GOBEARCATSDOTCOM

February 2010 Archives

Trying to Figure out the Bearcats Seed

| No TrackBacks
Don't spend too much time trying to figure out who and when the Bearcats will play in the first-round of the BIG EAST Tournament on Friday at the XL Center.  Doing so will make your head spin.  Spots 9 through 14 are separated by two games, with one to play.  This much I know:
  1. The Bearcats will wrap-up their regular season tomorrow night at Marquette.  A win over the Golden Eagles would tie the two teams and give UC the tie-breaker.  It would also potentially make things even more confusing.
  2. Cincinnati will play on Friday in the 1st-round.  They can not fall below the 14-seed and can get as high as the 11. 
  3. With that said, the 'Cats will either play in the 12/13 game at Noon or the 11/14 game at 8 p.m.. 
  4. Possible first-round opponents are: Syracuse, USF, Pittsburgh, Marquette and Louisville. 
  5. The Bearcats and Golden Eagles play the final regular season game (8 p.m. EST tip) and we should know the first-round opponent shortly after the final horn sounds. 
Yesterday was a tough loss for the red and black.  The Bearcats came out with great enthusiasm only to see an athletic Pitt team take over in the second half en route to the victory.  On a short turnaround, the team left today for Milwaukee and will have little time to prepare for Marquette.  The Golden Eagles are in the same boat having played on the road last night at West Virginia.

Remember, the Bearcats knocked off Marquette last year in the first round of the BIG EAST Tournament. 

I will head to Milwaukee tomorrow afternoon and have the call for you live, beginning with pre-game coverage at 7:45 p.m. EST.  To listen live CLICK HERE

In the meantime, if you really want to make your head spin, assume the Bearcats defeat Marquette, Pittsburgh loses versus St. John's and Louisville falls at Rutgers.  That would leave four teams tied for 11th at 5-11 in conference play.  Thankfully, someone else will let me know how things shake out in that scenario. 

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT

| No TrackBacks
I saw the lead in the first half of the UC-West Virginia game and thought this lead won't last on the road in the Big East. But it was enough, I thought, to withstand the inevitable "run" that most teams make at home. Alas, UC couldn't maintain the lead and lost a tough, need to win game, to the Mountaineers and former UC chief Bob Huggins. It makes the tournament ticket a little harder to get; kind of like trying to get tickets to a sold out show. Its possible but you have to have some connections to make it happen. In this case connections are "wins and friends"; wins in the tournament and friends on the selection committee who are sympathetic of your plight. 

I don't know what the end looks like but I'm trying to find something to embrace about this team and their recent struggles so I simply say at least we're still in the NCAA conversation when other aren't. I know for many of you that's not good enough point taken, but if you were DePaul or even UC of several years ago you would acknowledge the improvement amidst the frustration. With the Big East tournament coming up the only thing that works in UC's favor is that they CAN play with the better teams in the conference but have to find a way to play with them for 40 minutes. That will give them the best shot of getting that hard to find ticket and giving us something to celebrate other than possibilities. Yes, I'm still rooting for them but that's what fans and friends do...

That's the way I see it sitting in The Box Seat

Schneider's eyes set on NCAA title, Olympics

| No TrackBacks

   Josh Schneider is being very cautious. He's watching what he eats. He's making sure he's not around anyone who is sick.

   The NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships are March 25-27 in Columbus. And the University of Cincinnati standout swimmer isn't taking any chances.

   "I'm being a lot more careful this year," he says.

   This year.

   What that means is that he is still haunted by last year.

   Schneider has qualified for the NCAA meet for the second straight time in three events: The 50-meter freestyle, the 100 freestyle and the 100 butterfly.  It is the third year in a row for the 50 free.

   A year ago, the weekend after winning all three events at the Big East Conference championships, Schneider came down with a fever. It was a Friday. "I thought it was a one-day thing," he says. "I thought I'd sweat it out."

   He felt better by night time and through most of the next day. That Saturday evening he went out with friends and before the night was over he had the chills again. Sunday he could not get out of bed and had no appetite.

   "I felt awful," Schneider says. "I don't know what happened. I caught something."

   He lost 15 pounds. While he gained some back by the time the NCAA meet came, he was still a good 10 pounds underweight.

   Needless to say, the championships did not go well.

   Schneider finished 15th in the 50 free - his strongest event. That was his best finish.

   "Last year was really rough," he says. "I've never run into a problem like that. I know everyone has their excuses ..."

   He stops there.

   "I don't really care what my time will be in the 50 free, to be honest, as long as I claim an NCAA championship," Schneider says of this year's meet. "The other races are kind of little bonuses to show that I have more to offer than just an up-and-back swim."

 

*

 

   Lost in all the stories about Reds spring training, the Winter Olympics and looming March Madness is the tale of this Taylor High School graduate and former high school swimming state champion who has an opportunity to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

   Josh Schneider is that good. And yet his saga still flies under the radar.

   Just to recap, Schneider:

·         Won Big East titles in three events for the second year in a row and was named the conference's Swimmer of the Year for the second straight time. He also holds UC records in all of his events.

·         Was UC's Male Athlete of the Year in 2009.

·         Shares the fastest time in the country in the 50 free with Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian from the University of California.

   "The Olympics is 100 percent reasonable now," Schneider says. "I've just got to keep improving. There is so much more to improve on; you can't ever be content because no one else is."

   It is, in some ways, that lack of contentment that led Schneider to overhauling his form last summer.

   He went to Charlotte, N.C., to train with Dave Marsh and Cullen Jones, a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. 4x100 freestyle relay team in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Marsh coached more than 20 Olympians while leading Auburn University to seven men's and five women's NCAA titles.

   "They changed my stroke completely," Schneider says. "Wiped the slate clean. Started all over.

   "I knew what I was doing wasn't right. I wasn't feeling the water. I wasn't getting what all the coaches were explaining to me. I knew this was the right choice, and I bought into it. I started changing my stroke, and I actually started feeling the water. They call it slipping, when you're not catching water and you can throw your arms around as fast as you can."

   This is a good time to mention that Schneider is 6-foot-4 and counts his size and strength among his competitive advantages (some other swimmer named Michael Phelps is also 6-4).

   "Now with this new stroke, I feel I can use my gifts," Schneider says.

 

*

 

   In some ways, this whole swimming season has been about preparing for an NCAA title and a shot at the Olympics.

   Schneider will work out at UC throughout March with Bearcat coaches Monty Hopkins, Michael Hewitt and Randi Vogel, to whom he gives plenty of credit. Schneider says Hopkins has put in extra time working with him, and Vogel - a former UC swimmer in her second year on the coaching staff - has brought "a different spice to the team." "You see her get excited, and it gets you excited," Schneider says.

   Schneider will earn a finance degree in June and plans to continue for another quarter to complete requirements for a double major. He's thinking about a career in sales - down the road.

   His peers are out looking for jobs and thinking about how to support themselves after graduation. Schneider is more concerned with a successful NCAA meet, maybe securing a sponsor and figuring out where to train this summer.

   The U.S. National Team will be announced Sept. 1 based on results from the 2010 ConocoPhillips National Championships (Aug. 3-7, Irvine, Calif.) and the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships (Aug. 18, Irvine, Calif.).

   "I'm really keeping my fingers, toes and eyes crossed, being optimistic," he says. "Just seeing what doors open after NCAAs. I know a lot of people are job searching right now. I don't even know where I'm living (this summer). All I know right now is I have a chance to make the Olympics if I keep my head on straight."


Some Nuggets Before Tipoff In Morgantown

| No TrackBacks

Random interesting nuggets going into today's game here in Morgantown:

 

UC enters the game ranked 335th out of 347 teams in free throw shooting (yes, there are actually 11 teams that are worse!).  What team ranks dead last?  DePaul at 57.8 %.  Go figure - the Blue Demons went 11-for-13 vs. UC on Wednesday night. 

 

For those who criticize Mick Cronin for UC's free throw shooting woes (I maintain a college head coach has little impact), it's worth pointing out that UCLA (Ben Howland) ranks 330th, Texas (Rick Barnes) ranks 331st, and St. Louis (Rick Majerus) ranks 339th.

 

UC enters the game ranked 328th in 3-point shooting percentage, meaning there are 16 teams that are worse including USF.

 

Perhaps the biggest key to last year's win over West Virginia was Yancy Gates, who finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds.  In that game, Gates had 9 defensive rebounds.  Did you know that before grabbing two defensive boards vs. DePaul that Yancy had not had a single defensive rebound in the previous two games?  He has a total of five defensive rebounds in his last five games.  Gates has to do better than that today.

 

As everyone knows, Bob Huggins is 0-2 vs. UC since taking over at West Virginia, but the Bearcats aren't the only Cincinnati-area team that Huggs has had trouble with.  Two years ago, his Mountaineers lost to Xavier in the Sweet 16.  Last year, WVU was knocked out in the first round of the NCAA tourney by Dayton.

 

Huggs was ejected in the waning moments of West Virginia's game at UConn on Monday night.  Unlike my man Chuck Machock in 2003, WVU radio analyst Jay Jacobs did not get the boot as well.

 

Deonta Vaughn needs 11 points to tie Roger McClendon for 4th on UC's all-time scoring list behind the Big O, Steve Logan, and Danny Fortson.  Vaughn has been struggling lately, hitting just 18% from 3-point range in his last 7 games.

 

Cashmere Wright made 7 of his first 8 3-pointers in Big East play.  He's 1-for-15 since.

 

Darnell Wilks is the only scholarship player at UC who has not started a game this year (not including Sean Kilpatrick who is redshirting).

 

Lance Stephenson leads the Bearcats in turnovers with 66, but does not rank in the Top 100 nationally.  John Wall ranks 15th with 109 turnovers, Jerome Dyson ranks 23rd with 103, and Devan Downey ranks 35th with 96.  I'm not suggesting that Wall, Dyson, and Downey aren't terrific players - the turnovers are largely due to their team's fast-paced style of play - but it's interesting isn't it?

 

I had a fun time getting here yesterday.  Left Boston at 10:45 in the morning.  Got stuck in the Detroit airport for 5 hours.  Sat on a plane on the tarmac in Detroit for another 2 hours.  Finally got to the hotel in Morgantown at 12:40 am.  Well worth the wait if the Bearcats pull off the upset.  UC is a 12-point underdog.

 

Tipoff is at 2:00.  Pregame coverage at 1:30 on 700 WLW.

 

Go 'Cats!

Not Goodbye, but Good Luck

| No TrackBacks

As we get ready for the women's basketball home finale at 2 p.m. Saturday, I'd like to echo a lot of what Tommy G already has written about this team and these seniors (you can read his latest blog here: http://www.gobearcats.com/blog/womens-hoops/ ). When this group was starting out, I was calling a number of their games for ESPN regional telecasts, and I had the opportunity to see them grow over the years. With the help of Sports Information Director extraordinaire Jeremy Martin, here are some of the comments of these four seniors who will play their last game on their home court this weekend:

Shelly Bellman: "There have been happy times and sad, good, bad and ugly, but three words can sum it all up for me, I am blessed! Thank you to everyone that has been with me through different parts of my journey, and thank you to everyone that has been with me through it all. And thank you God!"

Shelly was one of the players I think I had the most fun watching when she was a freshman. She would get in the huddle and, even though she was a first year player, would get in the faces of her upperclassmen teammates and will them to a win. I always called her the Pete Rose of the Bearcats because of her hustle and heart.  It was just too sad that her knees weren't as strong as her desire to be her best.

Michelle Jones: "It's been very nice to play at UC.  I was born and raised here, so it's been great to have my family at games and things like that.  It was also great that UC got into the BIG EAST.  Playing against that kind of competition is difficult but also very enticing for recruits and that's one of the things that brought me here."

Michelle has been the inside force that the Bearcats needed this year. It's no secret that right now UC doesn't have the height to match up with many of the BIG EAST teams they face, so Michelle has had to be the 6'4" center in 6'1" sneakers. She took this challenge on, like many others during her UC career, and has come out stronger for it.

Kahla Roudebush: "I wouldn't trade my time at UC for anything.  The things that I learned translate into important life lessons.  It's always easier when things are laid out for you, but much more satisfying when you have to work for them.  God had a plan for me and if I would have changed something just looking for a shortcut to success, I wouldn't have grown as much as a person and as a Christian."

Kahla is my Hoosier soul sister. We are very proud of our basketball heritage in Indiana and are proud of anyone who takes his or her game to the next level. Kahla has a sweet step back three point shot, but she's also not afraid to dive into the middle and dig out a rebound. You've made your fellow Hoosiers proud, Kahla.

Stephanie Stevens:"I love Cincinnati.  I love everything about it -- the school, the academics, the athletics.  I've always been a team player, and I always want to do what's best for the team.  I just want to be the best I can be for the team, and I always just wanted to get better."

Stephanie hasn't gotten the minutes this season like she has in years past. I say that to set up the very quick story about her. Before the season started, Coach Jamelle Elliott invited members of the media to participate in a workout with the team. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing and heaven knows it showed, but Steph not only was very kind to tell me 'good job,' (when I knew it wasn't), but once we were done I watched her put every ounce of energy into the rest of the team drills. She'll make a good coach, if that is something she wants to do, because she always paid attention to what else was going on and what everyone else was doing.

So perhaps these players didn't get the Bearcat career they had envisioned as wide-eyed freshmen. That doesn't mean they weren't successful. When they look back at their time at UC, let's hope that they look back at their seasons here fondly. And let's hope they remember that they were the foundation to build something special with this program in Clifton. Saturday at 2pm, they'll put on the Bearcat uniform for the last time at home. Let's show them how grateful we are for their years at U.C.

 

 

Senior Day Saturday at Fifth Third Arena

| No TrackBacks

Tomorrow first-year head coach Jamelle Elliott will have her first senior day here in Clifton.  Prior to their 2:00 p.m. tip-off versus Pittsburgh, the Bearcats will honor four seniors, all of whom have experienced different paths throughout their tenures in Clifton. 

Before I get into my thoughts on the seniors, here are some tidbits for tomorrow's regular season home finale.  This is a crucial game.  Both the Bearcats and the Panthers are 4-10 in the BIG EAST.  The winner takes a game advantage over the loser and really has a 2-game advantage thanks to the tie-breaker.  Right now the Bearcats sit in 14th place, two games behind Syracuse (9th) and UC owns the tie-breaker with the Orange.  One game ahead of the 'Cats is Marquette the team Cincinnati plays Monday on the road. 

Best case scenario? The Bearcats win both, a couple of things fall their way and the red and black head to Hartford as the 9-seed, playing either Villanova or Seton Hall in the first-round. 

Worst case scenario? The Bearcats lose both, nothing falls their way and UC heads to Hartford as the 15-seed, with a very winnable first-round game. 

By late Monday night all of this will have some clarity, in the meantime, my thoughts on the four seniors to be honored tomorrow:

Shelly Bellman - sadly, Shelly's career at UC has been cut short.  When I arrived in Clifton four years ago, Shelly was an eager sophomore, fresh off a successful freshman campaign who had a very bright future at UC.  After a solid sophomore season, Shelly tore her ACL prior to her junior season.  She returned a year later, worked her way through a painful season, only to see it cut short with an additional knee injury.  After 2+ years of rehab, Shelly's career has been cut short well of what she could have accomplished.  If ever there was a time appropriate for a player to suit up and make one more basket, that would be the case for #22. 

Michelle Jones - MJ, along with Shelly arrived in 2005 as part of Laurie Pirtle's decorated recruiting class that also included Kahla Roudebush, Jill Stephens & Angel Morgan.  Michelle worked her way into the line-up early in her career and began to establish herself as a successful post player in the BIG EAST.  After sitting out a season, Michelle returned as a junior, but had a hard time re-establishing herself in the Bearcats rotation.  Now, as a senior, Michelle is the Bearcats only option at center and has stepped up to the task.  She is playing more minutes than ever before and helped the 'Cats to crucial conference road wins at Syracuse and Louisville. 

Kahla Roudebush - Kahla is the one player among the four I knew the least about early in my tenure here at UC.  My first season calling games Kahla played only the season opener and then received a medical redshirt due to a shoulder injury.  When she returned to the court for her sophomore season, I had no idea what to expect.  1200 points later, Kahla has helped UC to countless victories, solidified herself in the Bearcats record books and proved to be a constant for the red and black during two coaching changes.  She should end her career as the 10th all-time scorer in Bearcats history.  Not bad for a country girl from Noblesville, Indiana.

Stephanie Stevens - not many college athletes play for three head coaches in four years, don't see as many minutes as they may like and handle it with the class and positive attitude that Steph did the last four years.  A back-up guard her entire career, Steph has always been a player respected by her teammates.  She is always ready to answer the bell and often is the hardest working Bearcat in practice.  Thanks to Steph, I will always remember the 2007-08 season finale at Providence.  The Bearcats had nothing on the line and starting point guard Carla Jacobs sprained her ankle early in the game.  Steph was called on and answered with 17 points in 24 minutes, helping the 'Cats to a season ending win over the Friars. 

If you can make it out to Fifth Third Arena tomorrow, I suggest you do and that you come early.  All four of these young ladies deserve a nice round of applause.  Afterwards, cheer for the Bearcats as they try and win a crucial game with the Panthers.  If you can't make it, you can watch live here: UC vs. Pitt - 2 p.m.

In the meantime, follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/TommyG_Sideline

The last few games of Vaughn's career

| No TrackBacks

I don't know what will happen with senior guard Deonta Vaughn in these final few games of the season. I thought, after his slow start at the beginning of the year, he'd slowly start to come around and begin to show the abilities he's showcased so impressively the past three seasons.

 

He's one of the best scorers in Bearcats history, and after admitting earlier this season he hadn't worked quite as hard last summer as he should have, I figured his point totals would rise and his impact on the team would deepen.

 

Apparently, I was wrong. After scoring six points in UC's win against DePaul on Wednesday, the two-time All-Big East player is averaging 11.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 38.9 percent from the floor and 32.7 percent from the 3. He's been serviceable, but he's not the same Deonta Vaughn he was last year or the year before.

 

After the DePaul game, coach Mick Cronin tried to give Vaughn credit, saying he's been the first player to arrive at practice and for shoot-arounds and that he's trying hard to get himself out of his funk. But that doesn't answer the question of what's gone wrong.

 

"He's had senioritis all year," Cronin said. "Too much pressure on himself knowing it's his last year. You feel for kids in that situation. It's easy for me to sit here and judge him. I have a bank account and a nice house. It's hard to judge a young guy like him. You have to understand who he is and where he comes from. Not only would they like to make it and help themselves, but they'd like to help others as well. It's helping others live a better life."

 

Vaughn obviously would like to help UC to victories and would like to get taste of the NCAA tournament for the first time in his career. But there's a larger issue in his mind. He knows he'll need to make money next year. A spot in the NBA would be immensely huge for him and his family. He knows the way he's played this season hasn't helped his prospects. More pressure and more pressure.

 

"If you knew the background of some of my players and some of the guys playing, you'd understand the pressures that are on them," Cronin said. "You try to alleviate that as much as you can. Here's a guy who's wondering where his next meals are going to come from after his scholarship is gone. He's not going home to a six-car garage.

 

"(His family and friends) are there supporting him but you don't think he feels it?  He understands. They all do. That's the thing a lot of college players deal with, guys who are trying to make it as professionals. It happens to a lot of seniors unfortunately."

