Sunday, November 29, 2015

Barclays Center Classic: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

Cincinnati celebrates after winning Barclays Center Classic championship. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Brooklyn, NY - ­ For years, the criticism on the NBA is that if you see the last two minutes, you’ve seen it all. Skeptics could say that about the Cincinnati-George Washington meeting in the Barclays Center Classic  championship. They would have been very misguided with that assessment. Cincinnati emerged victorious, 61­-56, in a tough battle of unbeatens at Barclays Center. It was largely a case of making plays in the stretch. The numbers:

Possessions: 60
Offensive Efficiency: Cincinnati 102, George Washington 93

Four Factors:
eFG%: Cincinnati 48, George Washington 47
FT Rate: Cincinnati 23, George Washington 7
OREB%: Cincinnati 33, George Washington 25

TO Rate: Cincinnati 20, George Washington 18

Leading Scorers and Efficiency Factors:
Cincinnati: Troy Caupain (16 points, EF 21)
George Washington: Patricio Garino  (15 points, EF 20)

The difference: George Washington shot 8-of-11 (73%) from three-point range in the first half, but in the second half, cooled down to 3-of-11 (27%). Credit the Bearcats for better perimeter defense. Rebounding, a Cincinnati staple, was also in the Bearcats' favor, contributing to a 24-­16 advantage in points in the paint.

Tournament MVP honors went to Cincinnati senior forward Octavius Ellis. The 6­-10 Ellis scored nine points, adding seven rebounds for an efficiency factor of 14. In per minute EF, Ellis’ rate trailed both Caupain and Garino. (Caupain .636 EF per minute, Garino .625, Ellis .483)

Ellis did come up big for the Bearcats in that vital stretch run. Remember, MVP is ‘most valuable,’ not necessarily the best performer in raw or analytical figures, but rather the one the team essentially needs at the key juncture of the game. For Cincinnati to claim the title, Ellis’ performance was most ‘valuable.’

Final Thoughts
“We wanted to take away their inside game, and we allowed them to do that. We made a lot of threes the first half. We got good looks in the second half, but didn’t hit. They (Cincinnati) did a great job getting to the line and they kept us from getting inside. Their matchup zone was effective. We had to rely on taking outside shots, but missed some opportunities.” George Washington coach Mike Lonergan

“I thought we guarded the three-point line a lot better in the second half. It’s a
long game and they started out shooting well, but couldn’t sustain.” Cincinnati guard Kevin Johnson on George Washington’s first half hot shooting

“Obviously a hard-fought game. GW is tough and well coached. I love what they do on the offensive end. They shot well early, but our offensive rebounding was a game-changer for us.” ­ Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin

“With little prep time we were concerned with (Kevin) Larsen in the low post, especially his passing. They got the shots and converted. We went small, not allowing them to beat us off the dribble and get open threes. Teams have to beat us off the dribble so we set our defense accordingly.” ­ Cronin

“We are going to get better. We haven’t had a lot of time to work on our press. We want to press more and pick up the tempo. We have to pressure in the backcourt to get to where we want to go.” ­ Cronin

In the consolation game, Nebraska defeated Tennessee 82­-71. A 73-possession game saw the offensive efficiency controlled by the Huskers with a 112-­97 advantage. The difference? Both teams had turnover rates under 20 percent, (Nebraska 18 and Tennessee 15%) and were even with a 44% free throw rate. Nebraska led 40­-22 in offensive rebounding percentage, contributing to a 54% (to Tennessee’s 42) in eFG percentage.

Leading Scorers and Efficiency Factors:
Nebraska: Tai Webster (18 points, EF 18)
Tennessee: Kevin Punter (23 points, EF 31)

Final Thoughts
“We have to get to a point that when you watch us play, you know we are tough, that we are competitive, and that we are going to be a tough out. The last two games were not exemplary of that.” ­ Tennessee associate head coach Rob Lanier

“Tennessee has been on a comeback on everybody, and they made it a ballgame down to the last possession with a smart coach and veteran players. For us to be able to hold them off was important for us.” ­ Nebraska coach Tim Miles

Fordham 87, Manhattan 64: 5 Fordham Observations

Traditionally the "nuggets of note" that follow the press conference transcript, here are a handful of observations from watching the Rams as they won their fourth straight game, taking the Battle of the Bronx against Manhattan:

