Sunday, January 10, 1999

Head says no; heart says 29-0

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They could win them all. Every game, November to March, top to bottom, Anchorage to Alabama, non-stop here to there, barrelling into the Madness without blemish. They could. They might. They have a very good chance.

        Twenty-nine and oh.

        Mike DeCourcy says no: “No one does it, so it's inconceivable.” DeCourcy covers UC for The Enquirer. About college basketball, he knows everything. I truly believe this.

        Only “absolutely, ridiculously elite teams” win them all, he says. DeCourcy is paid to be logical. I am not.

        I say once you have seen a Melvin Levett helicopter-dunk, your definition of absolutely ridiculous gets a little more flexible.

        Stuff happens, you say. Teams can beat you with one or two very good players having very good nights. Across 29 games, you will have nights when you should be playing the cello, not power forward.

        You will have nights when the referees have their whistles in overdrive against you, when you couldn't hit the asphalt from the interstate, and what if Kenyon Martin blows a knee?

        So much can go wrong. But

        what if it doesn't?

        “We prepare hard and practice hard for everybody. If we continue to do that, there's no doubt we can go undefeated,” Levett says.

        The Bearcats are 15-0. Better than halfway home. The toughest half. They beat Duke. They won at Rhode Island, Minnesota and UNLV. With one huge exception, their hardest games now are at home. They're 94-9 at home in the last seven years.

        In the regular season, they don't often lose games they're expected to win. They won at Southern Miss Saturday night, even as Levett missed a game-clinching dunk. Talk about inconceivable.

        Now try to find a game in which the Bearcats will not be favored.

        Take away Oklahoma and Xavier and UC has only conference games remaining. Conference USA is a gimp. Minus the Bearcats, C-USA teams are 2-13 against Top 25 opponents. In the latest RPI rankings, the league has UC at No. 6. UAB is next, at No. 37.

        UNC-Charlotte has lost at home to Kent. Marquette lost at Dayton by 32. Saint Louis has beaten Kansas, but lost to Southern Illinois. Is anyone worried by UC games at these places?

        Twenty-nine and oh.

        Get a grip, you say. Put down the black and red pompons, you front-running, bandwagon-jumping Bearcat suckup. Where were you last March, when that kid from West Virginia threw down that knuckleball bankshot at the buzzer?

        (Uh. With Kentucky. Chuckling.)

        OK. Here's the ditch: At Louisville, a week from Thursday. The Cardinals beat Kentucky. They came close at North Carolina. They have the big-game mentality that Denny Crum loves. They could stop the express.

        “I know after they beat Kentucky, they're just waiting on us,” says Pete Mickeal. Mickeal is the expert on winning, having done it 87 straight times. “I saw how cocky they were after that Kentucky game, (saying) just bring on Cincinnati.”

        There is also the noon game next Saturday against Oklaho ma, after the 9:30 Thursday game at Charlotte. And of course, the Crosstown Shootout. “Xavier's tough,” Levett says, “maybe not because of talent, but because of emotion.”

        All true. But in some important ways (defense, rebounding) the Bearcats are playing like March already. “We have that will to want to get better,” as Mickeal puts it.

        Twenty-nine and oh.

        “We're down three with 11 seconds left,” Mickeal says. He's describing a game in the midst of his streak. “I said, coach, we need a two and then a foul. He said, No, Pete, we need a three.”

        Mickeal escaped a triple-team long enough to get a pass to a teammate who flung a game-tying three at the buzzer. “I looked at the net and tears filled my eyes,” Mickeal recalls. His juco team won in overtime.

        Mickeal is at UC now, and hasn't lost yet. 29-0. We're talking serious karma here.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.