A New York City Top Ten List

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Good afternoon and greetings from the Big Apple.  I'd love to be here for a few more days - especially since somebody else is paying for the hotel room.  A cup of coffee in the lobby is $6 . . . WLW will be happy to know that I've been willing to walk a block to get my morning caffeine fix at a diner. 


I arrived in New York on Monday and had the opportunity to attend a taping of the Late Show With David Letterman (more on that later).  In honor of Dave, here's a Top 10 list of observations after Cincinnati's wins over Rutgers and Louisville.


1.  Lance Stephenson. 


He may not have been "Born Ready" but he's certainly "been ready" here in New York.  Lance has relentlessly been taking the ball to the basket.  Of his 26 shots in the first two games he's only attempted two 3-pointers, and when Lance goes strong to the bucket good things generally happen.


I was thrilled for him when he was named the Big East Rookie of the Year on Tuesday because Lance has a burning desire to be great and understands that he has still has a ton of room for improvement.   


"Lance has been a guy that we've relied upon a lot and it's been tough on him this year because so much was expected of him," Mick Cronin told me.  "He's played well of late and I'm proud of him.  He's had to deal with a whole lot of pressure - probably too much at times - but I like the frame of mind that he's in right now.  He's playing really strong, physical basketball of late, and really rebounding the ball.  He's evolving as a player and hopefully he'll keep it up because we need him to play well."


"(Winning the award) means a lot," Stephenson said.  "Without my teammates, my family, and coach, I don't think I would have won this honor.  I'm just going to keep working hard and try to get better every day."


2.  Ibrahima Thomas


When the 6'11" junior transferred from Oklahoma State we were told he was a good athlete and decent shooter but wasn't much of a rebounder.  I'm not sure if the scouting report was lousy or if Ibrahima has drastically improved, but he is rapidly becoming a force on the glass.


"His length allows him to be a good rebounder and also his pursuit of the ball," Coach Cronin said.  "He has good energy and he's not afraid to go get the basketball - in particular on the defensive end.  Yancy is not the best defensive rebounder - he blocks out but isn't as quick to the ball because of his size.  Thomas plays above the rim with his length and he can go and get the ball out of his area.  He's become one of the better defensive rebounders in our conference over the last month and that's been big for us."


The next step for Thomas is to score in the paint.  He's making 27% of his 3-point shots, but he's only making 39% of his 2-point shots.  The second number has to get better.


3.  Yancy Gates


The big guy can be extremely frustrating to watch.  After he went 4-for-13 from the floor against Rutgers - and only 1 of the shots was from more than 5 feet from the basket - I was tempted to remind Yancy that the dunk was legalized in college basketball in 1976.


But I'll give him credit.  I thought that Gates played with as much energy and emotion against Louisville as he ever has as a Bearcat.  His defensive work on the perimeter in slowing down the pick-and-roll in the second half was a big key to why the Cardinals only scored 25 points in the last 20 minutes.


4.  Jaquon Parker


You can't win in the Big East without warriors, and I think Parker fits that description.  He continually ripped the ball away from Louisville players in traffic to grab 7 offensive rebounds last night, and he's averaging 10.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in the tournament. 


Not for nothing, but the Bearcats are 4-1 in the games that Parker has started this season.


"Jaquon is still making the adjustment to being a primary ball-handler and hasn't always been able to get consistent minutes," Mick told me.  "From here on out, he's going to get consistent minutes because of the situation that we're in (Rashad Bishop's suspension).  I'm committed to playing him and he's going to continue to battle.  The one thing that's great about Jaquon is that he's always going to battle for you.  He finds a way to stick his nose in there and make plays.  He may not be the best shooter in practice, but he's not afraid to make a shot in a big-time atmosphere like the Big East Tournament."


5.  Rashad Bishop


I don't know the details of what he did or didn't do, but I was very surprised by his suspension.  Unlike Alvin Mitchell who was an obvious pain-in-the-neck before being booted from the program, I haven't heard many complaints about Bishop over the last three years.  The 'Cats haven't needed him so far in the tournament, but Rashad certainly could have been helpful tonight to defend West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler.


I hope he learns from this and is reinstated after the Big East Tournament.  Mick made no guarantees when I asked him about Rashad's future.


"I'll meet with him when we get back, but right now I'm worried about the Bearcats and the guys that are here," Cronin said.


6.  Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas, and Bill Raftery


I obviously haven't heard their work during the first two games of the tourney but I'm sure it's been terrific because I think it's the best broadcast team in any sport. 


(In the interest of full disclosure, Sean was one year ahead of me at Syracuse and is a close friend.  I think he's as good as any play-by-play announcer in the business.)


When Raftery does a UC game, he always approaches me before tipoff and asks, "What's the number?"


That has nothing to do with gambling . . . it's a reference to how many consecutive games Chuck has done since being ejected.  The "number" is up to 225.


7.  Officiating in the Big East Tournament


I'm not sure if it's as easy to tell on TV as it is in person, but it is all-out war in this event.  The officials are letting just about anything go.


That's been good for UC.  It's hard to get 28 offensive rebounds (as UC did against Louisville) if the officials are calling the ticky-tack stuff.


8.  Nick Lachey


UC's most-famous celebrity fan was in the front row on the baseline last night and then spent a few hours hanging out with Bearcat fans at a New York City watering hole after the game.


I can't say that I'm a huge fan of his music, but he showed me something last night with his willingness to pose for pictures and sign autographs.


Lachey also spent some time talking to my pal Doug Zang from Skyline Chili about having some authentic Cincinnati chili shipped to California.


9.  Larry Crawford from Mason.


Larry is this year's winner of the online version of the Struggle for the Steak (at struggleforthesteak.com).  He's gets a $500 gift pack, autographed Bearcat gear, and an invitation to next year's steak dinner. 


Thanks to Plante Moran, the official auditing firm for the contest, for making it happen.


10.  The Late Show With David Letterman


I can't say why, but I strongly encourage Cincinnatians in general and Bearcat fans in particular to watch and/or record Friday night's show.  Trust me, you will not be disappointed.


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

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