  • By the numbers, it was Fordham's best game of the season.
    The Rams' 87 points were a season high, as was the 56 percent (31-for-55) field goal effort for the game. In addition, Mandell Thomas' 26 points were also his highest output to date this year, and three off his career high of 29, while Ryan Rhoomes' 20 marked an all-time peak for the senior forward as the Rams left Rose Hill Gym with a four-game winning streak for the first time since 2010, Tom Pecora's first season. Finally, the 23-point margin of victory was the third-largest for Fordham in the 108-game history of the Battle of the Bronx, and largest since defeating Manhattan by the final of 93-57 on February 4, 1986.
  • Stopping Shane Richards was priority No. 1.
    The Rams kept the senior from making his presence known, holding him to nine points and forcing him into an uncharacteristic 2-for-14 shooting night, his worst effort since scoreless outings last year against both Rutgers and Quinnipiac. "He was the focus of our defense," Jeff Neubauer remarked, "and he certainly was a key for us."
  • Fordham's role players still had solid nights despite rough patches.
    Antwoine Anderson's four turnovers will stand out on the final stat line, but the point guard's four-point swing at the conclusion of the first half was arguably what won Fordham the game, as he flushed an alley-oop from Nemanja Zarkovic before burying a jumper just before the buzzer. Joseph Chartouny also recovered from an erratic game to post 11 points and nine rebounds, furthering his status as a pleasant revelation in the month of November. For the season, the Canadian freshman is averaging 10.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 2.0 steals per game, while shooting 48 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range.
  • Offensive balance.
    Neubauer has preached it from his first moments on the Fordham campus, and his team has heeded his instruction through the first five games. In each contest so far in this young season, Fordham has had at least four players post double-figure scoring efforts. Five Rams ended the evening with ten or more points Saturday night for the second time this year, with the other occurrence coming on November 21 against Fairleigh Dickinson, which was; coincidentally, also a 23-point Fordham win.
  • In-game coaching and adjustments.
    This is something Fordham fans have spent years clamoring for, as the Tom Pecora regime was marked by what longtime spectators viewed as indifference bordering on negligence. The Rams improved their ball handling against Manhattan's pressure defense to the tune of committing just five turnovers in the second half, as opposed to 14 miscues before halftime, a fact not lost on their head coach. "In the second half, we played more like who we've been and who we're going to be," said Neubauer, who lamented the lack of hustle for a rebound with 1:47 remaining in regulation even though Fordham held a 20-point lead at that juncture.

Fordham 87, Manhattan 64: 5 Manhattan Observations

A handful of observations from the Jasper side after Manhattan's 87-64 loss to Fordham in the Battle of the Bronx at Rose Hill Gymnasium:

  • Manhattan is by no means broken, but they have bent beyond their normal standard.
    The physical effects of playing with seven men Saturday night and six before that on Wednesday against George Mason appeared to take a toll on the Jaspers in the second half, and it is something Steve Masiello admitted was tough to watch, and even tougher because the circumstances his team is enduring are beyond his and his players' control. "Right now, we're wearing ourselves down," he conceded. "It's tough because nights like tonight make it tough."
  • Rich Williams backed up his career night with a strong encore.
    Much like Wednesday night, the contributions from the junior guard were appreciated additionally in a game where Shane Richards was held to just nine points on 2-of-14 shooting. Three days removed from a 26-point showing against George Mason, Williams again paced the Manhattan scoring efforts, this time going for 24 points and five rebounds at a 10-for-19 clip from the field. In his last two games, Williams has shot 54 percent, flipping the script from a 25 percent start in the Jaspers' first two contests against Saint Mary's and Bucknell.
  • Tyler Wilson continued his understated good start to the season.
    Forced into a greater role than he is accustomed to as a result of Manhattan's injuries, the junior ended the night with 13 points, which matched his combined total from the first three games of the season. More importantly, his season-high eight assists extended his streak of having six or more helpers in every game so far this year, and also raised his average to seven per game. Wilson's ability to get to the free throw line 14 times, making nine of them, also conjured memories of former Jasper point guard and current assistant coach Michael Alvarado, who made a living on his knack to draw fouls in addition to being a prolific scorer and passer.
  • Zane Waterman...
    Will not be suspended for Friday's game at Siena, as per a Manhattan official. Waterman's flagrant-2 foul on Fordham's Mandell Thomas with 10:35 remaining in regulation was grounds for an automatic ejection for the sophomore forward, but since the foul was not the direct result of a fight, he will not receive a one-game suspension.
  • Could a 23-point loss really end up being a blessing in disguise?
    Steve Masiello mentioned in his postgame press conference (click here for a full transcript of quotes) that he hoped his players would remember how this game turned out. "We've got to take it and let this be the fuel for us," he proposed, citing the 2013 MAAC championship game against Iona as an example (he had the 60-57 final score from that game on the scoreboard in practice during the ensuing offseason). "The one thing I do like is, let us get angry about this. I think it's great. I don't shy away from that, because this is going to be our motivation come January and February."

