One of the worst labels you can get in sports is “gatekeeper”. Gatekeeper can mean different things, but it really depends on the sport you’re talking about. For example, in the NFL, Alex Smith and the Chiefs are gatekeepers. Are they a tough opponent? Definitely. Are they the toughest? Definitely not. They’ll make the playoffs and put up a fight, but they’ll never make it to the big game.
In the UFC, it’s a fighter like Clay Guida. Ask any UFC fan and they’ll tell you Guida is tough as nails. Ask that same fan if he thinks Guida will ever fight for the title, and they’ll laugh. It’s most likely a no. That’s because UFC brass puts Guida against fighters who are on the way to a title shot and need a really tough fight. They are hoping that Guida can do his thing and give the prospect a nice brawl. So if you can beat Guida, you’re on your way to the top. If not, you may not be around much longer. The gatekeeper protects, keeps away the ones who don’t belong. They hardly make their own push.
For the past few seasons in college basketball, the gatekeepers of the NCAA have been the Cincinnati Bearcats. No matter who you are, whether it be Kentucky, Duke or Kansas, you’d rather not see this team. Because, while they may have more talent, this team plays hard and physical basketball. This team likely leaves you bruised and bullied.
Cincinnati usually finishes with a pretty good regular season record, but seem to always be just a bit over-matched in the tournament. They beat the teams they’re supposed to, and usually little else. Come tourney time teams that have more talent are usually the favorites. And for good reason. Yes upsets happen but at the end of the day, talent is what can push you over the top in one-off tournament games. The Bearcats don’t always have the most talented team—particularly from an NBA prospect perspective—but they always have a competitive team.
Just two years ago when Kentucky was on their undefeated quest, the Bearcats gave them their toughest test to date that year. Right from the start, you got the feeling that even though the Wildcats had much more talent, the Bearcats were going to hang with them all night. In the end Kentucky prevailed, but the entire nation was put on notice. Cincinnati can play.
This season, the 11th-ranked Bearcats are determined to shake the “gatekeeper” label. They are 22-2 overall and 11-0 in conference play heading into this weekend’s big matchup against No. 25 SMU. They don’t have a superstar go-to player like a Malik Monk or a Grayson Allen, but they have a starting lineup that can run with the best in the country. Troy Caupain, Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans are all leading Cincinnati together. They are making it tough for every opposing coach to prepare for. And, all four players are even averaging 10 or more points per game.
With key wins over Xavier, SMU and Iowa State, another victory over SMU—a road game this Sunday—would bolster their lackluster resume. However, just because theirs isn’t great doesn’t mean they aren’t. Gonzaga could end the season undefeated and as the top overall seed, and there will probably be two, maybe even three seeds with better ones.
Resumes aren’t everything, as has been proven time and time again. So that’s nothing the Bearcats really need to worry about. They need to beat the teams that are in front of them and finally earn the respect they deserve. If they clear the SMU hurdle, there’s a real chance they could enter the tournament with just two losses. Which, of course, could give them a favorable draw in the big dance. It appears as though Cincinnati is sick of being the gatekeeper. Instead, they look ready to prove they belong with the best.
Run It Back
Thursday February 9, 2017
We were lucky enough to have two blockbuster matchups on Thursday night. The first was the Tobacco Road rivalry—the one that never disappoints. The main event, a top 10 showdown of heavyweights out west.
No. 18 Duke, 86 — No. 8 North Carolina, 78
Head for the bunkers. Lock the doors. Shut the lights off and hide. The Dukies are coming. If Duke can stay healthy, I don’t believe that any team in the nation cant defeat them. Especially if Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum play the way they did Thursday night. It seems Allen has put his issues behind him, while Tatum is beginning to force his way into the discussion of being a top-three pick in the NBA draft—if not number one overall.
Allen had 25 points and Tatum poured in 19 while Luke Kennard (another player who has seen his draft stock sky-rocket) added 20 of his own. Finally, Harry Giles only played 10 minutes, but he was 3-3 from the field and looked very aggressive. If Duke can’t have Giles consistently playing around 20-25 minutes per game when the tournament comes around, then the rest of the nation is going to have big problems.
No. 10 UCLA, 82 — No. 5 Oregon, 79
Speaking of the NBA draft, if it was held tomorrow and my team had the number one pick, I would take Lonzo Ball. No player has impressed me more this season. There are some players at this level whom every time you see them play, you can’t believe they are not in the NBA. Kevin Durant and John Wall are a couple of examples that come to mind. Obviously the draft rules keep these players in college, but in Ball’s case, I’m glad we get to see him dominate like this.
Ball ended the night with 15 points and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes of play. His final three-point shot that sealed the victory for UCLA was from Kobe distance, and he drained it. Ball and the rest of this talented UCLA roster have Bruins’ fans thinking national title.
If the Madness Began Today…
If the Tournament started today, these would be the four No. 1 seeds:
West: Gonzaga (No. 1 overall seed).
I would have had Louisville on the one line if they hadn’t dropped their game against Virginia this week. Villanova and Kansas remain safe with not much trouble in their sights, while Baylor sneaks back into a top spot. Gonzaga will be the top seed if they win out, and even if they lose Saturday night against Saint Mary’s, I can still see them being a number one seed if they run the table after that.