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November 2010 Archives

Early hype feels different this time

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The Bearcats once again enjoy early success, but the ability of this year's group to understand they haven't arrived could be more positive than any 34-point victory.

 

CINCINNATI -- The headline sounds eerily familiar. University of Cincinnati, a forgotten entity on the national basketball stage, makes waves with early surge.

 

Last year at this time the fan base was buzzing in the aftermath of a Maui arrival with wins against Vanderbilt and Maryland. A return trip to the Top 25 for the first time since 2004 followed.

 

Deonta Vaughn sat at the UC podium along with other UC players and talked about the journey back to the prestigious poll.

 

"Some of the other players don't know what it feels like to have that weight off your shoulders saying that Cincinnati's not going to be good," he said at the time to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

 

At that time, there were no guarantees they would be good, though.  

 

A year later, UC again made its statement. This one came on a dreary night in Cincinnati rather than off the Maui beaches, but was similar all the same. The Bearcats 34-point route of Dayton turned heads across college hoops. Maybe this UC team that lost its two leading scorers has something to it?

 

The feeling around Fifth Third Arena is UC does have something to it. But the Bearcats feel that way not because what people are saying is true, rather, because they don't believe a lick of it.

 

"Our guys this year are well aware that what we are doing is get ready to play Big East games and face Big East teams and that is where your fate is decided in our conference," Mick Cronin said. "I don't know if they really knew that last year. I think we were falsely overconfident in the locker room -- too much so.

 

"I don't have to preach that. Guys understand, you can probably tell when you interview them."

Without doubt. UD won the NIT last year, ended the Bearcats season and returned the majority of its playmakers. To slap a 34-point win on them should have players pumping their chests out a little further. It should have confidence at an all-time high inside the building.

 

Upon further inspection on Tuesday, nothing changed. Not the attitude, not the perspective, not the confidence. The same methods being preached prior to the win were being pounded after. All this could be talk, but the words and corresponding focus undeniably provide a different soundtrack.

 

Last year at this time, the Bearcats had made it. They returned to where they felt they belonged. They hoped to keep climbing.

 

On Tuesday, this team accomplished little more than win another game and take another step toward Dec. 29 against DePaul.

 

"(The attitude) is still the same because we are working toward Big East play," Darnell Wilks said. "We have to come out whether it is Dayton, Wright State, we have to come out and play hard on defense."

 

It's a defense which now leads the country in points allowed per game. More importantly, from the stat nerds perspective, the Bearcats are ranked third in the country in points per possession defense at 0.75.

 

What does that mean?

Last year, No. 1 seeds Duke, Kansas and Kentucky were all in the top 20 in the category; as was national runner-up Butler. The fourth top seed, Syracuse, led the Big East.

 

"We are older right now and we are playing smarter," Cronin said. "They just have a better understanding. Older guys, maturity --  just like how they know the Big East is going to be tough and they have to continue improve, they decide whether you win or lose." 

 

Take a look around. UC's not alone in winning. Despite the predicted rise of the Big Ten and down year for the Big East, the conference appears stronger than ever. Seven teams are undefeated. Eleven have only one loss. They are the No. 1 conference by the RPI. 

 

The Big East now has four of the top 12 teams in the country and six in the Top 25.

 

St. John's won the Great Alaska Shootout, Connecticut won the Maui Invitational, Syracuse won the Legend's Classic in Atlantic City and Notre Dame won the Old Spice Classic.

 

"It's not a surprise to (the players)," Cronin said. "They knew it was going to happen. It happens every year. Every year there is somebody that tries to say there's a better conference than the Big East. Every year the Big East has the best conference."

 

More than last year, this team has an understanding of that.

 

For now, they're winning. It's happened before. The fact that this team doesn't care they're winning may be the real reason to be optimistic about avoiding last year's 7-11 Big East shortfall.

 

Whether it leads to more victories is yet to be seen, but knowing they haven't accomplished anything yet is half the battle.

 

"We are just focused on us," Dion Dixon said. "We have been confident all year, we are going to keep working. Hopefully when the Big East comes around we are going to be ready for that."

Senior conversation: John Goebel

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John Goebel has been one of my favorite interviews this year. I'm not alone. Goebel is articulate, insightful, funny and an all around nice guy.

If you want a glimpse into his personality, just check out his bio photo.  

The running joke in the press box is the first time Goebel touches the ball during a game, we turn to Football Sports Information Director Ryan Koslen and request Goebel for the postgame presser. No matter what he does, he's the guy we want to talk to.

Saturday will be the final game of his career at UC. Goebel may not have made a huge impact numbers-wise this season, but was a solid contributor and one of the leaders amid a small senior class.

Goebel played in all 11 games with 31 attempts for 194 yards for a 6.3 yard average.

Here's the conversation and everything Goebel had to say about his career, the disappointments of this season and his mouthy friend from Michigan State.

Q: What do you feeling coming the last home game?

 

JG: It's kind of emotional. I came in here today and was like, Wow, this is my last Tuesday here. This is my last full-padded practice I am going to have. It's gone by very fast so I'm trying to take it all in right now. As disappointed as I am, you know, that's life. Sometimes life will throw you curveballs. We didn't come into this season thinking we were not going to go to a bowl game. We were going to go to a BCS bowl game. You just got to deal with it. Try to get back up again and look toward the future.

 

Q: Zach talked about what hurt most for him was looking at the seniors and knowing they couldn't play in a 13th game, he was pretty emotional about it, what does that say to you when you see something like that?

 

JG: I talked to Zach after the game and he apologized. I was like, 'No, you don't' need to apologize.' The game that we play, that's one thing I learned this year is that every time you go up for a game one team wins and one team losses. We don't tie in football, there are not ties. We got the short end of the stick this year. It's disappointing and depressing, but at the same time that's just the way it is and you have to get back up again and keep putting your best foot forward. Zach, he cares a lot about this team. That just shows, he's a great leader and we are going to be lifting him up this week and preparing himself for his leadership role next year.

 

Q: What did you learn from this season?

 

JG: I have learned a lot. I have been taking a journal the entire season, remembering my last year. I've learned a lot, in terms of maturing as a man and as a leader. It's easy to be a leader when you win, but it's very hard to be a leader when you lose. Practice isn't fun when you lose. Just trying to every day come in with the same attitude just as if we had won and looking forward to the next game. Not letting the circumstances dictate your attitude. It's been very difficult but something that has been good for me to grow. I think football is a game they say is life thrown at you at a faster pace. It teaches me a lot about life and now I am going into the next chapter of life where I will have to be a man and eventually when I have a family I will have to provide for my family. I think I have learned a lot of good lessons playing college football.

 

Q: You played for three different head coaches here, what has your experience been like?

 

JG: Thinking back on this year thinking of all my fellow seniors, my classmates, it gets me emotional because I think about wow I have been through so much with these guys. Ben Guidugli, Jason Kelce, C.J. Cobb, those guys came in with me and there are not very many that are still here. We have three on defense. Of the original 2006 class a lot has changed. A lot of that has to do with coaches leaving, a lot of different factors. It has been a great experience. I can't ask for anything more. I love this city, I love this university. I have loved my experience here. In terms of the way I view things, things may not have panned out the way I wanted to my senior year on the field but God is preparing me for something better. The things that are unseen are the most valuable right now.

 

Q: Got to go to two BCS bowl games, can't beat that?

 

JG: I've got to experience the University of Cincinnati at the highest peak. I've been able to be a member of that team and help contribute so, it's been awesome. I can't ask for anything more. This season as hard as it was as a senior to go through it, looking back I am definitely proud of everything we have accomplished.

 

Q: What do you expect Saturday to be like?

 

JG: It's going to be emotional. I am a pretty emotional guy, when I am mad I'll be mad, when I'm sad, I'll be sad. It's going to be hard. I prepared my parents and everything. That's gong to be the hardest part. My mom, I know she is going to be probably crying and stuff. But all my friends are coming. They are supposed to surprise me. Charlie Gant, played with him, tight end from Michigan State. They have the weekend off he's coming down. He spoiled it. It's supposed to be a surprise but he has a big mouth. I am so flattered, being my last game, having all my friends there. Last game at Nippert. I have practices there, done winter conditioning there, I love that place. It's going to be an awesome experience.

 

Q: How many people in this caravan of friends?

 

JG: I don't know. I definitely have to get some extra tickets. They said they bought some but I would like them to be with my parents behind I don't want them to be in the student section.

 

Q: What would a win mean with everything you have been through?

 

JG: A win would mean a lot. Nobody likes to lose at Nippert. It's a terrible taste when you lose at Nippert, when you see the other team celebrating on your field. We definitely want to go out for a win for Nippert, for our fans, for our seniors, for our team next year to set the tone for next season. Also it's one of our rivalry games, we want to keep all our trophies. If we win this game we can say as a senior class we kept all our trophies.

Bearcats Breakfast 11.30.10

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Big Bearcats fodder day today. We've got the BBQ bonanza known as the Tuesday media luncheon. This will be the final press conference of the season. Sad for you readers, good for my diet.

Then we have a basketball availability at 3 p.m. where we can do some more reconstruction of Dayton and look forward to the Wright State game on Wednesday night.

If you have any questions you'd like me to ask Mick, Butch, a player or anybody else that works inside the Varsity Village, shoot me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com).

Let's eat....

--- The big news about TCU broke as I was writing the Breakfast yesterday. Tons of thoughts and analysis have come out since then.

The most interesting comments I heard came from Scott Van Pelt on his radio show. His point was, is the Big East being short-sighted?

This is great for TCU, they are an 8,000 student private university that -- until the past few years -- was relatively irrelevant on the college football scene (sans LaDanian Tomlinson).

Now, they are seen as the key piece to the Big East resurgence. Is TCU's football success sustainable or are they a flash in the pan?

The Big East latches on to TCU and what if Gary Patterson takes off for an opening at Michigan or in the SEC? Then you are stuck with a small school that may or may not be able to keep up with the big boys.

I think TCU's success is sustainable, particularly with the BCS conference recruiting chip now at their disposal. Plus, they spend more on football -- $20 mil -- than any program in the BE. That should be enough.

But it is much riskier than we probably thought on the surface.

--- TCU decided to bolt as much because of the pull of the Big East as the disappointment of the Mountain West.

And how about Boise State? They decide to make the jump to the MWC. They show up, look around and....where did everybody go?

--- Dan Wetzel, Mr. BCS knowledge, believes this is a win-win for both. He points toward the Horned Frogs current position as No. 3 in the BCS. Once again, you can't get caught up in current standings. But I see his point.

--- Bill Koch does an excellent job capturing the UC perspective of the move. Remember, UC was in CUSA with TCU only five years ago. Mike Thomas likes how it brought in value, stability and security. Without a doubt this helps take away the chance of being picked apart by the Big Ten. In this current crazy world of college athletics, it could happen. Anything can.

But this provides a safety net.

--- David Steele at Fanhouse has a nice piece on the ACC and Big East -- basketball powerhouses -- being squished by the football expansion steamroller.

TCU basketball...yeah, this is going to be fun.  

--- Dave Wannstedt says he's more concerned about the Bearcats than his job. We said it before the season and say it again now -- it was all on him this year. He had the talent and the guy who has never won anything as a head coach needed to win something this year.

He most likely won't.

The Pitt job could warrant some bigtime candidates and the inability to turn the significant talent he recruited into championships should be enough to let him go.

--- Scott Springer talks about all the seniors who will be playing in their last game and previews the River City Rivalry.

--- This type of stuff happens all the time but rarely gets publicity. Here's some footage of some Cats football players helping out in the community on Thanksgiving.  

--- The basketball team is officially "Also Receiving Votes."

UC earned three votes in the latest AP Top 25 poll. For whatever that's worth. Last year UC broke into the Top 25 at this point and that season didn't turn out how the team would have liked.

The real breakthrough will be a three- or four-game Big East win streak.

--- Bad news for Jeremy Hazell, good news for UC. It looks like Seton Hall's leading scorer is still six weeks away from recovery from that broken wrist. Initially, it was thought he could be back for the NYE game at FIfth Third Arena. Not going to happen on the current timetable.

--- I mentioned this yesterday and Jeff Goodman points it out at FoxSports. The Big East is killing it.       

Something Mick Cronin was talking about with Zach Wells on Sports Authority sticks out to me here. People were hating on the Big East preseason because the lack of star power. They forget -- the Big East creates stars.

These are the top recuits in the country in one of the top two strongest basketball conferences. They develop into stars. That's why the Big East is running through the competition. It's a talent-level and coaching-level thing.

Cronin was referencing his own team. People say he doesn't have any stars, but stars are developed. If UC is 12-0 entering Big East play and starts out strong in conference, Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright and Yancy Gates will be household names. They will be stars.

That's what happens in the Big East. It's a matter of opportunity.  

--- Randomness time...

--- If I would ever own a chihuahua, I would prefer it only had two legs. Then I could but it one of those little back leg wheelbarrows.

--- Not sure what I love more about his video, the anticipation of seeing the zamboni bearing down on the two broadcasters or the professionalism of continuing through the talking points while nearly being impaled and pinning your co-worker into the boards.   .

--- Love Sports Pickle: Headline -- Pat Riley adopts baby for Erik Spoelstra to go spend time with

 --- If the Bulls are on TV, I will watch. Derrick Rose is the most exciting young player in the NBA. Just ask Tyreke Evans.

Senior Moment

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OK the season is coming to a sad end with no Bowl in sight...lets move on and focus on the Pitt Panthers. The seniors from this football team had a great run minus this season. Big East titles, Orange and Sugar Bowl appearances and they helped to restore credibility and respect to this program. So how will you honor them? Hopefully by showing up this Saturday and paying homage to them for giving you reason to be UC proud again.

There's no question this is a season many of you want to forget but note this season as a bump in the road because this team will be better next year. They will have returning players, a recruiting class to add to the depth of this program and the hunger for payback after this year's rough and tumble results.

But lets get back to these seniors who came here when they had options; when they could have said what has UC done football wise? Or I'll go to an established college power regardless of the number of players at my desired position. Instead, they came here and won; and won consistently and raised the profile of the school as evidence by their appearance on ABC primetime and ESPN primetime. Yes this senior class has much to be proud of and when they look back on their time at UC it will be fond memories and lots of camaraderie.

What I don't want is for them to look back and see empty seats on their last game and wonder where all the people were who claimed they were fans. Remember these players can still influence younger players in their hometown to follow them here and one of the selling points can be: "The fans showed us love, even in our last but not so successful year". As the argument goes: look at the total body of work and then respond accordingly.

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

ONE SENIOR MOMENT

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RiverCityRivalry.jpg
(courtesy Trophy Awards)

WHO: UC and Pitt

WHAT: Senior Day

WHERE: The Grand Finale at Nippert Stadium

WHEN: Saturday, December 4th 12 noon

SERIES: Pitt leads 7-2

LAST TIME: On 12/5/09, UC won 45-44 at Heinz Field to win the Big East.


      So much for the best laid plans.

      This was originally set up by ABC/ESPN family to wrap up the year much like it did last year won Tony Pike dramatically found Armon Binns in the endzone at Heinz Field to catapult the Bearcats to the improbable 45-44 win and the BCS bowl berth to the Sugar festivities in New Orleans.

      Sadly, Pitt is fighting for a respectable bowl, but out of the BCS running. Even sadder is the fact that UC won't be bowling at all over the holidays unless it's indoors with rental shoes involved.

      The Bearcats needed to shock UConn on their home field last week and beat Pitt for that possibility. Even then, they would've been a mediocre 6-6 and in line with many schools just looking to go anywhere to gain the extra practices a bowl game brings.

      As long a fall from the Orange and Sugar Bowls that it seems, that would've been a major accomplishment in this season of youth, injuries and inexperience.

      As has been well documented, transfers were not granted faster eligibility, some recruits couldn't qualify, starters were injured, players that would start were injured, some couldn't follow the agreed upon rules and players were lost on both sides that have either been in NFL camps or are playing.

      Add to that, a new staff had to come in and coach guys who were being instructed by guys in compromising positions a year ago. Shortly after UC's dramatic win over Pitt, the ink was drying on Brian Kelly's contract to Notre Dame. While a group of coaches hung around to see the team through their bowl, the bottom line is the staff in question didn't finish the job.

      (Such is the way college football operates. Regime changes are quick and immediate. Allegiances are lost upon donning the freshly-laundered logo of someone else.)

      In the personal opinion department, it's my contention that once coaches were declared for Notre Dame or Buffalo (where interim Jeff Quinn went) their priorities were compromised by their obligations to their new teams.

      Translation?

      At some point, players being recruited for Cincinnati "might" have been swayed to consider "Option A" or "Option B".

      Ethical?

      Not really, but that's kind of how the food chain works.

      So, Butch Jones comes in and keeps the loyal Kerry Coombs, but then must assemble a new staff and assess the talent left. To the outsider, there was a talented offense. Many forget that a starting Senior center and tackle were lost though (Chris Jurek and Jeff Linkenbach--now starting for the Colts). If you want to keep anyone on your offense, it's your offensive line.

      On defense, it was a mess already in terms of statistics. From a depth standpoint, it was unrealistic to think this unit would up and improve overnight. A group largely made up of sophomores with even more inexperience behind them takes time.

      As noted before, these struggling players will be good, but there honestly wasn't much to work with this season. The best you could hope for was young players to play above their expectations.

      At 4-7, that obviously didn't happen.

      Now, you hope they've learned from their unfortunate mistakes and will be back with a vengeance to make fans forget what pray was a "bridge" season to the next years of success. Those you may have cursed this year, might well be fan favorites in the coming years that they celebrate THEIR Senior Days.

      As for this week, it is Senior Day and it's only fitting that fans see some of these guys out right.

      Regardless of how this campaign went, these guys were part of the infrastructure that allowed many of you to make unforgettable bowl trips that you previously never would've imagined.

      With that, I leave you with some brief thoughts on the guys you'll be waving goodbye to Saturday at "The Nipp"...


      Linebacker Robby Armstrong came in with a lot of defensive potential, but perpetual injuries kept him as a back-up for the bulk of his career. He should be commended for sticking his career out.

      Receiver Marcus Barnett came on strong in his freshman year, but never regained the position as the "go to" guy again as other talented receivers were recruited. Still, Barnett was a pretty unselfish player who even volunteered to play defense a few games. Based on recent results, I'm not so sure UC would've been better served if Barnett stayed on defense.

      Armon Binns somehow was ignored early in his career but had excellent Junior and Senior seasons and should make a fine NFL player. His catch last year against Pitt is clearly UC's most famous reception ever.

      Obadiah Cheatham spent most of his career as a walk-on linebacker, but earned a scholarship this season. If you've watched the defense this year, he's had his number called several times making key tackles.

      Offensive lineman C.J. Cobb is another guy who was plagued by injuries and probably never realized his potential. However, Cobb came back brace after brace and has made it through pretty much unscathed this year.

      Sam Griffin is an under-sized offensive lineman who suffered from changing styles of play. He's gone from Mark Dantonio's bulky run game, to Brian Kelly's shifty pass game to the combination game of Coach Butch Jones. Coaching turnover affects things more than most imagine.

      Ben Guidugli will leave without a bowl game this year, but has had a pretty awesome college career and has caught touchdowns each season he's played. He'll go down as one of the smaller tight ends to ever play here, but you can't argue with the numbers he put up.

      Vidal Hazelton's story will finish with an incomplete as Bearcat fans (barring an appearance in this Pitt game) never saw what he could do. After a year of sitting out, his injury in the Fresno State game pretty much was the beginning of the avalanche for this season. On the other hand, when you get talent from USC that's wants to come, you open the door. Many of us will wonder what could've been if Hazelton could've lined up all year long next to Binns and D.J. Woods.

      Jamar Howard was recruited initially here by Mark Dantonio but didn't qualify. Then, he returned after his junior college career but the injury bug bit him too. Unfortunately, it might've zapped his desire to play as too much bad news can often allow others to pass you by.

      Offensive lineman Jason Kelce is the "scary guy" every team needs. He wears his heart on his sleeve and regardless of his methods, he's got your back. He went on Twitter after the UConn loss and tried to take blame for everything. Truth is, a line full of Jason Kelces would've made for a more exciting and effective offense.

      Collin McCafferty has largely been a special teams guy, but he's been VERY good at it. If you pay attention on kickoff coverage, McCafferty's often right in the middle of it.

      Finally, Jake Rogers leaves as UC's all-time leading scorer. It's almost hard to imagine with some of the quality kickers that have been here (Rich Karlis, Jonathan Ruffin, Kevin Lovell). That's what longevity will do, Rogers kicked four years and actually punted for one. He's got a monster leg so he may get a shot at playing for pay somewhere. His best kick in my estimation was his 55-yarder against Oregon State in 2007 that let the Beavers know, "Wow, we're really in a game!"

      OK, seeing as I've taken a lot of space in my opening statements and descriptions of the Seniors, I'll keep my preview segments short and to the point. As many of you know, I don't sugarcoat much.

      To the River City Rivalry:


UC OFFENSE VS. PITT DEFENSE


      As tough as it will be, Isaiah Pead MUST rush for more than 23 yards. Look at the games--when Pead hits triple figures, UC does well. Also, Zach Collaros must not try to do too much as he has sometimes in this frustrating year. It's been proven time and time again, when your QB throws to guys wearing the same color jersey, results are often enhanced.

      If Jarred Holley catches a Collaros pass, that won't be good (5 INT) and Pitt DL Brandon Lindsey will be looking to grab at #12's jersey as he has 10 sacks and 16 TFL.


WELL?


      As with every game, UC has the potential to score 30 points on anyone. It all boils down to whether or not they hand the ball over to the opposition.


UC DEFENSE VS. PITT OFFENSE


      Dave Wannstedt is a defensive coach and therefore likes to run the ball as all hard-nosed, stubborn defensive coaches do. The Bearcats will get a steady diet of a couple small backs in Dion Lewis (5-8, 195) and Ray Graham (5-9, 195). If either run rampant like Jordan Todman did last week in Hartford, then the Bearcats will be in rough shape. You can't bank on a dramatic comeback like the one the 'Cats pulled off last year. If QB Tino Sunseri goes to the air, the likely candidate is Jon Baldwin who has burned the Bearcats before.

      UC must play spirited defense to stop the run and somehow get some turnovers. Problem is, Pitt's goal will be to keep it on the ground and not turn it over. Fumbles are welcome, but not always predictable.


HMMM?


      Clearly, Pitt has the talent to score with anyone. What UC must bank on is Wannstedt going ultra-conservative and not getting into a track meet.. Sometimes conservative turns risky when you're playing too tentatively.


SPECIAL TEAMS


      It's the last game for Jake Rogers and I hope he gets the chance to split the uprights after missing a pair at UConn. UC is still suffering from a lack of a return game and it would be nice to see someone break it to daylight. Defensively, I mentioned Collin McCafferty with the Seniors, I'd guess you'd hear his name again Saturday as he's often the first helmet on someone on kick coverage.

      Pitt has a very accurate kicker in Dan Hutchens. He doesn't have the leg of Rogers, but sometimes reliability is more important than explosiveness.


WHAT'S THAT MEAN?


      I hope Rogers gets his points, but I wouldn't want this to come down to a field goal kicking contest.


WRAP IT UP FOR 2010 SCOTT


      I think UC has a good chance to win this game to build momentum for the future. The Seniors have nothing left to play for OTHER THAN THIS FINAL GAME. In essence, THIS IS their bowl game. Couple that with Pitt's tendency to fold down the stretch and I wouldn't be surprised to see UC upend the Panthers to further muddy up the Big East's reputation (soon to rise courtesy of TCU).

      Naturally, if the Panthers get their runners going and UC goes into "Swiss cheese" mode on defense, you can scrap all of that.

      Regardless of the result, happier days WILL be ahead for UC football AND the Big East once 2010's in the rearview mirror.




Bearcats Breakfast 11.29.10

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Today has to be one of the worst Mondays of the year. Most of you have been off since Thursday, you've likely taken significant steps backward in your family life after insulting an in-law and the fridge smelled a little too much like old cranberries when you were pulling out a bottle of water this morning.

The morning felt all the more troubling for me since Leslie Nielsen died last night at 84. Sad to see him go, he was one of the greatest comedic actors of all time. Nobody played the fool better.

So, to cheer you up, block your mother-in-law's phone number for the next eight minutes and enjoy the best moments of the Naked Gun Trilogy.

 

RIP Enrico Pollazzo, now time for some Breakfast...

--- Feeling better this Monday will only come from reading more about the Bearcats domination of Dayton.

There have been fewer more impressive performances against a respected program than the one we witnessed on Saturday night. Prior to the game there were reasons for cautious optimism. After Saturday, you can drop the cautious. You saw a glimpse of what this team can be. Playing relentless defense will be their calling card and if they can hit shots -- they can beat anybody.

That will be the question. On Saturday, they did. The Bearcats put a signifcant amount of pressure on themselves surrounding this game and rose up to play one of the gems of the Mick Cronin era. And all of it with Yancy Gates barely being a factor with foul trouble.

--- My new super-intern from Ohio U. Will Frasure covered for me while I was flying the friendly skies back from East Hartford. Here's his take on the resounding statement win.  

--- The always active Gary P. left a comment that called Dayton another cupcake as part of the cupcake conference schedule.

Sure, the non-conference slate is pretty weak. It continues with Wright State on Wednesday, who did push Richmond (66-61 L) a day before the Spiders upended Purdue, 65-54.

Oklahoma doesn't strike fear into anybody and they are the most recognizable name of those remaining not named Xavier.

But, I wouldn't call Dayton a cupcake. I can't tell you what happened to the Flyers on Saturday. Tom Archdeacon points out the explanations are they weren't giving the same effort as UC. Doug Harris writes about UD's poor practices. And it's always easy to blame 20 percent shooting.

This Dayton team drove down I-75 with a highly regarded freshman point guard and veteran cast surrounding him -- including Chris Wright, who will likely be an NBA Draft pick next year.

Hardly a cupcake. Plus, it would have been worth talking about even if UC beat a directional school with the convincing style of the 68-34 victory.

The non-confernce portion leaves a bit to be desired, but the confidence that comes from a win like this can go a long way. And when you play in the Big East, nobody will be doubting your schedule when they scan the resume in March.  

--- With a win at Oklahoma and taking caring of business against teams the Bearcats will be heavily favored to beat could put them at 12-0 entering Big East play.

That still won't mean much. The Big East -- doubted all offeseason -- is owning the early portions of the year and appears to be as brutal as always.

As Cronin said last week, "our fate will be decided in the Big East."

Mike DeCourcy was at US Bank Arena and wrote about UC stacking up in Big East play. Mike points out the league is 71-17 against outside opponents, has the highest strength of schedule and No. 1 conference in RPI.

Even Notre Dame is 7-0 after a win against Wisconsin.

--- Paul Daugherty discusses the possibility the Bearcats may actually be pretty good thanks to their depth.

I'd imagine a few heads turned at that final score. I'll be interested to see the crowd at Fifth Third on Wednesday against Wright State. The attendance hovered around 4k the first four games. Will there be a few more people on the bandwagon now?

Of course, the national disrespect will likely continue until BE play.

--- Cronin talked about the Red and Black team (starters/backups) don't always have the same result. Many days the backups come away with the win. Ten players had double-digit minutes on Saturday.

Hard to argue that type of defensive effort doesn't at least in some way stem from how fresh the guys are out there. It's the advantage to having so many interchangable parts.

"There's many ays where the red team beats the black team," Cronin said. "You don't see that at a lot of practices. In the past, I've had to break team's up to up the competitiveness and cohesiveness. The black team, they don't usually dominate practice. Usually, if you do that, your starters will crush the other team, and our red team actually wins. It's good because, like I've told (Sean) Kilpatrick, I can sub you in on the black team, but you can become a scorer and leader for the red team. That's really helped us. Guys are buying into their roles and are coming along well mentally." 

--- Here's the News-Record gamer with Patrick Strang's photos on the right. How about those 1960 throwbacks? Nice touch. After the way they played in them, I am thinking bringing those guys back for a Big East blockbuster would be a smart idea.

--- How about Darnell Wilks? He'd been very quiet through the first four games, but made every hustle play imaginable in the win.

It didn't go unnoticed by Cronin, despite Wilks not connecting on a field goal.

"I don't know if Darnell's played a better game as a Bearcat," Cronin said. "He might not understand what I mean by that, but his defense on Chris Wright and his execution on switching really rattled him. He kept some balls alive and used his athleticism well. It takes time to get guys to understand that that's how they can be effective. Making shots can be one way, but that's not the only way. You can always be aggressive and use your athleticism, and he used his athleticism tonight."

Wilks finished with six rebounds, five assists, a steal and perfect 4-of-4 shooting from the FT line.

--- Ibrahima Thomas was assisted to the locker room during the game. Thomas will be fine. Cronin said after the game it was only cramps.

--- The big news surfacing on Monday was that TCU will join the Big East as an all sports member in 2012-2013. Great news for the Big East and the future of a Big East Network with yet another nice market in the mix.

As for college hoops, I'm sure everyone is on pins and needles to see the contentious TCU-Seton Hall battles. Also, the scheduling will only become tougher. But without TCU, there was a chance there would be no BE at all, so any complaints should probably be muzzled.

--- As for UC football in Hartford, unfortunately, there's not much left to say. Here was my postgame column assessing the aftermath of the official elimination from bowl contention.  

--- Vidal Hazelton made the trip, practiced in warmups and was dressed all game. He did not play. The fact he was even cleared to play just 84 days since his ACL injury is one of the best stories of the year.

Jones said he is erring on the side of caution and Hazelton may play a few snaps against Pittsburgh.

--- The Pittsburgh game will be a noon kickoff for Senior Day at Nippert. The Panthers will have something to play for. If they win and UConn and WVU lose, then they would be the Big East BCS representative at 7-5. That sentence really describes the entire Big East 2010 season. 

--- Armon Binns became the eighth WR in UC history to surpass 1,000 yards in a season. Mardy Gilyard did it last season.

--- The volleyball team learned its fate for the NCAA tournament on Sunday. UC (29-5) will be heading to University of Illinois for an opening round match against Western Kentucky (27-5) on Friday. If they win, they will face the winner of Austin Peay and Illinois.

Richard Skinner put together a story for the Enquirer.

--- How about some randomness.....

--- I'm going to subsitute in a bowling league tonight, I'm sure it will go something like this.

--- Not sure how this is happening in Alaska and not Jersey.      

--- The Daily Show sings, a lot. Here's a compilation. The Jon Stewart-choir song to Bernie Madoff may be the single greatest moment in the history of the show.  

--- Can somebody get Kanye West some new material? Maybe he can start a beef with Justin Bieber.

--- The golf course is a sanctuary for old men. If you enter it and disturb the piece, you will invoke rage. And sneaky quickness.  

--- I love the concept of Facebook Flash mobs. But I think I would be walk out midway through this one....right after I bought two Beef N Cheddars from Arby's.

Bearcats make resounding statement

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UC holds Dayton to the fewest points allowed in the Mick Cronin era and invigorates optimism following one of the season's most significant non-conference tests.

 

Will Frasure

Special to GoBearcats.com

 

CINCINNATI -- As Dion Dixon received a pass and stood wide-open at the top of the 3-point arc, he stood confused for a second as no Dayton defenders closed on him.

 

After he hesitated, Dixon pulled back and buried it, one of Cincinnati's five first half 3-pointers. The shot capped off the most impressive shooting half of the Bearcats' season as Cincinnati knocked Dayton off-guard with its outside shooting.

 

"It was just a snowball effect," coach Mick Cronin said. "Dayton's a much better team than they showed tonight, and the snowball kept rolling downhill on them as we kept hitting shots."

 

Even when the Flyers actually did drape over Dixon and Rashad Bishop, the pair shot without hesitation. Bishop and Dixon had become accustomed to their shots rimming out, but on Saturday they sank with ease.

 

Their efforts culminated in a 21-point first half lead wide as the river that wraps U.S. Bank Arena.

 

The energy translated over to the other side of the ball, as Cincinnati held Dayton to 19 first half points and only 34 on the night.

 

"Whenever you play with high energy, everyone feeds off it," Dixon said. "My shots were falling, that was a good thing, but I was trying to play hard."