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thomas leads five Rams in double figures as Fordham wins Battle of the Bronx

Mandell Thomas led all scorers with 26 points as Fordham cruised past Manhattan, 87-64, in Battle of Bronx where five Rams ended night in double figures. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Dusovic via Fordham University Athletics)

BRONX, NY -- In rivalry games, records are put aside more often than not due to the unpredictable nature of bragging rights at stake between the two teams on the floor.

As it so happened Saturday night, Fordham came close to setting a record of their own.

Five players scored in double figures for the Rams, (4-1) who shot 56 percent (31-for-55) from the field in a commanding 87-64 victory over crosstown rival Manhattan in the 108th Battle of the Bronx, Fordham's fourth straight victory of the young season.

The win, the second in three years for the Rams against Manhattan, was also the third-largest margin of victory over the Jaspers (1-3) in the rivalry's 108 contests, and largest since a 93-57 triumph on February 4, 1986, also at Rose Hill Gymnasium.

"I think we're headed in the right direction," said Mandell Thomas, whose 26 points led all scorers and earned him the Mike Cohen Most Valuable Player award. "This has always been intense, Fordham-Manhattan, a rivalry game. The crowd gets into it, and it's even better when we win."

Ryan Rhoomes took advantage of an undermanned Manhattan front line to record a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Christian Sengfelder registered 16 points before fouling out. Joseph Chartouny (11 points, 9 rebounds) came within a rebound of his second straight double-double, and Antwoine Anderson tallied 10 points off the bench, four of them coming in the final 25 seconds of the first half as the Rams seized momentum going into the locker room, using an 18-7 run to take a 42-33 advantage at the conclusion of the opening stanza. In the second half, the Rams were a more disciplined unit, only committing five turnovers after Manhattan's pressure forced them into 14 miscues in the first 20 minutes.

Limited to just seven players because of the injuries that continue to ravage the Jasper roster, Manhattan was led by Rich Williams' 24 points, while Tyler Wilson fought his way to 13 points and eight assists. Shane Richards, the Jaspers' leading scorer, was rendered into a non-factor for the majority of the evening, finishing with just nine points on 2-for-14 shooting before fouling out with 2:06 remaining in regulation.

The game could very well have gone off the tracks for both sides at the 10:35 mark of the second half, when Zane Waterman appeared to come down hard on Thomas on the right baseline as Thomas was driving down the floor, opposite the Fordham bench. The Jaspers' sophomore forward was assessed a flagrant-2 foul, resulting in his automatic ejection from the contest. However, since the foul was not a consequence of a fight, Waterman will not be suspended for Manhattan's next game, which takes place Friday evening on the road against Siena.

Following the foul, which occurred with Fordham leading 62-48, the Rams went on a 17-6 run to stretch their lead to 25 points, and did not let it get within 20 for the remainder of the game.

Fordham continues their nine-game homestand on Wednesday, welcoming Chris Mullin and St. John's to Rose Hill for the first time since 2010, when the Rams erased a 21-point deficit with two separate 16-0 runs to upset the Red Storm, prompting a sellout crowd to storm the court.

Fordham 87, Manhattan 64: Quotes From Steve Masiello

Opening statement:
"Well, congratulations to Fordham. I thought they came out very well prepared, I thought Coach (Jeff Neubauer) did a terrific job. I thought their kids really competed at a high level. He's doing a great job with the program of getting kids to buy in to his philosophy. I take my hat off to him, and a great win for Fordham."

