s strange Dominican connection began around the turn of this century, when the Reds player development operation under his watch unraveled over politics. Where does it end?

CONTACT BILL PETERSON: [email protected]
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