The Cincinnati Bearcats who were picked in the preseason to finish fourth in American Athletic Conference defied the odds and the naysayers to win a share of the conference regular season title and finished the regular season at 26-7. The Bearcats under the leadership of Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson boasted one of the toughest defenses in the country.
But as the NCAA Tournament approached and receiving a 5 seed, the Bearcats' dreams of winning a National Championship came to an unexpected and a quick end as they fell in the round of 64 to the 12 seed Harvard Crimson by a score of 61-57. While all of Bearcat Nation is disappointed about quick end to the season, the loss makes it more heartbreaking knowing that this was the last game for the likes of Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles. Three great players who will never wear a Bearcats' uniform again.
The Bearcats just did not seem to be in a groove all game, with unnecessary turnovers and missing many shots in the paint. Cincinnati was 21 of 57 from the field which put them at a non-inspiring 36.8% from the court. The three-point line was not very friendly to the Bearcats either as they went 4 of 12 from beyond the arc.
Harvard never trailed after the opening moments of the game. They played with confidence and scrap against the Bearcats. Sean Kilpatrick led seed Cincinnati with 18 points, but the Bearcats failed to win a tournament game for the second straight year with last year's loss coming against Creighton. Justin Jackson also finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Jackson was clearly the most aggressive player for Cincinnati down low, but the shots that fell for Jackson all season chose not to fall today. Bearcats couldn't finish near the rim today. They missed an astounding 25 layups against Harvard.
UC also could not get over the hump after the they narrowed Harvard's lead to 45-43 midway through the second half. As they attempted to tie the game, the offense seemed to crumble. The Bearcats wound up turning the ball over six times over the next five minutes in addition to missing a pair of free throws. They were scoreless for over five and a half minutes. Bearcats made a valiant effort to make a comeback in the final minute as Jermaine Sanders chucked up a desperation three-pointer that was way off and sealed the upset victory for the Crimson.
Despite the abrupt end, this doesn't take away from the excellent season Cincinnati had. They won 27 games, their most under Mick Cronin, and earned a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, their highest slotting under the UC head coach. Additionally the Bearcats won a conference championship, their first in over a decade, and climbed to new heights in the major polls. It's clear Cincinnati basketball has been reestablished as a force on the collegiate level. Cincinnati basketball seems to be on the rise.