I cringe somewhat as I write this but, don’t be surprised if Cincinnati loses to Carleton University on Saturday. Also, don’t be upset if they do. I’m sure there will be some people, there always are, who rant and rave about the Bearcats losing to a Canadian team in an exhibition game to begin the year. They’ll call for Mick Cronin’s head, tear up their season tickets, and denounce their UC diploma. Quite frankly, let’s hope they do, for our lives will be all the happier without them dragging us down. But for the rest of us, we need to put this opponent in perspective.
If you’re not familiar with Carleton University the first and only thing to know is that even though they hail from Canada (and French Canada, no less) they boast a basketball program that’s experienced unprecedented levels of success. The Ravens have lost 10 games over the last decade. That’s 10 games total since the 2002-03 season. They’ve won eight conference championships, experienced ten 20+ win seasons, and had five undefeated teams since the turn of the century.
That’s basically the definition of a dynasty.
Thus far this season they’ve lost to Syracuse in exhibition play by 4 then went on to beat Wisconsin 95-82 and TCU by 26. Clearly this is going to be no pushover on Saturday and it’s this reason why I wouldn’t be surprised if UC lost. I’m not saying it’s a guarantee but I wouldn’t be surprised if Cincinnati came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Additionally, Mick Cronin knows as well as anyone that exhibition games have no effect on a team’s final record or their NCAA Tournament resume. He also knows that has a roster full of players who compete for starting time and just five spots available.
What Mick doesn’t know is which five players will fill those vacant spots. He has an intriguing mix of veterans in Sean Kilpatrick and Titus Rubles with talented but inexperienced true freshman in Troy Caupain and Jermaine Lawrence. Mick needs to figure out what line-up works, who will be the first player off the bench, and who can spell the starters in general. And he needs to do it fast because a non-conference schedule featuring NC State, New Mexico, and Xavier is right around the corner. The good news is that exhibition games are the best opportunities for him to learn that.
I expect the UC head coach to make constant substitutions on Saturday, finding the right combination that works. That could mean anything from four vets and a newbie to playing five freshman at once. Mick might also test new offensive and defensive formations to see what maximizes his players’ abilities. As he makes those changes an experienced Carleton team could easily take advantage and go on scoring runs, putting the Bearcats down for periods of time or potentially for good. But in doing so, those 40 minutes will allow Mick to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of his team, which will pay dividends in more important games this season.
So if a loss to a very, very good Canadian basketball team in a pointless exhibition game means that Mick knows which combination of players gives him the best chance to win this year, I’ll take that every day of the week and twice on Saturday. Which, as it turns out, has a possibility of happening in the one coming up. And if the Bearcats actually wind up losing, again, there’s nothing to worry about. Ignore all the naysayers and Debbie Downers who will yammer about the season being lost before it even began. Cincinnati has far greater goals this year than winning an exhibition game.