As there was for Duke in that 1992 Kentucky game or for Kansas in the final seconds against Bucknell last March, there still is hope for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Turning that possibility into triumph, though, demands almost perfect execution.
There is one step Cincinnati must take to extricate itself from the mess created when Bob Huggins was removed as head coach not long after he led the Bearcats to their 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Well, technically, two:
First, hire Mike Bobinski as athletic director.
Second, stand aside as the former Xavier A.D. leads the campaign to lure Skip Prosser back to the city as Huggins' replacement.
For the Bearcats, this would be like hitting back-to-back grand slams.
There are a few other coaches who might be able to ensure Cincinnati becomes a competitive entity in the Big East. Murray State's Mick Cronin is an exceptional young coach and recruiter, and he is a Cincinnati native and UC graduate who holds a better grasp on the city and program than anyone save for Huggins, his former boss. Oliver Purnell did solid work in the neighborhood -- at Dayton -- and is recruiting effectively in the process of rebuilding Clemson.
However, Prosser offers the Cincinnati administration the ideal confluence: a confirmed Cincyphile with achievement at the highest levels of NCAA basketball and an established reputation as a champion of players' academic pursuits.
Since taking over Wake Forest in 2001, Prosser has led the Demon Deacons to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, and three of those teams were seeded fourth or better. Josh Howard and Chris Paul were first-team All-Americans. That's the kind of stuff Cincinnati fans grew accustomed to during the Huggins years.
It is not clear Prosser would be interested; he does not comment on these matters. He has a great job at Wake, is well-compensated and loves the university. But he lived 15 years in Cincinnati and has a strong affection for the city. He makes frequent, quiet trips back to visit favorite places and friends.
Even without his connection to Prosser -- they worked together three years at Xavier -- Bobinski would be a terrific choice to replace Bob Goin, who is retiring. The list of extraordinary college A.D.s can be tallied without the use of anyone's toes, and Bobinski makes the cut. He is bright, likable, tough and visionary. He saw the potential in Thad Matta, who had coached just one year at Butler before Xavier grabbed him.
Bobinski stepped away from athletics in April 2004 to head Xavier's fund-raising operation, but he is ready to return in the right circumstances. Taking over a Big East program -- and having an opportunity to make a decisive imprint by hiring the basketball coach -- qualifies.
It might be tough for Cincinnati fans to accept that a couple of former Xavier guys represent their best chance for basketball viability. (It might be even tougher on the Musketeers' fans.) But remember the rhetoric presented by UC president Nancy Zimpher, who left little doubt while squeezing out Huggins that she values image over athletic achievement. Whether she wants it or not, this way she could have both.
Senior writer Mike DeCourcy covers college basketball for Sporting News. E-mail him at email@example.com.