On Manhattan's energy in first half after Wednesday's win over George Mason:
"That's what we do. We better have energy."

On injuries:
"The game has changed in a sense of where as coaches, we've got to watch what we do with injuries and how much we push, how much we look into things, so for me, I can't give you a clear answer because I don't know a clear answer. Some seem like they're going to be some time and some seem more of the nagging type. The biggest issue we're having is you take a guy like Carlton Allen, who hasn't practiced all week, so even though we have a body, it's not a body who knows, per se, what to do against Fordham's schemes and everything. We haven't been able to practice in, I'd say, twelve days. We only have five bodies, six bodies. We're bringing in Rhamel Brown to practice. It's what it is. I'm hoping we can get back, and I'm trusting the training staff to do what we need to do to get guys back. I just go on what I'm told."

On how injuries are affecting Manhattan most:
"This style, I think for four years, I've averaged ten guys, definitely nine, in double-figure minutes. It's why we've won. I press, I play a lot of bodies, I keep us fresh. No one except for George Beamon has really played over 32 (minutes) consistently, and George was a freak, he just didn't get tired. But we wear you down, and right now, we're wearing ourselves down. That's what happening, we're wearing ourselves down, and you see we're competing for 16, 17, 15, 14, 18 minutes, 25 minutes, and we're running out of gas. Unfortunately, and I don't want to say this arrogantly, when you get a lot of credit for playing hard; which I think we have done over the years, it's tough to tell guys 'don't play hard to save yourself,' when you've taken two years just to get that foundation up. We only know one way to go. Now, do I come in and say 'okay, guys, play at a 6 out of 10 and save yourself,' or do I think macro and say 'okay, I'll have everyone for January, and let's just get great experience right now, get beat up a little bit, get some black eyes, some scars, but not get killed, and then in January, come back and make a run at this thing?' It's tough, because nights like tonight make it tough."

On different approaches:
"I'm trying to come up with things. I think the biggest thing right now is we've got to get healthy. I just think at the end of the day, our team's got to get healthy. And that's no excuse. We might have had ten guys and Fordham still might have won tonight. I'm not going to take anything away from any team that's beaten us, but I can't worry about that. I've got to worry about Manhattan, and what I've got to worry about is getting my team healthy as best I can, but unfortunately it's tough when things aren't in your control. That's the tough thing. It's very vital to you and your program, but you're not in control of that, so it's a tough thing."

On Shane Richards and adjustment to being primary focus of opposing teams:
"I've never been a coach that says we just missed shots, I've always given the defense credit and I always will. I thought he missed shots he normally makes, give Fordham credit, they did a very good job of keying in off him. I thought he did get some good looks, though. I think the thing for Shane, though, is he's used to having a RaShawn Stores, so if you play Shane a certain way, RaShawn can go make a play. Even a Calvin Crawford, who's a skilled big and can put it on the floor, can go make a play, or a Jermaine Lawrence can go make a play. Now it's Matt Maloney or Tommy Capuano, the freshmen. Like anything else, that's just going to take time, and I think on the defensive end, you see us really hurt because we don't have any depth up front. Calvin Crawford is out, Samson Akilo is out, Jermaine Lawrence is no longer with us, and (AK) Ojo is out, so that's four bigs right there, and I'm looking. I'm trying to sub in coaches, trying to get Len Elmore to come back. I'll take anyone."

More on Manhattan's injuries:
"I think the thing is, and this isn't just me: If we get healthy, when we get healthy, let everyone enjoy this now, because when we get healthy, I think we'll be different. Everyone should enjoy this now. We've been on a nice run the last couple of years here in the metropolitan area. Everyone should enjoy beating us now. We're undermanned, and if it was the other way around, I would enjoy it and I would take it to a team, so I'm not looking for any mercy or pity, but I am going to say that when we get our nine or ten, I think we're going to be the Manhattan that we're supposed to be, and that's something I'm confident in."

"I think RaShawn and Ojo could be (ready) this weekend, I'm hoping. I think Calvin could be a January situation, Samson Usilo I'm not sure about. It is what it is, and then the other thing is when guys come back and they're not 100, (percent) now you reevaluate whether you want to bring a guy back at 80 percent or sit him out two more weeks and let him get to 100 percent. You just saw that with RaShawn against Bucknell. He came back and he tweaked it again, and it's tough because the kids want to be out there."