 

Like he's been waiting for his team's shots to fall, Cronin has been hoping for a breakout performance from forward Ibrahima Thomas. The 6-11 skyscraper from Senegal finally proved his coach right.

 

Thomas became the man in the middle for the Bearcats after two early fouls sent Yancy Gates to the pine. Gates played but three minutes in the first half. With their usual source for offense gazing from the sidelines, Bishop and Dixon threw up shots without fear while Thomas held his own down low on the way to six points and seven rebounds in the half.

 

"He was excellent," Cronin said. "He played through fatigue, probably the best stretch he's played all season...It was good to see him that intense and hold down the fort for us."

 

The Bearcats have struggled in the second half after thriving at the beginning of the games, but not this time. Cincinnati set the tone in the second half as the team jumped out to a 12-0 run.

 

"Growing up, that's what happened," Darnell Wilks said about coming out strong in the second half. "We knew we could come out and play hard like we did in the first half. You saw us growing up and trying to do that."

 

The ground underneath Dayton started to crumble as Dixon hammered home a breakaway dunk. It collapsed when Gates swatted a weak layup from Chris Wright on the next play.

 

As Brian Gregory called timeout, the Cincinnati fans roared for the Bearcats. After the teams returned to the floor, the Bearcats continued their run and shut out the Flyers until 11:27 remained and the win was all but wrapped up.

 

UC enjoyed the final minutes as the time ran off on one of the most dominating wins over a major opponent in the Mick Cronin era. And the most encouraging sign to date that era could be finally starting to blossom.

 

"I didn't have to do anything (to motivate our guys)," Cronin said. "The way they beat us in our own arena last year is embarrassing enough. I was banking on our guys having enough pride that I didn't have to talk a whole lot about it, and they came out hard."

Assessing the damage of an unlucky season

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The Bearcats were officially eliminated from bowl contention Saturday and hope the bitter taste of Pitt representing the final game of the year can spark recovery.

 

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - The ball popped off the moving hand of Connecticut lineman Kendall Reyes and into the air. One inch to the left and it drops harmlessly into the secondary. One inch lower and it plops straight down. One inch higher and ...

 

"It's a touchdown," quarterback Zach Collaros said.

 

Not this season.

 

Not in the year where, no matter how hard the Bearcats try, the ball always seems to bounce the wrong way.

 

This season, during an 11-play, 73-yard drive, Reyes tips the ball and it falls into his arms in perfect stride. This season, the lineman one donut shy of 300 pounds rumbles 79 yards for a decisive momentum change the Bearcats don't recover from.

 

"That's kind of been the story of our season," WR Armon Binns said. "We're right there. We're not a bad football team. We just had some bad luck with how the ball's been bouncing."

 

Opinions will float around as freely as criticism for why the Bearcats (4-7, 2-4) fell from BCS to no bowl at all. Many will be valid. Some will not.

 

The Bearcats made their fair share of mistakes. Dropped interceptions. Repeated costly personal fouls. Missed assignments. Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers.

 

UConn established itself as the better team on Saturday and deserved the eventual 38-17 victory.   

 

Yet, in this Murphy's Law season, the play to turn the tide came from a ball that bounced the wrong way. Only fitting.

 

"I think it bounced off somebody's back in there and feel right into his hands," Collaros said. "Good play on their part, but very unlucky on our part."

 

Maybe the Bearcats used up all their luck on the way to 12-0. Maybe the Craig Carey interception against Fresno State and the call on Isaiah Pead's fumble against West Virginia and missed extra point by Pittsburgh sapped up all the positive karma.

 

That's football, Butch Jones would say Saturday -- as he has many times after frustrating losses this year.

 

The bounce of the ball can change the perspective through which we view weeks and months worth of work. It forces UC coaches and players unfamiliar with the reality of missing out on the postseason to stare it dead in the eyes in the bowels of Rentschler Field.

 

For an emotional Collaros after the game, he stared through red eyes at seniors he felt he failed. He shouldered the blame for a group of 13 players who are more than teammates not accomplishing their goal.

 

"The thing that makes me hurt the most and upsets me the most is the seniors," Collaros said. "Some of those guys are my best friends. Seeing how disappointed and how sad they are - of course, I'm sad that we lost - it makes it hurt that much more when our best friends in there won't get a shot to play a 13th game."

 

Collaros spoke with truth and from the heart. He finished 26 of 50 for 288 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions. Two of the picks came attempting to make plays with a near insurmountable lead late. He scratched for every inch of his season-high 84 rushing yards and Houdini'd big plays out of impending disasters all afternoon.

His game resembled that of his team: heavy on effort, doomed by small mistakes and bad bounces.

 

Nobody took the losses harder than Collaros this season. Nobody poured more of himself in to turning the season around. Call it a byproduct of never losing a game he started until the opener at Fresno State.

 

"Every time you lose," he said, "you die a little."

 

Indeed, this team hopes whatever doesn't kill them, makes them stronger. Saturday's loss was the latest tough lesson in a season full of them. But Collaros viewed the bigger picture of what he learned this year through a clearer focus with the ultimate outcome now officially decided.

 

"The biggest thing (I learned) is winning hides a lot," he said. "When you win it covers up a lot of stuff you're doing wrong. Not just on the field, but off the field - missing class, stuff of that nature. When you lose that stuff gets exposed."

 

Nobody knows better than Jones.

 

He said the reality of being left out of the bowls was "a hollow feeling," however, it's one he doesn't want his team to forget. In an effort to flip the negative momentum of this season, the Bearcats can't forget what they saw in the eyes of the seniors. Nobody can forget the day the final goal of this season took a another wayward bounce in the wrong direction.

 

"This has to be a motivating force every day they come to work," Jones said. "We'll be back."

UC-UConn: Live Chat

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Dayton game meaningful, not critical

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Racking up victories against directional schools serves a purpose: Add wins, develop chemistry, assess talent.

 

Overpowering Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, however, doesn't exactly inspire invincibility.

 

Staring down a month of December with more opponents the Bearcats will play as double-digit favorites and Oklahoma program picked at the bottom of the Big 12, opportunities for this version of the Bearcats to simulate the rigors of Big East play are nearly non-existent.

 

That is, except for Saturday night at U.S. Bank Arena.

 

The neutral site matchup with the undefeated Dayton Flyers (5-0) allows the Bearcats a chance to see where they stand against an opponent they don't have to Google to find out where they're located.

 

"A game like that with the way our schedule is, you don't want to lose a game like that," Yancy Gates said. "This is a chance to play a good team. It's a game that could maybe decide later on if you are on the bubble or not. This game does have a lot of things riding on it."

 

As much as we judge this game as a measuring stick, crucial non-conference test and first honest glimpse at the 2010-2011 Bearcats, a residing truth will hang inside the UC postgame locker room regardless of final score.

 

"The reality of the situation," Mick Cronin said, "in our world, our fate will be decided in the Big East."

 

True, but without beating a respected team and program early, the confidence of this team entering conference play on Dec. 28 against DePaul could fall into question. Taking a big step on Saturday could go a long way to taking the next step come Big East time.

 

"You have to develop scorers," Cronin said. "You have to learn how to play smart. You have to learn to get baskets against good defensive teams that are going to game plan against you. You have to develop your talent in your players."

 

Of course, this team did make an early statement last season in the Maui Invitational with convincing wins against Maryland and Vanderbilt. It even cracked the Top 25. That would be the peak of the season.

 

A season that ended at the hands of these Dayton Flyers in the NIT. Dayton blew away the Bearcats 81-66 in a half-empty Fifth Third Arena on the way to a tournament championship.

 

Among those filling a seat high in the upper deck was Rashad Bishop. The senior was suspended from the team and watched helplessly from the shadows as his season ended.

 

Don't think for a minute that memory doesn't burn Bishop and provide an extra motivation to exact revenge.

 

"That was a bad feeling, seeing everybody out there," Bishop said. "Not being able to be there with them. I just felt lost out there."

 

In the eyes of Gates, Bishop wasn't alone. He suspected some players didn't give full effort in the loss. Being outrebounded 42-34, including 15 boards from the Flyers guards would back up his point.

 

"Some people really didn't grasp the NIT as maybe a couple of players, which is expected to happen sometimes," Gates said.

 

Gates' own stat line of 2 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes that night suggests he could be referring to himself. His response throughout the offseason and first four games of this year infer effort should be the least concern this time around. Nobody can question what he's brought in averaging 12.8 points and 9.3 rebounds a game. He's finally taking pride in crashing the boards.

 

When asked if he knew he finished one rebound away from his third double-double in four games Wednesday night, his flippant tone told the story.

 

"I know," he said, "and I was pissed."

 

More importantly, he's averaging 32 minutes a night. His effort and energy sets the pace. With a change in attitude and better understanding of the effort it takes to win games like the one played Saturday night, Gates and the Bearcats feel this year will be different.


Will it be different?

 

Will UC be able to establish its size against a team that matches up physically?

 

Will it show maturity and resolve in a close game?

 

Will it be able to establish offensive fluidity against an athletic defense?

 

Will it respond to the big-game atmosphere?

 

The list of questions go on and on and on. The game will be telling. But, at the end of the day, it's still November basketball. It's still test No. 1 in a season filled with dozens.

 

"Saturday is a huge game for us," Cronin said. "But whatever happens Saturday, it's not going to put us into the NCAA tournament and it's not going to put us out."

Defense defines win No. 4

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The Bearcats defense held Savannah State to the lowest total for a UC opponent this season and established the method with which this team can win games.

 

By William Frasure

Special to GoBearcats.com

 

CINCINNATI -- From the opening tip Wednesday night, the Bearcats were determined to establish their superiority against overmatched Savannah State.

 

For this team, this year, that means allowing their defense tell the story.

 

The mission could be seen on Rashad Bishop's face early in the second half. After forcing the Tigers into a desperation heave as the shot clock expired, Bishop breathed heavily as sweat covered his face.

 

The desire of this team to dominate on the defensive end reflected through every bead of sweat.

 

By the time the 54-41 UC victory went final, Bishop finished with three steals and 11 pass deflections.

 

"We were all very active," Bishop said. "We anticipated passes and got steals and got in passing lanes."

 

Bishop's hard work didn't go unnoticed. Only a few months ago, his position on this team came in question, but four wins into the season, Bishop's contribution sits at the soul of what Cronin believes can propel this team to new heights.  

 

"He's one of the best defensive players in the country," Cronin said. "If we can put together a string of wins and become a team that people pay attention to, analysts and people on television will talk to him at that length."

 

Cashmere Wright and Bishop's early intensity caught on with teammates as the Bearcats forced 11 first half turnovers and held the Tigers to 17 points.

 

Cronin was satisfied with the effort, at least until the closing minutes of the game.

 

"Defensively, we can't play much better, holding a team to 41 points," Cronin said. "I wasn't happy with our last three minutes. For the most part, our defense was tremendous. Our older guys are playing hard and smart. Our guys are focused in."

 

When the Tigers did manage to break the frontcourt pressure, forwards Yancy Gates and Ibrahima Thomas waited for the driving Tigers. The forwards forced ugly shots as Preston Blackmon and Cedric Smith crossed into the lane.

 

The pair also stood like giants over the much smaller Tigers and dominated in the post, something they won't enjoy the luxury of doing as the season progresses.

 

As the Bearcats trapped outside and helped effectively inside, the Tigers had trouble finding their shots. Cincinnati forced Savannah State into only shooting 17 field goal attempts in the first half.

 

The shots came late in possessions as the Tiger guards nervously looked for space and helplessly fired at the rim.

 

Only Tiger top scorer Jovanni Shuler looked comfortable shooting against the Bearcats en route to his 14 points.

 

The Bearcats bit hard at the beginning of each half, but pulled off a little late in the game. Before the final minutes of the game, Cincinnati only gave up 28 points.

 

With the team struggling to find offensive identity, Cronin knows he can hang his hat on the defensive effort his team has offered in the young season.

 

Whether missing lay-ups as the Bearcats did on repeat Wednesday or draining 3-pointers as occurred Monday, the fingerprint of this team blanketed win No. 4.

 

"We can defend,' Cronin said. "We can be a great defensive team, no doubt about that."

The Wright Guy For The Job

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After missing an entire year with a torn ACL, Cashmere Wright's first season at UC was a mixed bag.  His performances ranged from a 24-point, 5-assist, 0-turnover masterpiece against Providence . . . to a 0-for-5 with 5 turnovers dud against West Virginia.

 

"About a C," Cashmere said when I asked him to grade his freshman season.  "I think I could have done much better but I came in with the wrong attitude.  I thought it was going to be easier than it was.  And once I realized how hard it was and how hard you have to work, it was too late.  I think I'm going to do a lot better this year."

 

Wright.jpg 

But Wright's sophomore season did not get off to a good start.  In UC's opener against Mt. St. Mary's, the point guard from Savannah, Georgia went 1-for-4 from the floor, 1-for-6 from the line, and had more turnovers (5) than assists (4).

 

That's not going to cut it for the Bearcats this season.

 

"Cash is a big key for us," head coach Mick Cronin said.  "He is a quick guy that can get other people shots, and the more he gets comfortable running our offense - when to shoot, when to pass, where to get the ball - the more effective we're going to be.  He can really create shots for other people as well as himself."

 

After a rocky opener, Wright averaged 13 points, 6 assists, and 1 turnover in wins over IPFW and Florida A & M.  On Monday against the Rattlers, he had a career-high 8 assists and 0 turnovers.

 

"Cashmere was tremendous," Coach Cronin said.  "He gave us two things - he made shots and he gave us good leadership - and it's the kind of game that we have to have from him.  He's capable of that.  He's still a sophomore eligibility-wise and he's still coming into this own as a player.  A lot of it with him is maintaining his intensity.  Losing the 'nice guy' personality when you step between the lines and trying to play to your potential every night."

 

"I watched a lot of film and saw what I did wrong," Wright said.  "I missed a lot of passes.  My head was down and I missed a lot of passes that I could have made.  I just worked on improving my overall game from the standpoint of a point guard."

 

Tonight he'll look to lead the 'Cats to their fourth straight win as they host Savannah State at 7:00.  The Tigers are 1-5, but had a 3-point lead at Dayton with 8:42 left before losing 61-59 on Monday.

 

"I told our team that these kids are on scholarship and it's a big game for Savannah State," Cronin said.  "They're going to come in excited and well-coached and we have to be ready to play.  Every time you play at this level it's an opportunity that a lot of people would have given anything to have."

 

Tonight's game is part of the Global Sports Main Event - an NCAA exempted tournament that concludes on Saturday when the Bearcats face Dayton at US Bank Arena. 

As a reminder to Bearcat fans, the Dayton game is not included in the season ticket package since the tournament is organized and run outside the University.

Tickets are on sale through the U.S. Bank Arena box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, including select Kroger stores, by calling 1-800-745-3000, or going online at ticketmaster.com. Ticket prices for the game range from $20 to $75. The cost of parking at the Central Parking Garages is $15 per vehicle for the event.

"Dayton has a very good club," Coach Cronin said.  "They're undefeated and I'm making a plea to our fans to get to the game.  We need you there at US Bank Arena.  It's a huge game early in the year."

* * * * *

Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad.

 

Sam at Templeton.jpg 

I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

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

Bearcats Breakfast 11.24.10

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This will be the last Breakfast of the week since tomorrow is all about dinner and Friday I will be in the air headed for lovely East Hartford, Conn., with the football team.

There will still be a story from tonight's basketball game and some other fodder, but no Breakfast.

Remember, I will be on here with the live chat from UConn beginning at 11:30 a.m. on gameday to field all your pregame questions and give you some of the latest insights to what's happening at the stadium.

And, as always, I'll continue quoting Seinfeld to fill dead space. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I hope all of you have a happy Thanksgiving. Turkey for me, turkey for you, let's eat the turkey in my big brown shoe.

I wanted to let you know, that when you are considering overstuffing yourself to the point it makes your family sick, just tell them you are exploring your future in showbusiness.

Casting Call: Fatties wanted!

Let's eat...

--- The secondary has been an issue all season. Not just the amount of yards given up, but the huge missed assignements that leave people running wide open are killing the Cats.

I'm sure UC fans are pretty tired of seeing the wheel route end up in a guy running all alone down the right side for a touchdown. It's now happened four times  this year, by my count. (Fresno, NC State, WVU, Rutgers) Maybe more that weren't so obvious.

Bill Koch wrote about the problems and Kerry Coombs' task of correcting those.

--- The bubble is up at the Jeff Ave Sports Complex. I can almost hear Marvin Lewis bristling from here.

--- I talked a little bit about Vidal Hazelton's comeback attempt yesterday, but Scott Springer talked to Hazelton on Tuesday for a better idea of what he's thinking. He says he hasn't gone full speed yet, so I would have to think seeing him against UConn or Pitt would be out of the question -- or at least too much to risk.

But a bowl game would be a pretty likely scenario that he COULD play if he so chose.

--- UConn coach Randy Edsall gives his opinion of UC. In a shocking revelation, he thinks it will be a tough task and Bearcats have a lot of talent.

For once, I would just like a coach to come out and say, "the other team is garbage, I don't know how they won the games they did!" 

--- UConn's Jordan Todman is a beast. You could argue he should have been among the three finalists for the Doak Walker Award. Dr. Saturday did.

--- Brian Bennett picks against UC. Though, that may be the best news the Bearcats have heard considering his recent record.

--- The AP's Joe Kay and I were talking about this recently, would it be possible for a MAC team to play on every day of the week during their season? It seems like that's what they are going for.

Sadly, the only one they would probably miss is Saturday night.

My point being, Miami played last night and won again. They now have the best turnaround in college football, going from 1-11 to 8-4. That's the fifth best turnaround in the history of D-I. Th 45-3 win looks even more impressive for the Cats.

--- UC-Savannah State tonight at 7 p.m. at FIfth Third. There is some confusion on the TV situation, but here are the listings of what channels you can find the game. UC will be on the SD FoxSportsOhio. 

--- You can promote UConn basektball to the list of elite Big East teams this year. Kemba Walker has gone all sorts of crazy this season. He was talented but raw last year as a freshman. He struggled at times. This year, he has turned into the frontrunner for Big East POY.

He dropped 30 in their upset of No. 2 Michigan State last night.  

Please try to refrain from making the Lance Stephenson comparison. It will only end up with you crying in the fetal position. And that's no way to go through life.

--- The Big O turns 72 today. He's the greatest player in UC history and on the short list for greatest players in NBA history. 

Here are some Oscar highlights over the top of some funky hip hop styles. 

 

THE RETURN OF VIDAL HAZELTON (PART II)

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hazelton.jpg
(Vidal Hazelton earlier in 2010)


     There are no guarantees in life and no one probably knows that better on the UC football team than Vidal Hazelton.

      Heralded as UC's answer to the departure of Mardy Gilyard, Hazelton saw his 2010 season end prematurely at Fresno State after six catches for 68 yards and three kickoff returns for 41. On one of the kickoffs, Hazelton went down and was diagnosed by Dr. Angelo Colosimo and Head Football Trainer Bob Mangine with a torn ACL.

      "I didn't think it was that bad when it first happened," said Hazelton. "I got up and felt like normal. They said I was going through a lot of adrenaline in a game. They just told me to sit out."

      Hazelton was hardly sat since.

      Sure, he had the corrective surgery, but he's attacked the rehabilitation of his knee with as much determination as he had on the playing field. From the start, Hazelton has professed that he'd be back on the field this season.

      Part of that has been because his prognosis for an extra year of eligibility doesn't appear to be favorable. Typically, student-athletes are given five years to get four seasons in. As short as his tenure was in this season, it is fifth overall as he had to sit out last season after transferring from USC.

      Most have assumed since day one that having Hazelton on the roster for 2011 was a long shot.

      "It's up to the coaches and stuff and it's up to compliance," said Hazelton. "The way it's looking, it's not looking too good."

      Because of that harsh reality and because UC could possibly sneak in the back door of a bowl game by winning out, the rumblings of Hazelton making a "reappearance" this season are back.

      At least in #7's eyes.

      "Could be this week, next week, whenever the docs say," said Hazelton.

      As Hazelton spoke, he carried a knee brace that would become part of his attire later in the day at practice.

      "If I'm playing, I've got to play with a brace just to be safe," said Hazelton. "My knee's feeling pretty good. Range of motion is back and I'm just going to continue to strengthen it."

      So, is he playing and when?

      Well, no mention was made of it during Tuesday's press conference by Coach Butch Jones. Also, there's been no medical release distributed by UC. Maybe it's all just wishful thinking on the part of a departing Senior, but it would make a nice story.

      "Everything is looking good so far, every test they've put me through I've passed it," said Hazelton. "I'm going to go out and practice and see how I feel. This week is on a practice to practice basis."

      IF he does pull off playing AFTER surgery on his ACL, he'll be the first since undersized DL Tony Carvitti did it during the 2006-07 season. Like Carvitti, Hazelton has made remarkable progress. Most of us with the same injury would still be hobbling about and complaining about rehab.

      "I've been ahead for a while now," said Hazelton. "I've been working really hard. It takes a lot of hard work."

      The hard work has never stopped for Hazelton. After being denied initial eligibility in 2009, he worked with the scout team in practice with 2009's Sugar Bowl team. Then, he labored in the offseason and the spring as new coaches and offensive ideas were being introduced.

      Following that, was another August at Camp Higher Ground where he was easily established as a starting receiver, if not the #1.

      Then came the first game in Fresno. A return to California for Hazelton that turned tragic when he went down on kickoff return. From there, we'll never know how this season may have turned out. Maybe UC would still be 4-6, but most feel without significant injuries they would've been much better.

      "That's definitely not how I wanted to go out as a Bearcat," said Hazelton.

      Perhaps that can now be changed. Perhaps even a cameo by Vidal Hazelton could inspire this team to dig deep and eek out these last two wins to gain entrance to some bowl somewhere.

      "I think it would definitely," said Hazelton when asked if his comeback to boost the team. "Just to tell a lot of people that are injured right now that no matter what injury you're going through, you can get back if you put you're mind to it."

      The native of Staten Island, New York confesses that he's not run 100 percent yet, but has been running a number of routes. You also must factor in that he's been without contact since early September and not quite used to "game speed".

      None of that can dissuade a determined young man.

      "I'm a little bit nervous, that's just a confidence thing," said Hazelton. "Once I get out there and get going, I'll get more confidence. That's about it. These guys have been making plays all year, I'm not going to step on anybody's toes."

      It's all about finishing what he started and Hazelton like many, would like to go out on his own terms. Life's about playing the hand you're dealt.

      Whether or not Coach Butch Jones has an "ace up his sleeve" remains to be seen.

      "It's tough not because I sat out a year, but because I never had a major injury," said Hazelton. "Just to overcome it, I've got to be proud of myself for how I handled it."

      Either way, you can bet Vidal Hazelton's courage and efforts to return have been noted...and hopefully rewarded.



News and notes from Butch Jones

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I am never one to mislead or lie to you guys (at least, not on purpose), so I won't deny that I was unable to attend Tuesday's press luncheon. I have been to every one this year, but with another committment I couldn't get out of, so, I didn't get to see Bill Koch take a run at the record for most cornbread eaten before noon or see if SID Ryan Koslen had any new material for his opening act.

I did, however, watch Butch Jones' presser on GoBearcats.com, which I encourage you to do as well. If you don't have 24 minutes, here are the Cliff's Notes. Though, technically, I guess they are Paul's Notes, but you see what I'm driving at.

--- Jones talked quite a bit about Isaiah Pead -- and deservedly so. Considering his 31-carry, 213-yard, 5-TD performance on Saturday, more people should be talking about Pead.

Maybe the one aspect overlooked about that showing was the 31 carries. That's far and away a carry high for Pead (previously 21). But when a guy was running like Pead was, you just keep giving it to him.

One of my favorite exchanges from the postgame on Saturday came with Pead. (This may not completely translate to text, but I'm gonna give it a shot)

Reporters were asking him about his 31 carries and Pead instinctually started answering the question off the top of his head. Pead is a very sharp, quick-witted guy and these postgame sessions with reporters usually entaiil a stock answer that easily rolls off the tongue.

"While 31 carries was taking place I wasn't really paying attention to that," he said. "That's definitely a career high."

At this point, a change came over Pead's face and you could tell he just realized that he carried the ball 31-freakin times.

He paused and almost laughed to himself. "Thirty-one carries is a lot."

As I say at the end of any story that bombs in recount, guess you had to be there.

--- Anyway, Jones talked about Pead's durability really shining through. Few people talk about that with him. Understandable because he's never carried more than 21 times in a game and missed two games with injury this season.

But, he's beginning to show he's more than just a speed guy. He can beat you with quantity as well.

"It just comes back to durability and he was available the entire night," Jones said. "He got into a great rythym. He was in a zone Saturday night."

Indeed. And watching Pead try to carry his zone over to UConn and the second-leading rusher in the country in Jordan Todman should be quite a show in East Hartford, Conn.

--- Jones also talked about the development of Zach Collaros. With two games left in the season, he's nearly completed a full year as a starting quarterback. Judging by what we saw against Rutgers, he appears to have figured this system out. Jones didn't disagree.

"I thought Zach played the best game he's played to date this year," Jones said. "He was in control of the game. When you are in control of the game, the game plays slow to you. He's playing with great confidence."

One of the best throws of the game came right before halftime. Collaros saw DJ Woods running a corner route and lofted a pass up for him -- all while being blasted by a Rutgers rusher.

It landed right on the money for the score.

"He didn't even see the result," Jones said. "He could just hear the crowd."

--- Many noticed that freshman Devan Drane replaced Reuben Johnson at cornerback to open the second half. Unfortunately, Mark Harrison caught a deep ball over top of Drane on the first play to welcome him to the starting lineup.

Jones inferred it wasn't as much for performance as it was injury.

"Reuben has been hampered by injuries the whole season," Jones said. "Saturday night we could really see that being a factor."

Johnson was plain outrun down the sidelines on one of Harrison's deep passes in the second quarter. You just don't normally see that from Johnson, who is one of the faster players on the UC team.

As for Devan Drane...

"You don't want to put a true freshman out there," Jones said. "His eyes are wide. But that's where we are at right now. It is what it is."

--- Also, for anybody who thought Jones was running up the score, he adamantly denied that claim. And for good reason.

To think any lead was safe in that game would be crazy. It was the highest scoring game in the history of the Big East, to think the game couldn't flip in a heartbeat would have been a bit naive.

"I think I have proven throughout my career we would not do that," Jones said. It should be noted against Miami and Indiana State this year Jones took his foot off the accelerator late in the game. "We needed to score and Rutgers had some talented players. It was a game where you never felt comfortable."

Bearcats Breakfast 11.23.10

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Nice win for the Bearcats last night, 76-51. First blowout of the season, so it was a welcome change for the players not to sweat the waning moments. And for the media folk.

I was proud to say I was a part of the process as ESPN 1530's Mo Egger came up with the idea to create UC's All-Allitteration team in honor of current Cats Dion Dixon and Justin Jackson.

Here's the squad we ended up putting together (I assume you are all on pins and needles):

Starting 5: Dick Dallmer, Steve Sanders, Bobby Brannen, Devan Downey and Derrick Dickey.

First three off the bench: Jackson Julson, Rick Roberson, Junior Johnson.

Coach: Promotion for George Jackson or possibliy allowing Charlie Coles to take on two SE Ohio teams (Hint: Yeah, there's no alliterate coaches)

Beat writer: Former Enquirer scribe Dustin Dow

Broadcasters: The powerful team of Matt Millen and Dan Dierdorf flop over to hoops!

Official: Distinguished collegiate ref Steve Skiles

What is the point of all this? The game got a little out of hand. We had some time to kill.

However, there were some developments that occured as we came up with the AA team (which is alliterration all in itself). So, let's eat there...

--- Cashmere Wright was the story. That's why I wrote this column. You should read it. 

--- Dion Dixon came alive in the second half and finished the game with 14 points and 3 assists on 4 of 6 shooting from behind the arc.

Dixon struggled the first two games of the season following a strong exhibition season. Mick Cronin talked openly after the game about the work in progress it has been for him in pushing Dixon in how to handle adversity -- both in game and between games.

Right now, when Dixon doesn't get involved on offense his energy and body language falls off the map. That happened during a first half where he didn't contribute much on either end.

"I really got after Dion Dixon at halftime," Cronin said. "I was really unhappy with his body language. I am going to have to pull a Rex Ryan and institute a body language rule on him. Things don't go his way he looks liek a little kid in Mt. Lookout where soembody stole his dog. He gets down on himself. You got to play harder, you got to raise your intensity level. You can't feel sorry for yourself."

It's part of the growing process for Dixon who was promoted into the prominent role of starting shooting guard through a strong offseason. Dixon hasn't had to deal with struggles in-game before. In the past, he moved to the bench when the game went awry on him.

"I'm asking the guy to become somebody he hasn't been here," Cronin said. "But it's time, he's a junior, he has the ability. He's a another guy I have to stay after. I am learning how to deal with him. He doesn't take too good to me coaching him in a soft way. When I get after him he's a much better player."

Dixon said he wasn't discouraged after struggling the first two games. "Because I know that I will work at it and it will be all right."

Cronin actually took some exception to that, which I found to be an interesting look into their coach-player relationship.

"I wish he would have been more discouraged," Cronin said."Which is what I told him in shootaround today. I wish he would have been more discouraged. I didn't like his intensity in shootaround today. The guys I've coached, if they'd had had the first two games he had, the best players I've been around would have been about to have a nervous breakdown if they played that way the first two games."

Luckily, Dixon came around in the second half. His progress will be one to monitor on Wednesday against Savannah State.

--- Speaking of Savannah State, FAMU actually beat them earlier this season, which would infer they are pretty terrible. However, Savannah actually pushed Dayton to the limit last night, only losing, 61-59.

Savannah State missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Here's the gamer from Doug Harris at the DDN. Wild.

SSU was 317th of 344 in RPI last year and has only one win this season -- over an NAIA school.

--- Also, future non-confernece opponent Oklahoma showed they are much improved from last year's record. They hung close with No. 9 Kentucky until the final minute in Maui. UK pulled away late with free throws, 76-64.      

--- Yancy Gates goes for a quiet 11 points, 11 rebounds. He had two double-digit rebound games last year. He has two in the first three games this year. 

That's what we in the business (and pretty much everywhere) call an encouraging sign.

--- Sean Kilpatrick was named Big East Rookie of the Week on Monday. He averaged 17 points in his first two contests.

--- If you want more, here is the Bearcats post game presser where you can here all the penetrating questions from the scribes.  

--- Some football news...

--- Vidal Hazelton will begin practicing in earnest today, according to Butch Jones. Yes, that Hazelton, the one who tore his ACL less than three months ago. It's been the fastest ACL healing progress I have ever seen.

Jones hopes to find out in the next few days what the possibiliy of gaining a sixth year would be for Hazelton.

--- UC holds its weekly press luncheon today, so look for more on the football game against UConn later in the day.  

How about some randomness...

--- For a second, I wasn't sure how I felt that this story was at the top of the "Latest News" category on the front page of Cincinnati.com. Then I realized I love it almost as much as I love the Bed Intruder song. Which is a lot.

Wright's game showing progress

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Sophomore Cashmere Wright will be counted on to take a major step forward this year. His first move in the correct direction during a 76-51 win against FAMU showed it's close to a reality.

 

CINCINNATI - Cashmere Wright stood a good distance behind the 3-point line on the opening possession Monday night. Even as recently as one week ago, he likely would have moved the incoming pass around the perimeter.

 

Not Monday.

 

The words Mick Cronin chiseled into his brain this week were still fresh.

 

"Every day after practice," Wright said, "he kept telling me, 'We know you can shoot, I know you can shoot, everybody else knows you can shoot. Why are you not shooting?'"

 

Wright spent the first week of season playing his role. Or at least, what he felt to be his role. He needed to distribute the ball, involve his teammates and rack up assists.

 

Once the ball arrived into his hands Monday, it was clear the understanding of his role changed.

 

Pick. Pop. Buried.

 

Wright didn't shoot because the shot clock was low. He shot because he wanted to. He shot because he was ready to. That's a noticeable difference for the redshirt sophomore the Bearcats are counting on to carry a portion of the scoring load.

