Before reading further, don't expect answers. For the first time, I have none.
Expect some stream of consciousness here, because I have no idea how to condense this into anything.
This was not a good team with a bad draw that ran into a better team or played out the string until they had nothing left. This wasn't even a good team. It was a great one. They had the draw they needed and the region was crumbling around them and they absolutely, positively choked. Not even I, the most freewheeling optimist of the bunch, can spin it any differently.
With what was Mick Cronin's best team, by far, he couldn't reach the second weekend, and I'm not sure how he handles that perception hit. I'm not sure how he lets a team with a 22-point lead in the second half continually forgo high-percentage shots until it's too late. I'm not sure how he lets Jarron Cumberland stay on the floor with four fouls and five minutes left. I'm not sure how he chews Jarron's head off for (inevitably) fouling out on a ticky-tack call while frantically trying to play defense and stem the tide.
The Bearcats had 10 or 11 of the easiest minutes of the season ahead if they played it right, followed by a Sweet 16 matchup against 11-seed Loyola (the easiest draw you could possibly hope for), followed by a potential Elite Eight matchup against a team that would've been a 5-seed at best, and the everybody panicked, especially the coaching staff.
The Bearcats had two chances to score points in the final seconds. The first was a play drawn up for Jacob Evans that resulted in an off-balance leaner in traffic. The second wasn't a play at all. The 'Cats had a magical season on the line and capped off 11 minutes of cluelessness with one final burst of ineptitude.
I don't know how Gary Clark's career ended like that. He didn't deserve that.
I don't know how that happened. I don't know how any of this happened, or keeps happening.
What I do know is that I'm incredibly grateful for Kyle Washington and the awesome moments he's given us, especially in the last two weeks. I'm incredibly grateful for Gary Clark and the incalculable impact he's made on Cincinnati, both on and off the floor.
I'm also incredibly grateful for Jacob Evans. If this is his final game as a Bearcat, I'll fully support him making a move that he feels is best for him, because it ultimately probably is. He has that choice. He chose us three and a half years ago, and he's given Cincinnati everything since.
I love these kids, this program, and this university, and that won't ever change, but I'd be lying if I said this won't haunt me for a long time. It'll take years to wash the stink of this one off, but I'll be around to wait for that to happen.
The future of this program is bright, but it's hard to get brighter than what the Bearcats were looking at with 10 minutes left.
I haven't yet surveyed the fallout, so I don't know how the rest of us are taking this. I just want to make one thing clear: Don't blame the kids. I don't care how much of a fan you are, nobody is feeling it more than the ones who wear the jersey.
The Bearcats are a ship I'll happily go down with, because I know it's coming back up at some point. This is going to burn for a while, but that's how it works. Ride or die.