On his message to the team:
"It's hard for them to sit there and watch that, but there's no excuses. We've got to take it and let this be the fuel for us. We haven't had this happen to us in a while, so I told guys as Fordham was dribbling out the clock to remember this. It's kind of like Iona, 60-57, three years ago (in the 2013 MAAC championship game). Remember. Let this be the fuel when we come back in January, because the one thing I do like is, let us get angry about this. Let us be mad about this. I think it's great. I don't shy away from that. I want them to feel this, I want them to feel the pain, because this is going to be our motivation come January and February."

On Saturday's game in general:
"I thought Fordham just did a great job. I give Coach a lot of credit, I just thought his kids competed, I thought they made good shots, I thought they had a great game plan to attack us inside. I think they knew we were thin up front, (and) I think they set the tone right away by going to (Ryan) Rhoomes inside. I thought they did a really good job of punching it inside. I think he did a good job. I think Fordham came out and played good basketball, and they've been playing good basketball. Playing any A-10 team on the road is never going to be easy, and I think sometimes we lose perspective of that when teams at our level have success, but I thought they did a terrific job. I give them a lot of credit, I thought they were well-coached, and I thought their kids did a very good job of knowing who they were and staying true to themselves, so I take my hat off to them."

On challenges Manhattan is facing now, and how they will help moving forward:
"It only makes us better. I've always said this: You're not going to kill us. We were 2-7 last year, and three years ago, I can't remember what we were. The process is the key, and I'm going to stay true to my process as I always have. You're not going to kill us, it's only going to make us stronger and tougher, and the one thing is I've got a lot of pride in that locker room right now. Rich Williams is a Brooklyn kid with a lot of pride, Tyler Wilson is a Bronx kid with a lot of pride, RaShawn Stores is a Bronx kid with a lot of pride, Shane Richards is a Manhattan kid with a lot of pride. They're not sleeping tonight. This is going to bother them, but I want it to, because we haven't been bothered in a while. When you have success, you don't get bothered. This is great for us. This is, in an ironic way; and you never want to lose, but it's good for us because now, we can get a little mad. We can get a little angry. We can get like, 'oh yeah, I remember this taste. Let's do something about it now.' You want to be able to stay there without losing, but you've got to find a positive in everything. You've got to make wine out of water."

On evaluating whether his players are 100 percent:
"I really don't get involved in that, that's really between the players and the trainers. When the players are ready to come back and the trainers say they can go, I evaluate from a functional standpoint, can he help us? Is he going to hurt us defensively, is he going to hurt us in any areas? I always want to put the kids in a situation to be successful, but it's in the back of my mind at all times."

Fordham 87, Manhattan 64: Quotes From Jeff Neubauer & Mandell Thomas

Neubauer's opening statement:
"Our team did a lot of tough things here today, and it's important as we develop this program. In the first half, we turned it over too many times, we had 14 turnovers and that's not who we are. In the second half, we played more like who we've been and who we're going to be, meaning we only had five turnovers and we were still throwing the ball in the post, I mean, we threw the ball in the post over and over, so it wasn't like our guys were hesitant or tentative. They were just making the right passes. Defensively, we've got to work on not fouling. Once the intentional foul happened, we knew the whistle was going to blow every possession the rest of the way, and it did, and this year in college basketball, you've got to be able to guard the ball without fouling, and we certainly have to improve there."

On offensive balance with five players in double figures:
"Yeah, we talk about balance, and we're going to be balanced. Mandell (Thomas) is a terrific player, (and) we've got other really good basketball players on this team, but it's not one individual. It's about guys just playing together. Jon Severe had two fouls in the first half and didn't get to play many minutes, (but) I really thought he played well in the second half. He's the one starter that didn't have double figures, but he was making the right pass over and over, whether it was into the post or driving and sharing with a teammate. So, our guys are playing the right way, and we have a long, long way to go. Our defense is going to get better and our guys are doing a lot of good things."

On his first Battle of the Bronx experience:
"From my perspective, there really was no lead up to it. I haven't been interviewed by any TV station, so there's been absolutely zero lead up, and Rose Hill Gym was not sold out, so I've been part of bigger rivalries than this."