 

He would move on to knock down 4 of 8 from behind the arc. For a team dogged by poor 3-point shooting through the first two games and tired of watching shot after shot clang off the rim, Wright's opening 3-pointer sent a message: Tonight's going to be a different night.

 

"It was a big thing," Wright said. "It just helps your confidence. We know we can shoot so once the first one goes in you have that swagger about yourself where you are ready to shoot. You are not hesitant about yourself."

 

The basics of point guard play determine that you involve your teammates by racking up assists and setting up passes in the ideal spots to score. In his second full college season, Wright's learning the advanced lessons of point guard play. When done properly, you can involve your teammates by looking for your own shot.

 

Wright's opening salvo struck a chord with his teammates who followed suit, almost scoffing at the 25 percent of 3-pointers made through the first two games. Rashad Bishop knocked down two. Sean Kilpatrick hit one. JaQuon Parker dropped one in. In the second half, Dion Dixon ran his total to four.

 

By the time it was over, UC connected on 12 of 27 3-point shots. That was good for 44 percent. It's the major reason the Bearcats ran away with their first blowout victory of the season, 76-51, against overmatched FAMU.

 

Wright would lead the way with 18 points, the second highest point total of his career. Though,  that wouldn't be his favorite statistic of the night. It wouldn't be his four rebounds or two steals. Heck, it wasn't even the career high eight assists.

 

It was zero turnovers.

 

"He's definitely the star of the game for us tonight," said Cronin, who admitted he needs Wright to be a double-figure scorer if his team wants to accomplish its goals. "If we can continue to get that from him, obviously, he's going to make me a much better coach and we are going to win a lot of games."

 

If only going for an 18-8-0 line were that easy.

 

The journey in tapping into the potential displayed on Monday night comes with a fair share of resistance. Cronin views Wright in the same light of a line of great point guards to parade through UC. Only, motivation has been absent. Cronin learned quickly he needs to insert it on a daily basis.

 

"Cash is a guy you have to stay on all the time," Cronin said. "I'm trying to get him to - he's got to want to be one of the better guards in the Big East. The answer is you have to come in every day with a chip on your shoulder trying to prove it. Kenny Satterfield, Steve Logan, Nick Van Exel, all had a chip on their shoulder. They were trying to show people every day how good they are."

 

When Wright plays with that chip, the Bearcats show how good they are. They did Monday.

 

Cronin clearly hitched his wagon to the Savannah, Ga. native. The coach witnessed Wright score 52 points in a game in high school where he buried 11 3-pointers.Yet, last year, a rotation of players took over for Wright as he unevenly labored through a rough freshman season where he averaged 5.4 points, 2 assists and 1.5 turnovers in 18 minutes.

 

This season, Wright is the point guard. He's averaging 28 minutes a game. The 2010-11 Cincinnati Bearcats are as much his team as anybody else's -- you could argue even more than anyone else's.

 

"The guys we rely on this team are the juniors, seniors and Cash," Cronin said.  

 

Defense and rebounding continue to be the calling card. Finding a way to score consistently in this fluid, sum-of-our-parts offense will determine if it dials up the NCAA tournament.

 

That begins with Wright. It did on Monday -- and Wright buried it with confidence. It established the bar of expectations. The next step is to wash, rinse and repeat.

 

"It's one game, it's a long year, it's a journey," Cronin said. "It's not even about Wednesday night, it's about what are you going to do tomorrow. You are who you are in practice every day."

GUTWRENCHER AT RENTSCHLER

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pipe-wrench-1.jpg

WHEN: Saturday, November 27th.

BE MORE SPECIFIC: High Noon Bearcat fans

WHERE: Rentschler Field

THE EVENT: On Monday nights on NBC

THE GAME: (In case you've been in a cave the last few weeks) UC vs. UConn

SERIES: UC leads 5-1

LAST ONE: Bearcats won at Nippert 47-45 11/7/09


      Here's this week's dilemma in the ever-confusing Big East. UC is 4-6 and obviously must win out to be considered for a bowl. Connecticut is 6-4 and bowl eligible after three straight wins.

      UC needs to beat the Huskies and then gut another win out against Pitt on December 4th to even warrant consideration for the postseason. On the other hand, should the Huskies fall to the Bearcats, they have an equally tough game in Tampa the following weekend with South Florida. A loss to USF, would then put UConn at 6-6.

      This just in, while 6-6 might be admirable in UC's case, it doesn't exactly have bowl committees jumping for joy. But, at the rate the Big East is going, the bulk of the league is hovering around that six and seven win mark with no one separating.

      The mystery continues....

      Connecticut has a 26-0 loss at Louisville on its report card and a a 27-24 loss to Rutgers. The Bearcats beat Louisville 35-27 in an away game and just lit 69 on the toteboard against a Scarlet Knight team who supposedly had a decent defense.

      Not so fast (in the words of ESPN mascot-head Lee Corso)!

      Since those puzzling defeats, the Huskies have beaten West Virginia in overtime 16-13 and Syracuse 23-6. As many of you sadly remember, both the Mountaineers and Orange plowed the Bearcats and forced numerous mental and physical errors.

      And, UConn has defeated Pitt 30-28 (with Pitt being widely held as the league's best team).

      As Alice once said in Wonderland, "Things are getting curiouser and curiouser."

      Certainly we all hope this week that the old cliche, "curiosity killed the cat",  is not true.

      Nonetheless, for you 'Cats that are curious....


UC OFFENSE VS. UCONN DEFENSE


      If you look at last year's game (which is often great fodder, but not always a great indicator) Zach Collaros threw for 480 yards and UC racked up 711 yards of offense. That would actually be more than the final total of the recent Rutgers rout. However, UC had a 37-17 lead in the third quarter and nearly had a Bengal-like collapse by allowing Connecticut to put on 28-2 scoring run and cut the deficit to two points with five minutes left to play (40-38). Both teams scored again from there for the final 47-45 tally, but it was every bit the track meet that last Saturday's game was.

      It appears as if UC's offense has clearly regained a little mojo and some line improvements have allowed Isaiah Pead running space and give Collaros enough time to pick apart opposing secondaries. Realistically though, you're probably not going to do that at Rentschler Field, at least not to the tune of 69 points.

      In this case, if you get Pead over the 100 mark and Collaros over 300 yards passing that would be an accomplishment in this road game. You have to figure Randy Edsall (UConn coach) is going to do what he can to stop Armon Binns and DJ Woods, which could free up Marcus Barnett to actually have a statistic or Anthony McClung to show more of his potential. Also, I'm encouraged by the addition of the tight ends to the game plan as throwing to Adrien Robinson and Ben Guidugli just gives you more weapons on an already talented receiving corps.

      Hoping to stifle Collaros and company is UConn tackling leader Lawrence Wilson. The redshirt Senior LB is all over the place and somehow was recruited out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama where the leading religion is Crimson Tide. He's complemented by fellow LB Sio Moore who racked up 17 tackles against Syracuse and a Canadian, Jesse Joseph at DE who leads the team with 7.5 sacks. On the bench for UConn is Freshman DT Angelo Pruitt out of North College Hill. I mention that only because it's puzzling to me why a hometown product would choose the Huskies over the Bearcats, but we wish him well.


THE PROJECTION:


      Again, I believe UC's offensive success hinges on how the offensive line protects Collaros and opens holes for Pead. Pead looks to get tougher and tougher every game and he looks to get stronger as the game goes on (which is a far cry from his freshman year when he once waved to be removed from a game in mop-up time. Also, Collaros was picked off just once against Rutgers and there were no fumbles or significant drops.

      If the above things hold up, look for UC to score 30 points. If UConn's D-line spends as much time in UC's backfield as Pead and Collaros, this is going to be a long, hard day on a field not really conducive to mounting comebacks.


UC DEFENSE VS. UCONN OFFENSE


      The Huskies aren't really lights out on offense but they do offer up a familiar face in Junior RB Jordan Todman. He ran all over UC last year and has pretty much ran all over most teams. He had 130 yards and two scores in the win over Syracuse and is pretty much the core of UConn's offense. The top receivers are all Juniors in Isiah Moore, Michael Smith and Kashif Moore, but none offer the big target that UC's Armon Binns does. They do have a big target though at TE in 6-6, 243 pound Ryan Griffin.

      Back at QB is redshirt Senior Zach Frazer who's been in and out of the line-up. Since Coach Edsall has dismissed Cody Endres from the team and since redshirt Freshman Michael Box was inconsistent early on, the job is Frazer's to lose again. Frazer's a 6-4, 231 pound body that's had his moments as UC can well remember from last year's contest.

      Defensively for the Bearcats, objective #1 is to stop Todman and the running game. UC has done this before with some of the premier backs, but then allowed others to run wild. Then, you have to admit that UC's secondary has been one of the more porous ones in recent memory. Sure, they're young but when one guy (Harrison of Rutgers) torches you repeatedly, you should come up with a solution.

      UC will need Brandon Mills and the other defensive linemen to put the pressure on Frazer and Todman to force the Huskies into bad throws. Too much time and you know UConn's offense is going to test the youngsters deep.


WHAT'S THE ANSWER THEN SMARTY PANTS?


      Stating the obvious, stop Jordan Todman. He's the lifeblood of the Huskies offense and if he gets over the century mark rushing it won't bode well for the Bearcats. On the other hand, if you cheat on Todman too much, you know Frazer's going to loft a few rainmakers up just because the Bearcats have been scored on as much as basketball's fabled Washington Generals.


SPECIAL TEAMS


      Finally, UC got a decent runback last week on a DJ Woods kickoff return, only to have it nullified with a block in the back. Woods also had another decent return but again, DJ takes a lot of risks and that can sometimes get him dinged up You can't over-emphasize how much UC is down in the return game with the injuries to Darrin Williams and Vidal Hazelton.

      In the punting and kicking game, P Cole Wagner has a little more leg than Patrick O'Donnell and Junior K Dave Teggart hit three of four on FG's against Syracuse, so on experience alone (and home field advantage) he wins out over Jake Rogers.

      Rogers still is pretty reliable on kickoffs and overall has a better leg than UConn kickoff specialist Chad Christian.


WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?


      Routinely, the home team holds the advantage on special teams. The upside for UC last week was the lack of fumbles, drops and stupid penalties. A repeat performance at Rentschler Field would be a logical recipe to winning.


INTANGIBLES


      The stat of the day is Connecticut is 5-0 this season at Rentschler Field. Clearly in the Big East, holding serve is essential at home. Unfortunately, UC has not done that this season as the back-to-back home losses to USF and Syracuse are haunting them.

      The Bearcats have been to Rentschler Field twice, squeaking out a tight 26-23 win on a Kevin Lovell FG with Mark Dantonio in 2006, then getting whacked in 2008's worst loss of the year 40-16.

The field sits on the outskirts of Hartford and for whatever reason it's become one of the tougher places to play.

      This game all boils down to momentum.

      The Bearcats need to continue theirs and hope for maybe half of their point total last weekend, and they need to stop a team gaining rapid confidence that's ripped off three wins in a row against three pretty decent teams.

      Both teams want to finish strong. Connecticut, for a better bowl game, and UC for at least a shot at one.

      Another disastrous start to a game wouldn't be wise here. They can't force a three and out then fumble a punt like they did in Morgantown or they can't allow first-play bombs like they did with Rutgers in both halves.

      The rally cry's are all ready.

      The time is now!

      There is no tomorrow!

      Just like the old Foreigner song, UC must play as if it's an "Urgent" emergency!!



Bearcats Breakfast 11.22.10

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Sorry if this is posted a little later than normal. I've been low on sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night hearing that UC touchdown cannon going off in my head all weekend.

Wow. Still hard to believe what we witnessed on Saturday night.

Touchdown after touchdown after touchdown. As I soaked in what happened at Nippert, I couldn't really wrap my head around if I enjoyed watching it or not. I think I settled on the fact I didn't.

The efficiency of the UC offense was something to behold. And I think we saw a glimpse of how dangerous this team can be when Zach Collaros can stand back in the pocket all day and throw without pressure while Isaiah Pead runs free. But the way players were running so wide open and uncontested on both sides of the ball remains burned into my brain as what I will remember most.

Some of the plays broke open by design, but others were blatant missed assignments all over the place. Call me old-fashioned, but a physical, fundamental defensive struggle excites me more than this new era spread offense Playstation shootout.

All that said, this UC offensive exhibition was one of the finest I've ever seen. And it goes to show that if Pead can have a big day, UC can't be stopped. When teams have to account for his breakaway ability running the ball, there is no way to account for the talents of Armon Binns and DJ Woods on the edges. Add in the wrinkle of using the tight ends more off play-action on Saturday and you have the recipe for 69 points.

--- The Bearcats talked all week about having fun again. Sure looked like fun to me. After the last three weeks, they deserved a laugh. 

--- I don't know if you know this after Saturday, but scoring is on the rise in college football. Here are a few numbers to marinate on.

The 38 points by Rutgers in defeat was more than the combined points in each of the other three Big East games of the day.  

--- In a wild year in the Big East I can't say I'm surprised a player from the highest scoring game in BIg East history was awarded a Defensive Player of the Week award, but Brandon Mills did deserved it.

He finished with 10 tackles, 3 sacks, 5.5 TFL and a forced fumble. He's come a long way this season and appears to finding his niche on this defense.

--- In the least shocking news you will hear until Lindsey Lohan goes back to jail, Isaiah Pead was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week. 

A total of 31 rushes, 213 yards, 5 TDS, yeah, that should do it.  

--- Dan Hoard opened his postgame column with a great line:

"I wonder if there has ever been a team in college football history that has been burned for three 50+ yard touchdown passes, had two kicks blocked, allowed three scoring drives that lasted fewer than 37 seconds . . . and won by 31 points."

 

--- No longer in Brian Bennett's basement

--- OK, now let's talk basketball.

--- In my postgame column Saturday, I talked mostly about the problems shooting from behind the arc. When most fans walked away from that game, I think that was probably what stuck out.

But before we move on to tonight's tilt with the FAMU Rattlers, who will dazzle you with their amazing techna-colored uniforms, I wanted to revisit the first half of Saturday's game.

The Bearcats performance was extremely encouraging.

Every player took his turn making a run on the way to a 45-32 halftime advantage.

Ibrahima Thomas worked the glass for seven early points. Sean Kilpatrick hustled up a six-point run. Dion Dixon drove and worked the paint for a 6-point stretch. Cashmere Wright slipped into the lane to create six in a row.

 

The sum of the Bearcats parts we've heard so much about looked to add up to a substantial whole. For a half.

 

UC still waits for that complete game to occur. The good news is they have two games this week to make it happen before a huge matchup with Dayton on Saturday at US Bank.

 

--- Sean Kilpatrick did it again. He's turning into the surest thing not named Yancy Gates on this team. Kilpatrick at one point slid about 5-10 feet like he was on a slip and slide going after a loose ball.

 

"With the dive, it hurt like crazy," he said after.

 

But he didn't care. That's what you love about his game. And why he received a standing ovation coming off the floor. He makes the hustle plays, the smart basketball plays that are the difference between winning and losing.

 

The one 3-pointer UC did knock down in the second half came from Kilpatrick. His recollection was slightly off -- he couldn't remember the assist, which came from Cashmere Wright and not Yancy Gates -- but the look he remembers from Gates when he caught the ball wide open. 

 

"The look on his face is, like, you better hit this shot. We need this." 

 

--- My favorite quote of the day came from IPFW coach Dane Fife after talking about the size disadvantage his team faced: "I was mesmerized when I saw those guys in person. I don't remember teams being that big when I played and I played in the Big 10."

 

--- Oh, free throws. I hate talking about free throws. There is no way of improving except to shoot more in practice. They cost games, but it's an exercise in futility to discuss them. UC needs to make more, this is not a like discovering life on Mars. 

 

But it certainly has the attention of Mick Cronin: "My biggest concern of this game is that. That is disappointing. We have done a great in all practice and all Fall."

 

UC finished the game 16 of 29 from the line for 54 percent.

 

The wildest element of the free throw shooting is Rashad Bishop has become the go-to FT shooter. He was a 57 percent guy last year and has hit 12 of 12 this season. Not only is he perfect, but hit the majority of those in high-pressure spots at the conclusion of two close wins.

 

--- Another nice quote from Cronin when asked about finding a player to step up and consistently hit shots from the perimeter, he rekindled the great Jim McKay of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers...

 

"That'd be great. I'm all for it."  

 

--- UC takes on FAMU tonight at 7 p.m. and then hosts Savannah State on Wednesday night. The Dayton game will be at 7 p.m. at US Bank Arena Saturday. 

 

UD is one of only three non-conference games against a team from a major conference. The other will be at Oklahoma and Xavier. 

 

We will learn more about OU today. They started with three wins against inferior opponents, but play No. 13 Kentucky in Puerto at 5:30 today. 

 

Xavier appeared to be down with the loss to D-II Bellarmine and OT victory against IPFW, but Tu Holloway realized he needs to take this team on his back for now and it's working. They won the Paradise Jam with a convincing win against Iowa and beat Seton Hall (without top scorer Jeremy Hazell) on Sunday. 

 

Dayton will be the first big test of the year, however, and they look to be putting it together after a wild comeback win against Ole Miss.   

 

--- The last bit of news comes from the great play of former UC soccer standout Omar Cummings as the catalyst to lead the Colorado Rapids to an MLS Cup this weekend. Congrats to Omar.

--- Some randomness...

--- The concept of using pepper spray on an oppossing bowler could be the wave of the future in league bowling. Of course, Smokey, this isn't Nam, this is bowling, there are rules. (NSFW) I assume this game in question determined the next round robin.

--- Reason No. 382 I love Twitter. I made a reasonably lame joke involving Count Chocula in the punchline on Twitter during Saturday night's football game. Sunday morning, I received a notice that "MrCountChocula" is now following you on Twitter. I feel MCC will be disappointed, because that one joke exhausted all my Count Chocula material.

--- Watching Ben Roethlisberger get punched in the face makes me happy.

--- Yesterday was Guiness Book of World Records day and tons of ridiculous records tumbled. I just hope Christopher "Big Black" Boykin still holds the mark for most powdered doughnuts eaten in one minute.

--- Blake Griffin may or may not be human.  

Perfect Pead Performance

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Isaiah Pead proved that next year he should be mention with the list of Heisman hopefuls before the season began. With 5 touchdowns and 213 yards in their rout of Rutgers, you can't ignore he's the best back in the Big East and with a 7 yards per carry average, he is a first down waiting to happen. 

UC football resuscitated itself yesterday because prior to last night's game many people had given up on this team. I said lets wait; a hard thing for fans to do, but they did deserve to see the kind of offensive performance the Bearcats showed last night as a reminder of their potential. 

But the credit goes to Pead and the offensive line who made the Scarlet Knight defense look high school-ish. They were sliced, diced and shredded like cheese and Zach Collaros and his receiving corp, like Pead, had a ball. Someone tell Carson Palmer if Zach can throw it up for Armon Binns, he should try it with his crew but I digress. If this offense can finish up the season firing on all cylinders they can build momentum going into next year and the fans will have hope. As this young defense matures they could bolster the other side of the ball and this team will then return to the Big East prominence they've enjoyed the past few years.

I am so glad I was able to enjoy this game because we'll all look back one day and reminisce about Isaiah Pead and his performance of a lifetime; our lifetime. It was Heisman worthy and worth repeating. So as they hit the road and face UConn we have to have faith they will carry the success of this game into next week. 

So Coach Butch Jones I backed you last week and your team came through. I'm still on board and I hope the fans are too. Give them another reason to stay on the bandwagon because as you've learned in Cincinnati, the weather and fan loyalty both change daily.

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

Wow

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I wonder if there has ever been a team in college football history that has been burned for three 50+ yard touchdown passes, had two kicks blocked, allowed three scoring drives that lasted fewer than 37 seconds . . . and won by 31 points.

 

Cincinnati's 69-38 win over Rutgers was like the top being lifted off of a boiling kettle - a month's worth of frustration came bursting out and the Scarlet Knights were overwhelmed.

 

"We had a great week of preparation and I liked out mindset all week," head coach Butch Jones said.  "We still made mistakes that we have to get corrected in special teams and on defense, but winning is hard and we're going to enjoy it."

 

"We come to work every day and when you fall short it burns a hole in you," said Isaiah Pead.  "Tonight we played like we had nothing to lose and had fun.  We played like we should have been playing all season and I'm proud of it."

 

I was convinced going into the game that after falling behind 14-3 to USF, 17-0 to Syracuse, and 30-0 to West Virginia, the key for Cincinnati to snap its three game losing streak was to avoid an early catastrophe. 

 

Shows you what I know.

 

On the opening kickoff, a penalty wiped out a 71-yard return by D. J. Woods.  After the UC offense went three-and-out, it took one play for Rutgers to score out of the "Wild Knight" formation as wide receiver Mohamed Sanu lofted a 51-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Thomas.  73 seconds into the game, it was 7-0 Rutgers.

 

"I'm very proud of the way we handled the adversity to start of the game," Zach Collaros said.  "We didn't feel like we handled that well last week at West Virginia so that was a point of emphasis.  The opportunity presented itself and we rebounded well.  I think we scored in about four plays so it was a great momentum shift for us." 

 

"We grew up a little bit and showed some maturity," Coach Jones said. 

 

The Bearcats also showed firepower as they scored touchdowns on seven of their next eight possessions.  UC had near-perfect balance as the 'Cats finished with 295 yards rushing, 366 yards passing, and averaged 7.7 yards per snap.

 

"I've been saying all year that when we run the ball like that, it makes it so much easier for us in the passing game because they can't drop eight - they have to load up the box," said Armon Binns.  "It gives us a lot of one-on-one matchups and a wide-open field."

 

The biggest standout was Isaiah Pead who had career highs in rushing attempts (31) and yards (213).  The junior running back scored 5 touchdowns (4 rushing, 1 receiving) - the most by a Bearcat since Ike Stewart scored 8 and Bob Heuck scored 6 in Cincinnati's 124-0 win over Transylvania in 1912.

 

"1912?  Geez, I didn't know the University of Cincinnati was even built then," Pead said.

 

"If you look at our wins this year, Isaiah has really been the main person in the offense," Collaros said.  "Anytime that we get him going, it makes everybody's job easier.  Isaiah is a great player and the more involved we get him, the better off we'll be."

 

When they don't turn the ball over or commit penalties, the Bearcats can score on anyone.  They're not going to drop 69 on either UConn or Pitt, but Cincinnati's offensive playmakers give the 'Cats a chance to win those two games and go to a bowl game for the fifth straight year.

 

"We finally clicked on all cylinders," said Armon Binns.  "We just approached the week like, 'We've got three more games together and we want to give it everything that we've got.'  The seniors want to be remembered on a good note."

 

I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

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

One for the record book

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UC rewrote the record books in a wild 69-38 victory against Rutgers on Saturday night.

 

CINCINNATI - The Bearcats had a month worth of losing frustration pent up entering Saturday night's game against Rutgers.

 

They took it out on the record books.

 

The Bearcats 69-38 win against Rutgers won't end up in any defensive technique videos. In fact, it's more likely to be burnt to a crisp in the defensive film room garbage can. But the fireworks provided one of the wildest nights in Nippert Stadium history.

 

At 109 total points, it went down as the highest scoring game in Big East history.  

 

The gaudy numbers for UC read like this:

 

n       69 points tied for the third most in school history

n       661 total yards was good for third at UC all time

n       Isaiah Pead set his career high for rushing yards (213) and touchdowns (5)

n       UC scored 10 touchdowns in a game for the second time since 1953

n       The Bearcats scored more points Saturday than in the previous three games combined

n       UC scored a touchdown on all six red zone possessions

 

The blur of points left UC (4-6, 2-3) still alive in the quest to be bowl eligible. More than anything, a team tortured over the past three weeks remembered what it felt like to win again.

 

"We had fun today," Pead said. "The last couple of games we lost kind of burns a whole in you."

 

Instead, the Bearcats offensive line burnt holes in the Rutgers defensive line. Pead accepted handoff after handoff and the holes in front of him were wide enough to fit five of him through.

 

It was hard not to have fun at that point.

 

"I wish you could see, I kind of grinned," said Pead, who incredibly was under the weather with a flu bug during the game. "Once you get past the first little front, then you have to make a guy miss and go score."

 

Pead scored as a wideout, untouched up the middle, flying five feet above the pylon, breaking a tackle and placing an exclamation point on the blowout. His spectacular plays came in all shapes and sizes.

 

He scored seven TDs on 11 carries in a high school game one time. But never anything quite like this on the college level.   

 

"Every time they hand him the ball he's in the end zone," said wide receiver Armon Binns, who wasn't too shabby himself with 6 receptions for 139 yards.

 

What is it like to be in a game where everything you do offensively works? And not only works, but goes for chunks of yardage?

 

"Not everything worked," Butch Jones said, as only a perfectionist coach could after posting 69 points. "But we had success early. We got into rhythm."

 

In a game where so many big plays occurred, I couldn't help but ask Butch Jones if he could remember all 10 touchdowns off the top of his head.

 

"I could if you gave me a minute," he said.

 

His quarterback felt up to the challenge.

 

"I think Isaiah had a touchdown catch," said Collaros, starting off correctly. "Isaiah had a touchdown run. I think DJ (Woods) scored on a run."

 

Collaros continued to run down the list before realizing he was missing something.

 

"Oh, yeah, I had a run in there," he said.

 

It was that kind of game. Collaros couldn't even remember his own touchdown.

 

The night wasn't without concern, of course. UC did give up 400 passing yards, 38 points and has allowed at least 27 points in every game not against Miami this season.

 

At every turn a cornerback was beat deep. Camerron Cheatham, Reuben Johnson, Devan Drane. Rutgers didn't discriminate.

 

WR Mark Harrison caught 10 passes for 240 yards and four touchdowns.

 

"It was the kind of game where you never felt comfortable," Jones said. "I don't like being in those types of games."

It was the kind of game where you need to score 60 to win. Fortunately for the Bearcats, they did.

 

Regardless of any numbers, career marks or school records, the one victory added to the win column felt bigger than any statistic. It had been a while.

Shooting woes mask strong showing

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The Bearcats earned a 65-59 victory against IPFW that could have been much more had the Bearcats made open 3-pointers. Mick Cronin isn't concerned, but should he be?

 

CINCINNATI - The same, but different.

 

Saturday felt quite a bit like Monday inside Fifth Third Arena. Another productive first half followed by an offensive second half only a mother could love.

 

Only, the manner with which UC flipped from 45 first-half points to six second half field goals looked decidedly different.

 

Against Mount St. Mary's, 40 first-half points turned into seven second half field goals. The team panicked. The defense lagged like it was dragging a ball and chain.

 

On Saturday, the defense picked the ball, chain and hopes for a 2-0 start up and slung them over their shoulder.

 

"I don't think we could have played much harder," Mick Cronin said after a 65-59 victory. "When we struggled on offense we played harder on defense."

 

No, intensity and mentality weren't the problem as they were Monday.

 

This time the Bearcats missed shots. Over and over again. Open looks more frequently than not. IPFW coach Dane Fife packed his zone around Yancy Gates and dared the Bearcats to beat his undersized team from the perimeter.

 

"It was a smart plan," Cronin said.

 

Smarter than he would have liked.  

 

UC knocked down 1 of 12 second-half 3-pointers and shot 55 percent from the free throw line to make matters worse.

 

"Our defense saved us," said Cronin, whose defense held an IPFW team who knocked down 7 of its first 10 3-pointers without one over the final 17 minutes.

 

Indeed, the ghosts of last season hovered above the home rim at Fifth Third reminding everyone of the 29 percent 3-point shooting team of last season. Through two games this year, the Bearcats are 8 of 32 from 3-point range for 25 percent.

 

Cronin didn't waver on the belief he's aired since the first exhibition game. He's not concerned about his team's shooting ability. The numbers don't lie, though.

 

"We got a lot of good looks against the zone," Yancy Gates said. "You kind of get frustrated at open shots you normally make don't go down, but you don't start to panic or anything because you know you can hit those shots."

 

In practice, the shooting problems don't exist. The players drain jumpers from the corner, the wing, the top of the key. Cronin doesn't spout of his lack of concern about shooting because he feels the guys need to hear it. He sees it every day.

 

Somewhere between empty echoes of practice and the time the gates open, execution becomes lost in translation."

 

"It's probably adrenaline," said Sean Kilpatrick, who sent some adrenaline through the crowd in a game where he hustled up 13 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals. "We are so hyped to hit the shot. In practice we are also hyped, but there's not a lot of chaos."

 

Whether the law of averages will play out for this team over the course of the season is anybody's guess. A few hot streaks against FAMU on Monday and Savannah St. on Wednesday and nobody will be talking about shooting concerns.

 

Unfortunately, for the time being they are.

 

On Saturday, the Bearcats forced turnovers, adjusted defensively on perimeter shooters, dove for loose balls, moved well without it, exploited passing lanes and outrebounded a team they should.  

 

They did everything necessary to blow out a quality team from a small conference and play like an upper echelon Big East team on Saturday - except bury open shots.

 

Some of the problems are technical. With Cashmere Wright, his shot preparation needs to be better. JaQuon Parker continually comes up short.

 

"For the most part we shoot the ball as much as you can possibly shoot the ball," Cronin said. "Got to hope it's one game, keep firing, work on the small things."

 

Whatever the reason, 3-point percentage could be the statistic to watch for this team. Defense and rebounding will win UC a fair share of games this season. Against IPFW, size, athleticism and effort were enough to overcome the inaccuracy.

 

That won't always be the case.

 

"Our effort is tremendous," Cronin said. "Guys prepared well, we had three great days of practice. When you really struggle the way we did offensively in second half, a lot of times you lose a game like that."

 

Other teams will take notice. The zone collapse on Gates will become a staple in the opponent's playbook. Gates smiled at the concept. Much like his coach, he's not concerned. 

 

"If (opponents) do, go ahead, because I watch these guys make shots like that all day in practice," he said. "If they want to do that, they can do it."

Big Saturday breakdown

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I usually use Friday to give a matchup preview of the weekend's football game so all of my loyal readership (I'm looking at you, Gary) can watch the game as an intelligent viewer.

Well, I can't let you down, so I will do so yet again, however, with two games taking place in Clifton this will be a special Double Issue.

Typically, when you see the double issue in Sports Illustrated or some other reputable organization, it arrives twice as thick and overflowing with content.

That's not the case here.

I will tackle twice the teams in the same amount of space. Some may call this laziness (and they wouldn't be all wrong, but with a 12-hour day ahead tomorrow, I'm not real concerned) but I PR spin this as actually much tougher to do. Rather than you wasting your time sifting through loads of info, I strain and push myself to pick out the most pertinent pieces of information to impress and inform your tailgate.

Spread the word, my sons and daughters. Spread the word.

Let's run chronilogcically...

IPFW vs. UC

Player to watch: Dion Dixon

Dixon disappointed in the opener. After five strong exhibition games and months of progress, Dixon probably put a bit too much pressure on himself. There's little reason to expect Dixon's struggles against Mount St. Mary's to become a season-long problem, but Cronin admitted he needs to be sure Dixon doesn't get too far down on himself after a bad game.

A strong rebound for Dixon would go a long way to restoring any confidence lost in the opener at a position UC desperately needs Dixon to thrive in this year.

More than that, IPFW will hoist up 3-pointers by the truckload. Perimeter defense will play a major role in UC avoiding what happened to Xavier, who was pushed into overtime by the Mastadons. Dixon's defense will probably be more important than his offense in the grand scheme of this game.

Statistic to watch: Rebounds

Mick Cronin came away disappointed with UC's effort on the glass in the opener. Despite holding a signficant size advantage, the Cats tied the points in the paint battle and only won the rebounding margin by five.

They spent much of the week working on rebounding technique and hopefully the emphasis pays off against another much smaller team in IPFW.

IPFW's top rebounder, John Peckinpaugh, is only 6-foot-5.

Center Trey McCorkle is 6-10, 235 pounds, but hasn't been much on the boards in the first two games of the year.

Best case scenario 

Bearcats offense thrives -- for 40 minutes. Yancy Gates goes double-double 20-10, Dixon rebounds to post 18 points, Cashmere Wright has seven assists without a turnover. The Bearcats win the rebounding battle by 15 and create 20 turnovers.

UC posts 100 points and the university decides midway through the game that if the Cats reach 100 the ticket stub will be worth a free 3-way at Skyline.

Worst case scenario

See, Xavier, Tuesday. Then add IPFW getting hot in OT and pulling the upset. The university decides midway through the game in a falsely confident manner to let the Bearcat mascot be property of IPFW the rest of the year if they lose and, consequently, school spirit lags the rest of the season.

 

Rutgers at UC

Player to watch (offense): Armon Binns

The common thread through UC wins has been the performance of Binns. When the Bearcats win, Binns plays well. Their biggest win of the year against Louisville was Binns best game.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the Bearcats defense right now, the Bearcats need to post points. Doing that against Rutgers usually comes through the air. They are 25th in the country in total defense, but 64th in pass efficiency defense.

Also, no starter in the Rutgers defensive backfield is taller than 6-foot-1. Binns should be able to haul in some jump balls over the top of the smallish defenders.

Player to watch (defense): Dan Giordano

Quietly, Giordano has become one of the best players on the Bearcats. He leads the team in tackles for loss (8) and sacks (4).

Loudly, Rutgers offensive line has been a bumbling disaster.

The Scarlet Knights are dead last in FBS in sacks allowed. It's not pretty. If Giordano can dominate the line like many DL have against Rutgers this year, the pressure can make up for the youth in the Bearcats defensive backfield. 

Best case scenario

The defense turns the corner and owns the inept Rutgers offense for its first shutout of the season. Derek Wolfe and Dan Giordano combine for 5 sacks, the Bearcats create four turnovers.

It turns into a wave of momentum on the defense and the young group comes together over the final three games of the season and into a bowl game.

Worst case scenario

Anything that ends in an L. It doesn't matter how it happens. 

Bearcats Breakfast 11.19.10

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Start off today with a congratulations to the inevitable crowning of UC volleyball star Stephanie Niemer as the Big East Player of the Year and coach Reed Sunahara as the Coach of the Year in the conference.

If the woman who should have the Big East Player of the Week trophy named after her after winning it a record six times didn't earn POY honors, I would have called everyone currently working on the Cam Newton investigation off that and into the Big East offices, because there was some real corruption going on.

Alas, that wasn't the case. So, Niemer, who is fourth in the country in kills per set and third in the country in points per set, got her due. Let's hope she gets her national due next with a deserved spot as first-team All America.

The volleyball team opens the Big East tournament today at 12:30 p.m. in Pittsburgh against South Florida. If you want to watch the POY in action, you can do so here.

OK, on the rest of the Breakfast....

--- I wrote a story about how the Bearcats are keeping a positive attitude, particularly for those in the embattled defensive secondary, through the three-game losing streak.

The first question that came to mind this week for me was, how you do you continue to have fun out here when so much negativity continues to pile up? I felt stupid for even thinking that question after talking to Reuben Johnson.

All you had to do was glance at the players standing on crutches up and down the UC sideline or, for Johnson, read a story about his buddy from New Jersey Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed in a game last month.

These guys love football and when so many others have it taken away from them, every day they can go out and play is an opportunity to have fun and enjoy it. Sometimes that big picture becomes lost in the blur of a three-game losing streak for us outsiders. Not for these kids. At least not for Johnson.

And also not for the 12 seniors who are counting down the final weeks of their football careers. Three wins in a row would mean another week of practices --- plus Bowl Game swag! Who doesn't want a Beef O'Brady's commerative pin?

--- The one senior clearly feeling the pinch of the end of the season is Armon Binns. Bill Koch wrote a story about Binns quietly enjoying a fantastic senior season.  

--- A little programming note for basketball on Saturday. The Bearcats are no longer on FoxSportsOhio. The TV guru John Kiesewetter has this story on the situation and all the alternate channels for viewing. Time Warner folks can view it on 310.

--- The women's Crosstown Shootout had a press conference yesterday. Here are some comments from those involved.

--- What was suppopsed to be a great week for Tony Pike took a shocking, ugly turn yesterday as John Fox named Brian St. Pierre, who was a stay-at-home dad last week, as the starter over Pike.

No real way to swing this except to say that can't be good for Pike's progress or his current standing inside the coaching staff.

The bottom line is this wild decision has caused a bit of a firestorm and caused what Pro Football Talk is calling a mutiny. It's wild.

Respected Carolina beat writer Darrin Gantt said this:

"Fox is acting like he's got his next job in hand already.  Because otherwise, you wouldn't so blatantly and wantonly disrespect the boss who's paying you $6.5 million or the GM you call a friend," he said. "I've wracked my brain, and for the life of me, can't find a rational reason for this move, other than pure spite."

Pike took the news in stride.

--- When I saw that Fox was going to broadcast the first six Big Ten championship games, all I could imagine was Brutus, at halfitme, pumping the midseason replacement show, "When Mascots Attack," which just reairs him being brutalized by the OU Bobcat over and over again.   

--- Cashmere Wright made plenty of mistakes in the season opener, but Chad Brendel at Cincinnati247 talked about how he's learning from his mistakes moving forward.

Also, Chad had this quote from Mick Cronin on watching IPFW push Xavier to overtime on Tuesday.

"Our feeling is Xavier played extremely hard. IPFW plays 8 juniors and seniors in their 9 man rotation and they take care of the ball and can make shots. One thing about mid major teams is if they can shoot the 3 point shot at multiple positions and really stretch your defense it takes away your advantage a little bit in size and athleticism. They know coming in to a game like Cincinnati or Xavier that they might need double digit 3s to beat you. Those teams scare you to death as a coach. Not a lot of sleep for me after that Xavier game."

--- ESPN ranked UC's recruiting class in the top half in the Big East. St. John's is building back into a winner if recruiting has anything to do it, but UC's haul garnered respect.

One wonders how this class would have ranked nationally had Chane Behanan stayed here instead of opting for Louisville.  

--- A few nice wins for Big East teams last night. Pitt topped Maryland (though the game was closer than it probably should have been for the Panthers' liking) and Georgetown scored a blowout victory against Coastal Carolina.

David Steele wrote a quality piece on the two Jersey schools in the BE who have had trouble gaining ground despite a load of talent in their area. And also why two new coaches think it will be different during their reign. I still believe the Hall is going to make a run this year -- Rutgers, not so much.

--- How about a Friday randomness bonanaza?....

--- When teaching kids to obey the law to stay out of jail, they should just show the mug shot of this guy and save everyone some time.

--- I'm currently reading a book about Pearl Jam (5 against 1 by Kim Neely of Rolling Stone -- highly recommended), and Eddie Vedder made a habit in his early years of finding some insane location to stage dive from during the backside jam on "Porch". He was an expert. If you are NOT an expert on stage diving, however, you should probably learn from the mistakes these guys made.

--- How could bacon bikinis be a bad thing?  

--- I think NYU should just make this their admissions marketing video. Come to NYU, where even a Cappela group creates hilarious moments like this. If they don't, they are so dumb, they are really dumb, for real.

NYU N'Harmonics Bed Intruders Acapella from NYU Local on Vimeo.

--- Maybe the most well-executed move to come out of the Bengals complex this year has been Dhani Jones, Tank Johnson and Chad Ochocinco re-enacting the elevator scene from The Hangover for ESPN the Mag. Tank Johnson is the only one without a reality show, but proves here he's probably the one of the three that should. (H/t to Rufus at Fox19) 

Also, Lindsey Vonn is a dead ringer for Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. Unfortunately, this link is SFW.

 --- The intertubes have been alive with the masterful musings of Montana Tech football coach Bob Green, who is retiring after 24 years.

I'd pay admission to have access as a beat writer to a guy like this on a daily basis. And after every interview I'd leave a tip. 

   

Bearcats still fighting and having fun

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Despite a three-game losing streak and all-but-official elimination from the Big East title race, members of the Cincinnati Bearcats football team still have plenty to enjoy the final three weeks of season.

CINCINNATI -- Reuben Johnson didn't know where to start. With each of the previous three losses, the sting shot a little bit deeper. With each return to the solitude of his bed, the pain felt a little more taxing.

Yet, on Tuesday, the Bearcats starting cornerback strapped on his long-sleeve football suit, then attacked the two-hour practice through temperatures cool enough to make his mouth chatter.

Without a win in 35 days and wet from a practice rain shower would hardly represent what the New Jersey native envisioned when signing on the dotted line to play for the Bearcats.

The team's current struggles may not seem like a day in the park for outsiders, but upon digging deeper, Johnson revealed how easy it is to continue having fun through a disappointing stretch.

"I think about my close friend Eric LeGrand, who just got paralyzed," Johnson said. "Knowing that football can be taken from you at any time."

LeGrand and Johnson both played high school football and became friends in Jersey. On Oct. 15, the same day UC last won a game, LeGrand collided with an Army player and saw his life change forever. He was paralyzed from the neck down.

Johnson almost feels guilty complaining about a three-game losing streak when viewed through the wider lens.

"I think about Vidal Hazelton, who got hurt the first half of the Fresno game," Johnson said. "I think about Dominique Battle, who messed his knee up in the first half of the season. You think about those things and you think hard and wonder, my football season could be over today or tomorrow. You got to have fun. This game is about having fun and if you are not having fun playing football then you shouldn't be playing football."

Johnson's played more this season than in any of his previous two. He currently leads the Bearcats in passes defensed (4) and is second on the team in tackles with 55. However, he's still at the centerpiece of a maligned defense ranked last in the Big East and 107th nationally against the pass.

The built-in excuses are available, if needed. The team does start eight sophomores and three juniors. This is the first year of a new coaching regime.

Along the same lines of having fun, Johnson knows it's time to let go of the excuses.    

"It's easy for us to say it's a new system, oh, we got eight sophomores, but I am tired of the excuses," he said. "The team is tired of the excuses. We just have to play, it's on us. At the end of the day, we've got to have fun."

Keeping a positive attitude can be challenging when hearing the criticism around every corner.

"We definitely hear it," sophomore DB Camerron Cheatham said, "but we got no time to listen to that."

The focus remains on progress and positivity.

Cheatham stands in the middle of a laundry list of young players forced into starting positions due to injury or lack of depth.  

"We are making progress, but probably not as much as we would like," Butch Jones said.

So, the grind of turning around the Bearcats 3-6 record continues every day. The glitz and glamour of what occured inside Nippert Stadium may be temporarily dimmed, but what those grinding practices mean isn't lost on the class of 12 seniors.

They fight for the opportunity to add another month to their careers. It will take a three-game win streak to make it happen, but pushed against the wall of being ineligible for a bowl game, the reality showed up.

"It hit me hard this week," senior WR Armon Binns said. "Everybody wants to play in December."

Whether or not this team plays in December will boil down to the progress of players like Cheatham and Johnson. It will boil down to keeping the proper perspective to stay upbeat. 

"I can say we're making progress," Johnson said. "We are getting more turnovers, we are playing together as a team more, we are trusting each other more. Everything is getting better, you couldn't tell because of the losses we have been taken. That just gets back to having fun. No matter what the outside thinks, all we got is each other."

Bearcats Breakfast 11.18.10

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Almost to big Saturday -- we've got UC-IPFW at 1 p.m. at Fifth Third then Rutgers-UC football at Nippert at 7:30. I will be sampling some tailgates (hopefully) in between, so I look forward to seeing you guys out there. Until then, here's some breakfast...

--- Monte Taylor earned his first college sack on Saturday against West Virginia. He's one of the young players on the defense that appear to be making some strides. Tim Adams wrote a story on Taylor for BearcatLair.

--- Bill Koch wrote about the inability to flip field position in kickoff returns this year without Mardy Gilyard -- and also without Vidal Hazelton. Remember, Hazelton was slated as the kickoff return man before going down in the opener at Fresno.

As I mentioned in this space a few weeks ago, the Bearcats were second in the country last year with an average of almost 30 yards per return.

This season they rank 83rd in the country. They are one of 13 teams among the 120 FBS schools without a return of longer than 40 yards this season.

--- Brian Bennett has WR Armon Binns ranked fourth in his Big East Player of the Year race right now. Watching Binns career conclude on a sour note as this season has been is one of the truly sad stories of this season.

Binns broke out last year after waiting his turn and has been a huge part of wins this team has had this year. But unfortunately, not enough pieces around him have been able to send him out on a better note to this point.

With three games left, it's really started to hit him that it's almost over. But not before his 57 receptions for 826 yards and 9 touchdowns kept him on the map for the next level.

--- A must read today comes from my mentor and famous chili recipe creator Justice Hill, who has this incredible piece in FanHouse about Ted Ginn Sr., a legendary coach from Glenville High in the Cleveland area.  

--- I posted some updates on Bearcats in the NFL last night with a focus on Tony Pike's possible start for the Panthers. I didn't put this blog in where Baltimore's Haruki Nakamura talks about facing his former teammate.  

--- For the record, UConn's Kemba Walker posted 42 points and 8 rebounds in a win against Vermont last night. Oh boy, if Walker has officially figured it out, life just got a lot tougher for everyone in the Big East.

Even more impressive, he scored those points despite distraction from Evan Fjeld's incredible mustache.  

--- In some randomness....

Few stories can compete with this one, which encompasses a number of societal issues. It tackles guns, rednecks, addiction to television and, the worst of all, Bristol Palin.

Bearcats in the NFL roundup: Week 10

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--- TONY PIKE: The day has finally come. The season for the Carolina Panthers has been nothing short of an epic disaster, but for Tony Pike, a silver lining arrived amid the clouds.

That's right, according to Rotoworld, Tony Pike is expected to startSunday for the Panthers.

Nobody could have expected this -- especially considering he's starting for being the last man standing in a battle of attrition. Starter Matt Moore is on IR and Jimmy Clausen suffered a concussion last week.

So, Pike is left.

And, though he's only three months into his rookie season, he believes he's ready.

"It took awhile," said Pike, to Panthers.com. "It was a long process, but I feel like the only thing missing now is the actual game experience."

As per the Panthers.com story, Pike's starting is not for sure, Clausen and St. Pierre are apparently options, but the Rock Hill Herald says they are expecting it to be Pike.

The bad news? Well, we can start with Ray Lewis. Then we'll continue with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart being out. Oh, and two of the five starting offensive lineman likely to miss the game.

The odds are stacked against him. Of course, that should be a familiar position for a guy was third on the depth chart at UC.  

--- MIKE WRIGHT: Wright's great season continued on Sunday night against Pittsburgh. This time on national TV he notched 1.5 sacks to add to his total of six on the season. He has 3.5 sacks in the last four games.

That number ranks him tied for 16th in the NFL and best on the Patriots.  

--- TRENT COLE: Cole had a relatively quite night by his standards. He had four tackles and one QB hit on Donovan McNabb in the Eagles blowout win against the Redskins. However, he still leads in the Eagles with seven sacks on the season.

He also hopped into line with everyone else dissing McNabb.

--- MARDY GILYARD: Gilyard is on a Pepsi can!

Unfortunately, he hasn't been on the field. This blog at Turf Show Times discusses why Gilyard hasn't had a catch in almost a month and why his lack of knowledge of the playbook has been holding him back.

The MASH unit that has been the STL receiving corps allowed a prime opportunity for Gilyard. He hasn't taken much advantage of it to this point, but could do so the final seven games of the season.

--- BRENT CELEK: The disappointing season for Celek continues. Despite Mike Vicks 338 passing yards, Celek only caught two passes for 8 yards. He just isn't a popular target of Vick's.  

--- RICARDO MATHEWS: Mathews played for the Colts in the win against the Bengals, he had one tackle and got a hit on Carson Palmer.   

--- JEFF LINKENBACH: Linkenbach was active for the Colts in a win Sunday against Cincinnati and got the second start of his career.

--- TYJUAN HAGLER: He allowed the one piece of happiness out of the latest Carson Palmer pick for Bengals/Bearcats fans. Hagler picked off Palmer in a huge spot that helped the Colts put the Bengals away. This was the second consecutive game he started for Indy and has really provided a spark for their battered defense.     

--- KEVIN HUBER: Huber was fantastic against the Colts. His four punts only average 40.2 yards, but all of them pinned Iny inside of the 20. He consistently had significant hang time and forced fair catches on the 10, allowing the Bengals to win the field position battle. If they just could have quit throwing it to Tyjuan Hagler, Huber would have been one of the game's MVPs.  

--- HARUKI NAKAMURA: Nakamura had one tackle for the Ravens in the loss to Atlanta on Thursday. 

Bearcats Breakfast 11.17.10

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A no nonsense Breakfast today since I have nothing witty to say, so we get right to the links...

--- Butch Jones spoke yesterday a little bit about the direction of the program and recruiting. Maybe the most noteworth comment came when talking about deliving into the junior college ranks. Over the years, JuCo has hardly been a winning proposition. Not many from there pan out, but it shows the immediacy with which Jones needs to address the depth situation.

He was talking about the need to add competition at spots in order to make everyone better. The need for depth, paticularly in the secondary and at linebacker can't be fixed by high school kids. They need athletes that are physically ready to step in and compete right now.

"We'll look to supplement our roster with junior college players but we're not making an all-out philosophical change in terms of how many junior college players we bring in," Jones said. "It'll be very minimal."

Every once in a while JuCo players do work out, but many of the best ones are already committed to a Division I school that has its hands on his development.

--- Jones also touched on the fact that the poor season hasn't affected the recruiting negatively. In fact, the response has been positive. High school kids all of a sudden see an opening to come in and contribute immeditately. Instant gratification sells with 17-year-olds.

"There are players out there that respect what our program is all about, have great relationshps with our coaches, love the city of Cincinnati, understand our academic reputations, they understand, hey, this is a program where I may have a chance to step in and play right away.

"We had a number of recruits in attendance the past couple weeks who said, 'Hey, I'm excited, when can I visit?' Because they see there is a great opportuntiy for me to play early and come in and compete. It's about how you present itself. It's been very postiitve, the recutitment of this year's class."

--- Jones compared what's going on at UC to the same things happening at Florida and Texas this year. I pointed out the Texas connection in my By the Numbers from Monday of how BCS bowl teams have done the following season over the past five years.

Florida has played better than Texas (4-6), but only marginally for the Gators (6-4).

"It's the same thing the University of Florida is going through. It's the same thing the University of Texas is going through. If you look at coach Meyer's press conference yesterday it's the exact same things they are struggling with there we are struggling with here. Turnovers, red zone efficiency, young players, maturity and energy level."

Here's some of what Meyer had to say at the USA Today college blog.  

--- If you want to listen to the entire press conference, you can do so here.

--- Rutgers will be showing plenty of Wildcat formations this weekend. It's about the only that has moderately worked for the last ranked offensive team in the Big East.

--- I've been meaning to write a story on former UC soccer player Omar Cummings, who has been killing it with the Colorado Rapids who are making a run at the MLS title behind his offensive lead.

Soccer America took the lead -- here it is.  

I can guarantee Omar would not do this. #SoccerFail

--- Basketball hosts IPFW on Saturday. Everyone is expecting the Bearcats to roll over the juggernaut that is Mastadons basketball. Xavier allowed a bit of caution in that train of thought Monday, however, as IPFW pushed them to overtime before the Musketeers won by 10.

--- The Steve Lavin era off to a slow start at St. John's. They are another one of those programs that UC should be in direct comptetition with for some of the NCAA spots in the middle of the Big East pack. I'm pretty shocked they lost their opener to St. Mary's.      

--- In the same bucket as St. John's is Louisville, dealing with a host of losses. They didn't look affected last night as they dominated Butler.

--- For the multitude of college hoops teams that couldn't knock down free throws yesterday, I suggest they enlist the greatest Pop-a-Shot player ever to  come in for a tryout.

The young Asian prodigy's got skills. Far and away my favorite part of the video is the guy waiting to go next, stretch and limbering up, unfazed, like he's about to smoke her.

Not even a high-5 for that? C'mon, buddy.

   

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT

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uc sugar bowl.jpg

(Courtesy Fox Sports)


      It does nothing to help the disappointment, but it might help Bearcat fans to realize UC is not the only team not having the season many expected them to have. From a regional point of view, in the Big East, you could argue that Pitt, Rutgers, Connecticut and West Virginia aren't having the seasons fans have envisioned.

      Nationally, you can look at UC's opponent in the January Sugar Bowl and see that they're obviously not the well-oiled machine many Florida Gator fans are used to either. Sure, 6-4 is much more appealing than 3-6, but it's been a long time since the Gators dropped three games in a row and been .500 in Gainesville (including 0 for their last three).

      UC Coach Butch Jones was an observer at the Sugar Bowl and knows neither Florida nor the Bearcats are the same team today as both depth charts have taken a beating. In UC's case, a significant amount (and group) of seniors moved on leaving their young teammates to pick up the pieces.

      "You look at the challenges they're (Florida) going through and there's so many parallels," said Jones. "It starts with red-zone efficiency. It starts with turnovers. It starts with maturity--youthful individuals growing up. We ask them to grow up in a hurry. It's overall leadership. It's very difficult when you have 12 seniors."

      The end result is youthful mistakes, a reduction in discipline and attention to detail and losses that a year ago would've been wins--particularly at home. It all stems from inexperience and things snowball from there.

      "It's overall energy," Jones noted. "You look at all of the games where we've performed well. You look at Miami, you look at Oklahoma--we made too many costly mistakes--but the energy we had (was good). If a team plays with great energy, they make plays, their production levels go up. That's what we have to get back to."

      Situations like UC's can cause a coach a lot of gray hairs and a lot of late night conversations/therapy sessions with his peers in the business. It's never easy to be on top of the mountain because a fall can wear on you.

      "You do rely on some of your past experiences," said Jones. "The longer you're in coaching, you're going to suffer years like this. It's how you deal with it, how you handle it. It's usually handled appropriately by high character people. It challenges your character."

      Fortunately, Jones' character can be helped along by the countless number of guys he's coached with at both the NFL and the major college level. Working so many hours so close together can make a group tight.

      "You rely on people you respect in the business," said Jones. "A lot of times you'll have mentors and you'll talk in private settings about their team, our team, all those different things that go in to trying to manage your football team."

      Jones wouldn't give specifics, but having coached in Tampa Bay, at Rutgers, West Virginia and being head coach at Central Michigan, his contact list on his Blackberry is probably a little more influential than anyone else's.

      "I've been very fortunate to have coached with a lot of great head coaches and a lot of coaches who are coordinators at the NFL level," said Jones. "I rely on a bunch of those. There's not one person in particular. It's a number of individuals you come in contact with that you have mutual respect for."

      In the shoulda-coulda-woulda department, this team would be no less than 5-4 and maybe as good as 7-2 had the original cast stayed intact and a plethora of mental and physical errors not been committed. After the intitial 14-point burst on Fresno State, injuries started occurring and the overflowing optimism of August gave way to a tentative approach.

      The arsenal of players that Coach Jones took in to Fresno is not the same platoon he's been lining up with on Saturdays since. The Bearcats don't have near the level of experience they had on Labor Day.

      "We don't, but that's football," said Jones. "That's why depth is critical The next individual that comes in has to play at a high level, a championship level. It's gets back to competition. You look at any successful football program at any level and it's all about competition. Competition is the greatest motivator. Playing time is the greatest motivator."

      That's why you rarely see smaller teams knock off majer powerhouses. The starting units are usually not all that dissimilar. However, the second and third levels are drastically superiors at the schools that are able to sustain support and relevance.

      "You look at the teams that win national championships, they have tremendous competiton day in and day out," said Jones. "Practice, in the weight training room, everything they do is based on competition and that's what we're working toward here."

      It's tough to work on such goals though when you lose your top wide receiver (Hazelton), another receiver that would've made an impact (Dyjuan Lewis), another receiver due to a NCAA transfer rule (Kenbrell Thompkins) a running back who would've helped shoulder the load on kick-offs (Darrin Williams) and a starting corner (Dominique Battle).

      Even yet, a key loss happened at Camp Higher Ground as UC lost a young linebacker who would've figured in on the depth chart. UC's linebacking corps is admittedly thin and JK Schaffer and Walter Stewart can't make every tackle (though they try).

      True freshman Solomon Tentman out of Roger Bacon suffered a season-ending injury in training camp in Indiana.  Tentman would've certainly gotten his share of snaps and pushed Schaffer, Stewart and Maalik Bomar.

      "We were excited about the progress that Solomon was making and he had worked himself into the two-deep," said Jones. "That (the injury) was very unfortunate. But I'm very excited because he's a great person of character. He's going to be ready for spring football."

      No question, this season has been difficult to deal with because of the expectations placed on a back-to-back BCS team. But, a quick study of the roster shows you the available parts on hand and there quite honestly are not enough widgets and cogs to make the same machine.

      The upside is, the new parts will blend in and be more effective over time and the rest are on order. Just as Florida's not going to hover around .500, UC's not going to be in this predicament forever.

      That's probably not the short-term answer a lot of cantankerous Gator and Bearcat fans want to hear, but it is the long-term solution.



Bearcat Backcourt Must Play Better

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My analysis of the season opener is pretty simple.

 

Sean Kilpatrick was great.  Yancy Gates was good.  And the starting backcourt of Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon was very disappointing.

 

In Dixon's case, I'm willing to chalk it up to a bad night.  He's looked great at the practices I've attended and played well in the exhibition games.  Dion did pull down 6 rebounds against Mt. St. Mary's but only made 1 of 6 shots - all from inside the arc.

 

"He's playing to his strengths - last year he settled for too many 3-point shots," Coach Cronin told me before the game.  "He's always been a guy with talent, but I think he's matured enough to know what he's good at, what he needs to improve, and he's put a lot of time in.  He's put in more time than any guy on our team in terms of ball drills, shooting drills, trying to play against older guys.  He's been a pleasure to be around every day."

 

Wright started the game solidly by taking care of the ball and making some good passes, but once he made a couple of mistakes it all went downhill.  His decision-making on the fast break was especially troubling.  Cashmere was 1-for-4 from the floor, 1-for-6 from the line, and had more turnovers (5) than assists (4).  The 'Cats will not be significantly improved on offense until they get better point guard play.

 

"Your point guard has got to be a leader," Cronin said.  "He doesn't have to be your best player, but he has to run the team, get the ball where it's supposed to go, he's got to play with confidence, and he has to give other guys confidence.  Cashmere is really trying to do that."

 

Mick told reporters after the game that "Cashmere is a way better player than he showed tonight."  There is no doubt about that, but Wright needs to prove it on a consistent basis. 

 

Cashmere is the only true point guard on the roster, but the sophomore will have company next year with the addition of prospect Jeremiah Davis.  His letter of intent arrived on Monday, giving Cincinnati five recruits in the early signing period.

 

"Jeremiah Davis is a big point guard, although he can play the two if you need him to," Coach Cronin said.  "He's a legitimate 6'2" and his size is an advantage for him.  The game comes easily to Jeremiah.  He knows when to shoot and has great vision as a passer - stuff you can't teach.  He's very calm with the basketball and makes other people better.  He's going to have a great year at Huntington Prep playing with several Division 1 players.  I'm really excited about him because whenever you get a guy who has the feel to make other people better - those guys are hard to find.  We've been after him for three years, so we're excited to sign him."

 

UC still has one scholarship to give and since 6'11" Ibrahima Thomas and 7'1" Biggie McClain are seniors, the remaining target is a big guy.

 

"Absolutely," Mick said.  "We've been going hard after a lot of targets - some junior college guys in particular because of the balance of the class (five high school seniors).  We'd love to get an older big guy since Justin Jackson and Kelvin Gaines are so young, so that's definitely our focus in the April signing period. 

 

"It's definitely the best early signing period that we've had.  We still need to get a big guy, but we signed some really good players and all of them are four-year players.  Our best players right now are probably our freshman, sophomores, and juniors, so it bodes well for next year." 

 

* * * * *

 

Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad.

 

Sam butterfly exhibit 

I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

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

The Morning After: UC 69, MSM 59

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The team and coach reaction from last night's victory against Mount St. Mary's was disappointment. As it should have been. One half of good basketball won't cut it. But UC came away with the win. Granted, it ended up being closer than it should have been, but a win nonetheless and one where the team was very impressive during the first half.

Yet, disappointment was the undeniable theme in postgame.

Not concern, disappointment.

The Bearcats know they can play better, especially Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon, who never could get it going on Monday. They will, but it didn't happen.

There will be plenty more opportuntities to knock around inferior opponents -- about a month and a half worth. So, any disappointment from the first game can be worked out soon enough.

What happened in the second half needed to be addressed and deserved to be talked about -- in fact I did it in last night's column about the developing offense -- but there were a lot of positive that occured in the first half to be encouraged about. Let's start there.

--- UC forced 16 MSM turnovers in the first half. The press really rattled them. And freshman Justin Jackson provided a lot of the disruptive energy. He played 26 minutes,despite not managing a bucket. (I thnk this photo from Gary Landers at the Enquirer says it all

"He may have affected a game as much as you can without scoring a point," Cronin said.

Without doubt, he had four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and three steals. Oh, and no turnovers. We will all be talking about Sean Kilpatrick's debut, but Jackson's wasn't half bad, either.

--- So, let's talk about Kilpatrick. He didn't enter until the 11:28 mark of the first half When he came in the score was 16-11, UC. What began with a lucky bounce on a 3-pointer off the top of the backboard concluded in a run of 13 points and his smooth assist for a dunk to Yancy Gates posting the score at 40-19.

"My role on the team is come in and do what I do and do what coach asked me to do," Kilpatrick said. "Just come in and do whatever coach asked me to do."

 

Monday he scored 21 points in 21 minutes with three rebounds and two steals.

What he does will change regularly because Kilpatrick can do so many things. But if Kilpatrick can provide the offensive spark off the bench, he will be an invaluable weapon for this team.

Cronin needs to learn how best to use Kilpatrick as well. Sure, he's seen him in practice for a year, but understanding how he works best in game situations make take a little bit more time.

"The sooner we can develop him into a consistent scorer, the better he's going to be," Cronin said. "I'm still learning a little bit too what he's best at as far as getting him the ball in certain places. I have said this from Day 1, if he gets it going from outside, he is going to get 20."

Judging by what Cronin sees in practice, it will only be a matter of time. 

"I would love for him to average 21 a game," Cronin said. "I see him every day, Sean's an interesting guy. He loves basketball so much. I don't ever have to motivate him. I have to stop him from getting down on  himself. I just explained to him (the media) are all going to want to talk about his debut, his freshman debut. I don't know where he ranks in Bearcat freshman debuts. I reminded him he didn't have a basket in the last game. Basketball is his life, he lives in the gym, he's got a great attitude."

--- For the record, the best freshman debut was by Dontonio Wingfield in 1993, when he posted 30 points and 12 boards against Butler.

--- Nobody loves talking about free throws more than fans, so I will humor you.

There are few things more frustrating than missed free throws. Free points! And the Bearcats need to be better. Until the final minutes they were knocking down around 50 percent.

Cashmere Wright only made 1 of 6. In fact, an hour after the game in a near empty gym, Wright was out there shooting free throws.

But I actually walk away encouraged by the free shooting. When was free throw shooting really a problem for UC last year (outside of always)? The biggest problem was missing free throws when trying to close out games. Missing free throws when it counted. Missing free throws when teams were one shot away from being buried.

It probably was the difference between NIT and NCAA.

What happened on Monday? For all the missed free throws through the first 35 minutes, UC knocked down 12 of 13 down the stretch to secure the win. How many times did we say that last year?

Who knows if it will continue. Maybe it was just a fluke that the ball started dropping late in the game. But maturity plays a role in the ability to hit FT shots like that when it really matters. To me, the final five minutes means much more than the first 35.

--- Dion Dixon struggled. He's played so well all through the exhibition season, but didn't have it Monday. He finished 1 of 6 from the field with 6 points and 3 rebounds in 33 minutes.

Even worse, he had no assists and three turnovers.

He's a better player than that and he will play better -- hopefully bouncing back Saturday against IPFW.

Cronin said the key will be keeping Dixon's spirits up. He was especially depressed following the game.

"Right now he looks like somebody stole his dog," Cronin said. "You got to learn how to grind as a college player." 

Bearcats Breakfast 11.16.10

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I'm heading over to the Tuesday media luncheon for football this morning, so expect some more football news and notes this afternoon in regards to the Rutgers game on Saturday.

I know the ticket to the game doesn't feel as valuable as it did when you first bought it, but only let me say this, if ever these guys could use some support from the home crownd its now. Sure, it's easy to show up and fill the stadium when the latest win on the road to a perfect season is imminent. It's also easy for the players to run, jump and break tackles all day.

But when the season swoons as it has for UC during the current three-game losing streak, that's when the guys need a lift. You could make a strong argument, in a game like this the fans could have a greater impact than any of the great games seen at Nippert the past few years.

Nobody is telling you what to do with your Saturday night -- and most of my readership is so die-hard, I'm sure you plan on being there regardless -- but this would be an opportunity to help this team work its way out of the hole it currently resides in.

Enough soapbox, let's eat...

--- Scott Springer brings you your Rutgers game preview and assess the fact the Big East has flipped  upside down with some fine footwork from the UC bookstore.

--- Wayne "Box" Miller shows some fire in addressing the football team and it current woes. I like my Miller fiery.

--- Brian Bennett's Week 11 review/Week 12 preview includes  an odd moment the WVU players talked about before the game involving D.J. Woods. I'd file it under "don't poke the bear."

--- Yesterday Butch Jones addressed a situation I wasn't aware of during the game. Towards the end I was busy writing and getting prepared for postgame when apparently Zach Collaros and Jones were seen on the sidelines with Zach unloading some frustration in his direction. It was all caught by the cameras.

Jones said Monday there was not an exchange between the two but rather one player venting over a route run incorrectly that cause him to get hit waiting for the receiver.

Bill Koch has it in his blog.

--- UC hoops received its fifth Letter of Intent for next year's signing class on Monday, it came from combo-guard Jeremiah Davis. Here's some of his background from his hometown paper.

This year he moved on to Huntington (WV) Prep -- where O.J. Mayo went to for his senior season -- in order to better prepare for college.

He's been hotly recruited for a while, and Billy Gillespie even offered him a scholarship as a sophomore in 2008. Some of the bigger names faded away since then, but he said he was considering Oklahoma State, Indiana, Michigan State and Ball State at the final stages.

It's nice get for UC, who can always use somebody who can fill it up.

Now, priority No. 1 moves to finding a big man. They have one spot left and they badly need a power on the block to fill in for Yancy Gates and Ibrahima Thomas once they leave.

--- Check out all the other tidbits from last night's basketball game in The Morning After, which will be posted on the site by 11:30.

--- How about some randomness....  

--- Seeing the end zones at Wrigley Field for the Illinois-Northwestern tilt there makes me wonder why we are forcing this? 

Padded walls or not, that can't be safe.

--- Supporting the team does not mean running onto the field like a moron with no shirt on and getting pummelled by security. Supporting the viral video industry on the other hand calls  for exactly that.

--- Why does this stuff always happen in Florida

--- If there is so much heat on you that you need to buy a bulletproof car, perhaps you need to change more about your lifestyle than just your whip.

--- What a great holiday. And even better PSA. The only problem is everybody knows what happens the other 364 days of the year.

--- You know your dance move has hit the big time when the Wall Street Journal writes about it.

Offense learning how to handle itself

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UC earns a 69-59 win against Mount St. Mary's but has to survive a stagnant offense in the second half to hold on.

 

CINCINNATI - The first 20 minutes spoiled the fans. The final 20 minutes spoiled the night.

 

Instead of soaking in the victory against Mount St. Mary's on Monday night, the Bearcats let out a sigh of relief. The 69-59 win was half good and half bad.

 

To that point, blame can be directed at an offense that dried up to tune of seven second half field goals. During a 10-minute, 28-second stretch of the second half when Mount St. Mary's spun the feeling of the night from confidence builder to teachable moment, the Bearcats managed three buckets.

 

"We panicked early in the second half," Mick Cronin said.

 

The 4,083 that filled a third of Fifth Third felt the panic with them. A scoring drought allowed Mount to cut the lead to four with a minute remaining.

 

Cronin planned on finding out if his team can knock down clutch free throws at some time this season - he didn't expect it to be in game one against a team that finished last season with an RPI of 171.

 

Despite dismal free throw shooting much of the game, they knocked down 12 of 13 to close the contest and secure the win.

 

Over the next five days until the Bearcats take the court against IPFW, however, figuring out how to avoid scoring droughts like the one experience Monday will be the order.

 

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Perhaps we should realize that a team who struggled to score last season and lost its top two players to professional basketball will experience these. Perhaps we forgot that this team will be built on defense and rebounding while watching them rack up 40 points with ease in the first half.

 

This offense will be a work in progress. Every player is learning how to handle new roles and new expectations. On Monday, the lesson came in the form of how to handle a charging opponent.

 

"Once it was around a 14- or 15-point game we tried to kick it into overdrive and score too fast, too early in the shot clock instead of just grinding and getting a basket," Cronin said. "We got a little too aggressive early and tried to force the action trying to build the lead back up. It worked against us."

 

Where in the first half, a pressing defense created turnovers and allowed Sean Kilpatrick to show off his skills in one of the most impressive freshman debuts since Dontonio Wingfield posted 30 points and 12 rebounds against Butler in 1993. Kilpatrick scored 13 points during a 21-6 run that allowed the Bearcats a stranglehold on the lead.

 

But when the team settled for perimeter jumpers instead of working the ball inside, they couldn't score enough to even set up the press. Instead, the offense slowed to a series of misses from Dion Dixon -- who struggled after five strong exhibitions - and Cashmere Wright working his way to a game high five turnovers.

 

"I think we got anxious," said Gates, who finished with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. "Players got anxious to, I don't know, maybe put the team on their back on their own; try to make plays out of the normal that we weren't used to or ready for."

 

This team will endure scoring droughts as the season goes along. All teams do. But on a team relying on a sum of the part to score points, buckets won't always come with ease when no go-to scorer exists.

 

The key will be learning how to pull out of those droughts. When in need of a hoop Monday, the offense ran through Gates. Passes made their way into the lane for Gates to either attack the basket or locate the open player.

 

It's a new role for Gates and one he'll need to adjust to as the season progresses. Particularly in the Big East where every game is decided by critical late game possessions. In big spots, the offense will be running through him all season.

 

"What I liked was he understood when we needed a basket for the most part," Cronin said. "He took on face-up jumper on the baseline once...but he didn't settle for fallaways. He had two great step-through moves when we needed a basket."

 

Now the Bearcats have a template to follow when working through scoring problems. They are learning the way out. The skill will be needed again.

 

That's where Cronin came away disappointed but not concerned. The numbers sit well, but the reaction from his team did.

 

"I am happy because I know our guys understand," Cronin said. "They get it. They have since we started practice back in August."

 

Maybe the second half wasn't a good game spoiled after all. Rather, a test run for this offense to learn how to deal with, well, itself.

 

"Every team has a drought at some point in the season," Gates said. "It shouldn't be every game. That is when you really need to worry when it is every game. I am not really worried about the drought we had tonight. It was our opener, everybody was overexcited. I'm really not worried about it. I am just worried about us getting in practice and getting better."

Plenty of Wiggle Room

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Well the hard thud you just heard was people jumping off the UC football bandwagon and the Butch Jones bandwagon too. Few thought UC had a chance of beating West Virginia in Morgantown but I think everyone just wants to see this team compete game in and game out. I use the Oklahoma game as exhibit a; they loss BUT they competed less a few plays and player lapses. Now comes the Mountaineers game and we're asking ourselves why aren't they playing hard and seemingly going full throttle? 

I can't answer those questions directly but I know one thing to be true; if UC doesn't come out fired up and ready to pounce on Rutgers this week, they will lose all the momentum Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly created because this town is composed of bandwagon fans. They will start thinking UC basketball and high school sports. The Bengals are history this season for the most part and baseball season, minus Reds Fest, is next year. I want to see what coach Jones can create in the form of a rebirth of this team and I want to see what these players are made of with respect to having short term memory loss putting the last game behind them. It's up to the football program to get the respect of the fans back. It's up to the fans to give them another chance. 

UC football, the day of reckoning his here come Saturday. You have to make a statement about yourself and whether you're worthy of fans, even the bandwagon variety. The true fans will stay but the problem is there aren't as many of them as you think. Whether we agree or not with the philosophy of I'm on board as long as you're winning is irrelevant. The important fact is none of the players and coaches should be contributing to that belief or buying in. Internal demise will show outwardly and its toxic to boot.

Somebody will be wearing Bearcat uniforms this weekend; The question is who? Winners or...you fill in the blank.

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

FLIP FLOPS

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uc flip flops.jpg

WHAT: UC vs. Rutgers

WHERE: Back at "The Nipp"

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. when it's good and frosty.

SERIES: UC leads 7-6-1

LAST ONE: The Bearcats opened the 2009 season with a convincing 47-15 win on the road.



      Up is down. Black is white. In is out.

      That's the best way to describe Big East football as early projections have been about as reliable as the numerical projections ill-advised fantasy owners rely on during NFL Sundays.      The defending two-time Big East champion Bearcats now occupy the cellar. Next to them, is a Rutgers team that was 9-4 and won the Beef O'Brady's Bowl (and the admiration of all chain restaurant workers).

      Topping the Big East in 2010 is Pittsburgh, which may have been predictable, but they have just TWO more wins than UC. Next, is Syracuse, last year's "armpit". The Orange are back to playing representative football after being bullied around the last couple of years.

      South Florida then follows albeit by a mysterious route. The Bulls typically are gangbusters starting out, then fold like a house of cards. This season, Skip Holtz has the Bulls on late season surge (which may have started by bringing heated benches to Nippert in 56 degree weather).

      From there, West Virginia, Louisville and Connecticut, all one-time Big East threats, are Jekyll and Hyde. It's split-personality football as you never know which one is going to show. They've all looked miserable and beatable and then have rebounded to look like contenders.

      UC had that look early on. Now, I'm as confused as I've ever been about a Bearcat football team. I guess it all boils down to match-ups and luck, and UC hasn't had much of the latter.

      In previous years, you could kind of get a gage on a team. I've seen a 3-8 team that I actually thought was pretty good and I've seen bowl teams that were just fortunate under Rick Minter.

     Mark Dantonio had two winning seasons at UC and in both had to rally from losing records (2-4 start in '04, 1-3 in '06). Both of those teams put on tremendous late season rallies.

      With Brian Kelly's teams, you kind of just sat back in amazement. You knew the offense could move the football, but you never really felt like you had an overpowering team because of the amount of points the defense (or style of play) would allow.

      With Coach Jones' group, I watched with great excitation the first quick scores against Fresno State and figured this team had not missed a beat. Then, the game imploded and Vidal Hazelton went out injured.

      In game two, I was perplexed at the first half against Indiana State, but then reassured with a powerful second half.

      I didn't see NC State coming in game three, but then was rejuvenated by UC's performance against Oklahoma at PBS (where possessing the football would've meant a win over a Top 10 team). That feeling was magnified the following week by an absolute destruction of Miami (OH) followed by a nice road win at Louisville. 3-2 never felt so good going into the Big East.

      But, BJ Daniels resuscitated USF's offense with a Joe Montana-like performance against UC. Then, Syracuse came in and held the highly-touted Bearcat offense to 7 points. Last week in Morgantown, it was just 10 points against a Mountaineer team that should've been beaten by Marshall early in the season.

      Are their justifiable reasons for this?

      Sure, it involves youth and injuries and a lack of focused recruiting once a certain coach knew he'd be calling the real estate agent. None of that make it less painful though and less curious.

      What it does point out is the absolute truth that the game is a team sport and that when you take "hits" to so many vital areas, it's tough for a handful of guys to handle the residual extra workload.

      If I could bottle the energy and enthusiasm and effectiveness for UC's first two scores of the season against Fresno State, I would. A season full of effort like that and I think we'd all be formulating holiday football plans right now.

      Instead, we're holding onto a thread that the Bearcats can reel off three wins in a row to gain bowl eligibility and at least make the season .500. Unfortunately, Rutgers is in that same predicament as they have holes in their lifeboat as well.

      It all makes for an interesting game.

      It won't have the fervor there was for the weeknight game in '06 when Nick Davila, Brent Celek and the Bearcats knocked off the 7th-ranked Scarlet Knights 30-11, but it will have league-wide implications (for someone).

      Break it up, break it up, break it up, breakdown:


UC OFFENSE VS. RUTGERS DEFENSE


      Barring TO, UC should be able to move the ball. That's not Terrell Owens who has his own issues with the Bengals, that's TO as in TURNOVERS. Catch the ball, possess the ball as the ball is very valuable. Zach Collaros can find his receivers on anyone. The problem is the whole unit is forced into mental mistakes when UC is forced into playing "catch-up" football. Handing a team a lead on a silver platter like they did at WVU is unacceptable. Allowing those mistakes to multiply is worse.

      What it does is take you out of your run game with Isaiah Pead, putting all of the pressure on Zach to make plays and Armon Binns and DJ Woods to contort their bodies in various configurations to catch crucial passes. There's no problem with the offensive talent, there's a great issue with the offensive rhythm that has been thrown off repeatedly this season.

      Also, among the folks you miss the most on offense are guys whose names were rarely called. C Chris Jurek and OT Jeff Linkenbach clearly were bigger factors than anyone could've imagined. If you missed it Sunday, Linkenbach was on the line for the Colts protecting future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.

      Rutgers is obviously playing with a heavy heart after the loss of DT Eric LeGrand from a paralyzing hit early in the year.. Senior LB Antonio Lowery leads in tackles, but their strengths are in CBs Khaseem Greene (4 INT) and Joe Lefeged (2 INT, second leading tackler). The Scarlet Knights can be scored upon (41 by Pitt, 28 by USF). The key for each team in the current Rutgers three-game skid has been a strong running game.


HOW 'BOUT IT?


      IF Isaiah Pead can hit the 100-yard mark, I would predict a Bearcat win. Pead is a weapon that has been constant in the UC victories. Running yards takes significant pressure off the throwing game as this team needs to do more than "chuck and duck". The loss of a change-up in Darrin Williams has probably hurt the Bearcat offense as well (and remember ineligible Travis Kelce ran for two "Wildcat/Bearcat" touchdowns last year in Piscataway).


UC DEFENSE VS. RUTGERS OFFENSE


      Rutgers doesn't exactly have stability at QB this season as last year's sensation Tom Savage, gave way to Freshman Chas Dodd this season (who has the better passing numbers). However, Savage was back in the game last week leaving us with the proverbial "gametime decision" by Coach Greg Schiano. There's also been some issues running the ball. Senior Joe Martinek has a gimpy ankle, and he was replaced by Freshman Jeremy Deering. Deering responded with 166 yards, so perhaps those issues are resolved. Prior to that though, Rutgers was having the most success out of "Wildcat" formations with WR Mohamed Sanu and others. WR Jordan Thomas also gets some carries.

      Sanu is also the biggest pass threat with 41 grabs, but the long threat is Sophomore Mark Harrison at 6-3 and 230 pounds. They also have a massive TE in Junior D.C. Jefferson (6-6, 258).

      You have to figure Schiano and Co. would take some shots downfield on UC's secondary which has been torched and/or confused more often than anyone would like. Reuben Johnson has made some plays this year, but the Bearcats severely miss Dominique Battle and the youth of these players has been taken advantage of week by week. Again, to amplify the losses of last year, Ricardo Mathews (former DL) lined up and played for the Colts vs. the Bengals Sunday. Derek Wolfe usually gives great effort each week and Dan Giordano normally finds the QB, but the lack of depth has made other guys that you noticed last season (Walter Stewart and JK Schaffer) less effective.


IN CONCLUSION:


      Should Jeremy Deering reel off yards like he did against Syracuse, look out. Furthermore, if UC's defense is insistent on drawing yellow flags, this could be another frustrating game at home. The antidote to all of this would be if the Bearcats could be the ones forcing the turnovers and penalties instead of the other way around. A defense depends on its crowd and a couple big plays could get everyone's confidence back.


SPECIAL TEAMS


      Jake Rogers was one of the few bright spots last week as he typically can find the endzone on his kickoffs and drilled a 49-yard field goal to finally get UC on the scoreboard in Morgantown. Patrick O'Donnell is a nice young man, but I'm simply tired of seeing him on the field. With what's at stake at this point in the season, I look at anything from the 40-yard line on as "four down territory".

      Anthony McClung's gotten some turns on kick returns, which might be a good idea since DJ Woods is relied on for so much in the offense.

      San San Te is the most visible member of the Rutgers special teams unit, mainly because he's the kicker with the pony tail. He's had his share of kicks, but his accuracy is questionable making just 13-19. Of note too for the Knights is that PR Mason Robinson has had a 60-yard runback and multi-purpose man Joe Lefeged has returned a kick 75 yards.


THE NOD:


      Rogers over Te on the kicks and over Rutgers P Ted Dellagamma on kickoffs. Having a guy that orbit the ball into the endzone can obviously prevent runback threats. Unfortunately, regardless of my desire not to see any punters, I'm guessing we'll be seeing O'Donnell and his counterpart multiple times.

When it comes to forcing a pass and throwing an INT though, the punt is very desirable play.


WHO DRINKS THE WINE AND WHO STOMPS THE GRAPES?


      In this league...who knows?

      My gut tells me UC gets a better-rounded game this time around and stays alive just so the various national commentators can continue venting on the league. (Realistically, their thoughts are justified based on the numbers. Thus, the stories of TCU, etc.)

      Should UC lose this game I'll have to attribute the cause to mental issues and not physical ones. Yes, they don't have much depth, but the ones that play are as talented and capable as anyone else in the league. I'll leave the speeches and sayings to Coach Jones, but this is where a team shows some guts and pride and plays for the love of the game.          Some of these guys don't have many games left in their careers.

      They can either go out with a hard-fought effort that will serve them well in life, or they can be complacent and get walked over by teams that watched them in BCS games the last two years.

      This game may have very little meaning this year to either team, but could have major implications for years to come on a lot of levels.

      On that note, I'll see you at the UC/IPFW (sounds like a union gathering) basketball game and then under the lights at Nippert.

     Just the way we like it.



By the numbers: BCS teams the next year

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This season has been a disappointment thus far for UC. Some people in my live chat during the WVU game were asking who the last team to go from BCS to not making a bowl were. The truth turns out to be it happens more often than you think. To say the Bearcats are alone in struggling after a BCS bowl bid would be wrong.

Regardless of what happens the rest of this season, a pressure certainly has been amped up to return to top of the Big East next year more than it would have been if UC owned a better record right now.

But it should be noted this year has been one of the worst for teams who were in BCS bowls the previous season. I went back through the last five seasons and found records of the BCS participants the next season.

This year, three teams are at .500 or worse with UC, Georgia Tech and Texas those taking a step backward.

Jones mentioned Texas in a press conference earlier this year and his points are well-founded. This can happen to anybody. Sure, it's disappointing, but is Mack Brown a terrible coach all of a sudden, because of a dip in performance? Has Texas lost it? 

It's unfair to compare UC's developing program to the history, tradition and recruiting classes of Texas, but the principal holds true: No matter how good the program -- even as recent as a year ago -- it all runs in cycles.

Remember, Texas played for the national championship last season.

Notre Dame went from BCS to 3-9.

Two of the recent Big East powers to cycle through and endure coaching changes were West Virginia after Rich Rodriguez left, they went 9-4 the next year under Bill Stewart.

Louisville after Bobby Petrino left went 6-6 under Steve Kragthorpe.   

In all, seven of 48 BCS teams finished .500 or worse the next season.

Fifteen of 38 returned to the BCS (Ten this year TBD)

The average record of a team one year after the BCS is: 9.2-3.2 

The overall record is 404-154. 

Here is the individual breakdown

BCS teams - Next season record

-- B before record stands for return to BCS bowl game

2009

Alabama  8-2

Texas 4-6

Georgia Tech  5-5

Iowa  7-3

Boise State  9-0

TCU  11-0

Florida   6-4

Cincinnati  3-6

Oregon  10-0

Ohio State  9-1

 

2008

Florida  B13-1

Oklahoma 8-5

Texas B13-1

Ohio State B11-2

Utah 10-3

Alabama  B14-0

Virginia Tech  10-3

Cincinnati B12-1

USC 9-4 

Penn State  11-2

 

2007

LSU 8-5

Ohio State B10-3

Kansas 8-5 

Virginia Tech B10-4

West Virginia 9-4 

Oklahoma B12-2

Georgia  10-3 

Hawaii  7-7

USC B12-1 

Illinois 5-7

 

2006

Florida 9-4

Ohio State B11-2

LSU B12-2

Notre Dame  3-9

Louisville  6-6

Wake Forest  9-4

Boise State  10-3

Oklahoma  B11-3

USC B11-2

Michigan  9-4

 

2005

Texas  10-3

USC B11-2

Penn State  9-4

Florida State  7-6 (.500 in reg season, won bowl game)

West Virginia  11-2

Georgia  9-4

Ohio State B12-1

Notre Dame B10-3

Bearcats Breakfast 11.15.10

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For one of the first times in a long time, I didn't really know what to say after UC's loss to West Virginia on Saturday.

After weekend of traveling to Morgantown and feeling a bit of the anticipation of the team, arriving at the stadium and suffering through the 37-10 loss, there weren't really words to describe what happened and how far from expected reality the game played out.

As Ben Guidugli told Bill Koch, "I don't really have words." Nobody did. Nor were they necessary. The game spoke for itself.

In what seems to be the phrase of the season in major Cincinnati area football this season, all you can do is go back to work. The Bearcats have a major project on their hands right now. They can still win three games in a row to become bowl eligibile and that's the new focus. Nobody's happy about it, but that's the new rally cry.

--- Brian Bennett has a number of items you may not want to read. First, what we learned this weekend. Then the bowl projections. And the power rankings.

--- Jim Elliot in WV talks about Butch Jones sounding similar to Bill Stewart, as both have been under fire lately. It makes sense, they both are close and come from the the same train of thought when it comes to coaching football.

--- The bad news started early this weekend as the soccer team lost to Providence in their first ever Big East tournament semifinal game, 2-1. After falling behind early, they scored a goal to pull within one then saw another prime opportunity inside the box sail high in the final minute.

Here are the video highlights.

UC is on the bubble to get into the NCAA tournament and will find out their fate today at 4:30 p.m.

--- In case you didn't get a chance to Friday, I recommend you give a read to the story I was given the honor to write about goalkeeper Matt Williams. Great guy whose been through a lot.   

--- Reading most of this stuff would be more likely to leave you looking for a McRib Sandwich to sink your sorrows into, and despite Mo Egger's rekindled love for the delicacy, I don't want to be an accessory to large intestine murder.

Plus, there is plenty of reason for optimism as the basketball team opens the season tonight against Mount St. Mary's.   

--- In a game of interest to UC from both sides, Dayton beat MSM 67-52 on Friday. The Mount had some trouble hitting shots, knocking down just 30 percent and 3 of 19 from 3-point range.

MSM starts two freshman, including their leading scorer from the Dayton game, Marcus Norfleet.  

--- UC will be heavily favored in each of the next four games before hosting Dayton at US Bank on Nov. 27. That game is shaping up to be a large contest in the frame of the non-conference picture.

Xavier is always tough, but injuries have taken some scare off their team. Oklahoma is a major opponent but they are in a rebuilding year.

Dayton won the NIT and beat UC handily to end last season. It will be the one chance for a win that will make the national landscape turn its head a little bit. Winning the rest of the games won't all be easy, particularly a trip into two MAC gyms (Millett Hall being one of the toughest Mid-Major homes in the country).

But, a win at Miami doesn't grab headlines. Honestly, Dayton doesn't either, but at least grabs a subhead.

This team will make its hay in the Big East conference schedule, but beating a team like Dayton could be a very helpful piece come March.

But enough about Dayton, tonight's about MSM.

--- The Mount finished last year 16-15 and lost to Robert Morris in the Northeast conference championship game just a week after beating them 63-61 to close the season.

--- The Voice Dan Hoard posted a blog on Yancy Gates. We've heard Mick Cronin talk about the progress he's been able to make with Gates this year because he doesn't have to coach effort.

Hoard witnessed it firsthand when attending some practices. Only time will tell if the work ethic of Gates will turn him into the player everyone inside the building believes he can be.

But, as Dan points out, all signs point to significant improvement. Now doing it consistently through every game will show he's turned the corner.

Dan also points out freshman Kelvin Gaines won't play and Cronin said there's a chance he may redshirt. That seems like a strong plan on a team that will already be running at least 10-deep.   

--- A few Big East games of note this past weekend: Georgetown was down eight with 10 minutes to go against Old Dominion before coming back to win 62-59.

Plenty of adjustments being made after losing Greg Monroe. His passing and scoring ability defined their offense last season. Finding a new identity will take time.  

Also, Seton Hall, who many like as a darkhorse to make a run into the upper echelon (many being this guy), lost to Temple 62-56. The Owls are a quality team, currently ranked 24th, but I'm still surprised the Hall didn't pull this one out.

--- Mick Cronin should be happy he didn't schedule Bucknell as a tune up. Because they already pushed Marquette and Villanova to the brink.

--- Congrats to the UC volleyball team for winning the outright Big East conference title. Stephanie Niemer deserves to be an All American and now this team has the No. 1 seed in the tournament.  

--- How about some randomness....

As has been said in this space before, Kentucky is Ohio's Mexico. Only, I don't recall any Mexicans being forced to eat their own beards. What is wrong with people? I'm officially never leaving my car in Kentucky again.

--- Hangover 2 officially has me excited. Spoiler alert on a cameo. And another one.

--- SNL is awful and lazy. Arcade Fire is not. Since I assume you didn't watch SNL this weekend, here's the only five minutes that were tolerable.

-- As I saw good buddy C. Trent Rosecrans RT this weekend: Auburn football: Cheap on the field, expensive off it.  

--- A perfume company is making a scent that smells like Lady Gaga. Does the smell mirror the affect of her music elicit an animal instinct to snap into the fetal position?   

--- Duece Bello is headed to Baylor next season. If you rewind back eight years, his name would have been James White. Holy hops. How about through the legs, from two feet, in a game.

Boomshakala!

See everybody tonight at UC-MSM.

  

Silence Is Golden For Gates

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I attended basketball practice on Sunday and Mick Cronin didn't yell at Yancy Gates once.

 

That speaks loudly.

 

Gates.jpg 

For the past two years, Coach Cronin constantly barked at his highly-touted big man, trying to prod him to give maximum effort and live up to his potential.  At the practices I've attended this year, that hasn't been necessary. 

 

"We had some meetings in the spring - not only with Yancy but with some of the other guys as well - about what it's going to take for all of us to be what we want to be," Cronin told me.  "I think he did a lot of soul searching.  A lot of it is maturity and the willingness to put forth the effort to be who you want to be as a player.  He's still not there, but he's definitely a different athlete, a different player, and he's a much more fun guy to be around."

 

In the Bearcats' two exhibition games, Gates averaged 21.5 points.  Say what you want about the opposition or the fact that the games didn't count, but that's more than double what Yancy averaged in his first two seasons (10.5 ppg).

 

"He's not where he needs to be, but he's on the right path," Cronin said.  "In athletics, you have to be on the right road - working hard, having the right attitude, being coachable - that's going to get you where you're trying to go as a player.  It's making him a better player because he's on the right road.  I just have to keep reminding him that he's on the road, but he hasn't arrived yet." 

 

I'm really looking forward to seeing Gates and the Bearcats as they open the season on Monday night against Mount St. Mary's.  It will be the second game of the year for the Mountaineers, who opened the season with a 67-52 loss at Dayton on Saturday.  Mount St. Mary's is the school where the legendary Jim Phelan coached for 49 years (1954-2003), posting 830 career wins.

 

"I'm ready to get started," Coach Cronin said.  "It's been a long, productive off-season for us . . . but long.  Practice can only get you so far - you have to play somebody else that's going to be prepared and coached to try to beat you.  We a little more size and athleticism that Mount St. Mary's, so we're going to have to use that to our advantage."

 

Our radio coverage on Monday will begin at 6:30 on 700 WLW and 700wlw.com.  My man Chuck Machock will bring a streak of 228 games without being ejected into the 2010-11 season.

 

* * * * *

 

Freshman big man Kelvin Gaines won't play in the season opener after suffering a separated shoulder at practice last month.  The 6-foot-10 Floridian is practicing again after missing several weeks, but isn't ready for full contact.

 

"He may redshirt," Coach Cronin told me.  "I still have to meet with Dr. Colosimo on his shoulder injury - he's out there with a harness right now.  But he may have redshirted anyway because we definitely don't want to waste a year.  He does need to practice - the only way we're going to get him ready to play next year is to have him out here every day practicing hard.  It's good to have him back.  He missed so much time that he doesn't know everything that we're doing offensively." 

 

* * * * *

 

I've spent a lot of time thinking about the state of the UC football team since Saturday's 37-10 loss at West Virginia, and frankly, I'm as mystified as you are.

 

After the win at Louisville lifted the 'Cats to 3-3 overall and 1-0 in the Big East, I thought that the team was gelling under the new coaching staff and had a chance to compete for another conference title.

 

But in the three games since - losses to USF, Syracuse, and West Virginia - the Bearcats have killed themselves with turnovers, penalties, and poor tackling.

 

While UC has some obvious flaws, it appears to me that the team is struggling to deal with high expectations - its own and ours.  After back-to-back BCS bowl appearances, the Bearcats are undoubtedly having a hard time fathoming their current struggles, and are playing tentatively.  When things start to go wrong, it snowballs.  The 'Cats need to relax, play under control, and stick together.

 

Forget about the last two years.  Forget about bowl eligibility.  Forget about Big East supremacy.

 

Beat Rutgers.   

 

I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

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

Bearcats take stock

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The 37-10 blowout loss to West Virginia left the Bearcats with nowhere to look but in the mirror.

 

MORGANTOWN, W.V. - Butch Jones offered no excuses.

 

Standing in a back room of Milan Puskar Stadium, only 15 minutes removed from one of the lowest points in an already season currently defined by lows, he couldn't avoid the obvious. The events of the previous three-and-a-half hours spoke for themselves.

 

During his time on the sidelines as an assistant at West Virginia, Jones' teams devoured numerous opponents who lacked attention to detail in the same fashion of Saturday's blowout.

 

His team wasn't supposed to be one of those. This program hasn't been one of those. Three consecutive losses and 37-10 means that's the unfortunate reality of where this team stands right now.

 

"Right now we don't play with any attention to detail," Jones said. "It's frustrating. All the small things lead to big things."

 

The big things were clearer than the sea of gold surrounding the field.

 

The Bearcats didn't convert a third down in a dozen attempts.

 

They set a school record for the fewest rush attempts in a game with 16. And for the first time in 30 games, they didn't throw a touchdown pass.

 

Zach Collaros threw two interceptions and fumbled.

 

Following a three-and-out to start the game Munchie Legaux backed into a punt for a turnover.  

 

A West Virginia offense with five touchdowns in the previous three Big East games scored four before halftime.

 

UC committed 10 penalties for 96 yards --- each coming at a worse time than the previous.

 

"Before we knew it, it was 28-0," Collaros said.

 

You don't fall behind in Morgantown when West Virginia owns the fourth-ranked defense in the country. Unfortunately, the Bearcats did.

 

Even when attempting to pull themselves back following a touchdown on the first drive of the half and three-and-out, another devastating roughing the passer penalty all but put the Bearcats away. Fitting they did it to themselves. That's the reality Jones and the Bearcats couldn't hide from. They lost to West Virginia and they beat themselves.

 

Coaches and players could fill the entire five-hour bus ride back to Cincinnati discussing what went wrong and how the Bearcats ended up in the surreal situation of needing three wins in a row just to avoid going from BCS to bowl ineligible. Doing so would be a waste of energy.

 

"There's only two things you can do, you can turn back or come in with a mentality to work," Jones said. "No coaches are used to this, our players aren't used to this. Winning is what's expected here. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us."

 

Perhaps the bigger key is UC not feeling sorry for themselves. The Bearcats didn't give the impression of a team beaten despite the 37-10 final score. k

 

"We are a team that doesn't give up," said J.K.  Schaffer, who notched a game-high 16 tackles. "W are going to keep playing no matter what. I know my guys pretty well and we are not going to lay down."

 

Nobody liked what happened on Saturday. The numbers speak for themselves.

 

But Jones still believes his team buys in. He still sees three more opportunities left in front of him. Pundits may not love his team much anymore, but Jones still does.

 

"I love our football team," he said. "I love our kids. We are going through some things that are uncharted waters right now for our coaches and for our players. Our faith is being tested by adversity. Through adversity we are going to be stronger for this."

UC-WVU: Live Chat

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UC-WVU: Matchups to watch

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With the door again ajar for the Bearcats football program, this week officially becomes an elimination game for Cincinnati and West Virginia.

Pitt's loss to UConn leaves UC almost in control of its own destiny where winning out would put them in position to win the Big East.

There will be few tougher games than Saturday against West Virginia.

I want to remind everybody that I will have the live chat up and going from 11 a.m. through the end of the game. Just click on my old man face on the front page of GoBearcats.com and join the conversation with question, comments and hopefully some jokes about West Virginians.

Enough business, let's talk football.

The last time we saw the Bearcats they were beaten handily by Syracuse, 31-7, without starting quarterback Zach Collaros. With Collaros back at QB this week, he brings a lift and certainly some extra confidence for this offense.

The last time we saw West Virginia, they were suffering their second consecutive loss -- this time at UConn, 16-13 in overtime.

The loser moves on to next year as far as the chase for the Big East championship they hoped to be competing for goes. The winner can continue to hang on to hope in one of the oddest years in the history of Big East football.

Let's take a look at the matchups to keep an eye on...

Turnovers vs. Turnovers

WVU is 100th in the country in turnover margin. UC is 112th

This statistic has been the downfall of both these teams. The Bearcats haven't created enough and the Mountaineers can't stop giving them away.

In the two-game losing streak for WVU they have turned it over seven times and took it away only once. That includes four turnovers against UConn.

UC was able to pressure the quarterback force a fumble and grab an interception against Syracuse, but it was the first time they cracked the turnover code much this season.

Whether by WVU giving them up with fumbles or UC forcing them with interceptions, UC must win this statistic to win this game. Must. Period.

Jock Sanders vs. Reuben Johnson

UC has done a good job against the run this year for the most part, but even USF's B.J. Daniels was able to rack up some yards against the defense. And Daniels didn't have much for WR weapons.

Geno Smith does. Jock Sanders is among the best wideouts in the league. While he hasn't been the explosive threat the Mountaineers have hoped he would be, he does still lead the team in receptions with 46 for 413 yards. In a big third-down situation, he will be the first player Smith looks to.

Johnson made a pick against Syracuse, but needs to come up with some defensed passes on third downs to keep WVU from sustaining drives.

Armon Binns and DJ Woods vs. Keith Tandy and Brandon Hogan

West Virginia's defense doesn't allow much. There's a reason they are ranked fourth in the country in total defense and 10th against the run. Grinding out long, sustained drives is difficult. In fact, the Mountaineers are No. 2 in the nation in fewest first downs allowed per game.

How do you score on a team like that? Big plays. Who delivers those for UC? Woods and Binns.

Hitting long plays over the top will be maybe the best bet to put points on the board. 

West Virginia doesn't play a corner taller than 5-10. Binns stands 6-foot-3 and as anyone who reads this blog knows, jumps out of the building.

The key for Collaros will be to look off safety Robert Sands with his eyes and connect with Binns on the shorter DB. Two big plays may be all UC needs with the way the Mountaineers are struggling offensively.   

K Jacob Rogers vs. K Tyler Bitancurt

About 58,000 raging WVU crazies will be shaking the ground of Morgantown if Rogers lines up for a big kick in the fourth quarter. And the way these two teams have played each other in recent history and the similar paths they followed this season, there's no reason to believe a Rogers field goal couldn't end up deciding victory or defeat.

Plus, as difficult as points are to come by, the Cats must cash in if they make it into WVU territory. They've forced nine field goals in the last three games. 

Rogers is 8 of 10 on the season and has made seven in a row since missing from 52 yards out against N.C. State.

Bitancurt has been above average as well. He's connected on four in a row, including a key 42-yarder against UConn.

His two misses against LSU pretty much cost WVU the game in Death Valley.

FINAL LOOK

As far as predictions go, I have never made one on this blog, nor will I start for this game. I will say this, however, UC wants this game to turn into a shootout. If they are able to move the ball on the WVU defense, it means they are enforcing their style and tempo. A close, low-scoring game would be exactly what the Mountaineers have been playing al year and where they are comfortable. 

As I said at the top, turnovers will probably decide which type of game that is. Enjoy it. 

A closer look at Cronin's signing class

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Mick Cronin officially introduced the newest four members of the University of Cincinnati basketball program on Thursday. He called it his best class in the early period since coming to the Bearcats.

If you want to listen to his entire signing class press conference.

It may be, but those labels are bets placed on teams three or four years down the road. We shall see.

But, nobody can deny the depth of talent Cronin is able to collect now has far exceeded where this program was even a few short years ago.

It was ranked 26th nationally by Scout.com.

When I talked to Mick about recruting this past summer he talked about it being like a high school cafeteria. You needed to be sitting at the right tables. If you weren't there, you had no chance at eating the best food.

The first year he was here, not only was he not at the right tables, he wasn't in the cafeteria. He coming out of detention eating the PB&J from his packed lunch as he runs down the hall trying to get to the lunch room.

Now, this class didn't have the big-name star like last year's freshmen with Lance Stephenson. Of course, Lance came during a late offseason push and the Bearcats still have two spots remaining, one of which Cronin hopes to have announcement about this weekend. (Of which I have no idea about, so when I find out, you'll find out. The rest is just speculation)

But the depth of talent with Jermaine Sanders, Octavius Ellis, Shaquille Thomas and Ge'Lawn Guyn infers the days of sitting on the outside looking in are gone.

Cronin isn't sitting with Roy Williams, John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski right now (the cool guys own their own luxury suite right next to the cookies), but he isn't far off.

Sanders and Thomas are both four-star recruits by Scout and in ESPN's top 150. Ellis and Guyn are three-star recruits by Rivals.

There are no throwaway recruits anymore. Not that there were before, but if you are only as strong as your weakest link, the Cats weakest links are much stronger than they have been in this class. And there's more to come.

The difference between this class and being a top 20 in the nation is a return to the NCAA tournament more serious clout in the Big East. Yet another reason this season is so critical to the future of the program.  

Let's take a look at what Cronin and others are saying about these guys.

Jermaine Sanders, 6-foot-5, wing:

"Jermaine Sanders is the guy we had to get," Cronin said. "He can do it all as a player but most importantly he does it as a teammate.  Jermaine can score in bunches, yet he is a great passer.  He has a gift of feel for the game that cannot be taught, and that makes him special.  'Maine' is also a Rice Raider, home of Kenny Satterfield and many other great players that won big in high school as part of one of the great basketball programs at any level.  Jermaine also led his New Heights AAU team to many championships, he is a big time get for Cincinnati basketball."

Sanders comes in as game-ready as anybody by size and style. Unfortunately, I can't say I've seen him play. But by all accounts he sure sounds like a more offensive-minded version of Rashad Bishop. 

Here is an in-depth story about his game from SNY.tv  

The NY Daily News had this story about Sanders as well.

And a highlight video from the Roundball Classic. He first shows up at the 1-minute mark.

 

Shaquille Thomas: 6-7, 195 pounds, wing:

Thomas comes in with the most upside of any player in this class. As a pure athlete, he's among the best in the country. Cronin talked about him flying from the free throw line for dunks. (James White anybody?)

Here's his comment:

""Shaq Thomas has unbelievable upside as a basketball player.  At 6-foot-8, he has the ball-handling skills of a guard as well as shooting ability from the perimeter.  Shaq is one of the best athletes in the country who can jump out of the gym.  He has to develop his strength and conditioning, and we have the best strength coach in the country for that in Dave Andrews.  Shaq is just a tremendous talent and we are very excited he is a Bearcat."

Thomas is a nephew of NBA star Tim Thomas and attended four different high schools in four years. A curious case, but one that appears to bright.

How about a highlight video:

 

 

Octavius Ellis, 6-8, 190 pounds, forward:

The kid from Memphis has a load of athleticism. Here's what Cronin had to say about him:

""Octavius Ellis is a skilled big man.  He can shoot, handle and pass and he is not done growing.  He and Shaq have great upside as players with skill and athleticism.   'Te' can also rebound and block shots and is a very competitive young man with a desire to improve and be great.  I love his potential as a basketball player as he has size and skill which are hard to find." 

 A big man who can handle the rock is a rarity and this video has some examples of that -- and remmber, this video is from 2009. He's got two years of seasoning and growing since this was made. He averaged 17 and 8 boards for his high school team as a junior.

 

 

Ge'Lawn Guyn, PG, 6-3, 175 pounds:

He's a local kid from Georgetown and will be given time to develop behind Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker.  

"Gee is a competitor flat out," Cronin said. "In recruiting you find every now and then a player that you believe in as a coach that is going to personify winning and for me that is Gee.  He is a tough guard with great speed with the ball, but his work ethic is his biggest asset.  Gee is a true Bearcats basketball player as he just outworks his opponent each and every day.  Gee can play and he is already the leader of one of the best prep teams in the country at South Kent."

 

He was on Team Indiana Elite and caught the eye of some scouts with his play there this past summer.

And the kid can finish at the hoop. Don't believe me? Believe this.

Bearcats Breakfast 11.12.10

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If you're here looking for the Breakfast, I have some bad news. I'm currently on the Bearcats bus headed in the direction of West Virginia and apparently my phone will not allow me to scroll any further down than the main screen on the blog. So, this is it, for now. Attempt to proceed with your life without me. I know it will be tough, but I believe in you. 

I will have plenty of stuff once we arrive and of course open the live chat from Morgantown at 11 am. 

Cathy's boy

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The Bearcats soccer team will play Friday in the Big East Final Four for the first time in school history. The journey to this spotlight has been extra special for the goalkeeper who helped deliver them there.

 

CINCINNATI - Cathy Williams wasn't just a soccer mom. She was the ultimate soccer mom.

 

Cathy and her son, current Cincinnati senior goalkeeper Matt Williams, were surrounded by the game. A 5-year-old Matt could be seen on the sidelines of Deering High School in their hometown of Portland, Maine, as the ball boy running after every errant pass. It was only the beginning.

 

Matt loved playing soccer and Cathy loved watching him.

 

Whether practice or game, tournament or scrimmage, from youth league to high school, Cathy and her son was there.

 

She never missed a game.

 

If the young team needed a coach, she helped coach. If work got in the way, she restructured her schedule. If another engagement popped up, it took a back seat.  

 

She never missed a game.

 

"Matt is her pride and joy," said Richard Libby, Matt's father.

 

Her pride swelled along with Matt's ability. He eventually became the leading goal scorer and goaltender for Cheverus High. Before long, Cathy would be joined on the sidelines by Division I college coaches. 

 

Only, once Matt settled on living his dream of playing Division I soccer at Cincinnati, Cathy couldn't be at every game. Her absence had little to do with distance from Maine to Ohio.

 

In fall of 2005, Cathy Williams was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors gave her less than two years to live.

 

The conversation arose about Matt returning home during the process instead of staying at Cincinnati. The family decided Matt should stay with the Bearcats. In a time where tough decisions were the norm for the Williams', this one wasn't.

 

"My mom was always about me doing what I wanted to do regardless of how she felt," Matt said. "She said, 'Make your decision as if I was healthy.'"

 

So, Matt did. Within two years he assumed the starting job in goal for the Bearcats. He's started all 50 games he played in spanning the past three seasons.

 

Cathy made it to three. Matt remembers each one with meticulous detail. He calls it his "Mighty Ducks" moment. Emilio Estevez's character in the hockey trilogy said when his dad was at games, he wanted to score 100 goals.

 

"I felt the same way," he said. "When she came, I really wanted to play incredible."

 

She witnessed the first time he ever played a college game - in mop up duty against Seton Hall.

 

"I got in for like six minutes," he said. "But it didn't' matter because she was there."

 

A year later, with Matt in his first year as starter, Cathy's cancer was progressing to the point air travel was not an option. But when the Bearcats traveled to the northeast to play Providence and UConn, no illness would keep Cathy from seeing her boy.   

 

She hopped in a car and made the three-hour drive down.

 

"I don't know how she did it," Matt said.

 

She saw her son pitch a shutout in what ended as a 0-0 tie against Providence where UC hit the post in overtime.

 

Then, she witnessed the Bearcats holding a 1-0 lead against powerful UConn with only six minutes remaining. Only, the Huskies put together a late charge to not just tie the game on Matt, but end up sticking him with the loss on a second goal.

 

"I was a nightmare," Matt said, recalling how devastated he was personally.

 

It was the last game Cathy would see her son play.

 

"We lost to Georgetown in early November," Matt said, "then I got a call from my step dad who said he thought it was time for you to come home; your mother is not doing so well. I was home for a month and she ended up passing away.

 

"It was tough. It was definitely an emotional time."

 

MOVING ON

 

Matt returned to Cincinnati the next season to resume his soccer career. Even though Cathy was no longer with him, he knew playing on would be her wish. More specifically, not quitting would be the ultimate tribute.

 

"That's one of the things that really stuck with me was her battle with it," Matt said. "That's what makes me want to keep playing and makes me want to do what I do because this woman never gave up even when her chances were slim."

 

Matt has done more than just keep playing, he's elevated his game to a higher level.

 

This season, he posted the best goals against average for a single season in Cincinnati history at 0.61. That number ranks 11th in the nation. His 20 career shutouts are good for second on UC's all-time list.

 

On Thursday, he was named third team All-Big East Conference goalkeeper.

 

Ever humble, Matt's quick to distribute credit to the back line of freshman Alex Hadley, senior Chris Mitchell, sophomore Roger Thompson and junior Sam Klosterman.

 

But few can deny Williams presence in the net put UC in position to make a run at a Big East tournament title.

 

"He's been doing it all year for us," coach Hylton Dayes said. "He comes up big for us."

 

Dayes and Bearcats program did their best to return the favor.

 

On Senior Night at Gettler Stadium against Syracuse, all senior's mothers and fathers would walk out on the field with them. Matt made a special request for a moment of silence to be made for Cathy.

Matt's support structure spans deep into a family tree he says represents "more than just a last name." Father, cousins, sisters, step parents and step brothers formed a cavalry of family supporting Matt just as they did through the difficult time two years prior.

 

As they stood out on the field where Matt lived out the dream he and his mother discussed on so many trips to tournaments and dinners after games, the moment of silence struck the entire family simultaneously.

 

"I don't think there was a dry eye out there as far as our family goes," Libby said. "I think there was nine of us on the field and every one of us had tears in our eyes. It was pretty emotional."

 

Little did they know the emotional ride was only beginning.

 

'SHE'S ALWAYS THERE WITH HIM'

 

Despite Matt's strong season and the stingy play of a defense ranked among the best in the country, they finished the season 7-4-7 overall and 5-1-3 in the Big East. Entering the Big East tournament as the No. 2 seed in the Red Division, they would need a stronger resume to make the NCAA tournament.

 

Monday's arrival of UConn, ranked ninth in the country, represented a chance. It was a chance to keep alive hope of the NCAAs and a chance to reach the semifinals of the Big East tournament for the first time in school history.

 

After an early Bearcats score, UConn would eventually tie the game. A scoreless overtime sent the match into penalty kicks. 

 

For Matt, the situation held extra significance. Not only could this be the final college soccer game he plays, but here it was against the same UConn program that sent him to a devastating loss in the final game Cathy saw him play two years prior.

 

Libby, standing on the sidelines, noted the silence falling over the stadium at every UConn penalty kick. Matt didn't notice any of it. All he saw was the opponent and the ball.

 

"I was just zoned in," he said.

 

The first kick Matt stopped was nothing but a guess. He got lucky and picked the correct direction.

 

Stopping one penalty kick was difficult and might have been enough to earn UC the win.

 

When Matt used a combination of research and gut instinct to pick off a second, his performance changed from special to legendary.

 

"Something about it told me to dive left," Matt said. "Maybe it was mom telling me, I don't know."

 

He called it the biggest moment of his soccer career. Hard to argue.

 

With UC only needing one goal to earn the win, Thompson buried the ball in the net to set off a wild celebration of teammates jumping and sprinting down the field.

 

Matt didn't follow them. He couldn't.

 

He dropped to his knees with only one thought on his mind.

 

"All I could think about was her," Matt said of his mother. "It was an incredible feeling. She was there."

 

For Matt, this feeling represented so much more than earning a game Friday against Providence in New York City on national television. It represented more than an historic win for a Bearcats program he's dedicated five years of his life to. It represented more than one of the great personal victories of his career.

 

"To me it was like a culmination," Matt said. "It was five years coming that we were able to do this. One of the things my dad kept saying was your mother would have been so proud of you. She's so proud of you right now. That hit me really hard."

 

In the biggest moment of Matt's career, there was no doubt in his mind she played a role.

 

"No matter what, she's always there with him," Libby said. "That's how we all feel."

 

Indeed, she never missed a game.  

Bearcats Breakfast 11.11.10

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Tomorrow at this time I will be writing this blog while on the bus ride to Morgantown. Well, sort of, we'll actually be staying in Washington, Pa. Which as far as I can tell contains a Holiday Inn, Casino & Racetrack and a TGIFriday's. Jack Daniel's Grill it is, I guess.

The trip should be fun, of course, most of that's depending upon the outcome of Saturday's game against WVU. The majority of the country isn't giving the Bearcats much of a chance. For recreational use only lines have the Cats as 6-point underdogs.

The good news: It appears Zach Collaros will definitely be the starter. Butch Jones said as much after practice on Wednesday.

Chazz Anderson did the best he could in relief, but there's few QBs in the country that could duplicate what Collaros has done this season. He makes this offense go with both his experience, skill and leadership.

Plus, he's apparently riding a hot hand after taking down video game maven Vidal Hazelton in Madden last night.

Let's eat...

--- And on the 7th day God gave a game time for UC-Rutgers.

It took longer than everyone involved would have liked but we now know UC will host Rutgers on Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. That also means the UC hoops game against IPFW will be at 1 p.m. at Fifth Third.

Should be a busy day on campus. I will be doing the double dip. I recommend you do as well. In fact, if you've got a great tailgate cookout you're doing in between, let me know, I will happily give you all the inside information I have about UC athletics (minimal) for as much food off your buffett as I can stomach (significant).

If that sounds like a fair trade off, let's talk about it.

--- Bearcats Blog offers up a conversation with WVU blogger from Eye and Eer. It's a good look into what to expect from WVU on Saturday.

--- WVU and UC actually have two big games this weekend, the first comes tonight between Pitt and UConn. Those two teams -- along with the rest of the middling Big East pack --- need UConn to win and knock Pitt back in the standings.

A UConn win would put much more significance on Saturday's game since both WVU and UC still have a game with Pitt left and could flip into first place by winning that.

--- Our man Brian Bennett previews Pitt-UConn.

--- He also dropped the power rankings with UC No. 7. Of course, as fluid as these have been all year, a win over WVU probably moves them up to second or third.

--- Bill Koch talks about why the Bearcats haven't been practicing as much at their new practice facility.

--- The Charleston Daily-Mail talks more about Butch Jones return to Morgantown.

--- Brian Grummell of FanHouse talks Big East parity.  

---  Tom Gelehrter, the hardest working man in Bearcats new media, premiered Bearcats Basketball 2010 last night. You can watch it right here as the players and Mick Cronin preview the season.

--- If you're a hoops head, you probably already know Pat Forde's Minutes are a great read. His first of the season debuted. It doesn't mention Cincinnati, but plenty of topics that will affect the Bearcats.

--- OK, how about some randomness...

--- The Tuberous Bushcricket would go for it on fourth-and-2 every time.

--- From the moment I saw the one-letter solve on Wheel Of Fortune, I assumed she cheated. I was wrong. Apparently, she's just really friggin good at WOF.

--- Rex Ryan dressed up like his brother, Rob. How can you not love this guy? I'm sure right after he went and ate a GD snack. (NSFW)  

--- I've been to Huntsville, Ala., that's about right.

--- Finally, a special thanks to all veterans who have served. Now go have lunch on me.

Bearcats Breakfast 11.10.10

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With more on my plate right now than Cam Newton's compliance officer, I am going to combine the UC-IUS: Morning After with the Breakfast today.

There's plenty of basketball and football news, plus, I'm cooking up a little something extra this week I hope you'll enjoy. So, that's enough small talk, let's dive in.

--- I had these news and notes from Butch Jones' press conference yesterday. Of course, the biggest news everyone wants to know about is the health of Zach Collaros. From the quarterback's mouth himself, he sounds ready to go. Couple his statements with those of Jones and all signs point to Collaros' return at WVU.

Though, nothing is official yet from Jones and UC.

--- If you would like to hear all of the Jones presser yesterday, it is posted here.

--- Tony Dobies points out some of the similarities between WVU and UC. Patrick Southern at BearcatInsider does the same. These are two teams with obvious strengths. The UC offense and the WVU defense.

Making silly mistakes and the inability of the other side of the ball to make plays have turned promising seasons into disappointment for both sides. And, for both teams, this game will be a determining factor in the importance of the rest of the season.  

--- Brian Bennett writes about Butch Jones dealing with injuries through a roller-coaster season as he returns to Morgantown.

--- The Rutgers game time is still not known as of the time I type this. It was supposed to be known yesterday, but no word. It should be very soon, though, and will determine the time of the IPFW game that day.  

--- Of course, what would the Breakfast be without a side dish of expansion talk! Brett McMurphy at FanHouse says the BE and TCU are perfect long-distance partners.

(Sidenote: Fritzy from the Dan Patrick Show came up with the line of the day yesterday by suggesting TCU should be on the cover of SI this week with the headline: Me So Horned Frog)

Hard to argue these two match. The BE desperately needs to up its football profile and add teams -- particularly one in the No. 5 TV market. TCU desperately needs a conventional way into the BCS.

--- Dr. Saturday points out an unfortunate trend surrounding Bill Stewart's coaching tree.  

--- A pretty mundane game against IUS last night. As I wrote in my column, the Bearcats did what was expected during the exhibition season -- they blew out two inferior teams.

They didn't pull a Tennessee or a Xavier, upsets happen every year and there is something to be said for winning.

--- Biggie McClain saw some minutes in the two exhibition games. He scored six points last night. I don't know how much he really makes his way into the rotation this year -- although Mick Cronin stated he plans on Biggie playing some.

Regardless, McClain talked with BearcatLair about the fact he came close to leaving the team.

--- UC is clearly making a conscientious effort to push the tempo more this season. The style fits Cashmere Wright better, who loves running up and down.

"I love the way we play now," Wright said. "We just keep running."

Wright went on to brag on the conditioning the team. Cronin talked about Yancy Gates and Ibrahima being in the best shape of their lives. Everyone running the court created a number of easy buckets on Tuesday, many for dunks and ally-oops.

The credit went to strength and conditioning coach Dave Lawson.

"All that goes to Dave," Wright said, "all the running the football field and everything over the summer."

--- Pushing the tempo only means so much if everybody can't finish, but the overall depth in players who finish in traffic helped improve the Cats fast break offense this year, as well.

Wright said it's a different feeling leading a break in comparison to year's past.

"The biggest thing, right now we can pass the ball to anybody," he said. "Right now, we might have a four on two, we know whoever we pass to can make the play."

--- Justin Jackson continues to show promise. The guy plays with so much intensity it's scary.

Ibrahima Thomas won the award for most relaxed player in a postgame presser setting last night and compared Jackson to a remote control car set on high in between bites of potato chips.

"The cars just go," he said.

The postgame presser is best viewed rather than read -- check it out here.

--- These games served as an opportunity to show off some depth for Cronin. The versatility of the type of games this team can play was encouraging.

They are well-equipped to handle a number of different opponents.

"We can play different," Cronin said. "We have big lineups and we have pressing lineups. If we need to go small we can do that if we have to. With Yancy now, if we play somebody with a five-man who can shoot it, he can go out there and defend."

--- Stat of the night: UC outrebounded IUS 66-30. That's absurd.

Most of it was due to the physical advantage, however, the Cats should be a strong rebounding team again this year. Their first major test in that department will come against Dayton on Nov. 27.

With Chris Wright back, their frontline and athletic guards will crash the glass as hard as anybody the Cats see all year.

--- Quote of the night: Mick Cronin on Jazz Ferguson scoring 34 points, but putting up 29 shots for the Grenadiers: "My dad wouldn't let me do that at LaSalle back in the day."

--- All right, last but not least, how about some randomness....

Among the top 3 words I never want surrounding Missile Launch: Mysterious.

This is the equivalent of The More You Know, if it were aired on Moustache TV. (Another unfulfilled genius concept)

In honor of the UC soccer team advancing to the BE Final 4, here's a soccer video to close. When I played soccer, this was the one move I always wanted to pull but never could.

 

As expected

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The Bearcats take care of business against physically overmatched Indiana University Southeast in the team's final exhibition, 91-63.

 

CINCINNATI -- Teams aren't supposed to be outrebounded, 66-30. The Bearcats did on Tuesday night against Indiana University Southeast.

 

That pertinent statistic lingers somewhere between unfair and immoral.

 

But, when owning a 50-pound or six-inch advantage on the defender, it's reality. The Bearcats offset the Jazz Ferguson showcase with a 54-16 bludgeoning in the paint best set to the soundtrack from 300.

 

Ferguson shot 29 times and poured in 34 points for the Grenadiers. The 16 times he missed, UC would rebound and crash the opposite direction. Many times it resulted in slams, some of the ally-oop variety.

 

The second half was laced with botched dunk attempts and ESPN highlights gone wrong - the type of sloppiness to be expected in an exhibition rout against an NAIA school.

 

In the end, the final tally would be 91-63, home team. Or, more precisely, with this type of talent mismatch -- what's to be expected.

 

Fluid offensive movement distributed to ball to four players in double figures on 22 assists. Cashmere Wright thrived by pushing tempo on his way to 10 points and four assists. Ibrahima Thomas filled the lane while scoring nine of his team-high 21 points during a 20-5 first-half run. Yancy Gates dunked. Dion Dixon continued to impress (15 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds). Justin Jackson played with the relentless energy of a two-year old on a Pixy Stix bender.

 

Everyone shared the ball and the love with enough excitement and happiness you expected Double Rainbow Guy to play point guard in garbage time.

 

"Guys are getting more focused," said Thomas, who added eight rebounds. "We get to the point that nobody worries about who scores or who is the leading scorer. You look at the way we play. We got four guys in double figures. That is just the way we play. We don't worry about who scores or who has the most points."

 

All is well. All is happy. Of course, it's hard not to be when beating up on inferior opponents in exhibitions.

 

The game changes on Monday.

 

"I'm just excited to start the season," Mick Cronin said of the regular season opener against Mount St. Mary's. "Our approach is always to play hard, share the ball. We have more guys that can score. We have more veterans we have a deeper team, a better team."

 

It appears that way to this point, but the Bearcats haven't accomplished anything yet. Their record still stands at 0-0. Most pundits across the country still see them on the outside looking into the NCAA tournament picture.

 

Wins against a team from Canada and NAIA squad aren't changing those facts.

 

Encouraging signs came at every turn over the past few months. Optimism flows from each corner of Fifth Third Arena.

 

Even statistics that gave this team fits last year - like going 8 of 35 over the two exhibitions from behind the 3-point arc - were met without concern by Cronin.

 

"I'm not concerned with our outside shooting at all," he said. "Our footwork wasn't good tonight. We shoot the ball well; we have shot the ball well since the first day we started practicing. I am more concerned with our shot selection."

 

Cronin appears as outwardly optimistic about this team than any during his tenure. This version owns the capability to make a splash in the Big East and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since Cronin took over.

 

Of course, so did last year's.

 

Cronin and the 15 players in his locker room believe this season will be different. The overwhelming wins in two glorified practices infer they are well grounded.

 

Though, that's what was expected. 

 

Thankfully, the wait to begin peeling away at the real truth sits only six days away.

CAN'T START A FIRE WITHOUT A SPARK

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anderson.jpgbutchjones3.jpg

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(photo courtesy espn.com)


      While many in Cincinnati mourned the death of former Reds manager Sparky Anderson last week, some forget that he actually managed more seasons for the Detroit Tigers. After guiding "The Big Red Machine" from 1970 to 1978, he was the skipper of the Tigers from 1979 to 1995.

      As big as he was in Cincinnati, he was equally as popular in the Detroit area. This week, I found out that UC football coach Butch Jones once had a chance meeting with the Hall of Famer that he'll remember forever.

      "Especially growing up in Michigan and being a Tigers fan," said Jones. "I still remember 1984 as if it were yesterday and the 'Bless You Boys' as they were called."

      That's what made Sparky Anderson special. He won two World Championships with the Reds in '75 and '76, then later won another in Detroit in '84. Yet, if you met him, you'd find that he had absolutely no ego.

      This past Tuesday at his weekly press conference, Jones told me how honored he was to meet Anderson and how his lessons in life ring true.

      "A couple of years ago, I had the great honor of spending a half day with Sparky," said Jones. "I ran into him kind of unexpectedly in Ann Arbor as he was visiting some people in town. I was able to sit down with him and speak about how you manage personalities and the day-to-day process, the grind of a season and how you motivate."

      Jones found it very rewarding as he's long been a student of leadership methods in many areas. When you've got the attention of man with multiple championship rings, it's usually wise to listen.

      Some may think running a competitive team is a breeze, but there's much more involved than many think. A lot of it has absolutely nothing to do with the game itself.

      "It's hard to manage a collection of great athletes," said Jones. "You have egos you have to manage and personalities and all that. You look at all the great players he managed--he was able to get the best out of each and every person. To me that's the mark of a great manager, a great coach."

      Certainly, short term results are always at the forefront of everyone's minds, but to guys like Anderson and Jones (and many others along the way) it's the long term relationships that make the coaching profession rewarding.

      "It's the lives that you touch five, ten, fifteen years down the road," echoed Jones."

      Having covered athletics at every level for about 25 years, I can honestly say I've never heard one negative word uttered about Sparky Anderson. Butch Jones knows you can't please everyone, but many of Anderson's characteristics are ones he'd like to emulate.

      If you see him interact with his players off the field, in the hallways or during non-practice time, you can see those qualities are there. Unlike some coaches, it's not an act. Jones' players are more than his "employees".

      Ditto with Anderson. Guys that played for him still kept in contact up until his death.

      "Humbleness, his ability to mold a collection of great players into one unit," said Jones when asked what stood out about Anderson's career. "One mindset--the way he was able to shape a club and make it one team. To me, that's what it's all about."

      Perhaps you're not seeing the immediate results that you've been accustomed to in this season with UC football. No one is happy about it, especially Jones.

      But, what you don't see are the many "curves" they've been thrown.

      Specifically, Vidal Hazelton was declared out for the year after the first game, Travis Kelce is sitting out this year due to a violation of team rules, starting corner Dominique Battle is injured and out for the year, running back Darrin Williams is probably out for the year and Tennessee transfer Kenbrell Thompkins can't play until next year as ruled by the NCAA.

      Sure, those are excuses and every losing team has them, but those are also all facts.

      Delving further into facts, there's something teams put out called a depth chart. Obviously, it lists 11 positions on offense and defense with the top two players listed at each spot. So, 44 players in all appear on what's commonly called "the two-deep".

      Well, guess how many are no longer here from last season's Sugar Bowl appearance?

      Close to half of them.

      Translation?

      This wasn't going to be an experienced, senior-laden team regardless of the coaching situation.

      That's not to say this season is lost or things won't be better. They will.

      This young defense reminds me of the youngsters that played on Mark Dantonio's 2005 team that eventually turned into a pretty hard-hitting intense unit the following year.

It's the school of "hard knocks" and a diligent leader is needed at such an institution. That's why Butch Jones pulls from every area he can find, including spending time with Sparky Anderson.

      In football, he's worked under Ray Perkins in the NFL, he followed Tampa Bay assistant Doug Graber to Rutgers, he worked with Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia and Brian Kelly at Central Michigan.

      In terms of other influences, Coach Jones has many. Most notably, his regimented routines come from his father's career in law enforcement. (In a previous interview, Coach Jones told me if he weren't a football coach, he'd be a police officer.)

      "Obviously, first and foremost, my father," said Jones of the role models he's studied. "Then all of the assistant coaches I've been around, NFL head coaches. I met Jim Leyland (former Pirates and Tigers manager). All of those people you come in contact with in one shape, form or another."

      It's these things and more that help Butch Jones keep focus in unchartered waters (with a losing record). If you examine all of the coaches mentioned in this article, you'll find that while they all had success, they've all also had losing records at one point or another. Sparky Anderson once lost over 100 games with the Tigers.

      That's why you hear such sayings as, "Hold The Rope" from Coach Jones on occasion.

As long as you're holding the rope, you've got a chance to pull yourself up.

      I can assure you, Butch Jones is not letting go.









News and notes from Butch Jones

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Not a whole lot of news came from the Butch Jones' Tuesday media conference, but a few small tidbits did stand out.

--- Probably the biggest bit of news was the RB Darrin Williams is likely done for the season. There originally was a hope that he would return for the West Virginia game, but what was thought to be a high ankle sprain turned out to be a little more serious. Williams had a screw put into his ankle and is working his way back from that.

"Initiallly we were counting on him for WVU -- that hasn't materialized," Jones said. "We're anticipating he'll be out the rest of the season."

--- Injuries took on a common theme as Jones made his way through the 20-minute session. He, of course, touched on the status of Zach Collaros and reiterated the encouraging signs that he will play on Saturday, but sounded a little less definitive than on his conference call.

He said they would put Collaros through full game-like conditions on Tuesday and have a better idea then.

There is an expectation that won't be a problem, but we will find out more on Wednesday.

--- Ever since Vidal Hazelton went down in Fresno, for me, it's been the saddest story of Bearcats season. All Hazelton wanted to do was have an opportunity he waited two years for. Then one half and six catches into his first game he was out for the year. (Well, maybe, if you follow his Twitter account Hazelton is making bold predictions for the UConn game)

Jones compared the loss of Hazelton to what it would have been like had Mardy Gilyard gone down last year. It'd be hard to argue with him there. Those were the expectations and Hazelton came with as much physical skill and hype as Gilyard -- if not more.

His loss not only affected the offense, but a kick return game still searching for somebody who can provide a spark. UC is one of 15 FBS schools without a kickoff return of longer than 30 yards this year.

Last year they averaged 28.5 yards a return -- good for second in the country.

Hazelton was supposed to be that guy. And the incredible progress he's made in his return shows how much he cares about playing the game.

Jones said he had a conversation last week with Hazelton and the senior said, "Why did this have to happen to me? Why?"

Your heart just goes out to a guy like that.

--- Most importantly, Jones pointed out the injury problems haven't been as much about one player as an accumulation.

When you consider Isaiah Pead missed time ("He really hasn't been healthy all year," Jones said. "You look at the Miami game, the Oklahoma game when he was extremely healthy, it's been a learning process for him.) Hazelton, Collaros, Dominique Battle, the ineligibility of Kenbrell Thompkins and Dyjuan Lewis, Maalik Bomar missing practice weeks and the suspension of Travis Kelce.  

"The injuries this year have been very, very challengeing. It's the injureis at key postitions that has really hampered us a little bit. More than I have ever been a part of. When you are putting pieces in on a week to week basis, I think that adds up. When your key components are out for the season, yeah, that adds up.

"We're not the only team that's going through it, most teams are going through what we're going through."

---  Also, the game will air locally on CW at noon on Saturday.

--- This is a homecoming of sorts for Butch Jones who was a wide recievers coach under RichRod from 2005-06. Five member of his staff either played or coached there.

Jones said his wife's phone has been ringing off the hook with friends who know they are coming to town. But this won't all be about nostalgia and hugs, there will be some advantage for the Bearcats, even though Jones is four years removed from his time there.  

"It was just a few years ago," Jones said. "A lot of the players on that team I either recruited or had a hand on recruiting. The process is a conglomeration on the entire staff working together. Jock (Sanders), J.T. Thomas, a number of individuals, Chris Neild, remembering him coming in as a true freshman, Scooter Berry, Will Johnson from Ohio, all those different things. I understand the attitude, mentality and toughness it's going to take going in there."

  

Bearcats Breakfast 11.09.10

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I hope those of you who actually like watching a team win made your way out to Gettler Stadium last night.

Unlike the pro football team in town, the Bearcats seized a huge opportunity by jumping out early and eventually beat the 9th-ranked UConn Huskies to advance to the Big East Final 4. An early score on the UConn goaltender who only had five goals scored against him all year set the tone and UC eventually won 4-1 in penalty kicks. This was a big win for the program and now they will play Providence on Friday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. for the right to play for a BE title.

Here is an interview with coach Hylton Dayes and the full story from the game.

Plenty of football and basketball fodder coming later today with the football media availability luncheon and final exhibition of the season later in the day. But we'll make some quick hits for you in the Breakfast....

--- As I wrote here yesterday, Butch Jones said on his Monday Big East Coaches Teleconference that it appears QB Zach Collaros will be able to play against West Virginia.

The question Bill Koch of the Enquirer posed was, will he be able to jump start the offense against a stingy WVU defense?

I'd answer is almost assuredly yes. UC averaged 528.3 yards through the previous four games Collaros played but only mustered 277 without him against Syracuse. West Virginia screams, yells and frustrates with the best of them but Collaros was performing as well as he has during his career before the injury.

--- MIke Casazza of the Charleston Daily-Mail writes about how this essentially serves as an elimination game for in terms of realistic hope for the Big East championship for one of these two that entered the season with high expectations.

In that regard, the game to watch will be Thursday night when Pitt travels to UConn. The Panthers -- holding a two game lead on the entire Big East at 3-0 -- have three of their final four games on the road (@UConn, @USF, WVU, @UC). If Pitt loses to UConn on Thursday, the Bearcats would nearly control their own destiny to win the Big East -- as hard as that is to believe at this point.

They could own a tiebreaker by beating Pitt the final game of the season. The question mark would likely be if Syracuse can hold at two losses in conference, to where they would own the tiebreaker on the Cats.

But the old cart, horse analogy probably fits here....first things first, that whole Morgantown trip.

--- Zach Collaros was never offered by WVU or Pitt. He hasn't forgotten about that. This story from the Charleston Gazette.

For the record, I also was never offered by WVU or Pitt, however, as far as I could tell I was only really good at Air Hockey.

--- Scott Springer offers some historical prospective and analysis of this year's version of coon-skin hats and muskets.

I've personally never been a fan of any mascot permitted to carry a gun. Just making the decision to become a mascot in the first place makes you slightly mentally unstable (or maybe that's just my Bobcats), so the idea of a weapon-yeilding, mentally unstable trigger man/woman roaming the sidelines sort of concerns me.

I would support giving the Bearcat a net gun to even the playing field.

--- Don't forget to head to Dave and Buster's on Saturday to watch the game.

--- Brian Bennett offers a video blog of what's at stake in Saturday's games.  

--- Indiana University Souteast (NAIA) will take on UC tonight in the final exhibition before opening the season on Monday against Mt. St. Mary's.

IUSE arrives with Jazz Ferguson averaging 36.5 points a game. His name makes him interesting but his game makes him unique.

The Grenadiers will also use a pressing style of play and try to run with UC.

--- I will be conversing on Twitter all game and have a column posted afterward if you want to follow along.

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN(EER)

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WHEN: Saturday (Finally! I hate bye weeks)

WHERE: Almost Heaven, West Virginia (at least in the late John Denver's opinion)

CLEAT TO OBLONG SPHERE: 12 noon

SERIES: Mountaineers lead 14-3-1

LAST ONE: UC kept alive "The Perfect Season" at Nippert with a 24-21 win 11/13/09

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Really, no pressure in this game at all....
(picture courtesy of journal-news.net)


      Well, after our brief intermission we're back to talk Bearcat football again. Saturday in Morgantown is the first of UC's four one-game seasons in my opinion.

      I recall saying Syracuse was a "must win" game. If that was the case (and if you fell asleep UC lost 31-7) then this is a "win or go home" game. Mathematically, that's still not the case as UC could "back in" to a bowl at 6-6.

      Realistically though (and I consider myself a "realitician") the Bearcats need to sweep out.

      Trust me, I despise cliches, but the old "one game at a time" mantra is definitely appropriate here. These should be treated like four bowl games. The West Virginia Bowl, the Rutgers Bowl, the Connecticut Bowl and the Pittsburgh Bowl.

      There's really no reason to look any further ahead than the next one.

      Sadly, in this year's predicament, nearly all of the Big East is on football life-support. This is not bashing or tabloid journalism. These are the numerical facts as none of the teams are ranked in any poll that matters.

      (Thus the headlines for TCU. Remember when UC was in Conference USA with them?)

      Playing in Morgantown is tough. I was there in 2003 when P/K Chet Ervin booted the Bearcats past the Mountaineers 15-13 and I wasn't sure if I would make it up the hill behind Milan Puskar Stadium to retrieve the radio van to load our stuff.

      The Davy Crockett-hats don't take too kindly to losing. I believe WVU is the first field I saw where the student section was literally "fenced off" from the general population.

      One of my sons was at the 2008 game that UC had in the bag, then allowed WVU to come back frantically and tie. He was out in the parking lot already with some friends when thousands of Mountaineer fans stormed back into the stadium like they were giving out free Wal-Mart coupons.

      West Virginia actually took the overtime lead before Tony Pike hit Kazeem Alli for the winning score, putting the official kibosh on any couch-burning for the night.

     The Mountaineers are always competitive as UC's three wins have come by a total of eight points. Even last season, WVU gave the Bearcats fits at Nippert.

      Now, a 5-1 season for Coach Bill Stewart has turned to 5-3 after back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Connecticut. After the game with UC, WVU goes back-to-back on the road at Louisville and Pittsburgh, so you see how crucial this game is to them also.

      So, how does it go down?


UC OFFENSE VS. WEST VIRGINIA DEFENSE


Zach Collaros or not, you've got to figure UC's offense is better than the seven points they were held to against Syracuse. The good news is, it appears Collaros will play and he played well against them last year. The down side is, you probably need Zach to make some plays with his legs and they might not be 100 percent. Last year, the running of Isaiah Pead led to 175 yards on the ground. If Pead can get anywhere near that total, life would improve immensely for the UC offense.


As for the aerial attack, the obvious must happen there. DJ Woods, Armon Binns and Marcus Barnett need to make ALL of the catches. They can't make acrobatic grabs and then drop balls right in the numbers. The margin for error for this offense is very slim. Also (in a repeated plea to the playcallers) you DO have tight ends. Ben Guidugli, Adrien Robinson and even Blake Annen can make plays. Use them! Remember the game-winning catch in Morgantown last time around was by a TIGHT END. UC tight ends have been grossly underutilized this season.


Collaros' mobility may depend on the pass rush of junior DE Bruce Irvin who has recorded seven TFL and seven SACS for the Mountaineers. Plus, there's redshirt-senior DT Scooter Berry who historically has been a handful for the Bearcats. Sophomore DB Terrance Garvin leads the WVU tacklers and junior Robert Sand is one of the more interesting college safeties in the game at 6-5, 221 pounds. The interception leader is redshirt junior DB Keith Tandy who's picked off four.


THE ENVELOPE PLEASE:


No one's scored more than 21 points on the Mountaineers which is not a good sign when you're playing on enemy turf. If the Bearcats can't make plays on the ground or otherwise, it might well be open season on Collaros. If that happens, it appears the playbook is shortened and you have limited options. UC should study the WVU/Marshall game to see what the Herd did there. Marshall was up 21-6 in the fourth quarter and in line to make it 28-6 before fumbling. From there, WVU went on a roll and eventually won, but the game was Marshall's to have (and Marshall's a 3-6 team now).


WEST VIRGINIA OFFENSE VS. UC DEFENSE


Honestly, from watching tape of the USF and Syracuse losses, WVU is probably licking their lips. A mobile QB (BJ Daniels) had his way with UC's secondary as did a somewhat bland QB (Ryan Nassib). Geno Smith is NOT bland and IS mobile. The only thing holding him back is WVU doesn't appear to have much of a bullpen behind Smith so allowing him to play "Pat White ball" could prove hazardous to the Mountaineers is Smith were KO'd. WVU likes small playmakers and they have an arsenal of them in 5-8, 180 pound senior Noel Devine (averaging 86.6 yards per game), 5-7, 179-pound senior Jock Sanders who's a WR that also runs and 5-9, 173-pound RB/KR Tavon Austin. Redshirt sophomore FB Ryan Clarke is also a horse at 247 pounds who plowed through UC effortlessly last season.


For the Bearcats, a pass rush must be found. Sophomore Dan Giordano has snuck back a time or two and made a play, but most QBs have left the UC game unscathed. The youth of the defensive backs has been apparent and too much is being placed on the shoulders of junior JK Schaffer and sophomore Walter Stewart. While it may seem like they are, they can't be in on EVERY play. The good news is this defense will be something to be reckoned with in coming years. The bad news is that it needs to be reckoned with now.


WELL?


Clearly, if UC is to have a chance at winning, the defense is going to have to come up with its most superlative effort of the season. Tackles can't be missed, assignments can't be blown and plays quite simply need to be made. Leading the league in excuses, is not an excuse. Obviously, your goal here should be stopping the "Three Mousketeers/Mountaineers" in Devine, Sanders and Austin. Geno Smith is a good QB, but he is not Pat White and can't beat you alone.


SPECIAL TEAMS


The injury loss of Darrin Williams has taken away UC's 1-2 punch in returns as DJ Woods and Williams gave you different looks. Woods is far and away UC's best option, but he's also needed on a lot of other plays. Most importantly, he needs to hang onto the ball in ALL plays. Some unsung heroes in the coverage team are junior WR Orion Woodard and senior LB Collin McCafferty who seems to be in on most special teams tackles. Kicking-wise, Jake Rogers has not had enough opportunities of late and Patrick O'Donnell's probably had too many.


The Mountaineers have a pretty accurate kicker in Tyler Bitancurt (sophomore) who's made some key boots. (They also have a local product on the bench from my alma mater, walk-on John Howard from Anderson High School.) Their return game involves the tiny, elusive guys in Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders.


HMMM....


On Milan Puskar Field, you have to side with the WVU kickers and their diminutive returners scare you too. UC's still looking for that "Mardy Gilyard game changing play" in the return game and it just hasn't transpired yet. In this atmosphere, such a play could prove pivotal in the outcome.


LET'S SEE WHAT STICKS NOW


      Give WVU a decided advantage in home atmosphere because they truly have some really rowdy and noisy fans. They come in droves and they wear there colors with great pride and are ready to give you an earful should you challenge them.

      That said, UC's best weapon might be the "early strike" or perhaps long, monotonous drives that take the Mountaineer fans out of the game (or at least out of their seat to grab some concessions). Everyone loves Bill Stewart, but after two straight losses, a slow start at home will surely bring out "boo birds".

      For this reason, Stewart seemingly has given Smith the green light to run. However, as mentioned before, one wrong hit to Smith and things could take a turn for the worse for WVU.

      Similarly, it's appeared that Zach Collaros has been "roped in" a little at QB and he probably needs to scramble for UC to have success on offense. Chazz Anderson did it out of desperation, Collaros can do it out of improvisation or design.

      Much like the Mountaineers though, if Collaros goes down, the tide appears to turn.

Both teams desperately need this game, but UC's scenario is much more bleak. If they rise to this challenge, they have a shot to redeem the season.

      Otherwise, the only positive will be the extra recruiting time the staff will have.


Collaros on track to play

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Butch Jones gave encouraging news about the status of QB Zach Collaros on his Monday teleconference.

By all signs, it appears he will be good to go on Saturday against West Virginia.

"His knee is much better," Jones said. "He had very limited reps last week in practice. That was just getting him healthy. He practiced (Sunday). It is just going through the game situations. We'll do it throughout the course of the entire week and make sure that he is game ready.'

Jones said he anticipated Collaros playing against Syracuse, but the knee didn't respond like they needed it to after pushing it during the Thursday practice. It's much improved from that point, Jones said.

"No question (it's in better shape)," he said. "He's improved immensely. We fully anticipate him playing Saturday."

There's obviously still time and nobody knows how the body will react, but all signs point to the Big East's leading passer returning for the monster game in Morgantown.   

"He's done a great job in rehab," Jones said. "It was great he made it through the entire day of practice (Sunday). Today's an academic day so we are off. You sit back, you wait, you see how the body responds to everything."

Jamelle Elliott 2.0

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We're getting ready for the second season of Jamelle Elliott's tenure as head coach of the UC Bearcats women's basketball team, and here's what we picked up during this weekend's exhibition game against Northern Kentucky University:

Defense is key: If you don't play defense, you don't play. This team seems to be able to hustle a lot better this season on the defensive end of the court.

Newcomers will contribute: Freshman Kayla Cook had 13 in her 'Cats debut, including the free throws in OT that sealed the win. Fellow freshman Jeanise Randolph had a huge block against NKU in the final seconds as well.

The name game: The UC Bearcats now have a Tiffany (Turner) and a Chanel (Chisholm) on their roster. Can we now find a Prada who plays basketball to complete the high-end wardrobe???

And don't underestimate how big the win over NKU was. Yes, NKU may be a division down, but that means nothing to their style of play. Remember, NKU won this matchup last year. The Norse are always tough in their conference, regularly make the post season and won the second of their two national champions in 2008. Hall of Fame coach Nancy Winstel gets the most out of her players season after season--they are smart, they are disciplined and they can bury the three when needed. The Norse should do well this season--so don't think this wasn't an important win for the 'Cats--it was.

So now, we start the regular season--Friday at 11 a.m. against Southwest Baptist, then Sunday at 2 p.m. versus North Florida. It'll be fun to see the second season with these 'Cats.

Bearcats Breakfast 11.08.10

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No Bearcats, no Bengals, sort of an empty sports weekend without them. It felt like a welcome reprieve, though.

I imagine the time away from the game was good for the Cats, too. A week to sit back, regroup and refocus probably needed to happen. UC makes the trip to Morgantown for a big game at WVU at noon on Saturday. I'll be there taking you through every step of the way. Including any rendevous with a mountain mama.

--- Do the Bengals make you want to throw up? Would you rather watch an According to Jim marathon than another Marvin Lewis clock mismanagement?

Well, there is a monster UC soccer game on campus tonight. The Bearcats host No. 9 UConn in the Big East quarterfinals at 7 p.m. at Gettler Stadium.

If you wanted to attend one soccer game this season, this is the one for you.

--- Volleyball just keeps winning, though this one in West Virginia was far from easy.  

--- Bill Koch spoke with Rashad Bishop about his suspension. This was the first we've heard from Bishop since prior to the Big East tournament.

None of what he said was groundbreaking, but he continued to talk about a series of events leading to his suspension. The bottom line going forward is Bishop seems to have learned his lesson from this and better understands respect for his teammates.

Maturity seems to be the theme of this year's team and Bishop's will play a large role in whether the Cats make the tournament or not.

--- The Big East is living its darkest season since expansion. The highest ranked team in the BCS right now is Pitt at No. 36. Shouldn't there be a disclaimer placed in the BCS bowl system that if your conference's champion isn't ranked in the BCS top 15, it cedes to the next best at-large?

The BE represents the scapegoat this year, but it could be any other conference (I'm looking at you ACC). It's unfair to the conference champion they will play in the Fiesta Bowl (they have the final pick of teams this year) to face a subpar opponent.

--- UC needs to win three of its last four games in order to be bowl eligible. The importance of that goes far beyond the gift package from the Beef O'Brady's Bowl or my desire to eat at Bern's Steakhouse in St. Petersburg.

A bowl game means another few weeks of practices. When you have a team about to bring back darn near everybody, another two weeks of practices can go a long way.

--- I normally save these types of the things for the Bearcats in the NFL roundup, but wanted to mention today that Tony Pike earned his first NFL action on Sunday.

He came in to clean up the end of the Panthers' 34-3 loss to New Orleans. He was 6 of 12 for 47 yards and a 60 QB rating.

Here's the story from the Charlotte Observer with some quotes from an encouraged Tony Pike.

--- For the record, the college basketball season officially opens with regular season games tonight. This will be 21 great weeks until Houston hosts the Final Four in April.

Of course ridiculous game-winners have already happened on the JuCo level.  

In case you forgot, this was the last five seconds of regular season basketball we saw. Thanks to Rush the Court for counting down the 30 reasons to love college basketball countdown that concluded with this. 

 

Bearcats Breakfast 11.05.10

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Bye week with no football availability means very little football fodder on the interwebs, so the Breakfast has been a little slim this week.

But, fear not, it will be back to form once UC opens the doors again next week.

Let's eat, anyway...

--- I used the opportunity to get caught up on basketball. The latest story was Mick Cronin talking about the rotation this year -- in particular the depth he plans on utilizing.

The return of the full-court press with a deep bench sounds like a return to the old days. Cronin just hopes it will be a return to the old days in results as well.

--- Much of the conversation around the Cats has been about the renewed committment to being a team. The ultimate team player himself Scott Springer wrote about the new theme.

--- Bearcats Blog had an email conversation with The Voice, Dan Hoard, on Wednesday, I meant to post it yesterday, but forgot. It's pretty good stuff, as usual, from DH.

He wasn't at the exhibition game, Tommy G and Chuck took care of the internet broadcast instead. They apparently broke out some Canadian trivia, which is almost as good as having Dan in the house, but not quite.

Did you know the first province discovered in Canada was New Foundland? You would if you listened on Monday.

--- DH putting in work this week with a great story about WR Kenbrell Thompkins. KT being ruled ineligible was a huge blow for the team this year, particularly once Vidal Hazelton went down.

But, as Dan points out, it looks like he's the real deal and will be the perfect complement to DJ Woods next season.

---- Tim Adams at BearcatLair writes about the development of Dion Dixon. To me, this could be the storyline of the season. If Dixon develops into a double-digit  scorer for UC, it could be the offense they need to complement Yancy Gates and penetration ability of Cashmere Wright.

--- Tom DeTemple let out his inner Mark May with some hard-hitting journalism. He interviewed some players about the new Bearcats statue I showed you last week.

In one word, Isaiah Pead described it as "Beasty." Technically, not a word, but the highlight of this video.

--- Have a question about expansion, Brian Bennett has probably heard it. Here's his all expansion mailbag.

--- I used to want someone to teach me how to Dougie. After seeing Herb Sendek make this attempt, I officially know its too late. It's dead.   

Season Number Two

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Are you ready for some---basketball?

Can't believe it's been eight months since we've been together at Fifth Third Arena for a UC women's basketball game, but on Saturday the curtain goes up on Jamelle Elliott 2.0.

So what can we expect this season, her second through the BIG EAST as a head coach? Well, Coach Elliott promises it'll be a team that will play hard, a team that will have to depend on its outside sharpshooters to keep the 'Cats on the scoreboard. And, we'll be getting a peak at her first full recruiting class, which will give us a hint of things to come in terms of the type of player she'll be going after, and how that player will fit her style.

And it's not like the 'Cats have a cupcake as an exhibition game on Saturday--they'll be facing the Northern Kentucky University Norse, a perennial Division II powerhouse stocked with local basketball stars. The Norse will give UC a good barometer by which to judge the team, and the talent.

The season rolls out for real with a morning (!) game Friday, November 12. Until then, come see the 'Cats this Saturday night, and catch a preview of good things to come this season.

The Next Great Bearcat?

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If you don't like it when a future UC football or basketball player is hyped as the "next great Bearcat" before ever playing a game, you should stop reading this column right now.

 

Because I'm about to lay it on pretty thick.

 

Admittedly, I have only seen Kenbrell Thompkins at a few practices, but I have no hesitation predicting that he will be the next great Bearcat wide receiver. 

 

I'm not alone.

 

"When our defense is going against the scout team, they are going against what I think is not only one of the best receivers in the Big East conference but the entire country," said head coach Butch Jones. 

 

"What do I know - I'm not a scout - but he's one of the best guys that I've ever thrown the ball to," said quarterback Zach Collaros.  "He runs unbelievable routes and pays attention to detail,"

 

"I appreciate them saying that," Thompkins told me.  "Some great receivers have come through this program and there are some great receivers here right now - Vidal Hazelton, Armon Binns, and recently Mardy Gilyard.  I'm going to work my butt off to be one of the best."

 

Kenbrell Thompkins.jpg 

After spending two years at El Camino College in California, Thompkins originally signed with the University of Tennessee.   But when Vols coach Lane Kiffin abruptly bolted to become the head coach at USC, Thompkins reconsidered his options and chose to play for Butch Jones and Cincinnati. 

 

"I actually have a cousin that played at Central Michigan last year, who is currently on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster - Antonio Brown," Thompkins said.  "He told me nothing but good things about the University of Cincinnati.  I had offers from schools like Florida and Alabama, and I signed with Tennessee, but things didn't work out.  My heart and mind weren't with Tennessee after the situation that went down.  Antonio told me to make sure that I was comfortable at whatever school I decided to choose.  That played a big part in my decision.  He told me nothing but great things about Coach Jones and his staff.  I wanted to play for a guy that I knew would care about the players and would make sure that I graduated and did the right things. Coach Jones is doing a great job of that."

 

"Antonio called us and one thing led to another," Jones said.  "It was like he was meant to be here.  We hit it off on the visit and you could feel his passion for football and education.  He's been a model of consistency for us day in and day out."

 

"If I would have known Coach Jones during the whole recruiting process, he would have probably been the guy from day one," Thompkins said.  "I love everything about him and I like how he's running the program.  I'm blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of what he's doing."

 

Thompkins hoped to play for the Bearcats this season but was ruled ineligible by the NCAA after Tennessee refused to release him from his letter of intent.  He is permitted to practice and will have two years of eligibility remaining.

 

"I was very worried about that because I know how much he needs football in his life," Coach Jones said.  "He's taken it all in stride.  He says he believes he's here for a reason and has been extremely positive and upbeat.  He's very attentive in meetings and he's patiently waiting his turn." 

 

"Everybody told me that it's just a process," Thompkins said.  "I can't get discouraged at all - that's one thing that I can't do.  Every bit of free time that I have, I try to go out and catch balls.  Even if it's just a jugs machine, I try to do anything that I can to get better." 

 

"I love K.T.  He's out here working harder than anybody else on our team every single day and he's not even eligible," Collaros said.  "In the summer we were out here every single day and I have a ton of respect for Kenbrell Thompkins.  I can't wait to be able to throw him the ball next year."

 

Thompkins commitment to excellence goes beyond the football field.  He earned a 3.9 GPA in his last academic term and has put on 15 pounds on muscle in the weight room since arriving in Clifton.

 

"You can't just live off of being a genetic freak," Collaros said.  "You need to fine tune your skills and he works hard at everything that he does."

 

"I think his future is as bright as it can be," Coach Jones said.  "He's tough, he's physical, and he's an individual that needs football in his life every day.  It's the first time that I've been around a player that isn't eligible to play who is one of the team leaders.  Our kids have a tremendous amount of respect for him." 

 

"My feeling is - if you're going to do something, be good at it," Thompkins told me.  "I try to lead by example - in the classroom and on-and-off the field.  I'm trying to do what I can this year, but next year, I'll be a great leader - trust me."

 

Glad you decided to keep reading?

 

I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

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

MEET THE TEAM NIGHT

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IMG00129-20101104-1516.jpg

  (Awkward Blackberry photo of Yancy Gates taken by Scott Springer)


      Last season, Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn scored over 34 percent of UC's points. If you factor in Yancy Gates, that figure goes to nearly 50 percent as those three were the only double digit scorers for the Bearcats.

      In terms of minutes, Rashad Bishop, Gates, Vaughn and Stephenson all played at least 25 per game with Vaughn leading the pack at 30.5.

      If Coach Mick Cronin has his way this season, those same numbers won't be posted. The only numbers that Cronin and the team want to increase this season are in the win category.

If the first exhibition is any indication of things to come (and yes, that's a mighty reach) the Bearcats are going to come at you with fresh bodies as eleven players were in double figures in minutes, with Dion Dixon staying on the floor the longest (27 of the 40).

      "We're a team," said Dixon. "That was just an exhibition, nothing major, but we're getting our chemistry together."

      The key words in that quote were, "we" and "team". The omission of an "I" reference is encouraging as UC looks to gel as a unit, having had a taste of the postseason and then an unpleasant early bounce in the second round of the NIT.

      To make that "other" tournament, bonding and cohesiveness is a must. Therefore, the Bearcats are using their personnel to chase and wear out the opposition, with more players determining the outcome of the game.

      "Yeah, I love it," said Dixon. "We've got ten guys that are going to play. You go out there and give your all and someone will come get you and give his all. That's good."

      Certainly, this is far from a new idea, but it's one that Cronin has been striving for since their last loss to Dayton back in March.

      "The mental focus of our team has been my focus for six months and it's going to continue to be," said Cronin. "We continue to have great team mentality, very coachable. I'm excited about our team."

      This is not to knock Deonta Vaughn or Lance Stephenson. Vaughn guided the Bearcats for pretty much his first three years, then "Born Ready" showed up and changed UC's presence again.

      No one will ever know how good UC might've been had Stephenson stayed, but there's a pretty good argument being made right now that the departure of the last season's scorers may result in a better overall team focus. Particularly, with the pressure defense being displayed. Communication and support for your fellow man are crucial there.

      "It helps out a lot, especially on defense," said Gates. "You've got more guys out there talking and it helps you stay alert instead of maybe falling asleep and getting back cut. You know what's going on behind you, it just makes it easier on the defense, like a sixth man."

      Gates no longer is an underclassman, neither is Dion Dixon. Those two seem to have had the proverbial "light bulb" go on above their heads in terms of conditioning and dedication. That's another positive sign as both entered UC the same year.

"     We're real close," acknowledged Gates. "We've had a lot of classes together, we've had the same lift time. We're both a lot alike, we're willing to do anything to win."

      It's all apparent in Gates' new toned body and Dixon looks leaner, yet stronger. Dixon's offseason work has also been documented by Paul Dehner Jr. and when he was in town, he put more hours in at Fifth Third Arena than the lead custodian.

      "He was in the gym all summer all day and night driving Scott Wilhoit (UC facilities management) nuts," said Cronin. "(He was) doing two-ball dribbling drills and shooting drills. When you've got a guy doing that on his own, you've got a dedicated guy."

      Again, it's early, but the one-game returns on Dixon were 19 points in 27 minutes, while Gates had 23 in 25. The only thing selfish I can report in either of them is Dixon's answer when I asked him which Bearcat would be the most improved this season....

      "Hopefully me, hopefully me," said Dixon with a grin.

      Beyond that, this appears to be a year of great teamwork. This is also the beginning of the 50th anniversary of UC's back-to-back NCAA champions who won "The Dance" with great teamwork.

      They were honored with a luncheon about a month ago and more is planned for them as the season progresses. It should be noted that Mick Cronin and his staff and Yancy Gates were present at the luncheon honoring the '61 and '62 champions.

      The winning equation they heard about that day is the same equation set forth every year by most coaches. However, in a "Playstation" world, not all take heed.

      A few months from now, we'll know whether or not this group did.

      "The key is getting guys to believe it," said Cronin. "You've got to have guys committed to winning and sacrificing and willing to play a certain role to separate yourself from other teams. The key for us is we're talented enough to do it. Coach saying it is one thing, players understanding it is another."

      The current learning curve begins shortly and extends into March.

      Those that learn well, play more.








Full rotation

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Mick Cronin touches on the expectations of his rotation at Thursday's media availability.

 

CINCINNATI -- What a rotation will be in February is hard to judge in November. If you think you have a rotation or even starters set for the end of the year at this point, you aren't living in reality.

 

Last season, who played, how many minutes and why became a major spearhead of discussion during last basketball season. Fans called for less players in the rotation and more consistency from game to game.

 

The exhibition Monday against Carleton St. and on Tuesday against Indiana Southeast will play a role in determining who earns opportunities when the games start for real on the 15th against Mt. St. Mary's.

 

"You can watch us play and see we have some interchangeable parts, that guys are going to play," Cronin said. "At the end of the day, I tell our guys, you've got to realize there is a battle going on for minutes."

 

The composition of this year's team would be more conducive to a deeper rotation. Players and coaches alike talk about being the sum of their parts this season. With no true stars outside of Yancy Gates and so many players capable of providing a points/defense combination, Cronin plans on running players in and out.

 

More than that, he plans on running. The full-court press will become a staple for the first time since Cronin's arrival.

 

"That's a big plan of ours," he said. "Obviously, we have had to build for a few years around here to get to a point of talented team parts, all fit style to be able to implement a certain style. This is the first year that we don't have a perimeter player who can't pressure the ball, that can't recover and close out and defend people and harass the basketball."

 

The Bob Huggins era of basketball at UC was defined by the full-court press. The physical trapping defense left a footprint on the path to the 1992 Final Four and rarely relented until Huggins left UC in 2006.

 

Deonta Vaughn, for all the points and excitement he delivered to the program, could never be considered a shutdown defender. Gates needed to lose weight and improve conditioning this summer because too often slow defense forced him off the court - either by coach's decision or foul trouble.

 

Cronin wants his team to be two-deep at every position and not suffer any drop off in talent. Concerns over losing offense came last year any time Vaughn and Stephenson left the game. So much of the scoring ran through those two, not enough consistency existed behind them.

 

Those who entered in their place, like Dion Dixon, felt the pressure to make an instant impression in the limited time.

 

"I got in and I was pressing a little bit," Dixon said, " trying to make something happen."

 

Exactly how deep this year's rotation will go and what it will entail remains anybody's guess at this point. Cronin made a habit of using minutes as a motivational tool and insists that will continue this time around.

 

"I don't want guys ever resting on where they are at in the rotation, accepting whether they are starting, not starting, to try to always get better," Cronin said. "You can't take your minutes for granted."

 

The rotation could include Biggie McClain for the first time. McClain played 14 minutes during the exhibition against Carleton St. and Cronin expressed confidence in his ability to play a role that doesn't detract from the flow of the offense.

 

He sees McClain contributing as Brian Zoubek did for the Duke Blue Devils last season, only in a smaller role off the bench.

 

Zoubek averaged 5.6 points and 7.7 rebounds a game for Duke as a senior.

 

"We don't struggle to score anymore when he is in the game because he understands how to help us score as a screener," Cronin said. "As big as he is, he's an eclipse as a screener, so, he understands that. He also understands, if we can get him right in front of the rim that he is going to score on anybody - he's 7-1, 290."

 

Looking at the minutes on the box score after games last season created a hierarchy of who earned playing time during the week. On what Dixon claimed was more a team of individuals, it didn't always sit well.

 

Luckily for Cronin, this team appears to be taking nothing for granted. The immunity to selfishness makes working a deep rotation easier.

 

"You go out there every game you try to give it your all and just play," Dixon said. "As far as playing time, it doesn't matter, we are all together, so it really doesn't' matter. As long as we get the wins."

Bearcats Breakfast 11.04.10

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A lot to get to today, so we'll get right to Breakfast....

--- Plenty of expansion talk still circulating. And I don't expect the rumors to stop until the teams are officially announced. Brian Bennett is all over it with coverage on his blog. He links to College Football Live discussing the issue here and answers five burning questions here and Andrea Adelson talks about the benefits of joining the Big East for UCF and TCU here and he links to a poll a SportsNation poll on Big East expansion here.

--- Andy Staples is still pounding the pavement on Notre Dame to the Big East. I just don't see it happening. Notre Dame either stays independent or joins the Big Ten.

--- The UC volleyball team has won 39 consecutive matches at Fifth Third Arena. The senior class of Annie Fesl, Julier Guenther, Stephanie Niemer and Lindsay Upton haven't lost there since Oct. 2007.

Shawn Sell has the story on GoBearcats.

--- I am not normally a ticket saleman on here, that's not my role. But I can't help but comment on the great deal right now on season ticket packages. For $166 you can be at every game. It breaks down to less than $9 a game to see UC and Big East basketball.

I know not everybody is a hoops junkie like I am, but you won't find many deals better bang for your buck across college hoops.

--- Tommy G and the folks at Bearcats Sports Weekly put together this behind the scenes gameday package following Butch Jones against USF. Good stuff.

--- Mayor Mark Mallory showed up at football practice yesterday and awarded the team with the City of Cincinnati flag -- I still can't believe I didn't know we  had one of those.

--- South Florida and Rutgers put on a show last night. Sort of in the same way the Deer Park Community Acting Troupe puts on a show when it performs Rent, but a show nonetheless.

Oh yeah, the Bulls won 28-27.

--- Brian Grummell offers his weekly Big East Report at AOL Fanhouse. It continues the national Orange lovefest. The national media sure appears happy to see Syracuse back as a contender for a group that loved using them as a punchline the last 10 years.

--- Are you a nerd? Do you love basketball? Have you ever calculated the tip for a server using the Sine button on a caluclator? Then you will love Ken Pomeroy's latest blog on how the preseason poll is actually the most accurate poll of the season. And many other concerningly in-depth statistical analysis.

--- Gary Parrish at CBS offered up his predictions of the Big East. He has the Bearcats at No. 11 and on the outside looking in at the NCAA tournament. He also has Yancy Gates on the second team and Mick Cronin on the hot seat. 

As I've been saying all year, though, this conference is as wide open among the 5-14 as it has ever been since expansion. Almost all of the middle of the road teams are interchangeable.

He's also a lot higher on Marquette than I would be. The ruthless nature of Lazar Hayward in the final minutes of games last year can't be overlooked. Then add in a freshman taking on a huge offensive role (sound familiar) and growing pains are almost certainly in their future.

--- It was good to see Mike DeCourcey at the Bearcats exhibition game on Monday, but I imagine his reception wouldn't be as friendly at DePaul and Marquette where he wrote about their inclusion in the Big East expansion being a serious conference regret right now.

They might not like what they hear, but Mike is right on.

--- Interesting read on the Wild Wild West of preseason hoops scrimmages from the San Diego Union-Tribune. Trying to find a serious barometer of where their teams are are, major programs are playing these super-secret, super-scrimmages to prepare for the season.

It's a great idea for a team if you are willing to lose an exhibition game gate.   

--- Some randomness...

-- When you are in a Bear suit, the sky is the limit.

-- Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer is one of the greatest rock anthems of all time. Every time it comes on in a public setting, people love to sing it.

Not as much as this guy. Epic.  

 

Bearcats in the NFL: Week 8

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--- MIKE WRIGHT: It's time to start taking a closer look at the season Mike Wright is putting together. Wright has become the driving force on defense for a Patriots team that is 6-1.

Wright notched his fourth sack in as many games on Sunday against Minnesota. The last player to have a four-game sack streak for NE was Richard Seymour in 2008.

His four sacks on the season are twice as many as the next closest Patriots player.

He'll go up against the Browns this week, who have some newcomers at guard, so the chances of a fifth consecutive sack are pretty good. About as good as the chances Wright reaches his first Pro Bowl if his current pace continues.. 

--- TRENT COLE: Uh, speaking of Pro Bowl, Trent Cole is solidifying himself as a lock right now.

In fact, as I opened my Sports Illustrated today, the middle flipped open with the Midseason All-Pro team. Trent Cole was your starting DE. And rightfully so. 

He leads the Eagles with six sacks and is second on the team in total tackles with 34.  He had 12 1/2 sacks last year and is on pace to top it. He also has 17 quarterback pressures. There are few more disruptive ends in the NFL right now.

--- MARDY GILYARD: Gilyard was inactive on Sunday against Carolina because of a hamstring injury. This was the second game in a row he missed because of the hamstring. The Rams are on bye this week, so hopefully Gilyard can be back by Week 10   

--- BRENT CELEK: The Eagles were on bye Sunday.  

--- RICARDO MATHEWS: The Colts are looking for more consistent play on the defensive line. Bill Polian talked about it on his radio show. Mathews was part of the conversation.   

--- JEFF LINKENBACH: Linkenbach was active for the Colts in a win Sunday night against Houston but did not start.    

--- KEVIN HUBER: Huber has had better days than Sunday's loss to the Dolphins. His average per punt was only 39.9 yards. However, he did have a 61-yard boot that was helped out by some roll. 

His averages are still among the best in the NFL.  

--- HARUKI NAKAMURA: The Baltimore Sun had a Q and A with Nakamura recently. Unfortunately, Nakamura is still struggling to get much playing time with the Ravens on defense.

--- TONY PIKE: Pike continues to be the inactive third quarterback in Carolina.  

Bearcats Breakfast 11.03.10

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I hope everybody went out an voted yesterday, if anything, now you have a right to complain about the guy or gal who will undeniably lie, cheat and steal over the next two years.

But, that type of cynicism represents why I write sports instead of news.

Let's talk sports....

--- The big news from yesterday was the Big East announcement that they will expand to 10 teams for football. Across the board most people believe this to be a good move for the confernece. I'd concur.

Anything they can do procatively to avoid being plucked into oblivion had to happen.

Here's Brian Bennett talking about the decision.

Now, if they can grab TCU it brings a piece of the Texas market along with an instantly credible program. BB also ranks the list of possible candidates.

For TCU, joining the Big East may be the only way to keep Gary Patterson there -- and even that is not sure thing. If they lose him, the program could cycle back like so many Big East teams we have seen of late. U of L, WVU and even the turn UC has taken this season. It's inevitable with regime change and college football runs in cycles like that.

Even with that said, the Horned Frogs should still be the front runner because of the market they offer.

--- Brian Grummell at FanHouse joins the fun game of speculating who the two schools will be and reminds everyone there is still a chance the league will get poached by the Big Ten soon.

--- Matt Hinton at Rivals ranks the candidates as well.

--- The expansion in football would only further the headache for basketball scheduling which is already like putting together a series of 16 Rubik's Cubes. Jim Calhoun believes there is still more change to come.

--- Matt Hayes at the Sporting News promotes the league moving to 12 instead of 10.

--- The Bearcats are finally going to play Ohio State...in the Mascot challenge. Still, after Brutus was given an Octagon-style beatdown by my Bobcat, there is no way that guy should advance. Go here to vote for the Bearcat.

--- Butch Jones answers questions in this mailbag.  

--- Rush the Court isn't messing around and already has its 2011 NCAA tournament bracket up. UC is not in it, so, you might as well not play the season, right?

--- Plenty of love for Villanova right now -- and rightfully so. When your top returner poured in 100 points during a summer league game, your expectations will be high.

--- Herb Pope deserves a standing ovation when Seton Hall comes here this season.

--- I hope you all caught my morning after notebook from UC-Carleton. If not, than you are really hurting my feelings if you don't click this link.  

--- In some randomness....

The hard-hitting journalism in Parma found a boy who was given a detention for, uh, not being able to contain his inner gasses. If looking for whose to blame, I'm pretty sure the he and his dad have stunk up the living room many a night.

--- Do you like Fails? How about 8:39 of them in a row. Yeah, tell your boss you'll be late for that meeting about a meeting. 

UC 89, Carleton St. 57: The Morning After

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Last night was a meaningless game against a team everyone in the Big East should beat by 30 in an atmosphere that felt more like the glorified practice it was than the first game at Fifth Third Arena.

And I loved it.

I've always been a college basketball guy. There are few sports that perk me up more than the excitement and athleticism of college basketball.

Last night was like a breath of fresh air. And not just because of the recent struggles of the football team, but watching the development of players and physical skills of a guy like Yancy Gates is fun to watch -- I don't care who you are.

Let's talk about it...

--- Here is the box score, the game recap and some quotes.

--- I wrote last night about the three newcomers who made a big splash. Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and....the new Dion Dixon.

I'm counting him as a newcomer because he looks like a different guy out there. He was confident, decisive and focused. Granted, this was only one game against a team he should be able to run circles around, but his play struck me as the most encouraging sign of the night.

Selfishly, one of the best stories in all of sports is one of overcoming adversity. I love telling those stories. Regardless of whether or not that is the most points Dion Dixon scores in a game all season, he's already overcome what happened last year -- in particular in Madison Square Garden -- by his response to the failure. Across the board he's recognized as a player who worked as hard as anybody on this team and his development was apparent on Monday.

"It's not a fluke," Mick Cronin said.  

It's hard not to root for Dixon.

--- Bill Koch delved into the Dixon topic as well during his game story. 

--- So, Justin Jackson scared me. That guy plays with a fire and energy this program hasn't seen in a long time. It sparked the UC defense on a run that pulled away from Carleton last night.

He tipped passes, rebounded and supplied relentless energy that helped wear down the Ravens. Of course, he did nearly take a man's head off at one point.

"He's got to stop fouling," Cronin said. "Justin is going to have a great career here as soon as he learns college basketball is a lot different than high school basketball."

Cronin also pointed out the most underappreciated part of his game last night.

"Rarely will you find a big guy who passes as well as him," Cronin said. "He's only credited with one assist, but most of his passes resulted in guys who got fouled. He's not getting credit for the assists but he's getting guys layups."

--- I said multiple times the biggest story line to watch on Monday would be the first viewing of the new Gates. After an early foul and missing a few easy shots in the lane, we saw what we hoped for.

Again, this disclaimer should accompany every note here like a Surgeon General's warning, but this was Carleton not Connecticut. Still, Gates ran the floor well and was rewarded with some big finishes. The guy had 23 points and 5 boards in 25 minutes. Hard to complain.

--- The guys at BearcatLair were talking about how the Bearcats played tough defense from the opening tip to the final whistle. Considering this was a nothing exhibition, that was a sign of the maturity Cronin has been talking about with this team.

"We just focused on working hard,' Gates said. "Whether we are working hard in practice or its time to play, we just still got kind of the same mindset. Just worried about working hard and executing. By working hard this summer and in practice it kind of carries over to the game." 

--- Last year, when I was with CNati I sort of made up a stat that UC had the one of the worst shot selection percentages in college basketball if you looked at the number of 3-pointers taken relative to the percentage of 3-pointers made.

Forcing shots for Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson played a major role in the stagnant offense.

Addressing shot selection was at the top of Cronin's list this offseason and we saw the fruits of that labor on Monday -- the same as we saw it in Canada earlier this fall.

Rarely were the Bearcats settling for bad shots and the players say they feel a difference in the way the offense is run. Some of it is philosophy, but I one of the more interesting elements is that it's probably more a reflection of maturity.

"That's the biggest difference on offense," Gates said. "We were young so coming out of high school we all were the main guy scoring on our team. Coming to college it seemed like plays were kind of being ran this way or this way. Young and immature, you don't know how to really accept that. Now, we are older with this offense. Now, it doesn't matter who scores. The open guy is going to score. It doesn't matter if we take a shot, we just want to take good shots as a team, that is how we feel we are going to put the ball in the hole."

--- Cronin was open to some self-evaluation as well this preseason as he said he brought in a couple big-time college coaches to evaluate his practices -- how he runs practice and the players on his team. He said former Wake Forest head coach Dino Gaudio was one of them and the other was "under the radar."

It helped to develop some of the defensive chemistry and the improved communication on defense.

"I had a couple coaches come in during the preseason and evaluate our team -- big time college coaches that are sitting out this year," Cronin said. "They gave me some good advice. It is always good to have people come in and they are high on our team. This happens a lot, sometimes coaches do too much talking in practice, so you have to go silent to let the players practice talking. That's just committment, talking on defense may be a little corny, but I would rather be corny and win with corny."  

-- Stat of the night: UC knocked down 13 of 13 free throws in the first half. We'll work on finding out in the record books if that is the most consecutive free throws knocked down in a meaningless exhibition game against a Canadian team.

--- Quote of the night: UC coach Mick Cronin on how many more games his team would have won last year if they shot free throws at the 72.5-percent clip he did last night as opposed to 63 percent they finished with from the line: "I get approached by some extremely loyal fans who I appreciate that have stats on that. They all equate, I have heard anywhere from 4 to 6."  

Newcomers supply spark, optimism

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CINCINNATI -- Three significant newcomers took the Fifth Third Arena floor during the Bearcats 89-57 exhibition victory against Carleton State.

 

Redshirt freshman Sean Kilpatrick came as delivered. He unveiled the "10 points in his sleep" style of basketball Mick Cronin predicted. Actually, Kilpatrick netted 16, "and I don't know how he got them," Cronin said. "That's how it is with him."

 

Freshman Justin Jackson played as those who saw him in high school expected, in that he scared most everyone sitting courtside with his intensity.

 

This was exhibition No. 1 against a team from Canada and Jackson battled with the energy of a Final Four. With resounding blocks, intimidating scowls, suffocating pressure, crisp passes and nearly impaling the face of a Carleton forward, Jackson accomplished a bit of everything.

 

He may be the first player in history to receive a standing ovation exiting with four points.

 

"He's going to affect the game in different ways," Cronin said. "He doesn't have to score to be effective out there."

 

The third newcomer came as a surprise, though. Nobody knew he was a newcomer until he took the floor Monday night. But he did breathe fresh air into Fifth Third Arena.

 

We'll call him Dion Dixon 2.0.

 

The last memorable moment of Dixon 1.0 was of a basketball bouncing off his leg and out of bounds at Madison Square Garden.

 

That player didn't show up Monday. Who this new guy was, I'm not quite sure. He attacked the lane with a purpose, he dished with precision.

 

When the Bearcats struggled to score early in the game, Dixon pulled up for a jumper, worked for a layup and turned a steal into two points.

 

In search of momentum entering the locker room, he placed the perfect pass to Yancy Gates for an alley-oop exclamation point to a 10-point lead.

 

Eight times Dixon fired more than eight shots last season. Only twice was his field goal percentage better than 50 percent.

 

He knocked down six of his 12 shots on Monday.

 

"It felt really different," said Dixon, who finished with 19 points, 3 assists, 1 block and 1 steal. "Because I am older and more mature and I know how to handle the situations a little different. I am getting a little bit more run than I did last year. Confident with everything I am doing. I am trying to stay aggressive. It feels good, really."

 

One strong game against a team where two starters look like Justin Bieber doesn't predicate a season of success. In fact, it should probably be discarded with the same ease with which the Ravens were.

 

The beautiful news for the Bearcats was this wasn't just one game.

 

"What you saw tonight we've seen every day," Cronin said.

 

Some days, the coaches didn't see it. Only the janitors spent more time in Fifth Third Arena by themselves. Dixon dedicated himself to reinventing himself.

 

The sophomore campaign wore on Dixon. Lance Stephenson arrived and sapped his minutes. Confidence rarely develops in the shadows.

 

"He had a tough year last year," Cronin said.

 

Dixon broke out of those shadows this summer when he played in his hometown of Chicago against such NBA names as Dwyane Wade, Gilbert Arenas and Devin Harris. They worked out three times a day and the veterans passed on tips and advice for how to excel on the college level.

 

The lessons didn't always come in easy to use fashion, but were lessons nonetheless.  

 

"First time (we played) they just treated me like a little boy," Dixon said. "I did all right; I held my own. I got the hang of it after a while."

 

By early returns this season, he's got the hang of what it takes to succeed in major Division I basketball, as well.

 

"You got to give him credit," Cronin said. "He had a tough year last year. We talk a lot about if things don't go your way in life you can pack up and go home or you can dig in and fight and get what you want out of life and your experience as a college player. He's been unbelievable."

 

Call it maturity. Call it an awakening. Just call it a beautiful development for the Bearcats. 

 

Viewed from the perspective of a team with a significant question mark at shooting guard his progression arrived right on time. Starters return at every other position, but now departed Deonta Vaughn and Stephenson were weapons from the wing.

 

The losses begged what will ultimately be the defining question of this team in 2010-11: Where will the points come from?

 

For one night, Dixon provided the answer.

 

"I know if we can continue to score the ball we are going to win a lot of games," Cronin said. "Because we are going to play defense and we are going to rebound. To have a good team you have to develop some guys that can consistently put the ball in the basket. So, he's been that kind of guy for us."

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

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justin jackson.jpegsean kilpatrick.jpeg


(Justin Jackson and Sean Kilpatrick)      


     While the only way to see or hear the game was on www.gobearcats.com and only 3,426 witnessed it in person, UC's first basketball exhibition had some interesting subplots that have yet to be developed. UC beat Carleton University (Canada) 89-57 with 11 players getting double-figure minutes.

      Junior Yancy Gates led the way with 23 points and five rebounds playing 25 of the 40 minutes, followed by fellow junior Dion Dixon with 19 points in 27 minutes. Dixon played the most minutes in a game where Coach Mick Cronin liberally substituted.

      That might turn out to be a good thing as this team appears to want to press and "get after it" from one end of the court to the other. Sure, it's just one exhibition, but there was a style of defense being played that borrows heavily from the videos/films of older Bearcat teams.

      One stat that Mick Cronin repeatedly brings up is never ever recognized in the post-game box score.

      The Bearcat staff counts deflections--getting a hand on the ball. Usually when that happens, a play is changed.

      Monday night against Carleton, the Bearcats recorded 42 deflections and that was the first number Cronin mentioned upon taking the mike in the Fifth Third Arena interview room.

      One guy that's going to go a long way in helping in that category is incoming freshman Justin Jackson--he of the wingspan that might be close to that of ex-Bearcat Jason Maxiell. Gobearcats.com blogger Paul Dehner Jr. posted on Twitter during the game that Jackson looked like he was playing in a Final Four game, and I have to agree.

      Jackson was guarding the inbound pass after baskets with arms flailing, tongue wagging and "D-ing up" as if post-game sprints had been threatened. This is not new. The one thing I noticed watching him this summer in the Deveroes league at Woodward High School was how hard he played in the most insignificant of games.

      Jackson's efforts didn't go unnoticed. Upon exiting the game, he was given the loudest round of applause of the night. Sure, a crowd at about one-quarter capacity is only so loud, but some stood.

      "People appreciate hustle and hard work," said Cronin. "This is Cincinnati. It's a blue collar town. People appreciate hard work and hustle."

      Looking at Jackson's final numbers won't wow you. Four points and five rebounds. But, he also had an assist, a block and FOUR steals (leading in that category). When you consider that was all done in 17 minutes, it's even more impressive. That's a double-double pace and possibly a triple-double.

      Now, it's unlikely that Jackson will get 40 minutes at this early stage. First off, his aggressiveness leads to rebounds, but also to fouling.

      "He's a guy that's going to rebound, he's going to effect the game in different ways," said Cronin. "We've just got to teach him to play hard without fouling."

      The one thing noticeable about Jackson is that his style, and the style Cronin's men appear to be going to, is contagious. When it works, bodies are flying everywhere and usually Justin Jackson is in the center of it if he's in the game.

      "Justin's going to have a great career here as time goes by and he learns how to play college basketball," said Cronin. "He does a lot of things for us. Rarely do you find a big guy who passes as well as him."

      Another guy that played a very effective 17 minutes that will also impact this team is Sean Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is a redshirt freshman who "observed" a year rather than come off the bench as Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn competed for shots.

      Kilpatrick is also a scorer, but not quite as demanding as his teammates from last year. As Coach Cronin has noticed, Kilpatrick has a way of getting to the hoop "under the radar".

      "He's got 16, I don't know how he got them," said Cronin. "You look down and he's got 16 in 17 minutes. He can score the basketball, he's just got a knack for putting the ball in the basket."

      Kilpatrick made one of UC's four treys and most importantly made all five of his free throws. He was a considered a "pretty good get" at the time for UC out of New York, until Lance Stephenson (also of New York) was signed. Suddenly, Kilpatrick had to take a back seat and come to grips with sitting out a season to make the most of his college career.

Kilpatrick suited up and traveled with the Bearcats but did not play. Now, he's relying on his coach to get him through his freshman season--part II.

      "Stay focused and just keep level-headed," said Kilpatrick of Cronin's advice. "I haven't played in like a year and a half, it's been a good experience."

      Kilpatrick is a very likable guy. Those that watched him prior to Lance "Born Ready To Shoot Below 30 Percent" Stephenson, know that he can "light it up" with anyone. He also can see the floor and had an awesome lob pass to Yancy Gates against Carleton that Gates thunder-dunked one-handed.

      "I do what I need to do and that's help my team win," said Kilpatrick.

      That could be the difference this season. Doing what's needed to be done to help the team win.

      If I could take anything away from an exhibition (and you usually can't) it would be a bigger emphasis on team. This is the 50th anniversary of the UC's first NCAA championship team. Talk to anyone from that era and they will explain to you that their brand of "team ball" was what led to them hoisting banners.

      Watching UC's defensive effort and the use of so many interchangeable parts, I can see a new emphasis. Whether or not it sticks for a season remains to be seen, but for one night it was truly enjoyable to watch intensity from a school once known for such play.

      "Our guys are extremely bought in to trying to wear our opponents out," said Cronin.

      That's just one quote, but it says a lot. It mentions no individual accolades and no offensive statistics.

      Defense isn't glamorous, but if you want to make a tournament run, you'd better have it.


Homecoming Back To Reality

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This could be the homecoming that brings UC Football back to reality, back to earth. The somewhat embarrassing loss to Syracuse brought several things to light and only a fortune teller can predict what's next.

What was disappointing to start was the heads pointing south, not north on the UC sidelines. UC football teams of the last few years never worried about the score or how far behind they were going into the fourth quarter. They allowed us to believe that no mountain was unscalable, no score insurmountable. The team I saw, showed me otherwise on Saturday and I'll say for now it was an aberration.

Secondly the fan base that booed and ultimately left prior to the conclusion of the game showed how spoiled they have become in such a short period of time. Wasn't it just around 5 years ago that this stadium was devoid of a winner? this football team was an after thought? and now that Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and now Butch Jones have brought this team back to a level of respectability, their reward is for us to boo and run? 

Don't get me wrong I wasn't happy with their performance either but I had to remind myself: Chazz Anderson was playing in his first real game this season; so did you expect him to play as if he had 20 starts under his belt? D J Woods has apparently been battling the fumble bug and hasn't shaken it yet, so once again he has to look inside himself to find the cure. I say watch film of Tiki Barber before and after the same challenge he had. It is fixable; and finally and very easy to overlook is the youth of this defense. They have underclassmen across the board in every down and distance situation and like the teams we rolled over because of youth and inexperience over the past few years, there is a cost to replenishing starters.

With that being said I know some are saying so what; you have the right to say that and I grant you your opinion. But you also have an obligation to stay and give them a visual vote of confidence by sticking it out. Like you did last year's team; and the team the year before and you'll find out that when kids look up in the stands and see people there until the very end, they know those fans are really behind them and not there because it's fashionable. 

So here's the reality; this team may not go to a BCS game and a bowl game that sounds sexy but there still your team...aren't they? If they are, finish the game strong as a fan and trust me I believe the coaches are telling them to finish strong as a team. If we both do that then we'll find out just how good we both are. If this becomes a consistently tough place to play, advantage our kids; if not advantage visiting team. That won't be the fault of UC football, it will be the fault of the fans. So lets see who we are for the rest of the season; winners who stick it out and cheer until the very end or losers who hit the exits at the first sign of fourth quarter adversity. Being a fan isn't easy, especially when winning makes you complacent. Lets get use to being real fans regardless of the outcome; the kids came here based on how you acted when they were being recruited not how some of you are acting now.

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

Wolfe OK; Collaros being evaluated

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Anybody who saw Derek Wolfe down on the ground Saturday against Syracuse knew his injury had the potential to be serious. Trainers were extra precautious with his neck injury.

According to Butch Jones on today's teleconference the injury is not serious. Wolfe's going through some testing but Jones said after talking with the trainers, he believes Wolfe will be 100 percent of the road game at West Virginia on Nov. 13.

Also, when asked about Zach Collaros, Jones said he likely will have very little work this week in a effort to get him ready to go against WVU.

"Zach will continue to be a work in progress," Jones said. "We'll know more probably next week. He'll be very limited in practice. He'll be lucky if he gets a couple of reps right now."

Bearcats Breakfast 11.01.10

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We've seen better weekends, but I hope Halloween helped raise all the Bearcats fans spirits. I know it helped me.

I learned a few lessons as the kids kept streaming to my front door -- one, Skittles are the overwhelming favorite over Teddy Grahams despite the delicious cinnamon coating to TGs. Two, apparently a high school boy in full-body cow costume won't easily be persuaded into hanging up the pillow case.

But it was fun, so I hope all of you enjoyed Trick or Treat and can pass on to your children the importance of Teddy Grahams in the future of America.

We can talk football, but first I want to open Monday with a little more optimistic topic.

--- UC basketball opens its season tonight with an exhibition against Carleton State. This is the same team they played in Canada. They are one of the premier teams north of the border.

It shouldn't be much of a challenge -- the final score was 87-70 in Canada -- and the Bearcats are much bigger physically. However, it will be interesting to see how this new offense scores. Catching a glimpse at Sean Kilpatrick for the first time will be fun as well.

What I think everybody wants to see, though, is the renewed Yancy Gates. It's no secret Gates needs to be an All Big East player if this team wants to return to the NCAA tournament. From what everybody says, he's turned the corner with his attitude. We'll see as the year progresses, but there's no denying his offseason habits changed.

I talked with Gates about what scared him straight and we got into the real assessments of his game by NBA scouts:

"That was the biggest part. At the end of the day every basketball player wants that chance to play at that level. Hearing what they had to see really motivated me to change."

As far as what they told Gates:  

"I need to work on being more consistent with my play. I figured the way to be more consistent was to be in better shape."

Since his days at Withrow to arriving at Cincinnati expected by many to save the program, he's long been told how great he is at basketball. So, to hear criticism of why he wasn't good enough was at the very least a different feeling. But, he says it wasn't difficult.  

"Not tough to hear. I take it as positive criticism. It's criticism to help me, it's not tough to hear, it's what I needed to hear."

Gates talked the talk better than at any time during his career. Tonight, we'll start to see if he walks the walk.

--- Mike DeCourcy wrote this story about Gates' turnaround last week. As always with Mike, good read.

--- If you don't make it down to Fifth Third, the game will be streaming live right here at GoBearcats.com.

--- Kevin Youklis was in the house this weekend. I hardly recognzied him without his signature facial hair. 

--- There wasn't much good to say about Saturday's 31-7 loss to Syracuse and Dan Hoard didn't sugarcoat it. But he did ask that fans be loyal to the team and not turn on them. Frustration is understood, but Saturday at Nippert sounded all too much like Sunday at Paul Brown in terms of the booing and negativity.

--- Bill Koch addressed that negativity and state of the program in his Sunday gamer.

--- Obviously Brian Bennett didn't walk away from Nippert impressed on Saturday. He moved UC to the bottom of the BE power rankings.

--- He also says Syracuse is here to stay. Hard to disagree with him. They have a defense amnog the best in the league and they do a good job of ball control on offense. They utilized their RBs and TEs in the running game as well as anybody I've seen all year.

--- OK, I promise this will be the last time we relive Saturday's loss, but I have some extra quotes from the postgame I figured I would share with you rather them see them disappear on my notepad:

Butch Jones on the performance of the team in relation to Chazz Anderson:

"We didn't help him. We weren't able to establish the run game, the turnovers, we knew we had to start fast. I knew we had to control field position and filp the field position and game. We weren't able to do that."

 

Butch Jones on where the program goes from here:

 

"Lot of things that people don't see that go on behind closed doors. Our big supporters do. They understand where we are at. The average Joe Public has no idea. That why I can't say enough about our kids. They are still trying. We had kids out there that should never have been out there playing today with injuries. I am not going to throw my kids under the bus. I take responsibility. This is my football program. We will get it the right way. But it is all about recruiting. It is about developing our players. Case closed. I am the leader of this football program. I am coming to work tomorrow and nothing's changed with our demeanor. I expect our small senior class to show up tomorrow and lead."

  

QB Chazz Anderson on the fumble on the exchange with Isaiah Pead:

"Sometimes you got to make sure the running back gets the ball. Regardless of what play it is, you have to make sure he gets the ball. I take full responsibility as well."

 

LB Walter Stewart on reacting to sudden change three times following turnovers:

"It is tough. It is tough when you have those sudden changes, but we are a team. We got to carry our weight just like the offense do. If they mess up, we have to cover up for them. So, we just got to play better."

 

--- In honor of the first hoops game of the season, here's the basketball highlight video shown on the scoreboard the past few years. I still perk up every time I watch Melvin Levett defy grafity and helicopter around the rim.