 

One mistake Vaughn made was in the offseason when he didn't prepare quite as hard as normal. That hard work, in essence, is what made Vaughn such a strong player in the first place. Without it, you see what he's got.

 

"I think he made the mistake of coming into the year overconfident because of the success he had, being All Big-East two times," Cronin said. "The problem with him is he's Charley Hustle. If he doesn't work hard and he's not totally ready to go, he loses his edge. He's not Tracy McGrady. He's Jameer Nelson. He's a grinder. That's who he is. He's not the best athlete on the court, he's not the fastest guy on the court. His whole life, he's been the toughest guy on the court. He has to have that edge about him."

THREE FOR THE MONEY

| No TrackBacks
gates rebound.jpg

(Getty Images)




      At 16-11 and coming off a home win over DePaul, Mick Cronin's basketball Bearcats feel they can get back in the hunt in the Big East and in NCAA tournament conversation. After losing a tough one in overtime to Marquette with Yancy Gates and Lance Stephenson playing limited minutes, Gates and Stephenson rebounded with big games Wednesday (23 points, 8 rebounds for Gates; 18 and 10 for Stephenson).

      "We're a lot more focused in the way we need to play as far as hitting the offensive glass as much as we need to and playing harder defense," said Gates. "We felt it was just a slump we had to work our way out of ."

      Cashmere Wright (whose minutes are increasing again) chimed in.

      "We never really lost confidence in ourselves," Wright said. "So, when it all happened we just felt it was one bump in the road. We've got to move forward and work harder to get better. Team chemistry's coming back to the team."

      If team chemistry's getting better, perhaps the shooting will too. The numbers from the foul line have been atrocious in the last two contests (8-16 vs. Marquette, 14-32 against DePaul) and UC missed ALL of their "threes" Wednesday night against the Blue Demons.

    "I think we're coming along," Wright said. "We're going to make shots some nights and some nights we're not. Every night we're going to play defense and we're going to go all out and give ourselves a chance to win."

       "They can go 0-10 too," said Wright when reminded of the "goose egg" from the arc. "You never know,it's all about how the ball falls that day. We don't think that's going to happen again (0-9)."

      The law of averages says it shouldn't happen again, which is good because UC plays three ranked teams in a row now. It all starts at West Virginia, a game that will always generate interest since UC's all-time winningest coach now squats in front of the Mountaineer bench.

      The game is a big game for everyone, except the players.

      "Not really," said Yancy Gates when asked if it were a game of significance. "I know it's a big game because he was the coach here. But, I don't take it as (being) any special significance or anything because it's Huggins. When I got here as a student, it was a big game and I just joined along with the team in preparing for it."

      Actually, UC and Mick Cronin are 2-0 against Huggs and WVU. However, this particular team appears consistently better than the last two Huggins-coached squads.

      "We expect about the same from them," said Gates. "They try to play fast. We've just got to try and outrebound them again. This year, in games they get outrebounded, they're 1-3. If we can outrebound them again like we did last year, we'll be able to pull it out."

      Gates just has one Mountaineer game under his belt, the 65-61 win nearly a year ago. However, he obviously was familiar with Huggins and actually was recruited by him.                Fortunately for UC (and unfortunately for Huggins) Gates elected to stay home and play.

      "When the recruiting really started for me, it was kind of the time where the change was being made," Gates said of the former UC coach. "Huggins, he recruited me when he was still here and when he got to Kansas State and West Virginia. I had a couple phone calls. With the recruiting thing, I really didn't have a lot of contact with him. A little bit--not too much though."

      Huggins will have another close-up look at Gates Saturday in Morgantown. So will West Virginia's fans who can be intimidating if you let them. Luckily, Gates has been in a hostile arena before.

      "We're not really concerned with the crowd--the crowd's not playing," said Gates. "We expect a live crowd. We expect it to be loud, them cheering against us. Just your average rivalry home crowd. Kind of like the Xavier game, maybe even a little worse because they know the history with Huggins. We're just expecting to go in and play hard (and) really not pay attention to it."

      West Virginia was UC's last win of last year's season. Yancy Gates pulled down a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Should that happen again, you've got to feel good about UC's chances.

      That, and if Huggs pulls out that French's Mustard suit again....

STEPHENSON AND GATES REBOUND (AND SCORE)

| No TrackBacks




      Needless to say, there was plenty of second-guessing after the recent Marquette loss at Fifth Third Arena. Most of it centered around the playing time (or lack of) for two of UC's biggest threats, Yancy Gates and Lance Stephenson. Gates wasn't on the floor for the game's final seven minutes and change, while Stephenson watched 29 of the game's 40 minutes from a courtside seat

      Wednesday night, purposeful or not, those same two players played key roles in helping the Bearcats get a badly needed win over DePaul 74-69. Stephenson played 31 minutes and racked up 18 points and 10 rebounds; Gates played 33 minutes and recorded 23 points and eight rebounds.

      After watching helplessly as the Bearcats fell at home to Marquette, Gates and Stephenson had plenty of motivation to perform well.

      "A little bit," agreed Gates. "Just trying to keep hope alive to make a run at these last three games for the tournament."

      Those last three games are at West Virginia, Villanova here and at Georgetown. However, without a win over DePaul, it would probably be too little, too late. Plus, the ironic twist would be that DePaul would have a say in pretty much ending UC's season, just as they did last year in New York City.

      "Couple of us talked about what happened to us last year in the Big East tournament, with DePaul not winning any games, then finally winning one against us," said Gates. "We just kind of didn't want to lose this game, not only for last year but working for our season this year."

      While many have the Bearcats NIT-bound at best, the UC Bearcats still have a distant goal of making the Field of 65, a/k/a, "The Dance".

      "Yeah, we do," said Gates when asked if he thought UC could pull it all off. "With the end of our schedule, we play three ranked teams and we still have the Big East tournament. If we have a good showing, we still have a chance to slide our way back in to the NCAA tournament."

      Truthfully, if Gates and Stephenson could pull off numbers like this in every game, UC would be a shoo-in. To get numbers like this, Lance Stephenson has pulled some late nights in the gym. With redshirting teammate Sean Kilpatrick, Stephenson has been getting in periodic extra work from 11 p.m. 'til 2 a.m. Obviously, an 11 minute cameo is not what Stephenson has been looking for in college basketball.

      "Just made me want to go in the gym more," said Stephenson of his recent benching. "I stayed in the gym 'til 2 (a.m.) yesterday and just kept working on my stuff to be perfect for today's game."

       While it was far from perfect, most coaches will take a double-double from a struggling freshman any day. As for the extra work, Stephenson has put in several "Wilson Pickett Midnight Hour" workouts, trying to gain the upper edge.

      "I was working on my jump shots, coming off picks and curling and fading shots, like when I fade off a pick," Stephenson said of his regimen in the wee hours of the morning. "I did it about three times but I've got to do it more to get better."

      In addition to jump shots, Stephenson apparently was working on some levitation as his in-you-face dunk right before halftime caught the crowd's attention. Before that, the 8,111 crowd was subdued at this one. At times, this game had all of the excitement of an early season exhibition with Bellarmine.

       Then "Born Ready" went airborne with a special delivery to the mighty orange cylinder. Stephenson shrugged it off, while Gates revealed his numerical score of the slam."

      "10--we put up 10," said Gates from the judges panel.

      As giddy as Gates and the Bearcats were of the jam, Stephenson to play it low-key.

"I just went to the basket hard," he said. "I know I can dunk on people, I just went hard and jumped."

      That gave UC a nine-point lead at the break, something that didn't stick as DePaul kept playing and UC kept missing free throws that would've made this contest a complete blowout. Instead, after shooting 8-16 against Marquette, they came back tonight to hit a paltry 14-32 (43.8 percent).

      "That's bothered all of us a lot," said Gates (1-5 on the night). "We go through the drills and things where we have to make them in practice and we make them for the most part. When we see 'Ta miss a free throw or Dion Dixon, those are two players that in practice probably won't miss a free throw. I know it's frustrating for them. It's kind of different when you come out and see those guys missing free throws also."

      Three-point shooting also left much to be desired in this one with the Bearcats missing all nine of their attempts beyond the arc. To have any success at all in March, you must make at least SOME threes. And, you can't clank more than 50 percent of your free throws.

      Then there's the intensity issue. Too often, UC plays to the level of their opponent. As they found out last year in round one of the Big East tourney, that can get you an early ticket home.

      "We have to play extremely hard and better than we've been playing here lately," admitted Gates. "It's going to take a huge push from the whole team, not just a couple players. It's going to involve everybody to make it happen. We feel that we have the players do that."

      When Yancy Gates and Lance Stephenson can lead the team in game minutes and almost tandem "double-doubles", anything is possible.

How Butch Jones Made A Great First Impression

| No TrackBacks

I guess it should come as no surprise that a bunch of college guys were excited to get somebody's phone number.  But in this case, the coveted "digits" didn't come from an attractive coed; they came from a 41-year old man.

 

When Butch Jones held his first team meeting as Cincinnati's head football coach, he wrote his cell-phone number on a blackboard and told his players that they could call him at anytime - day or night - if they needed to talk.

 

"That made a huge impact," linebacker J.K. Schaffer told me.  "The guys on the team were looking at the board and saying, 'Is that really his cell phone number?' because previously we had never had our head coach's cell phone number.  That was a pretty cool thing.  That showed us right there that he has an open door policy that we can come talk to him anytime that we want, and that means a lot to the guys."

 

Brian Kelly's 34-6 record at Cincinnati and back-to-back Big East Championships makes it silly to question his methods.  His former players knew that BK would help them win games and potentially get to the NFL.  But if they had one common complaint, it's that it was a business relationship and they didn't feel much of a personal connection.

 

That is not the case with Butch Jones.

 

"As soon as he came in, we could tell that he was a guy who was going to run the team as if it were a family," Schaffer said.  "He's a real personable guy.  I'm totally confident that he's going to be a great coach.  He's a very positive guy and I think he's going to do great things for our program."

 

In an attempt to bring the team and the new coaching staff closer together, Coach Jones invented the "Bearcat Olympics."  Captains were chosen (including Schaffer) and a draft was held to form ten teams (you can see some video here).  The event will culminate in a "Night of Champions" at Fifth Third Arena that will be open to the public.  The date and time are TBA, but look for an announcement in the near future on gobearcats.com. 

 

"It's a lot of fun," Schaffer said.  "We played basketball in the 12-foot pool in the rec center and we had to tread water for a whole basketball game.  That's not the easiest thing to do.  The "Bearcat Olympics" involves athletic talent, academics, and character, so you really had to look into the guys that you were going to draft.  I had to pick guys that could win me a dunk competition, that would get me a bunch of points in the classroom, and guys that weren't going to screw up off the field and get me negative points.  But it's a lot of fun and brings a lot of friendly competition into our family."

 

Schaeffer earned some community service points for his team this week by speaking to the Oak Hills Kiwanis Club where the audience included his parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  They are the biggest reason why the LaSalle High School grad accepted a scholarship offer from Cincinnati as soon as he got the phone call from assistant coach Kerry Coombs.

 

"Looking up into the stands and seeing my family there - I just want to do everything that I can to make them proud," J.K. told me.  "That's my main driving force before anything else."

 

It sounds like he has two families to play for.

 

JK Schaffer re.jpg 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

UC-DePaul Rock 'N Roll Party

| No TrackBacks

So, apparently, there's hope the Bearcats can still make the NCAA tournament. That's what Yancy Gates said when I asked him about it after tonight's game. Even in the face of having to travel to No. 8 West Virginia on Saturday, playing host to No. 7 Villanova on March 2 and journeying to No. 11 Georgetown on March 6, Gates still has faith in his teammates.

 

"With the end of our schedule, we play three ranked teams, and we still have the Big East tournament," Gates said. "With a good showing, we still have a chance to slide back in. We have to play extremely harder and better than we've been playing lately. It will take a huge push from the whole team. Not just a couple players, it will involve everybody to make it happen. We feel we have the players to do that."

 

If Gates (a career-high 23 points and eight rebounds) and Lance Stephenson (his first career-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds) continue to play this well, that will go a long way in helping.

 

"Him and Yancy were great, but they were great in practice," Mick Cronin said. "It's amazing how practice is so indicative of the way you end up playing - when you're focused and making an effort to dominate in practice and go after every ball that comes off the rim. Yancy scored because he went after the ball and rebounded."

 

One reason Stephenson played so well - at least in his own mind - is because he says he stayed in the gym from 11 p.m. Tuesday night until 2 a.m. Wednesday morning working on his jump shot and his fundamentals with Sean Kilpatrick. Stephenson's dismal performance against Marquette on Sunday (two points in 11 minutes of action) helped fuel his desire to practice even harder.

 

"It just made me want to go to the gym more," Stephenson said. "I just kept working on my stuff to be perfect for today's game."

 

Plus, he had the monumental dunk over DePaul's Mac Koshwal that reminded Dan Hoard of James White and Mel Levett. Here's Stephenson's explanation of what happened:

 

"I don't know, I just went to the basket hard. I know I can dunk on people. I just went hard and jumped, and he lifted me up a little bit higher."

 

One aspect of the game the Bearcats will have to improve is the team's overall shooting and its ability to make free throws. After the game, Cronin likened his team's shooting to a really good college football team having a really bad place-kicker. That team, Cronin said, feels like it has to score touchdowns because it knows it simply can't rely on the kicker. In the same way, UC can't rely on its shooting, so it has to focus on rebounding and defense.

 

"We're 27 games in, we're not the world's best shooting team," Cronin said. "But we know we're capable of great defense and great rebounding. That's what we'll have to do to win games. We'll just have to keep on working on making shots and making free throws. We have to play to our strengths. We can't rely on making shots."

 

And as for the free throw shooting (53.5 percent in the past four games)?

 

"That bothers all of us a lot," Gates said. "We go through the drills and things where we have to make them in practice, and we make them for the most part. When we see (Vaughn) miss or Dion Dixon miss one, I know it's frustrating for them. It's difficult when you come out and see those guys missing free throws. We just have to be more confident at the line and trust our stroke going in."

UC-DePaul LIVE blog

| No TrackBacks
Starting lineup: Vaughn, Bishop, Thomas, Stephenson and Toyloy.

Maybe Mac Koshwals dunk (and his subsequent scream) to cut the UC lead to 6-3 might get some people excited. Or maybe Yancy Gates' 3-point opportunity will do the trick.

UC 8, DePaul 3 (15:45 to go)

Some students in one of the sections are wearing sombreros. I don't know why. If somebody could explain, I'd be happy to know.

Gates with a quick six points, including two long-range jumpers.

Nice hustle by Darnell to catch Jeremiah Kelly on the breakaway and actually leap over him to block the layup. Unfortunately for Wilks, he goal-tended. Still, it was something.

A dunk by Cashmere Wright forces DePaul to call for time.

UC 16, DePaul 11 (10:11 to go)

Apparently, they had the Chicken Dance during the break. Unfortunately, I missed it.

UC is 0 for 4 from the 3 and 0 for 3 from the FT line.

UC 20, DePaul 14 (7:58 to go)

Not a great sequence there. Koshwal swats away Vaughn's shot hard off the glass - it made an audible thump - and then Devin Hill goes in for the easy jam. Somebody from the crowd yells, "Nice hustle, Yancy." I think he was being sarcastic.

Put Lance Stephenson at the foul line, and he's automat ... wait, he just missed one. Never mind. But Gates gets the offensive board and puts in the layup.

UC 27, DePaul 23 (3:53 to go)

Can't fault Lance Stephenson. He's playing hard and diving into the cheerleader section.

UC on an 11-0 run to build a double-digit lead.

Dion Dixon was shooting 24.6 percent from the 3-point line entering tonight's game. Tonight, he's 0 for 2 so far.

Huge dunk at the buzzer by Stephenson, posterizing Koshwal. I think Stephenson's dunk was better than Koshwal's.

UC 35, DePaul 26 (half)

UC is shooting 42.9 percent from the floor and 0 percent from the 3 (0-for-5). DePaul is at 35.5 and 37.5 percent, respectively. UC is outrebounding DePaul 29-15.

Gates leads the way with 12 points, and Thomas has seven rebounds.

The first two minutes of the second half are playing out like a bad game of open gym.

A nice pass by Bishop around his defender to Toyloy for the layup. That gives UC an 11-point lead.

UC 45, DePaul 34 (15:33 to go)

DePaul just keeps hanging around, thanks to Tony Freeland and Will Walker.

Gates, by the way, has 17 points.

UC 50, DePaul 43 (11:59 to go)

Koshwal continues to play well. Drives by Gates to the rim for the layup, gets fouled and makes the FT to make it a four-point game.

UC is 9 for 17 from the foul line and 0 for 8 from the 3.

Deonta Vaughn has two points on 1 of 5 shooting.

UC 57, DePaul 53 (7:17 to go)

Gates has been on fire from the floor. He's got 21 points, one off his career high.

Almost a 3-pointer from Stephenson, but Tim Higgins looks at the replay and says, "Nope, that's a two."

UC is 9 for 22 from the foul line.

UC 63, DePaul 56 (3:44 to go)

DePaul down seven, and UC forces back-to-back-to-back turnovers and gets a dunk from Gates to go up nine.

Another shot-clock violation by the Demons.

Gates has a career-high with 23 points.

UC should be up by 15 with 1 minute to go, but DePaul keeps hanging around.

And it's over. Which is about the best thing you can say about tonight.

UC 74, DePaul 69 (final)

EXORCIZE THE DEMONS

| No TrackBacks
depaul.jpg


      UC and DePaul...these games have been taking place with regularity since UC's glory years in the Great Midwest. That's when DePaul was more competitive,. Joey Meyer was the coach and his dad, the legendary Coach Ray Meyer was usually nearby.

      (For your history lesson, Ray Meyer won a ton of games at DePaul and coached Hall of Famer George Mikan. Back when I produced Sportstalk with Cris Collinsworth on a noteworthy local radio station, I remember being excited to have booked Ray Meyer on as a guest.)

      Those DePaul teams were usually in the hunt and were led by Tom "Doughboy" Kleinschmidt, a rugged, blue collar player (pretty much a smaller Luke Harangody by today's terms). Sure, UC typically won, but the games were always exciting. Once, at Silky O'Sullivan's in Memphis after UC eliminated DePaul from the conference tournament, we saw DePaul guard Peter Patton "out on the town". Friends of ours bought him a beverage to which he replied, "That's the first time Cincinnati gave me anything!"

      Later, in Conference USA UC had some good games when Pat Kennedy was coach and the Blue Demons featured Quentin Richardson. Those included the legendary Kenyon Martin-led comeback with DerMarr Johnson hitting the game-winner.

      Well sadly, this DePaul isn't as good. But, they are dangerous. And, at 8-18 and 1-13 in the league, they're hungry. That could be unsettling for Bearcat fans if Mick Cronin's men don't bring the effort Wednesday night.

      "The one thing our team has to understand is DePaul has been in every game for two months," said Cronin. "They were tied with Louisville with six minutes to play in their last game. They beat Marquette, they almost beat Syracuse, they lose by seven to UConn. they lose by eight at Seton Hall. People are not blowing them out. They play too hard and they have athletes."

      For a team that lost to Seton Hall, St. John's and Marquette, underestimating DePaul would be foolish. They've already canned their coach (Jerry Wainwright) and they're being led by interim Tracy Webster.

      "Tracy Webster brings Bruce Weber's defense from Illinois," said Cronin. "You can tell he worked with him by the way they defend you."

      If Bruce Weber doesn't ring a bell, it was his Illini that gave UC one of it's most embarrassing NCAA tournament losses ever, 92-68 in Columbus.

      Fortunately, this DePaul team has struggled offensively. Still, they managed to beat Marquette 51-50, something the Bearcats couldn't do this past Sunday.

      "Big East, they're averaging 59 points a game," said Cronin. "They struggle to make shots at times. When they do make shots they can play with anybody. You'd be remiss if you didn't give Tracy (Webster) credit. Keeping today's kid positive and competing and playing hard is not an easy thing to do. It's also a credit to their kids."

      What this turns into basically is a game where DePaul has nothing to lose and UC has everything to lose. If the Bearcats lose, they not only disappear from the NCAA picture, but the NIT probably wouldn't be a given either. If DePaul loses, it's not exactly "breaking news" on ESPN.

      UC has their proverbial "backs against the wall". They must win a game that most have already penciled in with DePaul. Then, they get the trifecta of three ranked teams (at West Virginia, Villanova here and at Georgetown.

      "There's no reason we can't do it," said Cronin this week. "We're just going to have to impose our will on other teams. It comes down to simply outplaying the other team. We have to display great physical toughness. We have to play smart, too."

      Smart is not throwing the ball to the other team. Smart is not an errant cross-court pass. Smart is not fouling a three-point shooter. Also, smart is playing with the same intensity every game, not just for the over-hyped marquees matches.

      "You just have to refuse to lose," said Cronin, borrowing from a number of famous coaches. "From the first man to the last man, we're all going to do what we've got to do to get a win. Nobody's going to take a bad shot, no one's going to turn the ball over or miss a screen, so we can become a more consistent team."

      Consistency would be good.

      Winning would be better.

Stephenson says he's staying

| No TrackBacks

In what was supposed to be a rather mundane, mid-week players availability session today, freshman Lance Stephenson caused a little stir when he said he thinks he'll forgo a chance at the NBA next season and will return to UC for his sophomore season.

 

This decision, he implied, wasn't for certain, and at least one person who's close to the national recruiting scene texted me that we shouldn't write Stephenson's name into next year's starting lineup just yet. But Stephenson said he still has work to accomplish before taking the next step of his career.

 

"I don't think I've had an NBA season this year," he said. "The best choice for me is to stay."

 

By that, Stephenson meant that he didn't dominate as much as he should have and he didn't lead his team to the victories that a surefire NBA prospect would have. Although his preseason hype has helped muffle the fact that Stephenson is having a pretty good - but not a great - freshman season, he, on Tuesday at least, seemed to realize what many others have been saying lately: he's not a one-and-done type player.

 

"I don't think I've struggled," said Stephenson, who's averaging 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the floor (19.1 percent from the 3). "It hasn't been hard. I think I just have to keep going in the gym and working on my stuff. I expected when I was coming to Cincinnati that it was going to be tough each game. I'd have to come focused. Sometimes you're going to have a bad game. Every game, you're not going to play good. Some of the games I had, I wasn't expecting it. But I think it's going to come to me."

 

I asked him if he thought, before the season, whether he was the type of player that could spend just one season in college basketball before setting sail on his pro career.

 

"Nah, I just wanted to play hard and get better every day and whatever happens, happens," Stephenson said. "I wasn't like, 'Oh, after this year, I know I'm going to leave.' I just said I had to play hard and not worry about that."

 

While you might be skeptical that Stephenson really is leaning toward staying in Clifton for another year, it's clear he still needs plenty of work. And he seems to understand that as well.

 

"Lance's big thing is maturity and not trying to score on a guy because he just scored on him on the previous play, not breaking the offense and going 1 on 5," Mick Cronin said. "The basketball term you would hear most people say is he has to learn how to let the game come to him. But that's tough when people just handed him the ball and got out of the way. I'm trying to teach him to be more efficient with less dribbles, getting him the ball in areas where he can be a more efficient offensive player."

 

Stephenson hasn't been a problem child this year, either. Cronin says he hasn't pouted after a game or practice in which he's struggled. Instead, he's always eager to show up the next day to work harder. But as for the NBA?

 

"It's tough to say," Cronin said. "Obviously, I'd love to be able to get him to a point where he's ready to be a successful NBA player. For any player, there's going to the NBA and then there's going to the NBA and playing well and having a career. That will be a decision he and his family where we'll all sit down. They've been great to deal with. When the season is over, we'll worry about that. I can tell you, he definitely wants to play better, and I want to help him play better."

The Most Accomplished Athlete On The UC Campus

| No TrackBacks

Three days a week, UC senior Josh Schneider rolls out of bed at 5:15 in the morning in order to be in the swimming pool by 6:00am.

 

"I dread it every time, but you have to have that internal drive because you know your competitors are out there doing the same thing," Schneider told me.  "There's no way around it.  If there was, nobody would be doing it.  Every morning, you wake up and question why you're doing what you're doing.  But this past week makes everything well worth it."

 

Last week at the BIG EAST Swimming and Diving championships in Pittsburgh, Schneider won all three events he entered (50 free, 100 free, 100 fly), setting UC, meet, and pool records in each event while being named the BIG EAST Men's Swimmer of the Year for the second consecutive time.

 

"He is tremendously gifted," said UC swimming coach Monty Hopkins.  "Genetics certainly play a part.  He is an extremely athletic man.  He's maybe 6'3" or 6'4", probably about 210 pounds, very muscular and lean, and extremely athletic.  But talent can only get you so far.  To go beyond that you have to draw on every resource that you can, and much to Josh's credit, he is very serious about improving the little points.  He'll do the extra work in the pool on technique.  He'll do the extra work in the weight room.  He'll sit and watch video of his swimming looking for one little thing that will help him go faster." 

 

Josh's best event is the 50 freestyle and last week's time of 19.08 is tied with Cal's Nathan Adrian for the fastest in the nation this year.  Schneider says he can go even faster.

 

"I wasn't fully rested so I have a lot more to give," Josh said.  "Also, some pools are known to be fast and the Pittsburgh pool isn't.  The walls are unlike anyone else's walls - it's really hard to judge when you want to start your turns so I had to lift my head up to see where I was and that's actually a real novice move.  I wasn't able to make aggressive turns."

 

The 7-time BIG EAST champion will square off against Adrian in the NCAA Championships from March 25-27 at the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion on the campus of Ohio State University.

 

"The emphasis all year has been on the NCAA Championship and beyond, and while he had some great swims last weekend, we're hoping that there's more to come," Coach Hopkins said.

 

"Putting up those good times is going to give me a good seed in the NCAA's and it's a great confidence booster going into them," Schneider said.  "If I come away with a win in the NCAA's, it could open a lot of doors for me in terms of sponsors like Speedo or Tyr or any sort of companies that would want to sponsor me."

 

Schneider is seeking financial support to help him pursue his goal of qualifying for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

 

"I'm actually moving down to North Carolina to train with Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones," Josh told me.  "Competing with him every day will raise my standards and I think I'll also have to focus more on technique instead of just strength and conditioning.  I'll be packing my bags and finding a place to live to spend two years training just in hopes of making it to the Olympics."

 

"As much as he's improved, if he can see that next little bump in his ability, he's going to be a player on the national team level and I hope that he does achieve that dream," Coach Hopkins said.  "It's kind of like catching a shooting star, and if you can't dream about it you're probably not going to make it.  So he dreams about it, and thinks about it, and is working towards it - which is the key - and he's got a real shot of being an Olympian."

 

Unlike most elite swimmers, Schneider competed in a wide variety of sports in high school, setting Taylor High School records for pass receptions in football and in the 110 meter hurdles in track.

 

"After my freshman year at UC, I talked to my coach and said, 'I only have one more year of swimming left in me and then I'm going to go back and play football,' Josh said with a laugh.  "I stuck it out because I realized that if I'm going to do anything big, it's going to be in the sport of swimming."

 

"He probably could have played football," Coach Hopkins told me.  "He's a big, strong, fast guy.  But he can be a national champion swimmer."

 

And while swimming doesn't garner the attention that football does, Schneider loves its simplicity.

 

"It's pure," Josh said.  "You have no one to blame if you do something bad.  If you don't perform up to expectations you have to look at yourself in the mirror.  You can't blame anything on the refs because it's all based on time.  It's a reflection of what you put into it."

 

And how early you're willing to wake up. 

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

You Have Questions . . . Coach Cronin Has Answers

| No TrackBacks

If you didn't attend the Mick Cronin radio show last night, you missed all-you-can eat ribs at the Montgomery Inn for $19.95 (the promotion runs through Thursday).

 

If you weren't there or didn't listen to the show on 700 WLW, you missed Coach Cronin addressing the biggest questions that Bearcat fans were asking after the Marquette game.

 

Question:  Why wasn't Yancy Gates in the game for the last seven minutes of regulation and overtime?

 

Mick: "We were up 58-54 and they went on a 7-0 run to take the lead while we had some guys in the game - he being one of them - that I thought were breaking us down defensively (Note:  It was actually 56-52 with a 9-2 run by Marquette).  We get a lineup in the game that was able to go from 61-58 down, to 64-61 up by getting numerous defensive stops.  So we go from down three to up three with a defensive lineup in the game by getting stops.  The hardest thing sometimes is that you want to play a guy offensively but you can't take him out defensively.  I thought we had the game under control with the lineup we had in the game.  We gave up a "3" that tied the game at 64 and then we went right back and took another three point lead.  We missed a free throw and at that point I was going to keep my best defensive lineup in there and Hayward hit a tough shot.  You try to put the guys out there that are giving the best effort and playing the best as a group to give your team the best chance to win."

 

Question:  Did you consider putting Yancy back in on offense for the final play of regulation?

 

Mick:  "I thought about it, but in a late-game situation if you put a big guy in for offense - I don't care if it's Yancy Gates or Tim Duncan - the easiest thing if you're going to try to run a play for a big guy is to double-team him.  So if you put him in to throw him the ball, they're going to double-team him and now you risk turning the ball over and not even getting a shot off.  You're putting him in a bad situation there.  At that point, you're trying to get the ball to a guard who can drive into the lane and have our better shooters in the game to spread them out."

 

Question:  Why is Lance Stephenson struggling?

 

Mick:  "It's playing with four other people.  It's not that he doesn't want to.  It's a lifetime of, 'Here's the ball and we'll all watch you play,' to now trying to play with other people and letting me get him shots through our offense.  The tough part about it is that he had some really good practices leading up to the game.  His competitiveness gets the best of him at times where . . . say somebody scores on him like (USF's) Dominique Jones.  He comes down and immediately shoots the ball to try to score back on Dominique Jones.  You can't do that - you've gotta just play the game.  In the Connecticut game . . . Gavin Edwards blocked his shot and he immediately fouled Gavin Edwards for his second foul.  You got your shot blocked - you've got to get back on defense.  We need you to stay in the game.  It's a matter of controlling his emotions and maturing to a point where he can morph his talents into a team system.  He's done it at times.  He's had good games - it's just a work in progress.  The one thing I appreciate about Lance is that every day he comes to practice and very rarely is his effort lacking.  Very, very rarely is his effort lacking.  His mistakes are usually made out of hustle and being aggressive."

 

Question:  What has happened to Lance's swagger?  Is his confidence shot?

 

Mick:  "I don't think his confidence is shot by any stretch of the imagination.  He knows he can play - I have to help him score again in a way that's conducive to us winning games.  Part of that is getting him more attempts, but they have to be quality attempts.  It's got to be off of one or two dribbles - not seven or eight dribbles.  It's all a matter of helping him get through it as a coach.  It's hard to be confident when you're not making shots.  We have to get him the shots that he's most confident of making, which are 17 feet and in.  That's where he makes them every day in practice." 

 

I don't remember the question, but Mick had this to say about the team's inconsistency.

 

"Inconsistency from all of our players has been a problem and I'm responsible for that.  I'm their coach, so at the end of the day I take blame for everything - trust me.  Nobody beats themselves up more than I do about replaying situations and trying to get guys to be more consistent.  That's my job."

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

I had a couple of requests at last night's show for an updated photo of the handsome lad, so here is 3 ½ year old Sam Hoard.

 

Smiling Sam.jpg

Catch the Cats Now

| No TrackBacks
It's hard to believe that the UC women's basketball season is just about ready to wrap up. Two more games at home, one on the road and then the BIG EAST tournament where, as we know, anything can happen.

So maybe it's a good time to look back on the season and look ahead to the next.

First, Michelle Jones is rounding out to be a force inside. Too bad she's a senior, because she is now asserting herself and can go straight up to the basket and let her strength get her the bucket and one. It's been fun watching her, when she has one of her monster games.

Second, another senior, Kahla Roudebush, may have seen her scoring average fall a bit, but she now looks to dish out to the other players. And she's not afraid to mix it up inside and grab a rebound from the tall trees. She's been a treat to watch play in a Bearcat uniform. Another Hoosier showing off her basketball heritage!

Third, Shareese Ulis can be such a skilled quarterback on the court. It's obvious that Coach Elliott trusted her, since she handed Shareese the keys to the offense right off the bat and she will be fun to watch next season.

And I'm excited for the future of Val Schuster. Yes, maybe it's just because I like announcing her name in the starting lineup (Val Schooooooooooster..) but I like her hustle and her outside shooting touch. I hope she continues to grow in Coach Elliott's system. 

Which brings us to next season, and the first full recruiting class that Coach Elliott will have had time to bring in.Junior college transfer ShaQuanda Wiggins (Chicago, Ill./Thornton Township/Jefferson College [Mo.]) will join incoming freshmen Kayla Cook (South Webster, Ohio/South Webster), Jeanise Randolph (Calumet City, IL/Thornton Fractional North), and Tiffany Turner (Marlton, N.J./Cherokee) at UC for the 2010-11 season. These four run 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 and 5-10, bringing some height inside, and add them with redshirting transfer Chanel Chisholm  (Long Island, N.Y./North Babylon/Vanderbilt), who transferred from Vanderbilt following the 2008-09 season and who has watched the offense from the bench this year, and you should have a good mix of youth and experience.

In the meantime, home fans have only two more chances to see this edition of the Cats, Tuesday night against West Virginia and Saturday with Pitt. It's not been an easy road for the fifth year seniors on this team. Come and support them, and show them how much you appreciate what they've done for this program--and the foundation they've placed for the Bearcats to come.  

Is the NCAA tourney a remote possibility?

| No TrackBacks

Local heartthrob and TV/radio sensation Ken Broo asked me that question on his Sunday morning sports talk show on Valentine's Day, and after thinking about it for a second - knowing UC had to play at USF, vs. Marquette, vs. DePaul, at West Virginia, vs. Villanova and at Georgetown - I said no.

 

I thought they could struggle at USF. I thought they would beat Marquette and DePaul at 5/3. I thought they might have a chance to pull an upset against one of the final three squads on the schedule. I thought UC could still make the NCAA tournament. I just didn't think the Bearcats would.

 

Now, after losing at South Florida and after falling to Marquette on Sunday - two absolute must-win games that did not end as such - what are UC's chances today? The answer: they're on life support.

 

And it's not just the fact the Bearcats have lost that has their fans upset. It's the way they've lost. The fact that South Florida pounded them - after which Mick Cronin said the Bulls had needed the win more than his team. The fact their offense, for the most part, continues to be invisible. The fact they can't make free throws at the end of games. The fact that Yancy Gates didn't play the final 12 minutes of the Marquette game and was then seen giggling on the bench. The fact that Lance Stephenson has been less than impressive and played less than a quarter of Sunday's game.

 

So, where to now?

 

Right now, UC is 15-11 and 6-8 in the Big East. The Bearcats sit in a five-way tie for eighth place in the league. In those final four games, I see one win and three losses. I don't have to tell you that, at that point, the Bearcats might not get a call from the NIT.

 

But think about it this way: if UC can beat DePaul, can upset West Virginia in Morgantown (hey, it happened two years ago with a team not nearly as athletically-talented as the current one) and somehow knock off a Georgetown squad that's 3-4 in its past seven games (hey, the Bearcats swept the Hoyas last season), the Bearcats could have a shot at the NCAA tournament.

 

Assuming a loss to Villanova - I don't see UC winning that one - that would put the Bearcats 18-12, 9-9. A win or two in the Big East tournament, and you've got a pretty decent resume for inclusion.

 

Is my scenario a stretch? Yes, it is. Is it impossible? No, I don't think so. Like I said, the chances for an NCAA tournament berth are on life support. But that doesn't mean they're dead quite yet.

 

--Surprisingly - at least to my eyes - Joe Lunardi seems to think UC has a better shot of making the tournament than the vast majority of the US population. In his latest Bracketology, he has the Bearcats as one of "The First Four Out." That means, according to him, UC is still on the bubble.

 

I know Cronin oftentimes doesn't agree with Lunardi's prognostications. This probably isn't one of those times.

 

--So, I've been off the grid the past week or so for a number of personal reasons. I've got tons of e-mail and messages I need to answer, so if you sent me something, have a little bit of patience. I'm going to try to get back to you all in the next day or two.

STICK PIN IN HAND

| No TrackBacks

Have you ever been in a relationship that's headed downhill fast, and the more you do to try and save it, the more you mess it up? Well that has to be how the 'Cats and Mick Cronin feel. Its like this year they finally move into position to be considered a tournament team and since then they've struggled. As one of my friends on facebook said "They're on life support". You wonder how? why? especially when you know what's at stake; and it always sends me back to the quotable Bengal linebacker James Francis who so eloquently stated "They get paid to make plays too." Every team in the Big East is getting paid (so to speak) to win and there is no off night in this league. So when you imagine UC not giving thier all maybe you should imagine the other team fighting to survive as well. Maybe its for seeding and maybe like UC its just to dance.

Either way UC coaches have got to find the hidden code to tap into these kids stove and light the fuse that won't burn out. Let them run practice, give them the job of the pre-game speech; Let them conduct film study or even game plan the next game. But as they say, drastic times call for drastic measures. Maybe they should bring me back to introduce the lineups again...(shameless plug) but it did fire up the players...get it? fire up??

Right now the bandwagon is probably getting 40 miles to the gallon as people jump off in bunches and that's to be expected. What's not to be expected is a talented team struggling so much and it hurts them much more than it does us. I think people forget no one enjoys losing, especially the participants. They have the players, they have the coaches but what they don't have is a solution; and that is the biggest need right now. I for one, hope they find it before the Big East Tournament so they can stick the pin in someone else' balloon.

That's the way I see it...Sitting In The Box Seat. 

 

 

My Take On Tiger . . . And UC's NCAA Chances

| No TrackBacks

I was on a plane from Boston to Cincinnati yesterday morning from 10:15 to 12:59, meaning I was one of the few people on the face of the earth who wasn't glued to the TV during Tiger Woods public apology.

 

Immediately after landing, I turned on my smart phone and read what Tiger said online.

 

I thought it was just about perfect - until I saw the video.

 

It's just my opinion, but Tiger's wooden performance on camera dulled the impact of his words.  He looked like a politician looking into the camera as he delivered his closing comments at the end of a televised debate.

 

But if you ignore the stilted delivery and read the text, Tiger apologized for his behavior, defended his wife, vowed to be a better person, and asked for our forgiveness.  What else was he supposed to do?