On focusing on Shane Richards when game planning for Manhattan:
"We did feel like Shane was very important to them. He is a terrific player and in past years, from what I understand, he's been an outstanding three-point shooter. Now he gets fouled, he puts it on the deck, he's got game, so he is really hard to guard and he was the focus of our defense. We did put different people on him, and he certainly was a key for us to defending Manhattan."

On Fordham's depth:
"That's who we are. We played the same amount of guys today that we've played the last several games, so right now, this is who we are and quite honestly, one of the things that really hurt us in the first half is I played too many defenses and we pressed. They really hurt our press. In the second half, we simply played halfcourt man-to-man, and our defense was much better."

On game plans early in the season before Atlantic 10 play:
"I think every game is different. That's the way we phrase it to our team, that we're going to do similar things every game. For example, we play our man-to-man defense. Now in certain games, we've got to focus on a player like Shane, or we have to focus on a point guard, we have to focus on a post player. That is part of the learning process, just tweaking your game plan every game. However, to me, it's more about that rebound we didn't get with 1:47 left. That's got to be our rebound, so it's more about our team."

On response following intentional foul against Manhattan's Zane Waterman:
"Our team was level-headed after the incident, and the rule is that only the head coach can leave the bench, so I obviously did not do a good job preparing our team for that situation. I thought the officials did handle it very well, but we had four guys ejected, and I've got to do a better job coaching our team."

Mandell Thomas (26 points, 5 rebounds) on Fordham's four-game winning streak:
"I think we're headed in the right direction. It's been a while since Fordham won four straight, so I'm looking forward to St. John's, another big team we're playing against on Wednesday, and hopefully we'll get another 'W.'"

On crowd atmosphere:
"I've been a part of this four years. This has always been intense, Fordham-Manhattan, a rivalry game, this year, another intense game, so it's fun being out there. The crowd gets into it and it's even better when we win, so it's always a good time."

On potentially making a statement should Fordham beat St. John's:
"I think it would be a big statement. We're all in New York City and we're trying to take over New York as well, but we've got more games after that. We've got to continue to strive to beat other teams as well. We can't just focus on those two teams, (Manhattan and St. John's) but if we get those two wins, I think we'll be good."

Friday, November 27, 2015

Cavanaugh helps GW remain undefeated in victory over Tennessee

Tyler Cavanaugh's 18 points and nine rebounds guided George Washington to 73-70 victory over Tennessee in semifinals of Barclays Center Classic. (Photo courtesy of the Syracuse Post-Standard)

BROOKLYN -- Since he committed to George Washington following his transfer from Wake Forest, Mike Lonergan has had nothing but great praise and high hopes for Tyler Cavanaugh.

On Friday evening, his 6-9 forward was there to validate him.

Cavanaugh's 18 points led all George Washington scorers, and his nine rebounds were one off the team lead as the Colonials (6-0) staved off a late rally from Tennessee (4-2) to win their semifinal matchup in the Barclays Center Classic.

"Definitely," said Lonergan when asked if efforts like Friday's were what the coach expected from Cavanaugh moving forward in the season. "He's having a great season. He's been what we've needed."

Cavanaugh's frontcourt running mate, Kevin Larsen, picked up a double-double, amassing 15 points and 10 rebounds in a game that saw four Colonials reach double-figure point totals. Kevin Punter paced Tennessee and all scorers with 24 points as the Volunteers admittedly struggled against the size and physicality of George Washington, being outrebounded 47-30 and getting into foul trouble.

"We haven't played a team as big or as strong as them," Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes remarked. "They're the biggest team we've played to this point. We got out of sync when we got into foul trouble. We just lost our offensive rhythm."

Tennessee faces Nebraska in Saturday afternoon's consolation game, with tipoff slated for 12:30 p.m. George Washington advances to the championship round, where Cincinnati awaits after their 65-61 victory over Nebraska in Friday's first contest.

Mick Cronin recognizes blessing of being able to return to coaching

After missing most of last season due to medical reasons, Mick Cronin is back on bench at Cincinnati, and not taking anything for granted. (Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer)

Far too often, we take for granted the population of the sports world. Although the players and coaches of each team, professional or collegiate, are often regarded as mythical immortals, they are no different from the delivery guy at your local pizzeria, or the receptionist in your office. Sports figures, while more revered, are human too.

