Sunday, March 12, 2000

UC can still make a tourney run

Martin's injury takes season in new direction

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Thursday fog has lifted. We can all stop overreacting now. One guest on a local radio show likened Kenyon Martin's broken leg to Hank Gathers', uh, death. After all, both calamities affected the NCAA Tournament seedings.

        Settle down. Drink a Yoo-Hoo. This could be the most interesting couple of weeks in UC basketball history. Beginning tonight, when the tournament selection committee decides what to do with the Bearcats.

        Respect them or protect the committee's integrity? Keeping UC a top seed is a risk. What if the Bearcats lost next weekend?

        Do you give them a seeding worthy of their regular-sea son, when they were the best team in the country? Or weigh what happened to them Thursday, after Martin crumpled? Are they still a No. 1? Or is UC without Martin just another Tennessee?

        “It's a travesty if they don't give these kids their due,” Bob Huggins decided Saturday.

        Suddenly, the Bearcats are everybody's question mark. They are the fly in your bracket. Not even they know how they'll do. The loss to St. Louis was no indication; the Bear cats were still picking pieces of sky from their heads. “Shellshocked,” Huggins said.

        Their story has all the makings of a made-for-Madness event. Big, bad UC, winning one for its fallen leader. College basketball's men in black, a ... Cinderella story. Only in March.

        The Bearcats are still good. Top-25 good.

        Do they know it?

        Huggins isn't known for fretting over his teams' psyches, but he better start now. There is a difference between being tough and being tough-minded. UC's biceps are unquestioned; the Temple loss and the St. Louis fiasco leave the mental part open to debate.

        It's time for the coach to pull out his couch. Calm everyone down, fire everyone up. Let everyone know everything will be all right. Or at least as good as possible, given the circumstances. Be nice to Ryan Fletcher. That'd be a switch.

        It's time for tough love, without the tough. Hugs from Huggs.

        Can Huggins do it?

        Two hours after the Thursday disaster, Huggins gathered his players in a meeting room at the team hotel in Memphis. “We still have good players,” he told them. “We can still do what we need to do.”

        If we play as a team, Huggins said, no team is better. Even without Martin.

        “He wasn't down,” Pete Mickeal said Saturday. “Usually after a loss, we don't leave the locker room for an hour. He's telling us how bad we are, what we did wrong. He didn't do that this time.”

        It was absolutely the right thing to do. Huggins didn't need to melt down when his players were already on the verge. He rallied, they rallied and Saturday's practice was among the best of the year.

        “We got better today in practice,” Mickeal said. “We worked three (hours) today. Three hard. Huggs was pleased.”

        It's not as if UC's season is over; it's just going in a different direction. Think of planning a trip to Paris, but ending up in London instead.

        Talent-wise, they're in the regionals already, even without Martin. Who's good? More to the point, who's playing like it? In 24 hours between noon Thursday and noon Friday, UC, Stanford, Ohio State, Tennessee, Florida and Syracuse all lost. That would be Nos. 1, 2, 4, 8, 11 and 12 on your dance cards.

        Among the others, Indiana has lost five of eight. Michigan State has seven losses. In a month that loves point guards, Kentucky looks pointless. That leaves Duke and Temple and a bracket that looks like scrambled eggs. Try finding four legitimate No. 1 seeds now.

        UC has lost the Swagger Factor. No one will be sleepless before facing them now. But they still have the players to make things interesting. A lot of it depends on repairing a broken confidence.

        We know all about Kenyon Martin's leg. We're about to find out about his teammates' backbones.

        Join the discussion in our College Sports forum

Bearcats Stories
Bearcats get No. 2 seed
UC fans boo seeding
NCAA Basketball Tournament Schedule
UC players sense improvement in practice
- UC can still make a tourney run
This March will be madder than most
Martin's injury clouds NBA draft