 

As a reporter, I would love to interview him.  I want to know how he got caught and for how long he's lived in fear that he would get busted.  I'm interested in what he thinks this has done to his legacy as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

 

But I completely understand why he didn't hold a news conference and I'm amused by media members that seem offended by that.  He's dealing with incredibly embarrassing issues for himself and his family.  Who knows what a reporter from TMZ or the National Enquirer would ask?

 

Tiger's behavior has cost him millions of dollars, but he has plenty of money left.  He might never get his wife and kids back, not to mention the respect and admiration of millions of fans.

 

He's said enough for me. 

 

* * * * *

 

I was honored to serve as master of ceremonies for UC's Legion of Excellence celebration on Friday night that saw three all-time Bearcat greats enter the James P. Kelly Athletics Hall of Fame:  Track legend Mary Danner Wineberg, Soccer All-American Andrew Kean, and Football Star/Basketball Sub Brad Jackson.

 

Wineberg, who won a gold medal in the 4 x 400 meter relay in the 2008 Olympics, told the audience that she hopes to compete in the 2012 games in London.

 

Kean wore a traditional Scottish kilt and spoke in a thick brogue about what it meant to come to the United States and attend the University of Cincinnati.

 

Jackson became quite emotional as he discussed why he will always be a Bearcat.  In my introduction I said the following:  "As a football player, he'll be remembered as one of the hardest hitters in Bearcat history.  As a basketball player, he'll be remember as . . . one of the hardest hitters in Bearcat history."  It's worth noting that Marvin Lewis - who coached Jackson as a member of the Baltimore Ravens - was in attendance to see Brad enter the UC Hall of Fame.

 

In addition to the new Hall of Fame class, Jack Drake, Dr. Frederick Haffner, and Carl Lindner were inducted into the Order of the Black Blazer, which recognizes individuals for their contributions and support of UC Athletics.  Presentation of the Strubbe Distinguished Service Award went to John Courter and Sue Stephens Jones.

 

It's always a first-class event.  Kudos to everyone who did a magnificent job of putting it together.

 

* * * * *

 

Sunday's home game against Marquette is obviously a huge one for the Bearcats.  In my opinion, if UC can go 3-2 in its final five regular season games, the team would be right on the NCAA bubble going to the Big East Tournament since two of those victories would have to be "quality wins."

 

Tuesday night's offensive performance at USF was ugly, but the NCAA tournament committee doesn't watch every minute of every game, they only go by results and a road loss at USF isn't a deal-breaker.

 

Every bracketologist - without exception - has Cincinnati right in the mix for one of the final spots in the Field of 65.

 

Let's hope the 'Cats seize the opportunity beginning with critical back-to-back home wins over Marquette and DePaul.

 

Hope to see you at Fifth Third Arena.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

OPENING GATES

| No TrackBacks
gates dunk.jpg



      Needless to say, the UC Bearcats didn't have their best night on Tuesday at the Sun Dome against the South Florida Bulls. Deonta Vaughn got hot late to whittle a double-digit USF lead, but UC still lost by eight to a team they should've beaten.

      A key stat was missing 18 lay-ups (as counted by Coach Cronin's staff). Another key stat was Yancy Gates and Lance Stephenson combining for just seven points and three rebounds.

You can pretty much write it down--when that's all you're going to get from those two marquees players--that's probably going down in the "L" column.

      "Of course, it was a disappointment," said Gates on Thursday. "I think the disappointment was we were able to go to UConn and get a win, then to go down and play a South Florida team that's kind of a similar team to UConn and not to be able to pull that one out."

      Really, it defies logic.

      Anyone that's ever been around a sports team will tell you that one game's results don't necessarily indicate how the next game will be. If you "overlook" a team in the Big East, you best be prepared to have your fannies handed to you.

      "It's kind of too late in the season to take things like that as a learning point," admitted Gates. "We need to win games as of right now."

      You could blame it on youth. That would be a truthful statement. It's also an "old" statement that many fans are tired of hearing.

      "I think we do play some young players," said Gates in defense. " Cashmere didn't get to play at all last year. Lance, he comes in and this is his first year. You expect those kind of bumps in the road where you may not win this game or that game. It's February, we feel we should know how to win those type of games down in South Florida, games like that."

      All true statements. There are no days off in the Big East.

      Unless, you're not a factor on the floor. Then you get a courtside seat to watch Big East basketball, which would be highly sought after if it weren't for the fact that you're on the team.

      Yancy Gates made a mere cameo in the USF game, logging just 10 minutes.

      "It would be frustrating for any player," said Gates of his "pine time". "The coach is making the call to win. You sit there and try to cheer on your team when you're on the bench. When your number's called, you need to be ready to play. Any player would want to be out there playing. South Florida played a smaller group, Coach Cronin thought it would be best to go small. It doesn't have any effect on my game or anything. I just feel the action was made to try and win the game."

      Gates could face the same situation Sunday when Marquette comes to town with their small line-up. Small, but effective.

      "We all know that Marquette's a smaller team," said Gates. "They shoot more threes than anybody in the country. We just have to prepare for us 'bigs' to play more defense out on the perimeter, more than we would in a normal Big East game. We usually guard a lot of pick and rolls. Playing Marquette we'll be guarding more of the 'pick and pop' type of game."

      If they don't guard them, they'll find themselves on the bench again wondering what happened to their minutes. Gates has logged a lot of time this season, but has also played just 10 minutes three times now and had one game where he only played for 240 seconds (four minutes).

      If you see #34 on the floor more often that not Sunday, things are probably going UC's way.

      Ditto for Lance Stephenson.

      Winning teams don't complain of their youth, they embrace it.

Bearcats Return Home to Pink Zone

| No TrackBacks

If you had told me this time last week the Bearcats would return home from their two-game road swing 1-1, I probably would have been ok with that.  However, after the 'Cats thrilling win on Saturday at Syracuse, the loss Tuesday night at Providence was certainly disappointing.  Winning on the road in the BIG EAST isn't easy, but after knocking off the Orange in OT, Cincinnati was primed to pick off the Friars and continue to show progress.  Instead a tough second half, led to a 15 point loss at Alumni Hall. 

PinkRibbon.jpgNow Jamelle Elliott's troops will look to bounce-back Saturday when they welcome Villanova for the first of three consecutive home games.  The game is the Bearcats "Think Pink" game (3rd in-a-row) and fans are encouraged to wear pink as part of the support for Breast Cancer Research.  The Bearcats will be wearing special uniforms for the game.  They are primarily white, white pink trim.  I saw them last week and they are sharp. 

If you need to know one thing about Harry Perretta and the Villanova Wildcats, it is this: they live and die by the three.  The Wildcats have shot 655 three's this season.  That is more than half of their 1292 shots.  They shoot only 29.0% from beyond the arc and that is a big part of the reason they are 1-11 in the BIG EAST this season.  But don't take the Wildcats for granted.  When they get hot, they are a dangerous (and well coached) team.  Don't believe me?  Ask Syracuse, 'Nova got them for 13 three's back on February 9th, the Wildcats only conference win.

If  you get FOX Sports Ohio, make sure you watch Bearcats Sports Weekly w/Mick Cronin, Jamelle Elliott tonight (Thursday) at 6:00 p.m..  Jamelle fills in for Mick and does a great job as my co-pilot.  We also feature senior Michelle Jones, who scored her 1,000th career point at Providence.  If you missed it, click here to watch online

Hope to see you Saturday at Fifth Third Arena, if you are coming out, remember to wear pink.  If not, you can watch the game live at 2:00 p.m. CLICK HERE TO WATCH

 

Pink is the new Red

| No TrackBacks

First, congrats to Michelle Jones, MJ to her friends, for reaching the 1,000 point plateau for her Bearcat career. Michelle was part of that top 10 ranked recruiting class that came to Clifton five years ago, and it's great to see a local product do well at the next level.

Second, I have a question for you: Who among you has been touched, one way or the other, by breast cancer? A friend, a sister or mother, maybe even yourself? Chances are, there are a lot of hands up right now. In fact it'd be easier to ask who HASN'T been touched by this awful disease.

Which brings me to Saturday's women's game, back home at the friendly confines of Fifth Third arena. This time we ask you to leave your Bearcat red and black home for the day, and instead, think Pink. Get your spring pink jacket, sweater or blouse out of the closet and wear it for this special day. Because this is the annual game where the Bearcats, and just about every women's basketball program in Division 1, sets aside to remind all of us about the importance of breast cancer awareness.

Of course, a lot of this is in response to the valiant fight that Kay Yow waged for literally decades while she coached at North Carolina State. While she eventually succumbed to the disease a little more than a year ago, cancer didn't defeat her. Instead, her crusade continues today with so many days like Saturday's Pink Zone game. Proceeds go to the Barrett Cancer Center, a place I've had to visit too many times.

This game may be for the Bearcats, but it's also for the many women who are our friends, our neighbors, our mothers and sisters, who have waged this battle. Let's cheer both of them on, on Saturday.

A Look At The Big East Bubble

| No TrackBacks

Interesting weekend in the Big East huh?

 

Cincinnati's win at UConn would probably be ranked 4th on a list of biggest upsets.

 

In case you missed it on Sunday:

 

St. John's won at Notre Dame - perhaps not that big a shock considering that the Irish did not have Luke Harangody (who is out with a bruised knee).  Still, it drops Notre Dame behind UC in the Big East standings at 6-7 with tough road games remaining at Louisville, Georgetown, and Marquette.  Hard to imagine the Irish doing better than 8-10 in league play.

 

Louisville beat #2 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome (3 days after the Cardinals lost by 19 at St. John's).  Rick Pitino has now topped his former boss Jim Boeheim in 8 of their last 9 meetings.  Enormous win for the Cards NCAA prospects.

 

Rutgers beat #7 Georgetown for the Scarlet Knights first win over a Top 10 team in seven years.  Rutgers won despite going 7 ½ minutes without a field goal in the second half.

 

Selection Sunday is four weeks away.  Here's the way I see it:

 

5 Big East teams are locks:  Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Georgetown, and Pitt

 

Louisville appears to be in good shape at 7-5 (including a win at Syracuse) with home games left against Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Syracuse and road games at DePaul, Marquette, and UConn.  The Cardinals should win at least 3 of those games to get to 10-8 (or better) in league play.

 

That leaves 6 Big East Bubble schools battling for one or two more spots:  Cincinnati, Marquette, USF, Seton Hall, Notre Dame and UConn.

 

Let's start with the premise that a team would need to finish at least 9-9 in the Big East to have a shot at an at-large bid.

 

UConn is barely alive with a 4-8 record in league play and Notre Dame is a long-shot for the reasons I listed earlier.

 

Seton Hall is 5-7, but only has 2 games left against teams with winning league records.

Home:  Rutgers, Marquette

Road:  St. John's, West Virginia, Rutgers, Providence

 

USF is also 5-7, but has 4 home games remaining and only 1 game left against a team with a winning league record.

Home:  Cincinnati, St. John's, Providence, UConn

Road:  Villanova, DePaul

 

Marquette is at 7-5 (thanks in part to playing DePaul and Providence twice) with three straight road games beginning on Sunday at Fifth Third Arena.

Home:  Pitt, Louisville, Notre Dame

Away:  Cincinnati, St. John's, Seton Hall

 

Which leaves Cincinnati at 6-6 in the Big East with a tough remaining schedule that includes four teams with winning league records. 

Home:  Marquette, DePaul, Villanova

Away:  USF, West Virginia, Georgetown

 

Let's face it, the next two games are HUGE for the 'Cats since USF and Marquette are two of the teams that appear most likely to finish with at least 9 Big East wins.  The Bearcats can enhance their chances while dealing both of those schools a head-to-head blow if they can win.

 

It's going to be a big week.  Let's hope they can build on the great defensive effort at UConn.    

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

BIG (EAST) WIN!

| No TrackBacks
I wonder how many thought the UConn rematch was going to bury UC in the conference and in the NCAA tournament talk. After losing to the 'Cats, and Jim Calhoun returning I'm sure many thought emotions alone would carry the Huskies to a easy win; but as I've continued to say, this is a series of one game season and UC just won another one that keeps their (NCAA) post season hopes alive. With U of L beating Syracuse it further illustrates that the Big Beast has talent from top to bottom and it bodes well for RPI rankings and last minute arguments about how many Big East teams should get in. You have to keep UC in the conversation and if they can win at South Florida, they will definitely have a little momentum on their side.

The grind (a term for working without stopping) really intensifies now that the regular season is drawing to a close and the league tournament draws near. As i've said lets look at the body of work at the end not in the middle or after one bad loss. So keep tabs on the conference, the team and yes for those who want to micro manage, Mick too. But don't make a decision until its all over. That may be later than you think, and more in line with what you were wishing at the start of the season. Even Roy Williams and his North Carolina Tar Heels are struggling and you thought UC had expectations?

It is no doubt a tough time being a UC basketball fan these days but with wins like the most recent against UConn it gives you a wing and a prayer that this season can offer a post script akin to selection Sunday when UC sits around together to find out where they play...and fans uttered the tattered tale: I knew they were going to make it...

That's the way I see it...Sitting In The Box Seat

View from the Road

| No TrackBacks

Sometimes, you have to step away to get a good look. Like not being able to see the forest for the trees. And sometimes, the best way to see your own team, is to look at it through the eyes of the opponent.

Take, for example, the Bengals and quarterback Carson Palmer. Now, I'll be the first to say that Palmer has had his struggles, but you get outside of Cincinnati and the rest of the country can't talk enough about how Palmer is consistent, how he's triumphed over adversity, etc. We as fans often get so caught up in the day to day of a game, that we forgot that Palmer's got a Heisman Trophy that he brings to work with him every day (figuratively, I hope, not literally).

Which brings me to the big win the Bearcat women had Saturday at Syracuse. (actually, a good day for both the men's and women's teams Saturday out east--props to the men with the win at Connecticut) In reading the story in the Syracuse newspaper recapping the game, it's interesting to see how the Post-Standard writer, Chris Wagner, saw the 'Cats' overtime win. (by the way, if you want to read the whole article, here it is: http://blog.syracuse.com/orange-women/2010/02/close-game_woes_continue_for_o.html )

First, the Syracuse coach lamented the loss, even though his team won the stats battle:

"It's getting tougher and tougher to explain these things," said coach Quentin Hillsman, whose team's chances of making the NCAA Tournament faded even more as it dropped to 18-7 overall and 5-7 in conference play. "We won every (statistical) category and lose the game."

Then he noted one exception to the stat battle: free-throw shooting. The Orange converted only 6-of-15 attempts, while the Bearcats canned 17-of-20.

The other notable difference was not on the stat sheet. That was clutch shots and clutch stops.

Cincinnati had both of those on its side, starting with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Chareese Ulis to send the game into overtime at 57-57. Then, while leading 64-62 in the extra period, they gathered a crucial rebound after SU freshman center Kayla Alexander missed a shot in the lane."

Ok, so they spelled Shareese's name wrong, first. Second, it's eye opening to see another writer give a nod to UC's big plays that, at least to Syracuse's point of view, changed the flow of the game. But you won't see too many shots more clutch than Ulis' triple that sent the game to overtime.

Want another example? Let's go to the previous overtime win the Cats had on the road, Groundhog's Day in Louisville. Here's the recap of that game, courtesy of the Courier-Journal: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20100202/SPORTS02/2020360/1028/SPORTS02/U+of+L+women+can+t+close+door+on+Bearcats

Themes are the same: Home team expected to win, home team disappointed in loss.

Home team, perhaps, remembered the Bearcats of old. This is not, with a nod to Buick, your father's women's Bearcat team. It's tough for any team to win on the road in the BIG EAST. The Bearcats have three conference victories away from home, with a chance at another one this week at Providence. Each win means a better seed in the conference tournament. Each win is a stepping stone to the future. Let's see what happens Tuesday night at Providence.

Road Warriors

| No TrackBacks

Wow.  If you missed the Bearcats game at Syracuse yesterday you missed a lot.  Jamelle Elliott's Bearcats led at the end of the first half 28-21.  They then lead by 13 in the second half, only to watch the Orange battle from behind, tie the game and take a 5 point lead with 37 seconds remaining.  Down 5, the Bearcats drove the lane, got a bucket from Michelle Jones, who also drew the foul, but missed the free throw.  Needing a little help, Syracuse missed the front-end of a one-and-one and the Bearcats were able to use their final timeout to draw up a play for a potential game-tying 3.  With Shareese Ulis the hot hand, I figured the ball was going to her or veteran Kahla Roudebush.  The staff drew-up the perfect play, the 'Cats executed it to perfection and with six seconds remaining, Ulis launched a 3 from the right wing that clunked off the back of the rim and appeared the sink the Bearcats hopes of a road victory.  Just when all hope was lost, sophomore Val Schuster corralled the lose basketball, drew a foul and got the Bearcats the ball on the baseline with a hair over 4 seconds remaining. 

That's when things got interesting.  Syracuse called timeout (remember UC had no timeouts remaining at this point.)  With a three point lead and very little time remaining, you would assume the Orange may foul and not even give the Bearcats a chance to tie the game.  That didn't happen.  Instead the Orange played great defense on the baseline and the Bearcats got the ball back to Ulis who stepped back from 30-feet and drained a huge 3 to tie the game as time expired.  They reviewed the play, but as you can see from the picture below, there was no question the ball was well out of her hands before the lights went on.

Ulis3.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the game tied at 57, the 7th meeting between the Orange and the Bearcats went to overtime and Cincinnati took control, taking a four point lead late thanks to two Schuster free throws and closing out their second overtime, road, BIG EAST win this season. 

This win is a big for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, it's the fourth conference with this season for the Bearcats, their third on a road.  Coaches often tell me how difficult it is to win on the road in BIG EAST play.  It certainly has not been easy this season, but that hasn't stopped Elliott's troops from scoring three wins away from Fifth Third Arena. 

To understand just how impressive this feat it, let's look at the conference standings through Sunday, Feb. 14th.  At 4-7, the Bearcats currently stand in 12th place.  However, they are just one game back from 7th place with five games left on the regular season slate.  With three road wins, the Bearcats have as many or more road BIG EAST wins than 12 other conference teams.  Included among those 12 teams:

  • West Virginia - 3 road wins, ranked #8 in the nation
  • St. John's - 3 road wins, ranked #24 in the nation, a team the Bearcats beat at home
  • Louisville - 1 road win, national runner-up last season
  • USF - 2 road wins, WNIT Champion last season
  • Pittsburgh - 1 road win, NCAA tournament team last season

With five regular season games remaining, the Bearcats will face four teams (Providence, Villanova, Pittsburgh and Marquette) they are directly competing with for seeding in the BIG EAST Conference Tournament. 

Before they can worry about anyone else, the team turns their eyes to Providence.  They bused to Rhode Island last night immediately following the game and returned to the court for practice this morning.  If the road warriors can pull one off Tuesday night, they can position themselves for a great run in the final quarter of the regular season.  In the meantime, it is a very happy Valentines Day here in Providence. 

Follow my updates from the road on Twitter: http://twitter.com/TommyG_sideline

 

Mailbag Response Time!

| No TrackBacks
Got some great e-mail regarding my mailbag, and I thank everybody for taking the time to write and tell me their feelings. Most, not surprisingly, didn't necessarily agree with me and my thought that Mick Cronin deserved another year. And that's OK. I'm just happy to have the dialogue.

 

But let me take one e-mail from the pile, because it makes some interesting points. Bear with me because Craig spent some time on this bad boy and put together a fair amount of research for it. I, once again, edited parts of it for length but tried to stay true to the original intent of the e-mail.

 

From Craig:

 

Four years ago, when people were talking about a five-year rebuilding process for Mick Cronin at UC, I thought it was too conservative and I still think it is. For a traditional basketball program that has continued to have success in modern times (the past 10-15 years), more should be expected of Mick by this point in his tenure at UC. To help validate my argument, here are Mick's results compared to those of other coaches at traditional NCAA basketball programs that have had similar success to UC in modern times and have been on the job for a comparable amount of time as Mick. All of these coaches came in after losing seasons (with the exception of Tom Crean at Indiana) and without a stocked cupboard of talent, similar to Mick. In some cases, the program was facing NCAA violation issues that certainly could have affected recruiting and the rebuilding process.

 

Mick Cronin, University of Cincinnati

Previous team record in 2005-2006: 21-13, NIT

2006-2007: 11-19 (2-14 Big East)

2007-2008: 13-19 (8-10), CBI 1st Round

2008-2009: 18-14 (8-10)

2009-2010 (current): 14-9 (5-6)

 

John Beilein, University of Michigan

Previous team record in 2006-2007: 22-13      

2007-2008: 10-22 (5-13 Big Ten)

2008-2009: 21-14 (9-9), NCAA 2nd Round               

2009-2010 (current): 11-11 (4-6)

 

Thad Matta, Ohio State University

Previous team record in 2003-2004: 14-16 (6-10)

Previous coach, Jim O'Brien, fired over alleged NCAA violations. Matta was hired when team was potentially facing probation (and eventually was ineligible for post season his first year)

Coaching record:

2004-2005: 20-12 (8-8 Big Ten)

2005-2006: 26-6 (12-4), Big 10 Champs, NCAA 2nd Round

2006-2007: 35-4 (15-1), Big 10 Champs, Big 10 Tournament Champs, NCAA Runner-Up

2007-2008: 24-13 (10-8), NIT Champions

2009-2010 (current): 19-6 (9-3)

 

Matt Painter, Purdue University

Previous team record in 2004-2005: 7-21 (3-13)

Coaching record:

2005-2006: 9-19 (3-13 Big Ten)

2006-2007: 22-12 (9-7), NCAA 2nd Round

2007-2008: 25-9 (15-3), NCAA 2nd Round

2008-2009: 27-10 (11-7), Big 10 Tournament Champs, NCAA Sweet 16    

2009-2010 (current): 20-3 (8-3)

NOTE: Matt Painter was hired as the Associate Head Coach under Gene Keady for the 2004-2005 season to help with the coaching transition. If one would wanted to treat this as his "first" year when comparing to Mick, then consider his team's performance in 2007-2008 as his fourth year. The improvement in that time frame is still significantly better than Cronin's.

 

Bruce Pearl, University of Tennessee

Previous team record in 2004-2005: 14-17 (6-10)

Coaching record:

2005-2006: 22-8 (12-4 SEC), NCAA 2nd Round

2006-2007: 24-11 (10-6), NCAA Sweet 16

2007-2008: 31-5 (14-2), SEC Champs, NCAA Sweet 16

2008-2009: 21-13 (10-6) NCAA 1st Round

2009-2010 (current): 18-5 (6-3)

 

Tom Crean, Indiana University

Previous team record in 2007-2008: 25-8 (14-2), NCAA 1st Round

Kelvin Sampson was fired towards the end of the season due to NCAA violations. Interim Coach Dan Dakich coached final 7 games. Most of the team left following season.

2008-2009: 6-25 (1-17)

2009-2010 (current): 9-12 (3-6)

 

Not all of these coaches are Hall of Famers, but, excluding Tom Crean momentarily, they all got their teams to 20-win seasons and into the NCAA tournament in within their first 2 years of being a coach. All of the programs I did list, though, have a similar basketball tradition and success to that of the Bearcats, and the UC faithful would be much more satisfied, or at least look toward the future in a much more promising manner, if Mick were to turn in performances similar to any of these guys.

In short, mark me up for one that does not think Mick deserves year 5.

 

OK, so we're going to have to agree to disagree on the conservative estimate that it would take five years to rebuild. You say it shouldn't take that long; I say UC's predicament four years ago was similar to a program just reemerging from an NCAA-sanctioned death penalty. Although others in the national media said the same thing at the time - I think Mike DeCourcy said it would take about twice as long as I predicted - this is just argument that's not going to be settled. We'll leave it there.

 

I agree that the Tom Crean analogy is most similar to what Cronin went through. Of course - and this also goes for the arguments with Matta and Painter - you can't compare the competition in the Big East and the Big Ten. If UC played in the Big Ten, where there are like four legit teams this season, the Bearcats wouldn't be struggling nearly as hard to break the .500 mark in conference play. Not when you have the likes of Michigan (there's Beilein struggling), Indiana, Iowa and Penn State playing.

 

I think that's what lost most here. People forget that the Big East is the strongest conference in the history of college basketball. Trying to come back from the dead to play in a league like this is ridiculous. Even the teams that struggle the most in the league are still pretty good teams. OK, maybe not DePaul or Rutgers, but you get my point. How would St. John's or Seton Hall fare in the Big Ten? I'm betting they'd be better than the 3-8 and 4-7 records, respectively, those teams are displaying in the Big East. I'm not saying that Matta and Painter haven't done nice jobs with really good players - I would argue Craig's point that their cupboards were bare when they took over - but they also weren't competing in the same league against Rick Pitino and Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim and Jamie Dixon and so on and so on.

 

As for Bruce Pearl: yes, Tennessee was down after Buzz Petersen left, but to me, you can't really compare his situation to Mick's. Yes, a couple of top recruits had transferred out after Pearl was hired, but it's not like the program was decimated. He still had Chris Lofton and C.J. Watson and Major Wingate - guys who were pretty good to legitimately great players. The Bearcats had Deonta Vaughn, a freshman. And that's about it.

 

But there's one program Craig didn't mention: Baylor and coach Scott Drew. Most of Dave Bliss' player had transferred out before Drew was hired in August of 2003 after that humongous scandal, but since then, Drew has done a remarkable job bringing this program back from the brink of irrelevance. Here's his record through his first four seasons:

 

2003-04/8-21/3-13 Big 12

2004-05/9-19/1-15

2005-06/4-13/4-12

2006-07/15-16/4-12

 

And in his fifth year, the same number I'm saying Mick should get? The Bears went 21-11 and made the NCAA tournament.

NAUGHTY OR NICE?

| No TrackBacks





gates.jpeg
thomas.jpeg


      On occasion this season, Mick Cronin has started some decent size in the UC line-up with 6-11 Ibrahima Thomas joining 6-9 Yancy Gates around the center circle. While both young men have had productive games, neither have been the force many would like.

      That could be about to change as Thomas is coming off one of his better games as a Bearcat with 13 points and seven rebounds against Syracuse. While you may write those numbers off as not being overwhelming, they still represent and improvement over what Thomas has done most of this season.

      You would think that a transfer who played two years at Oklahoma State would have more impact. But, most transfers aren't from Dakar, Senegal with only about five years of experience.

      Unlike most college big men, Thomas grew up playing soccer and really is more comfortable playing outside and lofting three-pointers. While the threat of a "three-ball" is nice, UC has needed Thomas to play more in the post. After a year of sitting out and another half-season of learning the ropes in the Big East, Thomas seems to be responding.

      "It's like Coach tells me everyday, it's just coming out and doing the main things," said Thomas.

     "At first, yeah, it was different--being limited at practice here because I wasn't playing. Now, I think I'm getting the flow of the game."

      If he is, a 6-11 scoring threat next to a 6-9, 260-pound presence (Yancy Gates) could open up a lot of doors for the Bearcats. Factor in the blue collar work ethic of 6-8, 255-pound Steve Toyloy and UC can bang with anyone in the league underneath.

      "I would say that we're not afraid of nobody," were Thomas' exact words at a press gathering this week. "It don't matter if we're playing the number one or number two team in the country. It's just a matter of how hard we're going to play and how hard we're going to compete. You always play good people, especially in a conference like the Big East."

      Confidence and the ability to back it up can go a long way in this rugged conference. It's so rugged that Coach Mick Cronin has actually wondered if sophomore Yancy Gates is, "too nice" when he plays.

      "I don't think I'm nice," said Gates in response to the accusation. "I'm never nice. I think that 'nice' statement is not true. Just some nights may not be my night to score the ball. I just try to go out there every night and do what the team needs me to do, whether it's throwing it in the post to me or defense and rebounding."

      The slender Ibrahima Thomas agrees on the "nice factor" of the bulkier Gates.

"Just like he said, he's not nice," said Thomas of his practice partner. "After every practice I've got to go home and get in my bed and try to get my body together. Just bangin' around with people twice your weight ain't that easy."

      While Thomas and Gates combined for 23 points and 12 rebounds against #3 Syracuse, it wasn't enough to bring the Orange down. However, the longer Mick Cronin can keep the "length" on the floor, the better UC's chances are in further Big East battles.

      "You take it and you try to learn from it," said Gates of the most recent loss. "We feel that we had a chance to win the Syracuse game and we didn't close it out the way we knew we could. We can't just be up with five minutes left in the game, we need to be up when that clock's at zero."

      Now, the Bearcats have a seven game stretch where production from Thomas and Gates will be crucial. Lack of size can no longer be an excuse. This is why both players came to UC--to have a chance to play meaningful games in March.

      "Everybody's focus is on trying to pull together a stretch of games to where we can still make the tournament," said Gates. "We feel as if we're just as good as anybody, that kind of helps us keep our focus in practice."

      There's no reason not to believe that statement. Outside of Marquette, UC's beaten the teams that are left on the schedule in the last two years with some of the same talent on the floor that you've seen this season. They haven't beaten Marquette since 2006, but the Golden Eagles are currently just one game better than the Bearcats.

      With UC's inconsistent shooting, a bigger presence inside could put the Bearcats over the top against some of the upcoming competition. As long as Thomas and Gates can remain planted in the post instead of planted on the bench, the Bearcats have a chance.

      That, and if they can just stop being "nice" for 40 solid minutes....



Bearcats Set to Hit the Road

| No TrackBacks

Following a tough loss at home to #3 Notre Dame on Tuesday night, Jamelle Elliott and the Bearcats are set to hit the road for five days and two games.  Friday, the Bearcats fly to Syracuse for a Saturday afternoon date with the Orange.  With Syracuse being my alma mater, I always enjoy a trip back to the Carrier Dome.  However, when I called Syracuse women's basketball games, they were played inside of Manley Field House and I often wonder why they moved to the Carrier Dome.  I understand the motives behind the move, but Manley provided a smaller venue for the women's team and gave them their own home.  The Dome may have the shiny floor and bright lights, but Manley Field House will always be the home to the Orange(women) in my heart. 

 

ManleyFieldHouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a road game on Tuesday at Providence, the Bearcats will remain on the road and travel directly to Renaissance City following their game Saturday.  The eventual five-day trip should provide Coach Elliott and her team with some additional bonding time away from Clifton.  Remember the last time the Bearcats had a long road trip was the Great Alaska Shootout and Cincinnati fared well in the Great White North, defeating Western Carolina and almost knocking off the host SeaWolves. 

With six games remaining on the regular season slate, the Bearcats find themselves in a great position to make a move within the conference standings.  They already have two road BIG EAST wins and another one this week would put them in a great spot with three of their last four at home. 

I will check-in from the road with more and be sure to listen to Saturday's game live on GoBEARCATS.com beginning with the pre-game coverage at 1:45.  Click Here to Listen

Also, follow me on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/TommyG_Sideline

Mailbag time!

| No TrackBacks

Apparently, me asking you to e-mail some questions for the long-awaited return of the mailbag has allowed you to let off some steam. Yikes. It's pretty easy to see that people are upset with the state of the basketball program, and that's reflected in some of the e-mails I've received.

 

So, let me try to assuage some of your fears, correct what I feel are some wrong impressions, and tell you how I feel about the prospects of changing coaches. Just an FYI, I edited some of the e-mails for length, but I've tried my best to keep the original intent of the e-mails intact.

 

Onward to the mailbag:

 

From Gary:

 

You should write another book. "The Rise and Fall of a Basketball Dynasty". The object of the game is to put the round ball in the hoop. Coach Cronin's style of offense doesn't know how to do that. Substitute, substitute, substitute, that's all we do. After 20 games I can't name you our starting five, and whoever the starting five are ,they won't play more than two minutes together before one or more of them is pulled out of the game. How can an offense develop a rhythm or continuity when it is changed every few minutes?

 

Gary's first comment, of course, allows me to plug the book I actually did write. You can find it and buy it right over here. So, thanks for that, Gary. There's little doubt that the Bearcats offense has struggled, and, in part, it's because UC is just not a great shooting team. It ranks ninth in the Big East in shooting percentage, 11th in scoring offense and last in 3-point shooting. Deonta Vaughn has struggled. Lance Stephenson has struggled. Larry Davis, minus the last couple of games, has been invisible. Simply put, if the team wants to win, it must rely on defense. And that's been a mixed bag during Big East play. But that's the hand the Bearcats are playing with this year.

 

Gary is also asking about the substitution pattern, and that's something some of the media have been asking about for weeks. The answer: UC has plenty of depth, and Cronin likes to make use of it. Simple as that. And while he did play 12 Bearcats against Syracuse, only seven played more than 6 minutes. In fact, it was nearly 7 minutes before Cronin substituted for any of the starters in the first half. In the second half, he subbed in Cashmere Wright for Deonta Vaughn about 3 minutes in, but other than that, he left the rest of the starters in until 13:37 remained in the game.

 

From Justin:

 

Why won't Mick take Lance off the wing and post him up?  He is so strong and skilled, wouldn't it help his game to get the ball eight feet from the hoop with a smaller defender on him?  He could get to the foul line much more, and if he turns and faces, he could offer a plethora of moves.  

 

Out on the wing, with his jumpshot in brick-mode, he's having a tough time - nobody is playing him tight because he has no confidence in his shot, so he doesn't have any room to drive to the hole.

 

Post him up, let him use that NBA body. Then have Yancy/Ibrahima/Steve dive to the hoop for dishes or to get into offensive rebounding position.  

 

An interesting question/theory. If you're talking about using Stephenson as a power forward and having him go against the other team's No. 4, that wouldn't work at all. Stephenson isn't nearly big enough - on offense or defense. He's got an NBA body, but he can't compete against a guy who's four inches taller and 40 pounds heavier.

 

The other factor, if you're talking about keeping Stephenson at the No. 3 but having him post up his small forward defender, is this: Stephenson, right now, has struggled at his role on the perimeter - the one he's been playing all season. I don't see how it would be possible to wave a wand and make him play a different style and expect him to handle a completely new assignment in the middle of a season. He's having a hard enough time as it is playing in the Big East as a freshman. I don't think moving him would help. Besides, he's an attacker and best with the dribble-drive. Posting him up is just a completely different deal.

 

And let me answer one final e-mail from Darrell, who writes he's been a UC fan since 1971 and obviously is quite upset. The gist of the e-mail is that Cronin should be fired, and it's basically, the same kind of sentiment found on many of the message boards lately. I don't need to run down the points Darrell makes, because I'm sure you've read them all before.

 

Here's my take on Cronin and whether he deserves the chance to coach a fifth year. Everybody seems to forget the predictions that were made when Cronin took over before the 2006-2007 season. I know I told this to whoever was interviewing me, whenever fans asked me. We all said the program wouldn't fully recover for five years minimum. That's how long we all predicted this program would take to stock itself with Big East talent and with players who could understand and could execute the system Cronin put in place. Well, it's still only year No. 4 of the Cronin era. Mike Thomas doesn't spend much time in the spotlight - and I'm not sure how or if he's answering these angry e-mails that angry fans say they're sending him - but he strikes me as a guy who remembers the predicament this program was in after Andy Kennedy left. He uses long-term analysis in his decision-making.

 

You have to remember who played center for the Bearcats in Cronin's first year to understand what I'm saying: yep, it was Marcus Sikes. Which means Cronin, in his first year, basically had nothing but a scholarship player in Cedric McGowan and some JUCO players who wereat the bottom of the barrel and unsigned for a variety of reasons. Plus, the immortal (and scribe favorite) Ron Allen.

 

Now, it's completely fair, I think, to judge the progress of the players who have been in Cronin's system these past few years. Fans are doing that, as well. But to expect Cronin to turn around the program so quickly (and there were people who were calling for Mick's head in Year 2) was simply unrealistic, especially in the Big East.

 

So yes, I believe Cronin deserves his fifth year. After all, we all said it'd take at least that long in the first place.

 

FYI, I've got more than enough questions to satisfy another Mailbag, most of which will focus on the football team. But if you disagree with anything I just wrote, let me know. I like the conversation we've got going. Hit me back at jkatzo@hotmail.com.

THE REMAINING STRING

| No TrackBacks
     Depending on how the season goes, Mick Cronin's UC Bearcats have anywhere from seven to 17 games to play yet.   If that number is seven, that would mean the Bearcats crashed and burned at the end of the season.
     However, if they end up playing more, that would represent a respectable finish and possibly runs in the Big East, NIT or NCAA tournament.
     Right now, they're 14-9 and would have to win most of the regular season games to get to that magical "20-win" mark.  Realistically, they're going to fall short (if not,  I'll be very happy to be wrong).
     The question is...how many do they have to win to get into a postseason tournament?  The NCAA tourney could be within reach if UC can rack up a few high profile wins between now and the first week of March.  If not, perhaps the NIT might come calling.
      Keep in mind though, playing in the "tough as nails" Big East doesn't guarantee you a NIT bid either.  If you recall, an 18-14 Bearcat team sat home virtually ignored last season.
(They didn't help matters by going 1-6 from Valentine's Day on in '09.)
     So, the question is...how many wins will it take and how many can the Bearcats pull off?
     This team is hard to figure.  Outside of a few glimpses, they haven't matched their intensity in the November Maui tournament in any of the other games.  Sure, they looked OK in wins over Connecticut, Notre Dame and Providence at Fifth Third Arena, but they've been lackluster for the most part on the road (UAB,Seton Hall, St. John's, Notre Dame).
      Also, if you haven't been paying attention, ALL of the Big East teams are capable of rising up and striking down any of the other teams.  If you pencil in certain games as "gimmes", you're going to be greatly disappointed.
       While my UC background wants to say the Bearcats will win out, objectively, I don't see it.
       Starting with Connecticut on 2/13.  It may look like a "winnable" game now since the Huskies have slumped without their coach Jim Calhoun.  But, it is a UConn home game and the Bearcats have only beaten the Huskies once (in the game in December).
      On the 16th, UC's in Tampa against South Florida.  They should've blown out the Bulls here at home, but they allowed them to play along and only won by eight.   USF has knocked off Pitt and Connecticut this season.  Also, the Bearcats haven't won in the Sun Dome since '05 with the Bulls taking three straight in games away from Fifth Third Arena.
      February 21st, Marquette comes to town.   Mick Cronin is 0-2 against the Golden Eagles.
      February 24th, it's DePaul, a game that should go in the win column with UC's talent.  But hang on, DePaul's actually won four of the last six.
      February 27th, the Bearcats close out the month in Morgantown against West Virginia.  Cronin's actually 2-0 against Huggs and the Mountaineers.  In the last game there, the Bearcats ran them out of their own gym, 62-39 (the infamous Bob Huggins yellow suit game).
On the other hand, West Virginia's been around the Top 10 all season long.  Far from a "gimme" game.
     On the 2nd of March, Villanova comes in and they likewise have been a Top 10 team.  While Mick and the 'Cats got them in '08, that's the only time UC's ever beat them.  Not many teams do.
      Finally on the 7th of March, the Bearcats are at Georgetown.  UC swept that series last season.  Before that, Georgetown had won the previous four meetings.
      What you see in these games is that the league has a lot of teams that can beat another on any given night.  On the optimistic end, I see UC winning four of these games--perhaps the next four in a row--at Connecticut, at USF, then home with Marquette and DePaul.
      The next three would be very difficult:  at West Virginia, Villanova here and then at Georgetown.
       The pessimistic side of me that's worried about the team's ability to finish games says just two more wins--the Marquette and DePaul home games.  Should that take place, you're looking at the NIT at best and that's probably pending a couple Big East tournament wins.
       To make the NCAA, I'd say they have to finish with 18 wins and that would be 9-9 in the conference.  In any other conference, you sit home at 9-9,  In the Big East, that shows a team's ability to battle.
        In about a month, we'll know if I was "off my rocker" or somewhat accurate.  As always though, it doesn't matter what I think, it's the player's duty to execute and play as hard as the other teams striving for meaningful games in March.
        For Deonta Vaughn's sake (fourth and final year and no NCAA tournament games) you hope the Bearcats put together a string of wins to get him (and them) to "The Dance".