And sometimes, it takes a haunting reality check to realize that. Take Mick Cronin as an example.

Cronin, now in his tenth season as the head men's basketball coach at the University of Cincinnati, missed the bulk of last season after doctors discovered he suffered from arterial dissection, a non-threatening vascular condition, after he complained of recurring headaches in December. Associate head coach Larry Davis filled in admirably through the remainder of the year, but Cronin was given a clean bill of health during the offseason to return to the sidelines at his alma mater.

"The whole thing has been crazy," the 44-year-old Cronin intimated on Friday after his Bearcats improved to 6-0 on the season following a victory over Nebraska in the semifinals of the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn. "If we'd have beaten Kentucky, (in the NCAA Tournament last March) I probably would have coached the next game. The whole thing was like the twilight zone."

"I'm just fortunate," he added. "I tell everybody to be thankful for your health, because it's not promised. Most people, they say 'yeah, yeah,' and then move on about their day, but people that have gone through it, or have had a family member go through any type of thing, they understand what I'm talking about."

Cronin is not the only coach in recent years to be forced away from the game due to medical circumstances, with Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano taking the majority of the 2012 season off to treat leukemia, and Steve Lavin spending most of 2011-12 away from St. John's after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer. Regardless, he knows just how blessed he is, and reinforced that belief as the holiday season is now upon us.

"We don't really observe holidays in college coaching," Cronin quipped, "but I think for me, I probably have that mentality now all the time, being thankful. I'm probably now a lot more cognizant of other people when I see other people go through things. I have much more empathy when I see that type of stuff. You notice everything now because it's something that happened, you went through something and you see other people go through it."

The grinding nature of the college basketball season, which turns into a year-round vocation when recruiting is taken into concern, only makes it harder on coaches physically. Nebraska head coach Tim Miles referenced that after facing Cronin and Cincinnati, and made it a point to cite how important having his counterpart back in the game is for not just basketball, but from a life standpoint.

"With the grind these players and coaches go through," Miles said, recounting that it was against his Nebraska team in which Cronin first experienced his medical symptoms, "I think people take for granted our health and welfare. But it was great to see him out there, because we want him healthy. He's good for the game."

"I don't take anything for granted," Cronin reaffirmed. "I really appreciate just being able to coach and having my health, but I also know that it's not promised tomorrow."

Cincinnati holds off Nebraska in Barclays Center Classic semifinal

Troy Caupain's team-high 17 points helped Cincinnati outlast Nebraska in semifinals of Barclays Center Classic. Bearcats will face George Washington or Tennessee next after 65-61 victory Friday. (Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer)

BROOKLYN -- Troy Caupain's 17 points led all Cincinnati players as the No. 24 Bearcats improved to 6-0 on the season, defeating Nebraska, 65-61, in the semifinals of the Barclays Center Classic on the home floor of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets.

With the win, Cincinnati moves on to the championship game of the Thanksgiving weekend tournament, where they will await either George Washington or Tennessee Saturday afternoon.

"As the game went on, we were able to score some points," said Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin. "Give Nebraska credit, they made nothing easy. They had us in playing in circles the first half."

Cincinnati outrebounded the Cornhuskers (4-2) 39-29, including a 16-7 margin on the offensive glass. In addition to Caupain, Shaq Thomas scored 14 points while Octavius Ellis fell one rebound shy of a double-double, finishing with 12 points and nine boards.

"Our big guys started to assert themselves," Cronin stated. "We're not very good when they can't score inside for us, and they did that in the second half."

Tai Webster paced Nebraska and all scorers, finishing with 21 points and eight rebounds on a night where the Huskers were hampered by senior forward Shavon Shields' foul trouble, which eliminated him from the game after 20 minutes and 14 points to his credit.

Nebraska will face the loser of the George Washington-Tennessee matchup in Saturday's consolation game, which tips off at 12:30 p.m.

Final call of Monmouth's win over Notre Dame

Courtesy of Monmouth University Athletics and The Shore Sports Network, here is the final call of the Hawks' 70-68 win over 17th-ranked Notre Dame Thursday evening, the 900th all-time win for Monmouth men's basketball and first-ever victory over a Top 25 team in program history, as called by Eddy Occhipinti and Steve Bazaz: