"The Shoe" Returns: Bearcats' Strong Start Reminiscent of Glory Days

Paul ErskineCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2008

On Saturday afternoon, the Fifth Third Arena returned to traditional form as Cincinnati upset Pittsburgh.  

Screaming my head off from tip-off to the final horn, I was reminded of the days when Steve Logan and Dwyane Wade battled for the Conference USA Title, and of the epic struggles between Louisville and the Bearcats when "home" for the 'Cats was still called "The Shoe."  

Ah, those were the days—Bob Huggins, Skyline, and Bearcat Basketball.  Days of promise, dominance, and titles.  

Those days have been gone for a couple of years now.  But on Saturday, in the closing minutes, the Shoemaker Center was back.

And it's here to stay!  

Using good half court offense and defense, UC was able to slow down the high scoring Panthers.  Getting Dejuan Blair in foul trouble went a long way as well.  Being constantly pulled never allowed the big freshman to find his groove.
But this is not a recap of the game—those came out on Sunday.  This is a story of a once dominant champion taking a knockout blow, crumbling to his knees in sweat and agony—and now his chin has lifted again.  The look of determination that only true fighters have has once again resurfaced, and watch out Big East, because the Bearcats are back!  

Now let's not blow our heads and expect a conference championship and Final Four run.  Even a fighter has to shake off the cobwebs after a big blow.  At 9-9, a shot at the big dance does not seem very promising.  But with two-thirds of the Big East schedule to play and road trips to UConn, Georgetown, Pitt, and West Virginia looming, I think that may be too much to expect this year.  A trip to the Big East Tourney and NIT however, is very much in sight.

Some may say this is not much of an accomplishment, and I as a long time Bearcat fan would have to agree—usually.  But after the two seasons of drought, the rain is starting to come.  

If you had asked any coach in the Big East at the beginning of the season whether UC would be tied with the most wins after 6 games, he would have laughed in your face.  Heck, I would have—but that is where they sit. 

A lot of early nonconference losses will hurt their chances at the Big Dance, but a solid conference run will get them into the Big East tourney. If they do well there, it could get them a birth into the NIT.   
Up next for the 'Cats is an always tough UConn team at home.  UConn comes fresh off a big win much like UC with a victory over Marquette.  And even though Connecticut is having an off year compared to their normal Top 25 selves, they still come in having all 5 starters averaging double figures in points. 

They are no pushover that’s for sure.  Of their 5 losses, none are critical.  The worst is a home loss to a solid Providence team.  

On paper UConn would seem to be able to handle the Bearcats—but then again so did UC's last six opponents and only two were able to.  Since this game is in Cincinnati, I’m going to go with UC—if it were in Connecticut it would be a different story.  

I was at the game on Saturday to scream, hoot, and holler.  I was part of a day when the Shoemaker Center returned—and so did the Bearcats.