Former UC volleyball star on amazing adventure

| No TrackBacks

   It's one thing to talk about former Bearcat football and basketball players competing professionally in the NFL or NBA or overseas. That's not so uncommon and has been happening for close to 60 years.

   But a former UC volleyball player competing professionally?

   Uh, that's a rarity.

   "I don't think any of my other players have gone overseas to play," said Reed Sunahara, in his 10th years as UC's volleyball coach. "I know that some have looked into it, but it didn't work out."

   The exception is Bonita Wise.

   She is currently playing professional volleyball in Finland. She previously played on teams in Austria, Croatia and Spain.

    "I have enjoyed every experience that I have had overseas," Wise said in an email exchange from Finland. "Every year I learn something new about a different culture. Of course, there are some negative things, like not getting paid on time, or missing holidays at home. But for the most part it has been nothing but positive."

   Let's backtrack for just a moment.

   Wise came to UC from Riverside, Calif., and had a stellar college career. She was Conference USA Co-Freshman of the Year in 1999 and was all-league four straight years. Three times she was first-team all-conference and three times she was on the Conference USA All-tournament team.

   She graduated in 2003 and ranks fifth in UC history in kills (1,534), sixth in career hitting percentage (.297), fifth in career block assists (431) and fourth in total blocks (498).

   "Ever since I was a freshman in high school, I decided that I wanted to try and be a professional athlete," Wise said. "My dad played basketball overseas in the Philippines, so I kinda wanted to see if my sport can lead me in the same direction." 

   Said Sunahara: "The reason Bonita has had a successful professional volleyball career is that she is and was persistent. She wasn't afraid to take a chance in playing overseas. She played for a small salary at first and I think now she is doing OK for herself."
   So, what's the path from UC to Finland been like?

   We'll just let Wise tell you (if you love to travel, prepare to be jealous):

   Team 1: "My first season I signed with VC Tirol in Innsbruck, Austria.  My coach put the three foreigners (another American and a Czech) in German class. I also helped coach the junior team while I was there, so that helped my German. I liked it there, we made it to the playoffs, but the next season I wanted something new and better competition. The practices were easy, and I would rather have harder training sessions. Austria was fun, and I had a good time and still keep in touch with the coaches and the players."

   Team 2: "Seasons two and three I played for OTP Banka Pula, in Pula, Croatia. Croatia is beautiful, and their culture is a bit different. But I loved it there. That is my second family. I always go back to visit after every season. We practiced twice a day with only one day off a week. The second season we placed third in Cup and third in the league, which was good. I was tired all the time, but it was worth it. I learned Croatian pretty quickly without classes, but it's not an easy language. It is a Slavic language, so I can understand Serbian, and a little Slovenian, Czech and Russian. I loved it there because the practices were challenging and I lived five minutes from some of the best beaches in Europe." 

   Team 3: "Last year I played in Lleida, Spain. I always wanted to play in Spain, and I finally had my chance. I really like Spanish culture. It is great, and there are a lot of things to do. I thought I would enjoy the siestas more, but they turned out to be a pain because all the stores would close for a few hours in the middle of the day, which was annoying. I took Spanish in high school, so I didn't have much trouble, but their Spanish is different from Latin America Spanish. I had three other girls from Argentina on my team and everybody else was from Spain. This was the first season that I didn't have another American, and the first time not everybody spoke basic English. In fact, surprisingly a lot of Spaniards don't speak English at all. Last year we made it to the finals of Superliga B and lost. If we won we would have moved up to Superliga A., I definitely would have played in Spain one more season, but almost every team has suffered due to their economic crisis, so we had trouble getting paid on time, and the full amount. This is the main risk you have to take when you play in Spain."

   Team 4: "While I was waiting to get a call for this season, I had an opportunity to play in Maldives for their national tournament in October." (Note: Maldives is an island country in the Indian Ocean). "This culture was very different from European culture or any other culture I had been in. Normally, the one foreigner on a team was not American, due to the United States' relationship with the Islamic religion. So, I got to be the first American to play in the tournament. Everybody was really nice, and spoke good English. In the Muslim culture they would pray five times a day. They would even pause our matches if it was during one of the times. Some of my teammates chose to be fully covered, so they would play in sweatpants, long sleeves and their head dresses. I had to have my legs covered when I went to eat. We took first in the tournament, and I feel very lucky that I was able to go. Maldives was amazing. They have the best beaches I have ever seen - even better than Croatia." 

   Team 5: "I had decided to go to Finland while I was in Maldives, so I came straight here after the tournament was over - which brings me to Finland today. I don't like cold weather, which was the main reason I always passed up offers from Finland. However, everyone here gets paid on time. So I figured I'd take a chance and also try out Scandinavia. Finnish people are shy but very nice, and very smart.  Everyone speaks excellent English. I forget I am in Finland until I walk outside and it is freezing - then I remember!  I don't know any Finnish because my whole team is always speaking English, and the language is very difficult because the words are very long. Finnish people are all about sauna time. It's like winter wonderland up here, so I am going to try to do all things Finnish. Obviously I've had my sauna time and I went ice skating yesterday. Now all I have to do is ice dip in the lake, go ice fishing, skiing and start drinking one gallon of milk a day (Fins love milk),  then you can consider me officially Finnish. Currently we are in first place, so things are good."

   Sounds more like the Amazing Race than an athletic career.

   Ready to board a plane yet?

   Wise typically returns to the states for two weeks around Christmas and in her offseason, from May until August or September.

   She knows now just how good she had it while at the University of Cincinnati. Players overseas don't have access to trainers the way they do in college. She also does not find practices quite as challenging as Sunahara's.

   And the competition isn't always the best.

   But there's no substitute for the experiences she's had all over the world.

   "I have made really great friends and connections," Wise said. "I'm lucky because I always feel very blessed to be on every team; there hasn't been one player that I haven't liked. I'm godmother to a teammate's daughter in Croatia and am going back to a few weddings soon. 

   "Every year I say I will maybe play one more season. I have been saying this for three years. I like to try new things and new cultures. I've done the western and eastern parts of Europe and now Scandinavia. 

I would love to play in Turkey or Greece, but they have trouble with pay to, so I might try to play in France."

   Sounds like a plan.

 

 

 

What's happening with Lance Stephenson

| No TrackBacks

The season Lance Stephenson is experiencing fascinates me.

 

There was the hype before he ever stepped foot on campus - "Born Ready" and the legal trouble and the questions about whether he'd be even eligible to play this year. There was the hype in the preseason when those who saw him play in open gym or in summer leagues said the hype about his talent (and, I suppose, his born readiness) was legit.

 

And there was the hype that followed the Toledo game, the second contest of his career, when he made 6 of 13 shots and finished with 16 points. It led to the Big East rookie of the week award, and it led to even greater expectations. Mick Cronin said Stephenson was a game-changer, and at first, he proved to be exactly that.

 

"Enjoy him while you can," was the thought espoused by many Bearcats fans. "He might be one-and-done and off to the NBA after the season is over."

 

Three months later, after watching Stephenson average 11.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 28.7 minutes per games, how do you feel now about those preceding statements? There's little doubt Stephenson has an NBA-type body - that was what struck me first when I saw him in a preseason intrasquad scrimmage - and that he has NBA-type moves and NBA-type athleticism.

 

But we've learned much about Stephenson since the Bearcats started playing - the most-striking (and somewhat-surprising), is that Stephenson doesn't perform like a one-and-done kind of guy. When it comes to actually playing basketball, he's been nothing more than a pretty good freshman.

 

As Mick Cronin has said this season, there are very few freshmen in existence that have the skills and knowhow to take over a game as rookies - players like Kentucky's John Wall and Demarcus Cousins come to mind. Most tend to struggle sooner or later - or both.

 

Which is where Stephenson stands at this point. At times, he looks tentative. At times, he looks unsure of himself. At times, frankly, he looks lost on the court.

 

A prime example occurred last Sunday vs. Syracuse. In the first half, Cronin put Stephenson at the point guard spot against the Orange's vaunted zone defense. At 6-foot-5, Stephenson, Cronin figured, could better handle Syracuse's guards, who are pretty tall themselves across the front line of that zone. And for a half, Stephenson looked really good, recording eight points and six rebounds and handing off plenty of would-be assists to Bearcats who were fouled and sent to shoot free throws.

 

But in the second half, Syracuse adjusted its defense a bit, placing its wing defenders closer to half-court and making the lob pass to the interior much more difficult. Stephenson, Cronin later said, got gun-shy.

 

Coming off two-straight games where Stephenson didn't start the ballgame - his abdominal strain notwithstanding - and with Cronin recently complaining about his defense, I wondered about the kind of progress the freshman is making.

 

"He had a couple great practices (after the Notre Dame game)," Cronin said following the Syracuse loss. "He and I talked about his defense and his focus. One thing all young guys struggle with is focusing on scouting reports, paying attention, basic things. It's like coaching freshmen in high school. It'll drive you crazy. I have got to have your full attention."

 

This is not to say that Stephenson's talent has disintegrated. It's just that college basketball is completely different than anything he's ever experienced on the court. In a physical and a mental sense.

 

"All freshmen are like that, because every game is different," Cronin said. "It's the first time he's seen Syracuse's zone. Last year he was playing Grady High School."

 

Something to think about anyway.

 

--This is what Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim thinks about UC. I'm not sure it will calm the souls of those Bearcats fans who are really upset with the way this squad has played for much of the year, but it's a pretty interesting comment from one of the best coaches the college game has ever known.

 

"They have the players," Boeheim said. "It's just fitting them all together. That's difficult to do with so many new players. Stephenson is a good player and (Cashmere) Wright is a good player. They've been good at home because they've been able to keep the momentum. They got the lead, and they started to get tentative, especially against the zone. They've got really good pieces, but it takes a while."

 

The question is: how much more patience do Bearcats fans have?

 

--You know what we haven't done in a while? A mailbag. If you're interested, shoot me some questions at jkatzo@hotmail.com. I'll attempt to answer them. You have queries about the basketball squad, Butch Jones' football team, the reemergence of Mary Wineberg? Send them to me.

 

 

 

 

 

THE ORANGE AND THE CONN

| No TrackBacks

Well now we know what it's like to play one of the top ranked teams in the country as Syracuse paid us a visit yesterday and added number 10 to their Big Beast win total. UC had an early lead and as all top ranked fighters do, and even the New Orlean Saints did yesterday, they adjust. The Orange did and with a veteran coach on the sideline, calm was in order. I love Jim Boeheim's style more than Bobby Knight's. It reminds me of John Wooden who reportedly yelled in practice but was cool hand Luke on the court, as was Denny Crum and others. A case could be made either way but I digress.

Don't let this game or the next one against UConn change what can happen as far as post season opportunities with this team. Their RPI took a positive step playing against the 'Cuse and being in the Big East still matters. With the conference tournament being a new season, the 'Cats still have a chance to make a statement that warrants a tournament bid.

As I said it's a series of one game season and that one game season with Syracuse is over; now its on to UConn, who like Notre Dame, is seeking revenge. I love listening to the indecisive fans who from one game to the next praise and persecute Mick. It confirms one, they don't have any loyalty and two they don't know basketball and/or how to evaluate success.

The body of work gets you in or out of the tournament and with more work to go before the season is over, pretend you're the NCAA and wait until the Big East tournament and then judge this team and this season. Anything else would be uncivilized; but then again who said a fan was? That's the way I see it...Sitting In The Box Seat...

UC-Syracuse Rock 'N Roll Party

| No TrackBacks

The Bearcats scored five points in the final 12 minutes. And as Mick Cronin said in the postgame presser, you're not going to beat what he considers the top team in the country by scoring five points in the final 12 minutes.

 

This might seem obvious to you, and of course, it is. But the fact of the matter is that the Bearcats had a 49-43 lead against the Orange with the momentum building, and they had a real chance to knock off a team that's lost just once this season.

 

That's how good UC can be. Then, the Bearcats showed how bad they can play.

 

"We had a little momentum going our way," said Yancy Gates, who hit all five of his shots from the field (but missed 4 of 5 free throw attempts) to finish with 11 points and five rebounds. "But we started missing shots. Our aggression on the offensive glass wasn't the same as in the first half."

 

And the vaunted Syracuse zone defense finally took its toll.

 

"It just keeps trying your patience," Cronin said. "The mental grind of facing that zone wears you down."

 

At first, the Bearcats played well against Syracuse's defense. With Lance Stephenson manning the point guard spot much of the time - his height helped counteract the bigger guards that the Orange play across the front line of that zone - UC hit enough shots in the first 30 minutes of the game to keep pace.

 

But Stephenson got a little tentative after a couple of his lobs to UC's frontcourt were deflected, and suddenly, the Bearcats were relying too much on their 3-point shooting - which, as we all know, is not very good (after today's game, they shoot 29.7 percent from behind the arc).

 

"I'm very proud of our guys' effort for the most part," Cronin said. "But our best three shooters went 2 of 12 from the 3-point line (that'd be Vaughn, Wright and Davis). At some point, you have to make some shots and loosen that zone up. To beat the team that's the best team in the country, you have to shoot a higher percentage. The only team to beat that team this year made 10 threes and 28 free throws."

 

That'd be Pitt, which actually made 26 free throws but did manage to score 82 points against the Orange.

 

Yet, even after today's game moved the squad further from the NCAA tournament bubble, Cronin said he was encouraged by the way his team played most of the game.

 

"The last three days, we've become a much better team," he said. "We were focused on the right things today. Our focus was right where it needed to be today. I wasn't happy with our defense late and I wasn't happy with a few calls, to be honest with you. But if we play the way we played today, we're going to be fine."

 

--It was striking to me that Gates and Deonta Vaughn entered the postgame presser joking with each other and with smiles on their faces. This isn't a new phenomenon either. Not that I'm saying these games - and losses - don't matter to these players, because I'm sure they do. I just wondered if they feel any sense of desperation as the season begins drawing to a close and seemingly they're, once again, outside looking in for an NCAA tournament berth.

 

I asked Vaughn about that afterward - if he felt desperate now that UC has slipped to 5-6 in the conference.

 

"Not too much worried about that right now," he said. "We know we have some winnable games still ahead of us and in the Big East tournament. We still know what we have to do to get a win. We let it slip away against a good team. We still know we have to keep playing. Don't worry about what everybody thinks about us as a team."

 

--One aspect of this game that really helped the Orange was how well Syracuse made up for the lack of production from forward Wes Johnson, who came into the game averaging 16.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Today, a sore Johnson, coming off a game in which he flipped and fell hard to the court, took three shots and finished with five points and three rebounds.

 

He also picked up his fourth foul early in the second half and left the game.

 

It hardly mattered for the Bearcats.

 

"We won this game without Wes Johnson, and he's good as anybody in the country," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said.

UC-Syracuse LIVE blog

| No TrackBacks
Live from 5/3:

UC's starting five: Deonta Vaughn, Rashad Bishop, Ibrahima Thomas, Lance Stephenson and Yancy Gates. Looks like Vaughn will run the point as Stephenson gets his first start in three games.

Some scattered cheers for the Orange during player intros. Fair amount of Syracuse fans here. Cheers actually outweigh the boos.

If UC can make those mid-range jumpers, like Thomas just did, the Bearcats might have a chance. Then, a 3 from Thomas.

Stephenson, who's playing a little point, throws the ball well over Bishop's head. Mick gets his attention and tells him to calm down.

After a really good first 4 minutes from the Bearcats, the fans applaud and cheer at the official timeout.

UC 7, Syracuse 2 (15:56 to go)

Wesley Johnson picks up his second foul with 15:16 to go. That's great news for UC, considering he averages 16 and 9. Boeheim is leaving him, though.

UC doesn't sub until almost 7 minutes have passed. Parker and Wilks in for Vaughn and Thomas.

Gates is 0 for 4 on FTs today.

Looked like Wilks cleanly blocked Johnson's shot there, but he's whistled for the foul. Mick points at the big screen after the replay and laughs.

Big drop-off in production from the starters to the subs. During the last three offensive possessions for UC, Syracuse's zone has forced the Bearcats into turnovers and terrible shots with the shot clock running out.

UC 15, Syracuse 12 (10:56 to go)

When Dixon, Parker, Wright, McClain and Thomas are in there, who exactly is expected to score? To answer that question, Rautins blocks McClain and then hits a 3 to tie the game.

UC finally ends a drought of more than 6 minutes with a Larry Davis 3. Suddenly, you can't cool him off.

Davis then took a bad tumble after one of the Orange players bumped him and he stayed down between the basket and one of the student sections. He eventually gets up and walks to the locker room at the official timeout.

UC 20, Syracuse 17 (7:13 to go)

Loooong 3-pointer for Stephenson.

Wesley Johnson with his third foul with 4:10 to go.

After Bishop misses both FTs (we've seen that story a couple times today from various Bearcats), Jardine hits a 3 to give the Cuse a lead.

UC is 5 of 11 from the foul line.

Syracuse 27, UC 26 (3:20 to go)

Gates doing a nice job toward the end of the half of grabbing offensive rebounds and putting back the layups.

Larry Davis is back on the court with a band-aid over his left eye.

UC does a nice job forcing Syracuse deep into the shot clock, and as Jardine takes a wild shot, Vaughn fouls him with 4.9 seconds left. Not a good one.

Mixed first half for the Bearcats. They're down by 2 at the half, which is almost a victory in itself. They shoot 44 percent from the field but only 33.3 percent from the 3 and 45.5 percent from the foul line. Thomas leads the way with nine points and Stephenson has eight points and six rebounds.

Syracuse is shooting 44.4 percent and 45.5 percent from the 3.

Syracuse 32, UC 30 (half)

Couple nice passes inside to Thomas, but other than that, Syracuse looks more ready to play the second half than UC.

After UC's timeout, though, a short jumper from Gates, a layup from Wright and a 3 from Bishop.

Syracuse 41, UC 39 (15:29 to go)

UC doing some nice work in the paint this half against the zone.

Well, it's clear UC's starters can play with Syracuse's starters. UC's bench ... maybe not so much.

A missed runner from Wright and Stephenson with the rebound/dunk. Then he mugs for the camera. Boeheim calls a timeout.

Wesley Johnson with foul No. 4 with 12:40 to go. He'll go to the bench. Then a big 3 from Wright to give UC a six-point lead.

UC 49, Syracuse 45 (11:41 to go)

Ah, memories of my youth. A little "Let's Go Orange!" chant.

With 9:01 to play, both teams are exactly 19 for 39 from the floor.

Thomas has surprised me a little with how well he's played today. He's got 11 points, six rebounds.

Syracuse 55, UC 52 (7:38 to go)

And just like that, UC misses a couple shots, Syracuse hits a couple FTs, and the Orange lead is seven.

The Orange on a 16-3 run.

Make that a 21-5 run.

Syracuse keeping all the offensive rebounds away from UC. And suddenly, it's like the Bearcats don't know how to play this game called basketball.

Syracuse 67, UC 54 (2:06 to go)

And Syracuse finishes the game on an 18-2 run to make this look like another bad loss for the Bearcats.

Afterward, Jardine and Boeheim warmly greet Oscar.

UC finishes shoots 41.7 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from the 3. Syracuse at 51.1 and 50 percent.

Bearcats make just one FG in the final 12 minutes of the game.

Syracuse 71, UC 54 (final)

Interesting Quote From Jim Boeheim

| No TrackBacks

Last weekend Syracuse nearly lost to lowly DePaul.  The third-ranked Orange trailed by 18 before rallying to win by 2.

 

Clearly, Syracuse took the Blue Demons too lightly right?

 

Not according to Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim.

 

"We were ready to play at DePaul," Boeheim told reporters this week.  "Whenever you have a bad game, people say you aren't ready to play.  It's never about that. We did not play well, period."

"It wasn't that it was a road game," the coach continued. "It wasn't that it was in the afternoon. It wasn't that we didn't have good food. It wasn't that we were tired. There's none of that. You have bad games, and we had a bad offensive game."

 

I don't entirely agree.  I do think that good teams sometimes take bad teams too lightly.  But Boeheim is right in the sense that it's never that simple.  In my opinion the "take the opponent too lightly" angle helps explain a slow start, but the good team usually gets that out of its system pretty quickly and has plenty of time to recover.

 

Still, I hope Syracuse fans are complaining that the Orange took the Bearcats too lightly at roughly 4 pm tomorrow.

Midterm Report Card

| No TrackBacks

So how are we doing?

Not necessarily a rhetorical question when it comes to health, income or basketball teams this time of year.

This whole thought process was triggered by the BIG EAST website's women's basketball page, which asked readers to weigh in on player of the year so far, game of the year, etc. If you'd like to vote (Kahla Roudebush is one of the nominees, vote early and often, Cats fans..), go to this link: http://www.bigeast.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=19400&ATCLID=204878217 and let them know your thoughts.

So here are some of my thoughts on this midterm report card:

Remember when UC's women's team was projected last in the BIG EAST pre-season? Jamelle Elliott's staff remembers and they're determined not to end up there. When I had my chat with Coach Elliott's former teammate, Rebecca Lobo, earlier this season for my radio show, she said she was certain the team would use that as motivation to finish anywhere BUT last place in the conference.

So, right now the Cats are tied for 12th place with Louisville, the team they just defeated in a thrilling OT game on the Cardinals' home floor. They're above Pittsburgh, Seton Hall and Villanova. And they have a great opportunity to make some noise this coming Tuesday when Notre Dame comes to 5/3 Arena.

Look, I'm not saying that Connecticut is suddenly going to go into a slump and give ND, West Virginia and everyone else at the top a chance to move up. In fact, I'm not sure UConn's going to lose the rest of this season. As ESPN's Pam Ward told me a couple of weeks ago, "The NCAA Tournament is going to be the UConn Invitational."

Be that as it may, that's still no reason for the rest of the field to curl up and just give the trophy to the Huskies. And that's no reason for UC to accept the 16th place projection.

They haven't yet, and have no plans to. Louisville was a signature win in Coach Elliott's inaugural season. Let's pack the place Tuesday night and give the Cats a chance to make the Notre Dame game another memorable one.

Bearcats Look To Stun Syracuse

| No TrackBacks

I owe my friend Donna Ditota a public apology.

 

Donna is a sportswriter for the Syracuse Post-Standard, and when I ran into her at Big East Media Day she predicted that Syracuse would be a better team this year despite losing its top three scorers - Jonny Flynn (17.4), Eric Devendorf (15.7), and Paul Harris (12.0).  That's 45 points a game from a team that went 28-10 last season.

 

I thought Donna was nuts at the time.  I thought she was REALLY clueless on November 3rd when the Orange lost an exhibition game to Division II LeMoyne College.

 

Three months later, Syracuse is off to the best start in school history at 22-1 and ranked third in the country.  It's pretty obvious that Donna knew what she was talking about.

 

"To me they're the best team in the country because they shoot 50% from the field (actually 53%) and they only give up 39% on defense," Mick Cronin said.  "They do a great job in their zone.  When you do penetrate their zone they block shots.  That's the backbreaker.  You gotta make sure you finish with strength around the rim against them because you can't get the ball down to the two-foot marker and come away empty.  You have to score or get fouled.  Their passing is excellent.  They get a ton of layups because of their transition, their size, and their passing."

 

In the LeMoyne loss, Syracuse played man-to-man defense and allowed 82 points - 50 in the second half.  The Orange has stayed in a 2-3 zone ever since and is playing it as well as a Syracuse team ever has.  The top six players in Jim Boeheim's rotation are 6'4", 6'5", 6'7", 6'7", 6'9" and 6'9".  That size has helped Syracuse average 11 steals and 7 blocks per game.

 

"They play hard," said UC junior Larry Davis.  "Their 2-3 zone is no joke.  They rebound the ball, they can get the ball in the paint, they've got a couple of guys that can really score . . . they're really tough."

 

In Syracuse's only regular season loss, Pittsburgh hit 10 of 24 three point shots in an 82-72 win.  Cincinnati is going to have to make a few 3-pointers, but the Bearcats are only shooting 30% from outside the arc this season and can't settle for jump shots against the SU zone.

 

"You're going to have to shoot the ball, the question is, 'Are you shooting open shots?' Coach Cronin said.  "One thing you have to be very careful of against Syracuse is taking bad shots because they just take off down to the other end with the best of 'em.  They've been that way historically - running with the basketball and converting.  They are so good in transition because they play above the rim."

 

In the past few weeks we've all started projecting what games UC needs to win - and is capable of winning - in order to make the NCAA Tournament.  With the exception of DePaul at home, nothing would shock me in Cincinnati's final eight regular season games.  Syracuse and Villanova are two of the best teams in the country but they are home games for UC and the Bearcats have been tough at Fifth Third Arena (where they also play Marquette).  Cincinnati will be a big underdog at West Virginia and Georgetown but the 'Cats have matched up well against those two schools over the last couple of years.  The Bearcats already have wins over UConn and USF, but can they complete the sweep on the road?

 

The Bearcats need to win at least half of their remaining regular season games to remain in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid.  To do that, they have to consistently play with the intensity they displayed in Maui.

 

Super Bowl Sunday at 2:00 would be a good time to start.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

Bearcats made key plays in two Super Bowls

| No TrackBacks
In January 1976, I came down to Cincinnati from Cleveland to visit my brother, a 1974 UC graduate. He took me to a Bearcats basketball game against George Washington at the Armory Fieldhouse on campus.
 
During the game, he pointed out a man sitting on the other side of the arena. It was former Bearcat Reggie Harrison, a hero of the Pittsburgh Steelers' victory in Super Bowl X over Dallas. We went over and met him either during halftime or when the game was over. I'm sure I have his autograph somewhere.
 
Anyway, I came across this story online about Harrison, who had several concussions playing football and suffered some long-lasting effects. http://tinyurl.com/y8l84q5
There was also a story about Jim O'Brien, another former Bearcat who was a Super Bowl hero. He kicked the game-winning field goal for the Baltimore Colts in their victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. http://tinyurl.com/yjexb9j

 

How about that? Two Bearcats were key players in the first 10 Super Bowls.


Bluegrass Breakthrough-UC Over Louisville

| No TrackBacks

About a year ago, Sports Illustrated had a wonderful article about how the University of Louisville had built its women's program to become one of the crown jewels of the athletic department there. Here's the link, by the way: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1153351/index.htm

Led by eventual WNBA rookie of the year Angel McCoughtry, the program tapped into the community to make the Cardinals' women's games THE place to see and be seen. It's almost a textbook case in how to build a program from the ground up.

Of course, Louisville was able to parlay that popularity and McCoughtry's talents to the title game of the women's NCAA championship before falling to UConn. But along the way, those players captured the imagination of the campus, and the community, and built a strong, loyal fan base along the way.

So fast forward to last Tuesday, when UC's women brought a busload of fans to Freedom Hall and defeated Louisville in overtime, 74-68. In the past it's usually been Louisville that brought a busload (or two) of fans to 5/3 Arena and turned the 'Cats home court into Cardinal Central. This time, it was UC who brought their own red-clad fans into enemy territory and came out a winner.

If you read the Sports Illustrated article about Louisville, you'll see how the team made a concerted effort to reach out to the leaders in the community, from the Mayor on, to construct a fan base. (In many cases they got the women involved, who brought their husbands, who brought their checkbooks. Hey, whatever works...) With McCoughtry's urging, the bookstores and sporting goods stores started carrying HER jersey. It was a way to put a face on the program. Winning never hurts, either.

The victory by Jamelle Elliott's Bearcats was impressive, a come-from-behind in OT win on the road in the BIG EAST, something that doesn't happen all the time. But not only was it important for the team, it was important to the program. It shows that the 'Cats can play in hostile territory, dig deep, and leave town with a W. It shows that the program is on the right path. It shows that the community, the fans, are buying into the new era.

So now, the next test is top-5 rated Notre Dame, at 5/3 on Tuesday. Come out and cheer on this team. They've earned your support.

If you question the basketball team's effort ...

| No TrackBacks
listen to Mick's Cronin response.

"I know it's frustrating. You can be as enthusiastic as you want. That has nothing to do with playing smart and getting the job done. When you come out, and Cashmere and Deonta go out and combine for 3 of 17, that has nothing to do with enthusiasm. We played until the end. The bottom line is: let's look at things that really matter. We didn't get to the offensive glass. To me, that's physicality. They made shots, they're at home. They played well, we didn't. Our guys had a great week of practice, but you can't come in and give a team 83 points and expect to win.


"It's more technical (than effort). You can have all the effort you want, but if you're not technically blocking out the right way or setting a screen the right way ... Our big guys have got to rebound - whether that's effort or heart or toughness, call it whatever you want - or it does no good to play them. You might as well go with a smaller lineup."


UC-Notre Dame LIVE blog

| No TrackBacks
Live from the couch:

And waiting for this Purdue-Indiana game to finish so I can follow along with ESPN.

According to CNATI's Paul Dehner Jr., the UC starting lineup is Wright, Vaughn, Bishop, Thomas and Gates. Stephenson does not start.

Sounds like Brian Kelly is in the house as well. I imagine he won't be cheering for Mick Cronin's club.

Thomas is off to a nice start. Hits a three from the corner and then forces Luke Harangody to foul him.

UC has allowed two wide open dunks to Notre Dame in the first 3 minutes.

Tim Abromaitis has seven points so far, one more than UC so far.

Notre Dame 9, UC 6 (15:35 to go)

Lance Stephenson in the game.

UC doing a nice job of forcing Harangody outside once again. But the Bearcats are letting anybody else wearing a ND uniform dunk the ball.

Vaughn has had three open looks from the left wing, and he's bricked all three 3-point attempts.

Notre Dame 15, UC 8 (11:48 to go)

Gates starting to come alive on the offensive end. A layup and then a short jumper over Harangody.

That's four dunks in the first 10:30 of the game for the Irish.

Yep, Vaughn hasn't been so impressive thus far. That double dribble doesn't help.

Notre Dame has gone cold from the field, but UC isn't hitting its shots either. The Bearcats are missing a vital opportunity here. They're shooting 26.3 percent from the field.

Notre Dame 19, UC 14 (7:35 to go)

A surprising development: Larry Davis hits a 3.

Abromaitis is absolutely killing the Bearcats.

The Vaughn-to-Gates connection is working well.

Notre Dame 33, UC 25 (2:56 to go)

Not a great thing when Notre Dame's point guard rips the rebound away from Yancy Gates. And then Jackson ties up Toyloy.

Harangody isn't doing a whole lot wrong right now. He's got 16 points and 10 rebounds, and he finishes the half with a reverse layup.

Gates has 10 points, but nobody else has more than four.

Overall, UC is shooting 32.1 percent and 27.3 percent from the 3. The Irish are 42.4 and 30.0 percent respectively.

Notre Dame is also out-rebounding UC 23-18. That's not good for the Bearcats.

Notre Dame 40, UC 27 (half)

And just like that, Wright and Vaughn miss back to back 3-pointers. Somebody needs to get hot soon for UC to have a chance to win this game.

Maybe Toyloy can be that guy. He's scored four straight points. But probably not.

And what's up with Davis? He's hit three 3s tonight. And then, of course, airballs one badly.

Hey, it's look like I saw part of Beth Rex's nose on TV, sitting next to Brian Kelly.

Notre Dame 48, UC 37 (14:48 to go)

Ouch, BK calling out the Bearcats basketball team's tenacity.

Notre Dame 56, UC 43 (11:40 to go)

Even double-teamed and as he's fouled, Harangody still finds a way to get the ball in the basket.

Gates picks up his fourth foul with 10:31 to go.

And a huge slam by Harangody after the Irish easily get through UC's full-court pressure.

This is a bad showing.

Notre Dame 65, UC 48 (7:48 to go)

Notre Dame 75, UC 57 (3:12 to go)

It doesn't even look like UC is trying to guard Harangody at this point. He finishes with 37 points and 14 rebounds.

Overall, UC shoots 38.2 percent from the floor and 25.9 percent from the 3. You're just not going to win many road games if you shoot like that.

Well, UC missed an opportunity tonight. This would have been a good chance to get a win on the road, one of those "steals" the Bearcats might need. Notre Dame is good, but not that good. Rutgers, after all, just beat the Irish. Yes, the Joyce Center is a tough place to play, but also, UC needs to prove it can win games like this. Obviously, didn't happen, and for UC fans who are dreaming of the NCAA tournament, that has to be disappointing.

Notre Dame 83, UC 65 (final)

BEARCATS "KERRY" ON

| No TrackBacks

  

kerry coombs.jpg

 

      What he is, is a winner.

      And, what he is, is tired.

      After helping coach the UC Bearcats to a 12-0 record, Kerry Coombs was in the middle of a coaching scramble that saw Brian Kelly take the Irish Express to South Bend, and interim Jeff Quinn shuffle off to Buffalo. Then as serious bowl preparations should've been taking place, assistant coaches were calling moving vans, turning in their courtesy cars and house hunting in cities north of us.

      Except Kerry Coombs.

      New coach Butch Jones made the same smart move that Brian Kelly did in late 2006 by hiring on the most energetic and media friendly coach in the Tri-State. In both cases, it gave UC an automatic "in" with all of the high school programs in the talent-rich southwestern Ohio area.

      So, after another disappointing bowl loss (in my opinion, minds were elsewhere and not on the game) Coombs was the "last man standing" while the others were turning in their C-Paws. From there, it was combat in the trenches for about a month as Kerry and Butch Jones went about keeping previously committed players and countering what I would term as "poaching" by seeking a few different recruits that might turn up better than the original commits.

      "In my professional career, it's the hardest thing I've ever been a part of," said Coombs of the post-Kelly, post-Sugar Bowl recruiting. "The emotion of what happened after the Pitt game, the excitement of the victory (then) on the heels of that, the change in your whole life with everything being turned upside down in terms of who you're working with and who you're working for--then, the renewed excitement of Butch being hired--it's the hardest two months that I've ever had professionally."

      (Note: I could've continued that quote for a whole page as Mr. Coombs can filibuster with the best of them.)

      In his stream-of-consciousness ramble, Coombs insinuated that the coaching drama probably had some part in UC's unfortunate effort in the Sugar Bowl. That would probably shock no one. Since then, he appears to be rejuvenated in his new role with Butch Jones as Associate Head Coach. Obviously, Jones and Coombs have been on a lot of doorsteps since the first week of January.

      "I've been really impressed with how hard Butch recruits," said Coombs. "This has been great for me to get close to him, really working hand-in-hand with the recruiting class. This staff has really good people that are dedicated to the ideals of football that I really believe in. It has turned out fantastic!"

      You would think, Jones and the coaches would be off to Margaritaville now.

      "I'm ready to hit the hay," said Coombs with a laugh. "It doesn't matter where I fall, but when I fall, I'm going to fall hard."

      While Coombs may get a few extra "Z's" this month, it won't be many. The guy's wired like he drank a gallon of "5 Hour Energy", plus there's underclassmen to woo now. And, an incoming class to "talk up".

      As the recruiting wore on, some early commits, decommitted. As that transpired, new recruits were found that may make you forget the originals in a hurry. In January recruiting, it appears that there's "no holds barred".

      "It's become a phenomenon," explained Coombs. "The higher you go with the upper echelon schools, no commitment is safe. You have to recruit every kid just as hard every day whether he's committed or not, because people are going to come in on your kids. Whether that's right or wrong, it's a reality in the way the world is now. It's a shame frankly that it happens, at the same time, we ended up with some guys that we wouldn't have got. This "last hour" stuff is really exciting because we ended up with some really good players."

      While UC snared recruits from Florida, Indiana, Michigan and Louisiana, nine came from the Greater Cincinnati area. As long as Coombs is around, that number can only get higher.

      "You know, I think every one of them is going to have an opportunity to have an impact on the team," said Coombs. "I think if you look at the kids that came in last year, Malik Bomar and Chris Williams (Winton Woods) had an impact right away. Arryn Chenault (Fairfield), Jorian Hudson (Roger Bacon), Solomon Tentman (Roger Bacon), John Lloyd (CHCA),Corey Mason (Elder), Tony Miliano (Elder), Clint Shepherd (Eaton), Corey Keebler (Lakota East), Kevin Schloemer (Lakota West) are all going to have an opportunity to compete.  Also, I think the three guys from Indianapolis can--Cameron Beard, Dyjuan Lewis and Anthony McClung.  We recruit for development, but at the same time, these kids are stars on their team."

      As exciting as it is to hear about the "fresh crop", Coombs also points out that the "cupboard is far from bare". Many familiar faces return, making the upcoming month of work in April that much more interesting.

      "We've got a good team coming back," boasted Coombs. "Butch is right, you don't promise anyone a starting assignment because we've got a very good team. We've got a bunch of kids here that have been working their butt off and we're eager to watch them play too."

      Just like the year before, UC's secondary has lost some leadership and opportunities will be there. Last April, Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith and Brandon Underwood became NFL draft picks. Now, UC has lost more seniors with Aaron Webster and Brad Jones moving on. That explains the signing of five new defensive backs.

      "You ain't kidding," said Coombs (also the defensive backs coach). "This is a great class of defensive backs. We're going to be out there without a single senior this year. We've got tremendous youth, great talent that last couple of classes and we're real excited about those guys. We're going to be good."

      And, Kerry Coombs is going to be good...AGAIN. Butch Jones has struck gold by keeping him on staff. His energy and the relationships he develops are such that I'm told there was a faction of last season's team that were disappointed he didn't get the interim responsibility of leading them into the Sugar Bowl.

      He coaches hard and his motor is non-stop. On the night of Brian Kelly's untimely announcement, Mardy Gilyard expressed support for Coombs and his motivational tactics.

      "Coach Coombs gets us all fired up, he says things I've never heard another man say before!"

      Apparently, it's worked on every level he's been at. He played on a 1980 Division III national championship team at Dayton. He coached Colerain High School to a 161-34 record with one state title, four semi-final appearances, 10 playoff appearances and seven undefeated (regular season) records. At UC, he's been on staff for three consecutive bowl games, including both BCS bowls.

      If there's talent in this area, he will find it and he knows the guy that has it. He's also shown his loyalty and dedication to UC.

      That was evident on signing day when one of the TV cameramen elected to attend the press conference in the Lindner Center in an Ohio State shirt. Purposeful or not, both Coombs and Butch Jones called him out.

      While Coach Jones jokingly scolded the guy, Coombs had already arranged for a UC T-shirt to be delivered to the room and threw it at the "unfortunately dressed one" right as Jones was needling him.

      The recruiting never ends....

The Signing Day fallout

| No TrackBacks

When the day was complete and all the signed letters of intent had been received, UC football coach Butch Jones could sit back, reflect on the past two months and then get back to work almost immediately.

 

"With the structure of getting our staff here, playing in the late bowl and having a couple dead periods of recruiting sandwiched in there, it made it extremely challenging," Jones said after today's recruiting rundown presser. "But I can't say enough in the job our staff did in assembling this class. We're very excited about the potential of it. (But) we're still going to continue to recruit for this class. There are some area needs that we would like to be filled. We're still looking to recruit this class and then we'll move onto the class of 2011."

 

But for the moment - and maybe only for this very moment - he could showcase to the assembled media the 22 members of the 2010 recruiting class, a mixture of Brian Kelly and Butch Jones recruits, and be proud of the work he and his assistant coaches accomplished in the first seven weeks of their tenure.

 

To illustrate that point, Jones pulled out his staff's itinerary from the first full week of January. On Jan. 6, the assistants that remained at Central Michigan helped coach the Chippewas to a victory against Troy in the GMAC Bowl. Of course, the game went to double overtime, which was a problem because the coaches had to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Cincinnati the next day. The new staff reached campus about noon on Jan. 7. The very next day, they were recruiting for UC.

 

"That's the whirlwind we've been through," Jones said. "This process was approached with meticulous attention to detail. It was finding the right individual that fits our profile, individuals who are representing the C. We made no promises, no guarantees. The only thing that was guaranteed was to compete for a top-10 football program on a daily basis. To re-recruit a class in a short period of time, that has a lot of challenges. We were forced to build relationships in a short period of time. We take great pride in the developmental business. We're going to teach our players to reach their potential."

 

More than a couple of the newest Bearcats, though, already have impressed people around the country with their talent. Guys like quarterback Munchie Legaux, who's ranked as the No. 12 dual threat quarterback by rivals.com and who committed to the Bearcats late Tuesday night after Legeaux's high school basketball game in New Orleans.

 

It was an especially key get late in the recruiting season because the Bearcats are in dire need quarterbacks - they only have three left in the system, junior Zach Collaros, junior Chazz Anderson, and sophomore Brendon Kay.

 

"He came up on his visit and fell in love with the place," Jones said. "He's an individual with high character. But we don't have to beg anybody to come to the University of Cincinnati. We're very attractive, especially for a young man who plays quarterback. Him also seeing us at the Sugar Bowl, he was able to understand our passion."

 

Legaux, while watching the Sugar Bowl, apparently was wearing a Florida Gators T-shirt. "We wanted to make sure we got that corrected," Jones said.

 

Another key element of this recruiting class was the former Central Michigan's staff familiarity with quarterback Cody Kater (from Montague, Mich.) and receiver Montrel Robinson (from Southfield, Mich.) - both of whom had attended CMU camps in previous years that were run by Jones and his staff. Those prior relationships helped ease the pain of losing former UC commits Luke Massa (to Notre Dame) and Dominique Brown (to Louisville).

 

"Recruiting is about relationships, and the relationships we had formed with Kater and Montrel, those are basically year-long relationships," Jones said. "There are so many things that go into a recruitment of a young man and the bonds that you form. Sometimes people look at these kids as property instead of as human beings. The relationship process was big with those two."

 

I also asked him if the coaches felt like they needed to make a big splash with this year's recruiting class so they could prove to the national recruits and pundits that they actually could recruit on a national level.

 

"No, I trust my coaches and I trust myself," Jones said. "It's all about the evaluating process. We don't get caught up in who's recruiting who or if he's a one-star or two-star or three-star recruit. The last time I checked we went to the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, and our recruiting classes have been middle to last in the Big East conference. We're just looking for the best players that fit our system and the best players we can develop."

The Signing Day fallout

| No TrackBacks

When the day was complete and all the signed letters of intent had been received, UC football coach Butch Jones could sit back, reflect on the past two months and then get back to work almost immediately.

 

"With the structure of getting our staff here, playing in the late bowl and having a couple dead periods of recruiting sandwiched in there, it made it extremely challenging," Jones said after today's recruiting rundown presser. "But I can't say enough in the job our staff did in assembling this class. We're very excited about the potential of it. (But) we're still going to continue to recruit for this class. There are some area needs that we would like to be filled. We're still looking to recruit this class and then we'll move onto the class of 2011."

 

But for the moment - and maybe only for this very moment - he could showcase to the assembled media the 22 members of the 2010 recruiting class, a mixture of Brian Kelly and Butch Jones recruits, and be proud of the work he and his assistant coaches accomplished in the first seven weeks of their tenure.

 

To illustrate that point, Jones pulled out his staff's itinerary from the first full week of January. On Jan. 6, the assistants that remained at Central Michigan helped coach the Chippewas to a victory against Troy in the GMAC Bowl. Of course, the game went to double overtime, which was a problem because the coaches had to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Cincinnati the next day. The new staff reached campus about noon on Jan. 7. The very next day, they were recruiting for UC.

 

"That's the whirlwind we've been through," Jones said. "This process was approached with meticulous attention to detail. It was finding the right individual that fits our profile, individuals who are representing the C. We made no promises, no guarantees. The only thing that was guaranteed was to compete for a top-10 football program on a daily basis. To re-recruit a class in a short period of time, that has a lot of challenges. We were forced to build relationships in a short period of time. We take great pride in the developmental business. We're going to teach our players to reach their potential."

 

More than a couple of the newest Bearcats, though, already have impressed people around the country with their talent. Guys like quarterback Munchie Legaux, who's ranked as the No. 12 dual threat quarterback by rivals.com and who committed to the Bearcats late Tuesday night after Legeaux's high school basketball game in New Orleans.

 

It was an especially key get late in the recruiting season because the Bearcats are in dire need quarterbacks - they only have three left in the system, junior Zach Collaros, junior Chazz Anderson, and sophomore Brendon Kay.

 

"He came up on his visit and fell in love with the place," Jones said. "He's an individual with high character. But we don't have to beg anybody to come to the University of Cincinnati. We're very attractive, especially for a young man who plays quarterback. Him also seeing us at the Sugar Bowl, he was able to understand our passion."

 

Legaux, while watching the Sugar Bowl, apparently was wearing a Florida Gators T-shirt. "We wanted to make sure we got that corrected," Jones said.

 

Another key element of this recruiting class was the former Central Michigan's staff familiarity with quarterback Cody Kater (from Montague, Mich.) and receiver Montrel Robinson (from Southfield, Mich.) - both of whom had attended CMU camps in previous years that were run by Jones and his staff. Those prior relationships helped ease the pain of losing former UC commits Luke Massa (to Notre Dame) and Dominique Brown (to Louisville).

 

"Recruiting is about relationships, and the relationships we had formed with Kater and Montrel, those are basically year-long relationships," Jones said. "There are so many things that go into a recruitment of a young man and the bonds that you form. Sometimes people look at these kids as property instead of as human beings. The relationship process was big with those two."

 

I also asked him if the coaches felt like they needed to make a big splash with this year's recruiting class so they could prove to the national recruits and pundits that they actually could recruit on a national level.

 

"No, I trust my coaches and I trust myself," Jones said. "It's all about the evaluating process. We don't get caught up in who's recruiting who or if he's a one-star or two-star or three-star recruit. The last time I checked we went to the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, and our recruiting classes have been middle to last in the Big East conference. We're just looking for the best players that fit our system and the best players we can develop."

The way Bearcats finish is crucial for NCAA hopes

| No TrackBacks

   We're here today to discuss the month of February. All hearts, presidents and groundhogs aside, it's a month when college basketball teams make their moves to earn NCAA Tournament bids.

   Or not.

   We're looking closely at this because, well, the Bearcats are going to be on the bubble for an NCAA berth. What they do in the next six weeks will determine whether they can return to the NCAA for the first time since Bob Huggins left in 2005.

   In Mick Cronin's three years as UC's coach, the Bearcats are a combined 8-20 in regular-season games after Feb. 1, including 7-12 the past two seasons. Cincinnati's February record since Huggins is 11-17 (three seasons under Cronin and one under Andy Kennedy).

   Last year's team had a shot at an NCAA bid, then lost 5 of 6 regular-season games and its first Big East Conference tournament game. That turned a 17-8 record into an 18-14 finish with no postseason. The year before, UC was 13-12, then finished the season with seven consecutive losses

   In 2006-07, Cronin's first year, the Bearcats were 9-3, then finished their season losing 11 of 12 games.

   To be fair, Huggins' teams were more talented and were not playing in the powerful Big East Conference.

   Still, in 16 years Huggins only had a losing record after Feb. 1 twice (2002-03, 1994-95) with a total regular-season winning percentage of 68% after Feb. 1.

   The remaining nine games this season are not easy. They include four teams in the top 10 (Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova and Georgetown).

   Below is a look at UC's late-season record over the past 20 years.

 

  

Mick Cronin

Year       February record           After Feb. 1 (regular season)

2008-09              4-3                               4-6                               

2007-08              3-3                               3-6                               

2006-07              1-7                               1-8                               

Total                8-13                              8-20

 

Andy Kennedy

2005-06              3-4                               4-4                               

 

Bob Huggins

2004-05              5-3                                7-3                               

2003-04              5-3                                6-4       

2002-03              3-4                                4-6

2001-02              6-2                                7-2       

2000-01              5-2                                7-2

1999-2000          6-1                                8-1

1998-99             5-3                                5-3       

1997-98             7-2                                7-2

1996-97            10-1                              10-2

1995-96             7-2                                7-3

1994-95             2-4                                3-6

1993-94             4-4                                5-4

1992-93             6-3                                7-3

1991-92             7-1                                8-1

1990-91             5-4                                5-4

1989-90             6-2                                6-3

Total                89-41                            102-49

The remaining nine

| No TrackBacks
UC has put itself in pretty good position. At 14-7 overall and 5-4 in the Big East, the Bearcats have moved their way into a tie for sixth place in the conference and, for now, have clawed their way into the conscience of NCAA tournament prognosticators.

 

But remember, this is similar to what happened last season as well - before UC lost six of its final seven games (including that mind-numbing defeat to DePaul (winless during league play in the regular season that year) in the first round of the conference tournament). The Bearcats believe this year will be different.

 

Here's how I see the final nine regular-season games of the year for UC.

 

At Notre Dame, Thursday: The Bearcats (basically) shut down Luke Harangody once this season, thanks to the tremendous defensive input of sophomore forward Yancy Gates. It'll be harder to do that again - particularly in the Joyce Center.

 

Vs. Syracuse, Feb. 7: Whew, this is going to be a tough one for the Bearcats. The Orange have lost once all season (unless you're also counting the Lemoyne exhibition defeat) - a 10-point home loss to Pitt. They're aiming for the best start in program history, and with five players averaging double-figures, they'll probably get it en route to a No. 1 NCAA tourney seed.

 

At UConn, Feb. 13: With how much the Huskies have struggled since they lost to UC last month - plus, with the uncertainty surrounding coach Jim Calhoun - this might be UC's best chance to grab a road victory. Unless it's ...

 

At USF, Feb. 16: The Bearcats haven't fared well in the Sun Dome (and with those hideously-painted seats, you can certainly understand why), but UC still has more talent and they'll be playing for a postseason berth. Yet, it's also tough to win back-to-back games on the road in conference play. Really, I'd say a win at UConn is more likely than a win in Tampa, but that's just kind of a gut feeling. And probably incorrect.

 

Vs. Marquette, Feb. 21: Despite one stupefying bad loss at DePaul, the Eagles have a couple pretty good wins on their resume (Xavier, Georgetown). But mostly, they've won the games they're supposed to win and lost the ones they're supposed to lose. Where does UC fit in there? At 5/3, Marquette probably won't be favored.

 

Vs. DePaul, Feb. 24: If the Bearcats lose this one at home, they probably don't deserve an NCAA tournament berth.

 

At West Virginia, Feb. 27: Mick Cronin has done pretty well against his former boss, Bob Huggins. But Huggins' team this season is really, really good. With the production of Da'Sean Butler and Kevin Jones, mixed with the talent of Devin Ebanks, this will be a tough one for the Bearcats.

 

Vs. Villanova, March 2: Yikes, this will be another dangerous one for UC. Win here, though, and that likely will affect the Bearcats' seeding more than answering the question of whether they'll still have a chance to make the tournament. By that, I mean they'll be in.  

 

At Georgetown, March 6: And sure, why not just end the regular season with the top-10 ranked Hoyas at the Verizon Center?

 

If you look at the Big East standings today, you'll see the Bearcats still have to play all four of the top teams in the league. That's a nightmare way to end the year, but the real question is whether UC can withstand the final nine games and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since Huggins left.

 

My honest answer: I see the Bearcats going 4-5 in that stretch. That would leave them at 18-12 and 9-9 in the Big East. That puts them right on the tournament bubble. But a win against one of those top four squads might just seal their place on the bracket. Maybe the best chance of that happening is in Morgantown.

 

But if I had to guess whether Deonta Vaughn finally will get to experience his first NCAA tournament, I would say ... Probably. What do you think?

 

-In football news, former WR Mardy Gilyard and former QB Tony Pike have been invited to the NFL Combine later this month. This, of course, comes as no surprise.

Also, UC has placed 12 football players on the Big East All-Academic team. They are: QB Chazz Anderson, LB Alex Delisi, OL T.J. Franklin, S Drew Frey, DL Dan Giordano, RB John Goebel, OL Alex Hoffman, OL Sean Hooey, OL Jeff Linkenbach, LB Collin McCafferty, LB J.K. Schaffer, and S Aaron Webster.

-Make sure to check back here Wednesday evening where Katz on the Cats will have a full recap of the day's recruiting news. The Butch Jones news conference happens at 3 p.m., so we'll have his thoughts on the day's events afterward.

JUST WIN (AT HOME) BABY

| No TrackBacks

Everybody that follows football my age knows the old saying of a (then) mentally stable Al Davis, managing partner of the Oakland Raiders. They did everything to win and made no apologies for it.

With UC on the verge of an NCAA tournament apperance after a long absence, I modified the phrase just a little. UC's win over Providence was big for a number of reasons but the biggest was ensuring home court from here out. With 4 games at home and five on the road, UC needs to keep winning at the Big Orena to get at least 9 wins in conference. If they held serve at home and "stole" one on the road, that to me aligns them with AllState NCAA insurance by putting them in good hands.

I like the adage one coach used that its a series of one game seasons and in the Big East there is no better philosophy. Notre Dame is waiting on UC after Luke Harongody was greeted with BBL, Big Body Language at the shoe; He was held under his average and UC got a big win at the time. So they are looking for payback and UC is looking to prove thier win wasn't accidental. No matter how you look at it, this one game season against the fighting Irish is the only game (season) that matters. If you look at anything but the target, chances are you'll miss completely.

I think UC basketball has proven they are headed in the right direction with TV tournament talk including the 'Cats and Big East respect in place. To win they will have to tighten up thier end of game play, something I hope they're doing with every practice because as we all know it comes down to one or two plays at the end of every game in every sport. A coach once told me that the habit of working on game ending plays in practice translates to a habit of game winning plays in the game. Repitition is its own defintion...repitition is its own defintion...That's the way I see it...Sitting In The Box Seat.

We Want Great. But Can We Appreciate Good?

| No TrackBacks

When the Bearcats twice failed to get the ball inbounds and let a 3-point lead slip through their fingertips in the last 12 seconds at St. John's, Mick Cronin called it the "toughest loss of his coaching career."

 

Imagine how Providence coach Keno Davis felt 10 days later.

 

The Friars led USF by 13 points with two minutes to go . . . 9 points with 49 seconds remaining . . . 5 points with 16 ticks left on the clock . . . and lost by 4 in overtime.

 

Keno Davis was named the National Coach of the Year two years ago at Drake.

 

* * * * *

 

When UC squandered an early 12-point lead at Seton Hall, Deonta Vaughn admitted that the Bearcats lost their focus after jumping in front.

 

"We just relaxed too much when we thought we had them and they fought back," Vaughn told the Enquirer's Bill Koch after the game.

 

Vaughn was promptly ripped on various message boards.  "What an idiot," one person wrote.  "Who thinks they have a team beaten that early in the game?"

 

I wonder if there were similar posts on UConn message boards this week after the Huskies blew a 10-point first half lead in an 81-66 loss at Providence.

 

"We just took our foot off the gas. We thought that we had the game won already," UConn forward Gavin Edwards told reporters after the game.

 

Edwards played on UConn's Final Four team a year ago.

 

* * * * *

 

Here's my point.  Blowing a game doesn't make you a bad coach.  And failing to maintain intensity for 40 minutes doesn't mean a team has no heart.

 

Everybody is entitled to their opinion about Mick Cronin and it's fair to ask whether he can lift the UC program back to national prominence.  But a tough loss doesn't make him Dave Shula, just as a big win doesn't mean he's Don Shula.

 

Mick is the 38-year-old head coach of a team that's 14-7 overall, 5-4 in the nation's toughest conference, and currently projected to go the NCAA Tournament.  His team is looking to looking to increase its win total for the fourth consecutive season, and in the last two years he's signed the number one player in the city (Yancy Gates) and one of the most highly-touted recruits in the country (Lance Stephenson).

 

This year's team is agonizingly close to being 17-4 if not for a blown call (end of regular vs. Gonzaga), a terrible night at the line (10-for-22 in the 2-OT loss at Xavier), and the bad finish at St. John's.  Even winning two of those games would probably put the 'Cats back in the Top 25. 

 

That's obviously frustrating - it's perfectly OK to want the Bearcats to be great.  We all do.

 

But in case you haven't noticed, they're already good. 

 

And working hard to get better.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard