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December 2010 Archives

Bearcats Breakfast 12.31.10

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The final Breakfast of 2010. I would talk about what a long year it's been and all the things we've discussed here, except, I only took over in July, so it really hasn't been all that long of  a year.

In fact, it's hardly felt like a long time at all. I still remember writing the introductory post and just hoping that all the emails wouldn't show up in my inbox with the subject line -- Re: Top 10 Reasons You're Not As Good As Josh Katzowitz.

As I said that day, though, I write this blog so there's a significant amount of self-reflective sentences, this isn't about me. This is about UC. And yesterday you guys responded when asked what was the top UC sports moment of 2010 for you.

There really was a wide variety of answers. That goes to show, even in what may have been a down year compared to the previous few, there was so much to love about UC sports.

Here are the responses:

Darren: Whoopin Miami's ass in football!!! Black out night!

Gina: Ben Guidugli being great

Michael: Scoring 69 against Rutgers

Ryane: UC men's basketball team undefeated so far this year

Chris: Being in the Sugar Bowl...right up until the game started

Angela: September 25th 2010...Paul Brown Stadium. 8 minutes 2 seconds left on the clock. In the few moments when beating Oklahoma was a real possibility. Electricity in the stands. Amazing... Best Moment of the year. (For me)

Chris: Josh Schnieder winning the Bearcats a National Championship in the 50M freestyle (swimming). First National Title in swimming since Charles Keating in 1946!

Jerry: UC kicking DePaul's butt the other night while i was in the stands on my annual trip to the Big C! GO CATS!!!!!!

Henry: It is all volleyball.   Niemer picked Big East player  three consecutive  weeks in a row, BE player of the year, All-American second team, Setting new career records as a Bearcat.  Annie Fesl and Jordanne Scott All-American honorable mention.   Coach Reed Sunahara, BE coach of the year and winning the BE for second year in a row.  No other coach has accomplished what Reed did in his sport like he has this year for the Bearcats.

Neal: Beating Louisville in the Big East tournament

Shawn Sell at GoBearcats compiled this list of the Top 10 Moments of 2010 that mentions even more accomplishments not found in this list.

For me there's a definitive top three. I can't differentiate between them, but they are definitely higher than the rest.

--- I agree with Chris, that being in the Sugar Bowl, right up until the game started was one of the best moments of the year. The sea of red and black that descended upon the Superdome was the strongest collection of unified, proud Univiersity of Cincinnati representation I'd seen.

--- UC's run through the Big East tournament made you stand up out of your seat with interest. As much as the Bearcats struggled all season, they'd finally put it together and one of the grandest of stagest. Add in both wins coming down to the wire against Rutgers, Louisville and eventually West Virginia, it supplied three days of UC basketball where you witnessed how close this team was to returning to its glory years and how fantastic that would feel as a part of the Big East.

--- UC-Rutgers setting the all-time Big East points record in the 69-38 UC victory. I've never seen a game as surreal as that one. Both teams scoring at will. And just when you think the second half would be different, the first play Rutgers goes up top for a long TD strike. Watching Zach Collaros do whatever he wanted to for almost four hours left me shaking my head.

--- I'm sure some of the other moments were great, like Josh Schneider's title and the UC soccer upset of UConn, but unfortunately, I didn't witness those, so it's hard for me to understand the enormity of the moment.

Regardless, a fantastic 2010 and plenty of reason to be excited for 2011. (SEQUE!!)

--- UC's attempt at 14-0 comes tonight at 8 p.m. against Seton Hall. Judging by what DePaul brought to the table, this might be more representative of UC's first Big East test. Last season, for this team, those tests meants close games.

Mick Cronin and his team aren't concerned about the fact they've only played two games decided by single digits this season and not one team has been within three points in the final five minutes.

I wrote about it on the blog yesterday.

Last year, they were 2-5 in games decided by three points or in OT during the regular season.

--- The game against Seton Hall will be one UC coach Mick Cronin wishes he didn't have to play because Pirates coach Kevin Willard is his best friend in the business. They were assistants at Louisville under Rick Pitino together.

Bill Koch wrote the story on it and apparently William Wallace wrote the headline.  

--- Seton Hall has been snakebit by bad luck ever since Willard took over. With the wrist injury to Jeremy Hazell, shooting with Hazell, Herb Pope's heart attack, transfer of Ferrakohn Hall, events continue to break against him. Cronin delivered this gem when asked if he would meet up to eat with Willard before the game:

"I'm scared to meet him for dinner or breakfast because I'm worried a beam or something might fall on my head. Since he's been the coach there he's had a guy have a heart attack, another guy break his wrist, same guy got shot, multiple other injuries. He's had a some tough luck since he's taken over at Seton Hall."

--- Remember, the game tonight is on ESPN2 at 8 p.m.   

--- Chad Brendel put together a notebook on Seton Hall's personnel, Herb Pope's affinity for offensive rebounding and the hot hand of Larry Davis.

---  BearcatsBlog talks LD as well.  

--- The SouthOrangeJuice blog talks about Seton Hall's current state. Good for some insight into some of the strengths and weankesses of the Pirates if you're into that sort of thing.

--- In case you don't follow me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr), what's wrong with you? Oh, and also, I mentioned yesterday that UC has tickets to the USF and Seton Hall games on sale for $20.11 until midnight tonight. Just go to this site and type in the password 2011. So, get 'em while their hot. Or if you have been continuously rejected by NYE dates and need a place to go tonight, you can do so on the cheap.

--- On to some randomness...

--- Stanford snapped the UConn women's record-breaking win streak last night at 90. The fans didn't rush the court.

I understand "Act like you've been there," but nobody has been there. Ever. This is the longest  win streak in the history of collegiate basketball!

Of course, it could be because most of the fan base in the front rows forgot to put tennis balls on the front of their walkers.

--- Syracuse benchwarmer Mookie Jones is having problems understanding the concept of Twitter.

--- A South Carolina man was injured when hit by an SUV playing a real-life version of Frogger. I obviously post this, so I can bring you this scene from Seinfeld.

--- #SleddingFail  

--- Somebody, anybody, tell me how this "celebration" by Kansas State is hurting the integrity of the game of football? Why does this draw a personal foul? Can sombody please tell whoever decided to leave this much gray area inside this rule they are a complete and utter joke right now.

(Sidenote: Congrats to Syracuse on a nice bounceback season) 

Through 13 games this season, the Bearcats have been challenged to within single digits only twice (Wright State, 77-69; IPFW 65-59).

Not in any game this year has a team been within three points during the final five minutes.

Entering Big East play, it's almost certain to change. Against Seton Hall, there's a strong possibility it will change.

Are the Bearcats ready?

It's almost an unfair question to ask. Complaining about winning by too much is like the voluptuous blond complaining too many men hit on her and won't leave her alone.

Nobody wants to hear it and nobody thinks it's a problem.

For a team who changed the priorities of its offense to one where everyone scores and no one player would be considered the go-to scorer -- how will they react when they need one bucket to win? How will they react when the pressure of the moment rises to a level they haven't experienced this year?

If you're looking for concern in that regard, you'd have better luck hitting on the voluptuous blond.

"I've got about 36 hair follicles left," Mick Cronin said. "I think I've saved a few. We play in close games in practice. We played enough close games last year for a lifetime."

Indeed. Last year, 10 of UC's 32 games were decided by less than three points or in overtime. They lost six of them. Not counting the Big East tournament, the Bearcats lost 5 of 7 games decided by a possession or in OT.

The mere mention of some of them elicits brutal memories. St. John's, 52-50. Marquette, 79-76. Dare I say, West Virginia, 54-51.  

Flipping those three finals alone would have been the difference in flipping their postseason position.

Darnell Wilks points to all those types of games which came before during his four years at UC for the reason this year will be different.

"All of us are juniors and seniors," Wilks said. "We know what a tough game is like. We have experienced it. So, even if we were in a tough game, we would somewhat be able to handle it."

This team may not have a Lance Stephenson to rely on when the clocks at 10 seconds and they trail by one, but Wilks views that as an advantage should the situation arise.

"We are a lot more jelled team," Wilks said. "There wouldn't be no standing around. There wouldn't be no watching one person. We would be able to work the whole offense and score." 

While confident his team can handle, Cronin is preparing his team for the inevitable situation of the one-possession game almost certainly in their not-so-distant future. On Thursday, they watched film of the conclusion of Wednesday's Marquette-Vanderbilt game to review late-game situations that haven't presented themselves to UC this year.

In yet another advantage of reaping the rewards of a veteran group, Cronin will be more relying on experiences of years past rather than film of someone else's games should the pressure situation arise Friday.

"You are always teaching those things even though you don't see us in a close game," Cronin said. "As a coach you would be a fool not to prepare for those situations. But I think it would be inaccurate to say we don't have experience in close games after last season." 

Actually, the heartbreak of past failures represents one of the biggest reason they haven't been in any close games this go-round.

"We know not to put ourselves in those situations," Wilks said. "I have been in three years of tough games. So, we all figure that we come out the first half and do what we have to and keep it going the second half that, we should be good."

That is one way to solve the problem.  

Bearcats Breakfast 12.30.10

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Tomorrow is NYE, which means all of you will spend the next 48 hours thinking up your New Year's Resolutions, the next 480 hours focused on staying true to them, then the following 48 rationalizing why they were overzealous. 

Then you'll be right back where you were, but at least it'll be fun to say you tried.

We'll start looking forward tomorrow, though. First let's look back.

I want to know what your best UC sports moment of 2010 was.

This wasn't the best year for the athletics program, though, they did enjoy some highlights. But with the football program struggling and basketball falling short of the tournament last year, it wasn't as easy to pick as everyone shouting out "Armon Binns!" simultaneously if this quesiton were asked last year.

So, email me (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) or send me a message on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) with your best UC sports moment of 2010 and I'll post up your responses on the blog tomorrow.

Unfortunately, I don't have free tickets to offer like I did with the last email invite, only the wealth and fame of being recognized in the Breakfast (Disclaimer: Wealth and fame not guaranteed)

Let's eat...

--- Busy day at GoBearcats yesterday, with plenty of reaction and analysis to UC's Big East opener. I had the postgame column and also The Morning After blog. If you didn't read them, you will be endlessly mocked by your friends. If that's OK with you, it's OK me.

Yesterday was the bon voyage to mega-intern Will Frasure, who wrote the Bearcats Breakfast and had a nice piece comparing UC's starters to NBA players. I particularly thought the Dion Dixon/Eric Gordon correlation was right on.

Obviously, none of the Bearcats are there yet, but you can definitely see the similarities in their games.

Will also finished a story he had been working on with the reserve group coming off the bench for UC, or "The Goon Squad" as they like to call themselves.

It's a great piece that reflects what has become a significant part of the identity of this team. UC's calling card of defense, rebounding and depth stems directly from this group.

And, once again, many thanks to Will for all he did while on break from OU this month. Now he can go back to Athens, and a much better life than the rest of us are living.

--- Also yesterday, The Voice Dan Hoard wrote a blog about the attendance. The announced crowd was 7,795 for the opener and sounded like more than that at times. They sold 1,100 walk-up tickets,though. It was longest in recent memory according to UC ticket manager Meagan Kantor.

Bill Koch also blogged about tickets.  

Many of you were up early this morning ordering your Crosstown Shootout tix online. With that game sold out and WVU/Georgetown about to be sold out, it's great to know there are going to be some packed arenas for these games.

It makes a difference, too.

Larry Davis said he noticed, but also made a request after the game.

"I kind of like the fans to get us motivated more on defense," he said. 

The arena can be kind of quiet, if UC hasn't provided a reason to cheer. When you are a guy like Davis who feeds off of that energy, it can make quite a difference. There's a reason a team like PItt is 8-0 at their home court against Top 5 teams. And a reason Duke is so difficult to beat at Cameron Indoor. 

There is no let up when that crowd is pushing you on defense.    

--- This hardly constitutes news, but freshman Kelvin Gaines is offiically going to redshirt. Koch blogged it yesterday afternoon after Cronin allowed confirmation.

The rotation is set where it's at and there's no way Gaines would play in front of anybody receiving minutes right now so there was no sense wasting a year.

--- Bill also wrote about UC desire for tougher tests. They're coming.

Yesterday, Lance McAlister broke the schedule down and found 6 of the remaining 18 games are against the current top 10 RPI. Now, the RPI isn't really worth a hill of beans right now because it's so early, but you get the point.

--- The Crosstown Shootout is about a week away and Xavier lost another player due to injury Freshman Jay Canty will be out 4-6 weeks with a stress fracture. That leaves the Muskies at nine scholarship players.

--- BearcatsBlog broke out some observations from the DePaul game. As does Chad Brendel.

--- Louisville's 6-8 forward Jared Swopshire is done for the season. He averaged 7.5 points and 6.1 rebounds while starting 20 games as a sophomore will be a hit to the Cards' depth.

--- How tough is it to win on the road in the Big East? I gave you the numbers in the Breakfast on Tuesday, but you could watch for yourself the last few days. First, No. 4 UConn goes into No. 6 Pitt and is run off the floor. Then No. 9 Georgetown goes to No. 15 ND and loses by double-digits in a game that was never really in jeopardy.

Not that either of these games are massive upsets, although G'Town was a 3-point favorite on the road, but the way both teams were so easily handled shows you how tough it will be to go into some of these places and steal a win.

--- On the flip side, St. John's sure found a way. In the early surprise of the BE season, the Johnnies went into Morgantown and toppled WVU by 10. Not sure if that's a Huggins problem or St. John's is starting to put it together after their win over Northwestern, but it's an interesting result considering the Bearcats play STJ twice this year.

While discussing WVU -- Dana O'Neil alert. Here's her profile of John Flowers.  

--- On to the randomness...

--- What? A list of Blake Griffin's 20 best dunks of the year? Now they're just pandering to me.   

--- Tweet of the day: From BianchiWrites -- Moral dilemma for Maryland players: Do we attempt to carry Ralph Friedgen off the field or don't we? Let's don't! 

--- The Top 10 sports videos of the year opens with a junk shot. Shouldn't all video lists?

--- Are you a hipster dufus?

--- I stumbled across this segment with Will Ferrell on Funny or Die. It is incredibly NSFW, but standard Ferrell funny.  

The Goon Squad

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The reserve group of Larry Davis, Justin Jackson, Darnell Wilks and Sean Kilpatrick call themselves "The Goon Squad," but everyone else is calling them a big reason UC could return to the Big Dance.

 

By Will Frasure

Special to GoBearcats.com

 

CINCINNATI -- After Larry Davis sank a wide-open 3, Darnell Wilks made a quick steal and slithered in for an powerful slam.

 

Then, as DePaul guard Jeremy Drew dribbled near half court, Davis knocked the ball off Drew's leg as it slowly rolled out of bounds. After the whistle had sounded, Davis let out a powerful yell and high-fived a fan in the front row.

 

The proclamation let the Fifth Third Arena crowd know that "The Goon Squad" had arrived.

 

The group's nickname derived from the unit's defensive toughness, "The Squad" consists of Davis, Wilks, Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. The tandem is usually first off the Bearcat bench and jolts the Bearcats to life early in games.

 

It could be seen early against DePaul. The first substitution horn acted almost like an alarm clock for the sluggish Bearcats. When Davis and Wilks entered, Cincinnati was down 6-1. By the time Cronin took them out, the Bearcats ripped open a 35-6 run and held a stranglehold on the game.

 

The group offers help in many ways to Mick Cronin's team. Not only do they provide depth on the bench, but the second team (called the "Red Team") goes all out against the starters at every practice.

 

Kilpatrick says Cronin has to blow his whistle so much during the scrimmages, he's surprised he hasn't broken one yet. The fouls are a result of the two sides playing so competitively, something that is essential for progress.

 

And when the Red Team wins, it isn't taken as a surprise. The high-energy players earn their fair share of wins during practice.

 

"Our second team wins a lot of the time," Cronin said. "Those guys have an innate ability to play hard every play. Our practices are as competitive, more so than our games have been, and that's allowed us to improve."

 

With how strenuous practices have been, it's not surprising to see Dion Dixon look so comfortable in a real game after being hounded by Davis, Wilks and others during practice.

 

It also has allowed members of the Red Team, most notably Davis, to carry over confidence actual gameday. Against DePaul, the shooting guard's 3-pointers motivated him on defense, which could be seen in his tenacious style. The celebration after his forced turnover was an exclamation of how far he's come.

 

"Larry's playing great," Cronin said. "I don't think you can ask him to play any better than he did tonight or in his last couple of games."

 

Not to be outdone by his bench colleague, Wilks has also shown distinct progress. He's always possessed athleticism, but now knows how to use it on offense. It was obvious against DePaul, where he created separation with ease multiple times before sinking a short jumper.

 

While "The Squad" has found success on offense lately, defense will always be its calling card. Cronin's comment about the group is filled with "high-energy" players is an understatement.

 

The group has an in-your-face, we're-not-going-to-let-you-guys-cross-half-court attitude that can be seen in each individual's expressions. Each has a focused look as they scrappily try to stop their man.

 

"We all have the same mentality that I have," Kilpatrick said. "If someone does score on us, that's the end of the world for them. They aren't going to get it that easy next time."

 

With each having similar mentalities, Kilpatrick says he thrives off the certain swagger of the group. It allows him to play with confidence, knowing his benchmates are right there to go just as hard as him.

 

"Darnell and Larry, they play with so much energy, especially when we're pressing, that you have no choice but to feed off it," forward Yancy Gates said. "Their energy kind of just traveled over into the rest of us."

 

During the battle royal that is the Big East, "The Goon Squad" could separate the Bearcats from the pretenders and finally vault them into the company of the contenders. Not only do the bench players provide depth, but also can get things done when they're actually in the game.

 

"As a coach, we can play that style and know we can go to the bench and be okay," Cronin said. "If we can make it a game of depth, it's an advantage for us 9 out of 10 games. It's going to help tremendously in Big East play."

 

When the buzzer finally sounded at the end of Cincinnati's win, Davis and Wilks embraced each other with a high five as they came off the court. "The Goon Squad" could call it a night. They had done their job.

 

"We all just work hard," Davis said. "Us as a group, we just get motivated everyday. We just tell ourselves, 'Let's just play the best defense we can' and we'll go from there."

If You Continue To Build It, They Will Come Back

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A couple of years ago, I began a blog entry with the following sentences:

 

One thing you will never, ever hear me do is criticize attendance.

 

You have to pay for tickets - I don't.

 

You have to pay for parking - I don't.

 

Shoot, those of us lucky enough to have a press pass get a free pre-game meal for gosh-sakes.

 

For that reason, I don't think I have the right to tell anyone how to spend their hard-earned money. In fact, the next time you hear a media member complain about empty seats, ask them if THEY would have forked over cash to be there.

 

My feelings on the subject haven't changed, but I would obviously love to see Fifth Third Arena packed again.

 

Tuesday's season-high crowd of 7,795 for the 76-60 win over DePaul was an encouraging sign.  It included a walk-up sale of roughly 1,100 tickets which was the largest in recent memory according to UC ticket manager Meagan Kantor.

 

The Crosstown Shootout is already sold out, and the West Virginia and Georgetown games are near-sellouts. 

 

I have always believed that when the Bearcats started winning big again, fans would return and it appears that you are proving me right.

 

Last week on his radio show, Mick Cronin was asked about UC's marketing efforts for basketball and the attendance to date, and I thought his answer was very revealing:

 

"My job to market our team is pretty simple:  Win games," Cronin said.  "If you win games, it markets itself.  When you're in my position you try to focus on the positive.  I'd like to be the coach at Cincinnati for 20 years - not 25, just 20 - but I would also like sellouts because that would help recruiting.  Consistent winning helps sell tickets, but what helps you win consistently?  When you tell recruits that you play to sold-out arenas.  People say, 'If you win we'll come.'  Well, don't support Mick Cronin - support the program.  Certain programs are what they are regardless of coach.  Regardless of whether Dean Smith or Adolph Rupp retired, or Bob Knight got fired, certain programs are what they are because of the fans.  That being said, my job is to do everything that I can do to get people back in the building by putting a great product on the floor.  But you have to build it.  I try to look at the positive and my job is to get it done because this is where I want to be."

 

One thing is certain; there isn't a better value in the Big East than Cincinnati $100 4-game "Represent The C" Mini Plan.  The original plan included the Xavier game.  Since that game is sold out, you can now get tickets to the West Virginia, Louisville, UConn, and Georgetown games for only $100.  As I mentioned earlier, tickets for WVU and Georgetown are getting tight, so act quickly if you would like to take advantage of the $100 bargain.

 

To order tickets, go to catstix.com (where they have a print at home option), or call 1-877-CATS-TIX or 513-556-CATS. 

 

* * * * *

 

I don't know if you caught the post-game show after the Bearcats win over DePaul, but I thought Coach Cronin sounded "Huggins-esque".

 

His team is 13-0 and had just won its Big East opener by 16 points, but after getting outscored 39-36 in the second half, Mick was not singing his players' praises.

 

"I'll be honest - I'm not happy," Mick told me.  "I'm happy with the crowd and I'm happy with our first half effort but from there on, I thought we shut it down.  We should have been attacking their press.  To have only 13 assists against a pressing team is not enough - that's a really poor stat.  And to give up 21 offensive rebounds is completely unacceptable.  We got exposed on the interior tonight and it's something that we have to work on.  They took it to us on the interior in the second half. 

 

"It's good to be a point where you're unhappy with a double digit victory.  But I have a higher opinion of our team than most other people."

 

Mick did give a rave review to Larry Davis, who followed up his 18-point effort against St. Francis by scoring a season-high 20 points against DePaul.  In those two games, the senior guard drilled 8-of-13 shots from outside the arc to lift his season total to 16-for-33 (48%).  That's literally twice as good as last year when Larry shot 24% from 3-point range.

 

"Larry has been on a great run, but that's what happens when a guy has the right attitude," Coach Cronin said.  "He's worked really, really hard with the assistant coaches on getting some arc on his shot, and shooting with balance.  He had a tendency to fall back and his feet would go forward.  When we were struggling to score early, he pushed the lead to double digits by making some big shots for us."

 

Davis is not the only Bearcat who has made a quantum leap in 3-point shooting percentage since last season:

 

Dion Dixon - 22% to 39%

Cashmere Wright - 26% to 42%

Rashad Bishop - 32% to 40% (despite missing his last 11 attempts).

 

But as the Bearcats prepare for Friday's game against Seton Hall, Coach Cronin is more concerned with mindset than marksmanship.

 

"Our mental state is the key to this team," Mick said.  "It's not talent - it's intangibles and toughness.  Rebounding that basketball in traffic when people are jumping on your back and no whistles are blowing - somebody in a Cincinnati jersey has to come out of there with the basketball.  And intangibles like being unselfish and not caring who gets the credit.  You worry as a coach about getting to 13-0 and guys start worrying about how many points they're scoring.  I can't let that infiltrate our locker room.  That's a big key for us."      

 

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

 

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

 

Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad proudly displaying the light sabers that were on his Christmas list.

 

Sam with light sabers.jpg 

 

 

Bearcats Breakfast 12.29.10

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Mega-intern Will Frasure stepped in for me today with the Bearcats Breakfast. He's been a superstar -- as most of us Ohio Bobcats are -- this month in helping out and has a bright future once he joins the rest of us that hate getting up and going to work every day. A big thanks to him and here's his Breakfast.

 

What's up Bearcat fans. Will Frasure here to substitute in for Paul as he takes the morning off to sleep in or something. I don't know, I just do what he asks. But I'll try to make the most of the substitution, ala Larry Davis last night.

 

-          It's about 12 hours since Cincinnati dismantled DePaul in the Bearcats first Big East game. I'd say Cincinnati looked great for about 15 minutes, but definitely coasted besides that. Once the Larry Davis/Darnell Wilks-led charge ended, Cincinnati looked complacent, and Mick Cronin noticed. From the way he talked about Cincinnati's performance, you'd expect the team to have lost by 16 rather than win by that margin. Not necessarily a bad thing, however, since the coach would rather motivate his players to want it more rather than praise them.

 

"I just thought once we got the lead, we got complacent. Other guys, they're gonna keep playing. We just got too complacent and maybe I should have rotated more guys in, kept fresher guys in there to defend."

 

-          Noticed an interesting stat at halftime of the game. Out of the eight undefeated teams left, Cincinnati is the only one not ranked. When asked about whether UC should be in the top 25, DePaul coach Oliver Purnell scoffed and admitted that the Bearcats should easily be in it after dominating his team.

-          "Absolutely. What don't they have really? They've got size, quickness, tremendous size in the low post. They can score on anybody. I like what they do defensively."

 

-          It's hard to discount how much Larry Davis and Darnell Wilks' entrance into the game jumpstarted the game. Both looked great, with Davis shooting lights out for the second straight night. If Cincinnati continues to get this production out of those two, they'll be dangerous. They made the "Goon Squad" proud (more on this later today)

 

-          Dion Dixon looked comfortable creating his own shot again, something he displayed very well against Miami. His confidence has been outstanding as he fearlessly drives to the basket. Cronin was critical of his tendency to loaf sometimes though.

 

-          Chad Brendel's take on the game. Mostly agree. This could have been a big statement game if the Bearcats didn't take their foot of the throttle and rolled to a 30-point win.

 

-          Bill Koch's recap from last night. Good stuff, per usual. He's got an emphasis on what Purnell thought of UC. The former Dayton/Clemson coach was impressed by the Bearcats, to say the least.

 

-          In college football, two teams that beat the Bearcats squared off in the in the Champs Sports Bowl. West Virginia and NC State took on each other in a contest to prove which BCS conference is had the most disappointing season, the Big East or ACC.

 

Traditionalists probably hate the chrome-like helmets of West Virginia (along with the silver camouflage on the shoulders), but a younger guy like me loves this stuff. I've always been a sucker for the crazy Oregon jerseys, so this is right up my alley. Here's an up close picture of what they looked like.

 

-          GoBearcats.com's Steve Sell wrote an article on Stephanie Niemer pursuing a pro career Puerto Rico for the Indias de Mayaguez of the Liga de Voleibol Superior Femenin. Good to see. Niemer was amazing this year and I'm sure whatever the future holds for her in regards of volleyball will be bright.

 

-          The Enquirer has its "Year in Sports"  photos up and it's a must see for any Cincinnati fan. As expected, it's filled with the Reds' playoff chase. A picture of West Virginia's DeSean Butler being mobbed by teammates after banking in a game-winning three over the Bearcats is in there. That one still hurts. Plus, the opening one is of Tony Pike kneeling in disappointment after UC's loss to Florida. Ouch.

 

-          Speaking of Florida, it's been almost a year since Tim Tebow led the beatdown in the Sugar Bowl. He's still got that distinctive charm though, as you can see here.

 

-          SportsIllustrated.com came out with their yearly sports media awards yesterday. For the most part, I agree with the list, although I'm not a huge fan of the Cris Collinsworth on Sunday Night Football. I think he can be a bit biased sometimes and can ramble on about one point for far too long. The "30 for 30" mentions are much deserved, as I've been captivated by ESPN's documentaries all year. And finally, Colin Cowherd gets what he deserves, especially after his beating-of-a-dead-horse rant about the Cincinnati "Frauds" during baseball season.

 

-          Been delving into "The Book of Basketball" by Bill Simmons since Christmas. For any fan of the NBA or the game in general, it's a great read. Simmons is extremely smart and funny, something anybody who's ever read his ESPN columns would know. He talks about some of the Bearcat greats, including Oscar Robertson and Jack Twyman. He's definitely pretty hard on the "Big O", as Simmons claims Robertson triple-double season is overrated because of the era he played in, while he also rips apart Oscar as an announcer. He still does point out that Robertson is easily one of the best guards of all-time.

 

-          Speaking of the NBA, a quote that Cronin said in Monday's media availability has stuck in my head.

 

"You'd be amazed at how little basketball college basketball players watch. But they love the NBA."

 

His statement got me thinking about what NBA players compare most with the current Bearcat players. Here's what I thought up:

 

Cashmere Wright - Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets: Might be a little bit of a stretch, but the dazzling passes Wright has pulled off at times this year looks a lot like what Paul does for the Hornets. Plus, he has a knack for scoring and getting steals, like Paul does.

 

Dion Dixon - Eric Gordon, Los Angeles Clippers: Both are vastly improved since last year, as Gordon has raised his scoring average to 23.9 per game. Dixon and Gordon both have looked extremely comfortable creating their own shots in this early season. Both are confident with the ball in their hands and want to score.

 

Rashad Bishop - Ron Artest, LA Lakers: Without Artest's bipolar personality, these two are pretty similar on the court. Bishop is a taller guard/forward player that is one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big East, if not the country. Artest, although deteriorating slightly, still is one of the game's best outside defenders. Both are ridiculously tenacious on defense

 

Yancy Gates - Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: Another comparison where the personalities aren't similar, but the skills are. Randolph can bang in the post when he wants, but has the ability to step outside and knock down jumpers too. As we've seen with Yancy, he can battle down low, but has a smooth touch that extends his range.

 

Ibrahima Thomas - Marcus Camby, Portand Trail Blazers: Camby is ageless. Even at 36, he still is a top shot blocker and rebounder. He may not have the mobility he used to, but he's effective. Thomas is still developing, but his knack for getting key boards and blocks hasn't gone unnoticed.

 

-          To conclude today's breakfast, I wanted to share a clip from HBO's 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic, which is airing its second-last episode tonight. If you haven't had a chance to watch it or don't have HBO, you've missed out on some great television. Anything HBO does about sports (Hard Knocks, 24/7 Boxing) is incredible every time and this is no different. Here's a taste of what you've been missing if you've missed it.

I guess there will always be doubters. I guess people will always take the critical view of the Bearcats given the recent history of disappointment. I guess, until they secure a signature win against a Top10 program, people will fall back to the they-haven't-played-anybody crutch.

Those people are still out there this morning.

They point to how terrible the Blue Demons looked at times. They continue to bring up the non-conference schedule.

Let them talk, Mick Cronin said on Tuesday night after UC did what good Big East teams do and disposed of the Blue Demons in a first-half rush that rendered a comeback improbable.

What I liked almost more than the absured 34-6 run the Bearcats made to create the insurmountable lead, was the confidence with which Cronin spoke about the team's second half.

I wrote about it in my postgame column.  

It would be easy to expect Cronin to be happy with a 16-point win against a Big East foe. In fact, in years past he should have been. The last time his team won a conference game by this much was Feb. 13, 2008 vs STJ, 60-43.

Not to say he wasn't happy to win, but he expects so much more out of this group than his previous.

The Cats didn't play particularly well...and they won by 16. That's saying something in my book.

"We pushed it to 25 at one point and we got complacent," Cronin said. "They are going to keep playing. We just got too complacent when we got the lead."

With a 25-point lead the team let up a little. Should it happen? No. Can you understand it? Sure.

I'm not being a UC apologist here, I'm merely pointing out the human nature element. I certainly wouldn't walk away from that game thinking this is a team that can't put two halves together against Big East competition. They were too good and do too good a job keeping players fresh to think that way.

--- As will be the case the rest of the season, we'll learn more from the next game. Seton Hall is down as well, but they are better than DePaul. They topped USF (who may be worse than DePaul) last night by nine.

Even without Jeremy Hazell, Herb Pope leads a talented group. It's again a game UC should be favored in, but expecting to pull off another double-digit win might be asking a bit much.

I'd unoffically handicap the line at 8 in my book.

--- Great quote from Mick Cronin on the state of his team: 

"I feel like the sky is the limit for this team. If we'll do two things, stay unselfish and care about winning only and get good at the little things, the intangibles that are going to make us win. And, two, we have got to get tougher because the Big East is a physical battle royal and we didn't display any toughness in the second half on the defensive backboard."

 

--- By the way, the mathematical genius musings of Ken Pomeroy had UC as a 77-58 favorite entering the DePaul game. The final was 76-60. Not bad.

 

--- Darnell Wilks played a strong game. Wilks, Larry Davis and Sean Kilpatrick came off the bench and were the reason for the Bearcats first half run. The first team, particularly Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright "were too laid back," according to Cronin. That certainly wasn't the case for the reserves, who injected life into the team.

Wilks didn't play well against St. Francis and Cronin said he sat down with Wilks between games.

"We had some heart to hearts on being positive and just playing hard and not getting down on yourself," Cronin said. "He has a tendency to get down on himself. Worry about getting open 3-point shots instead of using his athleticism, tonight he used his athleticism. He was really aggressive, he had three great offensive rebounds."

He finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.

--- Holy Spidey-Tighties is Larry Davis playing great basketball.

Davis brought in-your-face defense off the bench and continued to shoot the lights out from 3-point range. He had 20 points in 23 minutes, was 4 of 6 from 3-point and perfect 4 of 4 from the foul line.

The rest of the Bearcats were 0 for 9 from 3-point, by the way.  

But Davis was stomping all over the floor, screaming at the top of his lungs and giving high fives to folks in the courtside seats.

I'll be the first to admit I was critical of Davis in the past, but I'll also be the first to admit I was wrong about him this year. He's done everything right to this point.

Last season, he hit 20 of 82 3-pointers for a 24-percent clip.

This year, he's knocked down 16 of 33 at a 48-percent clip.

Davis credited the improvement to extra time spent working on his mechanics in the gym.

"I think I wasn't getting enough arch on my shot," Davis said. "Think I am getting some arch on my shot so its starting to fall." 

He's knocked down 8 of 13 3-pointers in his last two games. But that's only been half his story. Yancy Gates admitted the energy Davis brings to the floor along with Wilks has been immeasurable.

"Darnell and Larry, they play with so much energy, especially when they are pressing you have no choice but to feed off of it," Gates said. "Their energy traveled over to the rest of us."

--- UC only turned the ball over twice in the second half despite DePaul continuing to press the entire game. It led to a litany of dunks and layups, including the dunk of the year this season for UC, the Wilks windmill jam.

The guy is just a freakish athlete.

--- Bill Koch and I like to refer to "pertinent stats" after the game. It's more of a joke, but there were definitely some pertinent stats after this one. UC beat DePaul in points off turnovers 29-5. They won fast break points 21-4 and the bench outscored the Demons 33-19.

 --- Official Ed Hightower has the perfect head of hair to cut into a Johnny Gill style high top fade, he's close right now, but he just needs to trim it up a little bit.

--- UC 18 of 27 from the free throw line. Not great, not bad. I think that's about what you'll get from this team.

--- Dion Dixon did a great job driving and creating contact on Tuesday. He got to the line 10 times and buried eight. It was all a part of his relatively quiet 16 points.

--- Quote of the night: DePaul coach Oliver Purnell when asked if he thought UC was underrated in the preseason Big East poll at No.12:

"I just don't understand how they would be picked like that if you look at their personnel and they did some things late last year in the Big East tournament."

When informed the coaches actually made the selections to slot them there, well he could only laugh....

"Oh, well that explains it. We looked at it and said, sheesh, send to the back and we went recruiting."

Big East statement

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Cincinnati posted it's second-largest margin of victory in a conference game under Mick Cronin, but in a sign of the expectations of this season, the Bearcats coach wasn't pleased with the overall performance.

 

CINCINNATI -- The Bearcats didn't care about making a statement in their first game of Big East play.

 

They did it anyway - at least for a half. And that was more than enough against DePaul.  

 

The undefeated Bearcats team chastised and criticized for their poor strength of schedule eagerly awaited the chance to prove they were more than 339 out of 345 SOS.

 

Granted, nobody was mistaking the Blue Demons for the Orange or Hoyas, but the Bearcats disposed of DePaul like a quality Big East team should.

 

They did so with the authority and immediacy of Darnell Wilks' windmill slam.

 

The final 20 minutes didn't provide the finish Mick Cronin or his team desired. His postgame press conference carried the tone of a 16-point defeat rather than the second largest margin of victory in a Big East game during his tenure.

 

Such is the state of expectations within the program for this season.

 

"Yeah, it's nice to be at the point where you are upset when you win by 16 and you are up 20 the whole game," Cronin said. "It's nice. But I'm still not happy."

 

He probably should be.

 

UC teams under Cronin don't blow teams out like this. At least, not historically. Last year UC won exactly one Big East game by double-digits, that was a 12-point win at UConn.

 

They won a game by 12 points two years ago against Rutgers and the record was a 23-point rout at WVU in 2008.

 

A confident undertone set the baseline of Cronin's criticism. He knows the capabilities of this team. The 35-6 first-half run that elicited roars reminiscent of 7,795 and the good old days in the Shoe provided a sneak peak.

 

"I feel like the sky is the limit for this team," Cronin said. "I think we got talent, I think we are a little bit better than most people think we are. It's good, (the sluggish second half defense) gives us something to practice, stay sharp for Friday and people can continue to think we aren't very good."

 

Cronin can talk all he wants about the 39 points allowed in the second half and unacceptable 20 points allowed in the paint after halftime. The blur of Larry Davis 3-pointers, Ibrahima Thomas rebounds, Yancy Gates dunks and Dion Dixon drives before the break drowned out his criticism.

 

Wins over DePaul don't draw headlines - unless you count the fact they've lost 24 consecutive road games and 14 consecutive Big East road games. Dominating as soundly as the Bearcats did for the first 20 minutes does at least draw a boldface subhead.

 

Oliver Purnell laughed at the concept of UC being slotted 12th in the Big East in the preseason. As far as if he thought 13-0 UC should join the other six undefeated teams in college basketball in the Top 25, he laughed at that as well.

 

"Absolutely," he said. "Look what they have. They have good guards, size in backcourt, quickness, a low post threat that can score on anybody. I like what they do defensively. They can guard you in the halfcourt, they also give you problems with their length in the backcourt. I'm impressed with their team."

 

On this night, it was Davis' season-high 20 points and four 3-pointers that fueled the win. Yancy Gates quietly posted 15 points and six boards. On other nights it may be Sean Kilpatrick or Cashmere Wright hitting the big shots.

 

With so many ways to win, it's hard not to start believing.  

 

On a night UC had one player knock down a 3-pointer and played an awful second-half of basketball on defense, they won running away by 16 points in the Big East.

 

When's the last time anybody said that?

 

That's a statement worth talking about - even if Tuesday wasn't about making one.

 

"No, we just talked about trying to keep winning," Gates said. "We felt, it's the Big East, you want to win games in the Big East no matter what game it is. Not because it's the first or the last game. We just want to come out and win."

Bearcats Breakfast 12.28.10

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It's finally here...sort of. UC opens the Big East tonight against DePaul. The Blue Demons technically constitute the Big East, but they'll be more like an Oklahoma than a Louisville. That's OK. It will still be a bigger test than Georgia Southern, Savannah State or St. Francis.

On the national scale, a win in the Big East can take the Bearcats a long way. In fact, there is probably more pressure on UC during these next two games than in their trips to Villanova and Syracuse combined.

This season is all about the journey to 10-8 in the conference. That's the bingo number that would almost certainly push this team back to the NCAA tournament. You can make an argument for 9-9, and they could get in depending on who some of those wins are against, but you're then tempting fate...and the opinions of the committtee.

The Big East breaks down into three sections right now:

Great: Syracuse, Georgetown, Pitt, Villanova, UConn 

Good: Louisville, Providence, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Marquette

Contenders...in the MEAC: St.John's, Rutgers, USF, Seton Hall, DePaul

How UC does against the "Good" teams will likely determine whether or not they are dancing come March. However, a loss, particularly at home where the Bearcats play every single one of the cellar dwellars, would be a huge problem considering how difficult wins will be to come by against the top five, which are currently ranked in the top 10 in the country.

Winning the five home games against STJ, Rut, USF, SH and DePaul are almost must-wins in the grand scheme. UC plays STJ and DePaul 2x. So, if UC can beat the teams they are supposed to beat, that's seven wins right there.

From that point forward you need to find three wins in these games: @Nova, @Cuse, @ND, WVU, @Pitt, U of L, @Providence, @Georgetown, UConn, @Marq, Georgetown.

Every time UC losses a game in bucket one against the lower tier, they have to add a win against the upper tier. Not a fun proposition.

The ultimate disclaimer here is that, holy crap it's too early to be looking at it like this. But this is the reality of the Big East schedule for UC, if they want to make it as easy on themselves as possible, they must beat the teams they are supposed to. They particularly must do so due to the fact all the lower tier teams come into your house. You just can't lose those games at home when 7 of 11 games against the toughest teams are away. Winning on the road anywhere in the BE is too hard to squander those opportunties.

Consider this: In conference play last year, the home team in the Big East went 87-57. Only five teams even had a winning record away from home in conference.

The Bearcats were 2-7 on the road in conference last season.  

Overall, Big East teams record in home games last year was 203-69. Their record in road games was 71-101. 

"The first two games are in our gym," Yancy Gates said. "We want to get as many wins as possible at home before we go out on the road where it's hard to get a win at places like Villanova, Syracuse. You want to take advantage of playing in your gym."

So, joke as you will about DePaul and the current struggling state of Seton Hall, but these two wins would go a long way to getting UC to where they want to be. They're two they really can't afford to lose. 

--- Can't say I saw a Pitt 15-point victory coming last night. Wow, that is going to be a tough place to go into and win. I don't care who you are.

Pitt is now 8-0 at the Peterson Events Center against Top 5 teams. Yowsa. 

---  Kemba Walker took 27 shots, including 11 3-pointers. He finished with 31 points, but nobody else touched double figures. They are extremely vulnerable if they don't find a consistent second option.

--- The UC game tonight will be on ESPN3.com. If you are having problems getting it, you can use this method courtesy of a poster at BearcatNews:

"Create an att.net email account here: http://www.att.net/s/s.dll?spage=hos...ource=homepage

When you're on the ESPN3 page select at&t as your service provider, then just log in with the email address and password you've just created. And, like magic, you now have ESPN3"

--- DePaul will do what Oliver Purnell does and that's press at every opportunity tonight. The problem Purnell currently has is a lack of depth.

As will be the case most of the season, Mick Cronin plans on using depth to his advantage.

"For our style of play, we don't bring guys off the bench that can't defend," Cronin said. "It allows us to play the type of pressure defense and maintain the intensity for 40 minutes. We may have offensive lapses, but to date, we haven't had any defensive lapses. That helps us maintain leads or stay in a game through offensive lapses.

"It takes a lot out of you to do everything we do defensively and you'll need a rest. As a coach, we can play that style and know we can go to the bench and be okay. If we can make it a game of depth, it's an advantage for us 9 out of 10 games. It's gonna help tremendously in Big East play."

--- Chad Brendel breaks out the DePaul primer with plenty of comments from Cronin and players.     

--- UC enjoyed a nice jump up in the polls. They received 80 votes in the AP poll, good for 29th overall and they received 24 votes in the coaches poll, good for 32nd.

My prediction of cracking the Top 25 the first week of 2011 if they keep winning is looking pretty solid.

--- Andy Katz on the Big East. He slots UC at 12th still.

Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger has his preview. He's placed UC 10th.

The Bearcats are receiving little respect and loving playing that card right now.

"(The rest of the Big East) probably thinks we haven't played anybody yet, but we're not going to stop," Larry Davis said. "There's not a lot of respect but there will be."

I thought this quote from Cronin spoke to how anxious this team is to open the Big East tonight.

"I think our guys are agitated that they've been dominating their opponents. Our road margin is around 23 points a game, and we feel like we're not getting respect. They've seen other teams play and they want to get against them. They haven't been challenged and they want to be."

--- Scott Springer tackles UC's arrival at the Big Boy table.

--- I know it's Xavier, but this is a pretty great story on Mark Lyons needing to hitch a ride on the bus of Albany -- their opponent tonight -- in order to get back to Cincinnati.

--- All right, when I start linking Musketeers stories, you know it's time for randomness...

--- If you think I'm ever going to stop linking Blake Griffin highlights, you may want to find another blog.

--- This man has eaten at 15,007 different McDonald's. Worse: Eating at 15,007 different McDonald's or the fact he counted every McDonald's he's eaten at?

--- I kind of wish more referees would give fans the finger.  

--- Brobible posted its 61 favorite viral videos of the year. That'll waste your day.

I just wonder how Basil Marceaux ended up doing in that race for Governor?

Our Wishes for the New Year

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Last week I had the great good fortune to work with Tommy G on the U67135_475756595885_95919985885_5934838_7764269_n[1].jpgniversity of Cincinnati women's basketball telecast for the Marshall game. As part of the show, we came up with what we wished that Coach Jamelle Elliott and the Bearcat team would find in their stockings this year. So that got me thinking about our new year's resolutions for the Bearcats. You probably have some of your own, so post them on the Cincinnati women's basketball Facebook page. For now, here are some of my thoughts:

For Jamelle Elliott, a BIG EAST surprise. Last season the Bearcats went on the road and got some big conference wins at Louisville and Syracuse. There'll be a game or two that the 'Cats will sneak up and surprise someone.

For the Bearcat team, a steep learning curve. It's a young edition of the 'Cats this season, with freshmen taking a bigger role than ever. May they be quick studies of the Jamelle Elliott system.

Also for the team, but especially for seniors Shareese Ulis and Shelly Bellman, good health. The injury bug has bitten this team way too often and we hope it's done. Shareese and Shelly, this team depends on your senior leadership and your calmness under pressure. Stay healthy and stay in the lineup.

For sports information director Jeremy Martin, a thousand followers on Facebook. Love the videos, especially the ones with the players after the game. Keep 'em coming.

For director of basketball operations, Dana Rieger, a new whiz bang camera to capture all the action on the court. Oh wait, you already have one of those! How about a big ol' calendar to keep everyone's schedule straight. 

For UConn Coach Geno Auriemma, a winning streak that stays intact until you come to Clifton on January 29. Wouldn't that be fun to have the Huskies start a new win streak once they leave town!

And to everyone with the UC athletic department, all the best for a terrific and exciting new year of women's basketball.

 

Bearcats Breakfast 12.27.10

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I hope everyone enjoyed a Merry Christmas and has new pairs of socks and ties to show off throughout the week.

For me, a trip to Olive Garden to wear out their bottomless salad and breadsticks with my gift certificate is on the horizon.

A close second in anticipation this week is all eyes now point to the opening of Big East play on Tuesday. UC eases into the Big East schedule with DePaul (lost to Cal-St. Northridge) and Seton Hall (lost to UD and blew a late lead against Richmond), both among the bottom four in the league and the Blue Demons owning a stranglehold on the cellar.

Let's eat....

--- Seton Hall held out hope Jeremy Hazell would return and breathe some energy into them, but that's looking even more unlikely now after he was shot and mugged this weekend. Hazell has been bombarded with bad luck this season. The good news is it appears he is going to be fine. But signs are pointing more and more toward a reshirt year.

--- Reminder to be a part of the Struggle for the Steak contest. There's some serious prizes to the winners. Last year's winner, Larry Crawford, won a $500 gift certificate to Montgomery Inn, Skyline, LaRosa's, Graeters and a Bearcats Gear package.

You just need to get your DePaul score in before the tip. Here's the link to sign up. Plus, if you win there will be a dinner with Dan Hoard --- ask him his feelings on the McRib.

--- Speaking of The Voice, he flashed us back to his days at Fox19 by sitting down with Brian Giesenschlag to reunite The Bald Guys. They talk UC hoops and Dan breaks down all the angles of the final two and a half months of the season.

If I was a part of this bald guys group, I might actually have the most hair. I have no doubt that will be the only time I could say that the rest of my life.

--- Bill Koch answers 10 questions about the Bearcats as they open Big East play on Tuesday. Not shockingly, he's spot on. 

--- If you want to know anything and everything about the rest of the Big East this season, pop on over to the BearcatsBlog where they broke down every team thanks to the stat monster that is Ken Pomeroy. Add in some astute observations and you have a UC must-read before they open Big East play.

--- UConn vs. Pitt. Big East opener. Tonight. Man, I love Big East basketball.

--- UC won't have to worry about facing top freshman big man Kadeem Jack, of Rutgers, this year. Jack will be redshirted this season after enrolling early, according to Mike Rice.

-- Gary Parrish has six Big East teams in the top 14. This is going to be brutal.    

--- A quick football interlude as Sporting News took a peak into the prospects of Butch Jones' team during the offseason.

--- On to some randomness...

--- When I was in grade school and didn't know the answer, I always tried to at least make the teacher laugh with a smart-ass comment. I was far from alone.

--- Not sure what I think of the first piece from OnionSportsDome, but the photos of Rodney Harrison made me laugh.

--- Here's the Top 10 sports videos of the year. The reactions of fans watching Landon Donovan's goal still gives me chills.

--- Hugh Hefner, 84, got engaged to Crystal Harris, 24, this weekend. Patton Oswalt wins the award for funniest tweet about this:

RT @pattonoswalt: Hope when I turn 60 I can think, quietly, "My wife is being born somewhere." #hefner 

--- As per tradition spent two hours watching A Christmas Story this weekend. There are so many quality one-liners it's hard to only pick one, so here's a compliation.

I've always been partial to, "Only one thing could pull me away from the soft glow of electric sex in the window...."

BIG BOY TABLE

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Big-East-logo.jpg

 

  At most holiday households, there's a ritual the youth must go through in November and December.  It starts around Thanksgiving and goes through Christmas.

   It involves graduating from the "little table" to longer, more elaborate table of distinguished (well, some) adults.  It comes with the passage of time and it signifies the acknowledgment of your maturity.

  For UC men's basketball, after youthful feasts in November and December of several hyphenated directional "appetizers", they've been signaled in to the "big boy table".  It's called, the Big East.

  At this writing, seven Big East school are ranked in the Top 25 (Connecticut, Syracuse, Pitt, Villanova, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Louisville).  West Virginia and the Bearcats are among the schools receiving votes in the poll.

  After an unblemished beginning, Mick Cronin's Bearcats are ready to go from off-Broadway to the difficult league that culminates near Broadway in a tournament at Madison Square Garden.

   "Time to handle business now," said New Yorker Sean Kilpatrick.

  Kilpatrick was denied the chance to play at "The Garden" due to being redshirted in favor of fellow New Yorker Lance Stephenson.  Still, Sean knows the extreme competitiveness of the league as he had a front row seat all last season.

  "Everyone in the Big East plays defense," said Kilpatrick. "I can tell from the experience of watching, the play extremely hard.  If we don't rebound and if we don't execute offensively, everything isn't going to come easy."

  Early on, most everything has come easy as UC has only been remotely tested by IPFW (six) and Wright State (eight).  Every other game has been a double-digit win, including a 34-point white-washing of the team that eliminated them in the NIT last March, the Dayton Flyers.

   "It was a good test because it showed where everyone was and how everything was going with our season," said Kilpatrick of the pre-conference games. "We're ready for the Big East."

  A year ago, it appeared UC was also ready for the league, even though they did have three losses at this point (Gonzaga, Xavier, UAB).  The Bearcats opened with back-to-back Big East wins over Connecticut and Rutgers, but then eventually struggled in the college basketball's virtual minefield finishing 5-11.

  Despite the loss of scorers Deonta Vaughn and Stephenson, many feel better about this particular team.  That includes one of the current players.

  "I feel better about this team because I see a lot of maturity," said Larry Davis.  "When we went to Miami (OH) and got down, we didn't start arguing, we didn't start crying or getting down on ourselves.  We just held our composure and came back as a team."

  Davis is a senior who has the ability to score and knock down shots like Kilpatrick, but has bought in to Coach Cronin's sharing philosophy this season.

  "It's fun to score like that, but us on the side, when we come in, we love playing defense," said Davis. "Me and him (Kilpatrick) we talk everyday--'let's play defense, let's play hard, let's not let the other team get this', when we come out with a 'W', it doesn't matter who scores."

  The unselfishness is almost contagious.

   "It doesn't really matter about the minutes," said Kilpatrick.  "As long as we're winning, we're fine. We don't care about who's playing what and how many minutes someone's playing. Whoever's hot that night--that's who we give it to."

   "I think that's where we've matured at, in that area," added Davis.

  Cupcakes or not, the Bearcats are not all that far away from the magical number of 20.   Given their capacity to play a lot of guys and their fairly balanced scoring, it's certainly not far-fetched to think those victories will be reached (and then some).

   Having watched some Big East teams already, UC doesn't seem to in awe of anyone.  A few years back, that might not have been the case.

   "We watched Pitt and we've seen how hard they play," said Kilpatrick. "I feel if we can match the intensity, which most likely we will, we should have no issues in the Big East."

   Larry Davis has it all mapped out....

  "My expectations are to take everything we did in the first half of the season and take it to the second and the third halves of the season," said Davis.

  Sure, there can only be two halves, but we're talking basketball, not fractions.  Just play along and enjoy the fun.

Bearcats Breakfast 12.24.10

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Normally, I would post a Morning After blog regarding the win against St. Francis. But seeing as how the nuns currently teaching at St. Francis could have stayed within striking distance of the Red Flash, I'll just hit the high points in Breakfast fashion.

Not that the win wasn't a fun final game for the Bearcats before Big East play begins on Tuesday, as I pointed out in last night's postgame column. The question becomes: Is this team ready?

Inevitably, the answer is yes. Or at least as ready as they are going to be. This team is so anxious to prove themselves, it's hard to imagine anything but a fast start in the Big East. With cellar-dwelling DePaul coming in for Game 1, that one could end up like many of the games in December were at 5/3 Arena.

--- Dan Hoard wrote about Mick Cronin's decision to start his five backups on Thursday night. It served as a reward to those guys for practicing and playing hard to finally hear their names called during pregrame introductions.

The starters gladly moved aside and the players appreciated the gesture.

The smile on Larry Davis' face discussing it in the postgame proved that it meant something.

"It was kind of fun," Davis said. "He told us in practice today in walkthrough, he said we have been playing hard in practice, working hard and could get a start."

--- Cashmere Wright only played three minutes (with 6 points, 3 steals and and an assist) after his shoulder popped out of the socket on Thursday. It's been an ongoing issue with Cashmere all season. Sometimes he does it in practice and keeps right on going. But against St. Francis, there was no need to press his luck.

Cronin said he is OK and will be good to go against DePaul.

"It's just something we are going to have to deal with all year," he said.

--- When I asked him if Dion Dixon or JaQuon Parker would take over if Wright were to go down in a game, he said the first move would be for Dixon to run point.

Cronin said Dixon plays point guard in practice a lot.  

"Because you get your better players on the floor and right now you insert either Larry or SK, the way they are playing,to probably get your best five," Cronin said. "That's a luxury to have. But I will take a little bit away from Dion's scoring, that's something let's hope we don't have to deal with."

--- Tis the season and Scott Springer rings in some Bearcats Christmas Cheer.

--- Nice game from LDavis last night -- 18 points, 4 of 7 shooting from 3-point range. He really has been playing well of late. Considering the defense he provides off the bench, if he can consistently provide even half the offense he did Thursday, this team will go a long way.

-- LD is more than just a basketball player, he steps into the role of TV host as he tours the Bearcats locker room finding out what everybody wants for Christmas. (Spoiler Alert: Darnell Wilks wants some hair for his bald spot)

Must-see TV.

--- Holy goodness Georgetown is scary this season. They went into Memhpis and terrorized the Tigers last night, 86-69. The Big East looks tougher and tougher every day.

Fortunately, the Cats don't have to worry about the Hoyas until Feb. 23. Unfortunately, then they play them twice in two weeks.

--- Quick peak ahead to DePaul (6-6): They have won three in a row, however already own loses to Cal-St. Northridge, Western Carolina, Indiana State (by 22!) and Ball State.

--- The Bearcats have as good of team chemistry as you can hope for this season. Mississippi State, not so much. Yeah, fighting your teammates in the stands is not a good idea, Renardo Sidney.

--- If you haven't bookmarked Matt Norlander's new blog at CBSsports.com (Norlander previously ran College Hoops Journal) you need to do so now.

Plus, you need to read his piece on UC and Mick Cronin. Nothing ground-breaking, but a nice look at the current state of the program.

--- I owe a big thanks to Mo Egger for (accepting my bribe) and naming this the Best New Sports Blog in his his year end awards. I'm not sure who I was in competition with, but I'll take it. Mo's been a huge help and of great support ever since my days at CNati and he's a loyal NY Knicks/Mets fan, so he needs to hear all the kind words he can.

Of course, you could be a Wizards fan...

--- How about some randomness...

--- You know I love the viral videos and this Videogum Retrospective of the best viral videos of 2010 is a dandy. We are some messed up people.   

--- I think Marcus Jordan leading UCF into the Top 25 is one of the coolest storylines of the season thus far.

--- A heart-warming holiday story from Boston.com. Definitely worth a read.

--- Of course, this will be the last post before Christmas, so I want to wish everybody a Happy Holiday no matter what you celebrate. Especially those of you that celebrate Festivus because you find tinsel distracting.

Be careful getting the pole out of the crawl space.

   

Bearcats Breakfast 12.23.10

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Normally, I would post a Morning After blog regarding the win against St. Francis. But seeing as how the nuns currently teaching at St. Francis could have stayed within striking distance of the Red Flash, I'll just hit the high points in Breakfast fashion.

Not that the win wasn't a fun final game for the Bearcats before Big East play begins on Tuesday, as I pointed out in last night's postgame column. The question becomes: Is this team ready?

Inevitably, the answer is yes. Or at least as ready as they are going to be. This team is so anxious to prove themselves, it's hard to imagine anything but a fast start in the Big East. With cellar-dwelling DePaul coming in for Game 1, that one could end up like many of the games in December were at 5/3 Arena.

--- Dan Hoard wrote about Mick Cronin's decision to start his five backups on Thursday night. It served as a reward to those guys for practicing and playing hard to finally hear their names called during pregrame introductions.

The starters gladly moved aside and the players appreciated the gesture.

The smile on Larry Davis' face discussing it in the postgame proved that it meant something.

"It was kind of fun," Davis said. "He told us in practice today in walkthrough, he said we have been playing hard in practice, working hard and could get a start."

--- Cashmere Wright only played three minutes (with 6 points, 3 steals and and an assist) after his shoulder popped out of the socket on Thursday. It's been an ongoing issue with Cashmere all season. Sometimes he does it in practice and keeps right on going. But against St. Francis, there was no need to press his luck.

Cronin said he is OK and will be good to go against DePaul.

"It's just something we are going to have to deal with all year," he said.

--- When I asked him if Dion Dixon or JaQuon Parker would take over if Wright were to go down in a game, he said the first move would be for Dixon to run point.

Cronin said Dixon plays point guard in practice a lot.  

"Because you get your better players on the floor and right now you insert either Larry or SK, the way they are playing,to probably get your best five," Cronin said. "That's a luxury to have. But I will take a little bit away from Dion's scoring, that's something let's hope we don't have to deal with."

--- Tis the season and Scott Springer rings in some Bearcats Christmas Cheer.

--- Nice game from LDavis last night -- 18 points, 4 of 7 shooting from 3-point range. He really has been playing well of late. Considering the defense he provides off the bench, if he can consistently provide even half the offense he did Thursday, this team will go a long way.

-- LD is more than just a basketball player, he steps into the role of TV host as he tours the Bearcats locker room finding out what everybody wants for Christmas. (Spoiler Alert: Darnell Wilks wants some hair for his bald spot)

Must-see TV.

--- Holy goodness Georgetown is scary this season. They went into Memhpis and terrorized the Tigers last night, 86-69. The Big East looks tougher and tougher every day.

Fortunately, the Cats don't have to worry about the Hoyas until Feb. 23. Unfortunately, then they play them twice in two weeks.

--- Quick peak ahead to DePaul (6-6): They have won three in a row, however already own loses to Cal-St. Northridge, Western Carolina, Indiana State (by 22!) and Ball State.

--- The Bearcats have as good of team chemistry as you can hope for this season. Mississippi State, not so much. Yeah, fighting your teammates in the stands is not a good idea, Renardo Sidney.

--- If you haven't bookmarked Matt Norlander's new blog at CBSsports.com (Norlander previously ran College Hoops Journal) you need to do so now.

Plus, you need to read his piece on UC and Mick Cronin. Nothing ground-breaking, but a nice look at the current state of the program.

--- I owe a big thanks to Mo Egger for (accepting my bribe) and naming this the Best New Sports Blog in his his year end awards. I'm not sure who I was in competition with, but I'll take it. Mo's been a huge help and of great support ever since my days at CNati and he's a loyal NY Knicks/Mets fan, so he needs to hear all the kind words he can.

Of course, you could be a Wizards fan...

--- How about some randomness...

--- You know I love the viral videos and this Videogum Retrospective of the best viral videos of 2010 is a dandy. We are some messed up people.   

--- I think Marcus Jordan leading UCF into the Top 25 is one of the coolest storylines of the season thus far.

--- A heart-warming holiday story from Boston.com. Definitely worth a read.

--- Of course, this will be the last post before Christmas, so I want to wish everybody a Happy Holiday no matter what you celebrate. Especially those of you that celebrate Festivus because you find tinsel distracting.

Be careful getting the pole out of the crawl space.

   

A Gut(sy) Decision

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Mick Cronin is not afraid to get second-guessed. Case in point - last night's decision to start five subs in a 94-58 win over St. Francis.

Think about it. What if the Red Flash had jumped out to quick early lead, gained a little momentum, and made it a game? Mick would have been blasted for everything from not having enough respect for the opponent, to jinxing a team on a winning streak. Admittedly, after seeing St. Francis in action, the odds of the move backfiring were slim, but it still took some guts.

Call it a gut decision that worked out perfectly.

"We talk a lot about being unselfish as a team and the importance of sacrificing for each other and there are a lot of guys who have been doing that," Coach Cronin said. "There are guys here who are good enough to play a lot of minutes at other schools and they're here giving us great effort and leadership off of the bench. I just thought it was the right thing to do to let those guys hear their name called at the beginning of the game - I would have liked to start Justin Jackson too, but you can't start six guys. We told the guys the plan at our morning shoot-around, and the way it was received by the starters was indicative of why we've been having some success. They were excited for those guys."

In his first college start, Sean Kilpatrick erupted for 21 points in 25 minutes. It was his third 20-point outing of the year, meaning that SK has more 20-point outings in his career than anyone else on the roster.

"Sean Kilpatrick was not a highly-rated recruit because he doesn't wow you with great athletic dunks," Cronin said. "The advantage that Tony Stubblefield and I had in recruiting Sean is that we saw him play in high school games and not in summer events. In real games you could see that this guy knows how to play. He knows how to get fouled and knows how to get open. Little things on the offensive end that don't always show up in the summertime."

Larry Davis and Yancy Gates also had big games as each scored a season-high 18 points. Yancy was especially efficient as he hit 8 of 10 shots. All but one of his baskets came in the paint, including three dunks.

"The more patient we are, the better chance we have of getting Yancy Gates the ball with two feet in the paint," Cronin said. "If we can get him the ball with two feet in the paint, he's going to score or get fouled. But it takes time. You can't just plant him in the paint because the other team is going to stand three guys around him. People say, 'Why is he out on the perimeter?' Well, don't worry - he's going to end up in front of the rim if we run our offense and don't shoot before he gets there. The more we get him the ball with two feet in the paint, the better we'll be on offense."

There was a scary moment in the first half as Cashmere Wright walked off the court with his left arm dangling straight down and was rushed to the locker room. The sophomore guard returned to the bench a few minutes later but did not return to the court.

"He's had a problem with his left shoulder all year," Coach Cronin told me after the game. "We're just being cautious with it. I don't know what happened tonight - something with a loose ball - but you saw him immediately grab it and common sense rules the day in that situation. It's something that he may have to get fixed at the end of the year. He's been having that issue all year but I think he'll be OK."

The Bearcats will take a 12-0 record into Tuesday's Big East opener against DePaul, but Coach Cronin knows what you're thinking: Has the non-conference schedule sufficiently prepared the team for the meat grinder they're about to face over the next 2 ½ months?

"We have juniors and seniors that have years of Big East experience and that's the most important thing," Cronin said. "We're just trying to fine-tune ourselves to get ready to go. I love our team attitude, but we still have some things we're tying to improve."

Hard to second-guess that.

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

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

Let the real test begin

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The non-conference schedule is essentially over and thankfully the Big East schedule begins for undefeated UC on Tuesday.

 

CINCINNATI - From the opening minutes Thursday night felt more like a reward than a real game. The traditional starters stepped into the shadows as the second team heard their name called during introductions.

 

The 2-10 Red Flash elicited as much fear as the UC dance team in plaid schoolgirl uniforms.

 

An adulation of ally-oops, Alex Eppensteiner behind-the-back dribbles and Justin Jackson 3-pointers filled Fifth Third Arena for one final time this season.

 

The surprising crowd of 5,504 who apparently received word this team is worth watching, soaked in the show like kids on Christmas morning.

 

Thursday was the time to celebrate 12-0. Thursday was the time to celebrate the best start since 2003-04. Thursday was the time to forget the 330th ranked strength of schedule and enjoy what this team built over the past nine months.

 

You can call some of the attempted highlight layups and no-look passes sloppy, but they were deserved.

 

This was a night to be enjoyed. A night to be enjoyed because all of the laid-back conclusions are about to be sucked right out of this season.

 

Few schedules are more treacherous in all of sports than the grind through the Big East. It swallows the strongest of players. It spits out the best of coaches.

 

It begins Tuesday.

 

"It's time to handle business," Sean Kilpatrick said. "It's time to get down to the nitty-gritty. It was a good test thought to see where everyone was and how everything was going for our season. I feel we are ready for the Big East."

 

Are they?

 

Twelve wins and no losses into the season, what do we know? The Bearcats are ready. Or at least, as ready as they'll ever be.

 

Over the course of the first third of the year, those traits associated with winning teams surfaced. Larry Davis spoke about an unselfish attitude this season that didn't exist even a year ago.

 

"I feel better about this team because I see a lot of maturity," Davis said. "Like we went to Miami and got down we didn't start arguing, we didn't start crying. We just came back as a team."

 

The confidence showed in the smooth stroke of each of the 12 3-pointers buried Thursday night. The much-needed understanding of the offense illustrated with each of the 23 assists.

 

They enter in the top 20 in the country in fewest turnovers, assist-turnover ratio, points allowed, FG percentage defense and wins.

 

None of it matters.

 

The recurring quote from every Mick Cronin press conferences over the past two months has been, "our fate will be decided in the Big East."

 

Entering that portion of the schedule, Cronin holds the same cautious optimism he's shown the past two months. This team isn't what it needs to be yet, but there's plenty to like.

 

"If you were to say to me what do I like the most, I say defensively we're pretty consistent," Cronin said. "We've been pretty good at taking people out of what they want to do.


"We're getting there. We got some younger guys. They are still improving. You got to get better."

 

Staring down somewhere in the vicinity of 10 games against teams in the top 20 in the country, their fact they need to improve isn't discovering water on Mars.

 

The halfcourt offense remains inconsistent. As does the offensive output of Gates. While shooting a full seven percentage points better from 3-point range this season than last, the team must learn not to rely on it as much.

 

"We need to make sure we get good shots with our execution," Cronin said. "That's my biggest concern, because that's the problem we had last year."

 

Teams this year have matched the Bearcats' intensity, but none have matched their talent level. That changes over the next two months and figuring out how to adjust may be the difference between NIT and NCAA.

 

"One thing I know, it's a lot harder to score in January and February than November and December," Cronin said. "The games become more physical, everybody has scouting and preparation on your team. You have to be able to still get what you want on teams and not let them take you out of stuff."

 

For one last night, the Bearcats enjoyed the concept of scoring in November and December. They believe they are ready. And finally, mercifully, thankfully, we are all about to find out.

Bearcats Breakfast 12.23.10

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I spent a piece of my day yesterday watching the Charlie Coles press conference again, this time thanks to the video posted by the good folks at BearcatLair. Much of what makes Charlie great isn't what he says, but how he says. Case in point, watch the final three minutes of the video and how he reacts when he pretends not to recognize the young Miami sports information representative there to conclude his presser.

Maybe it's something only a sports writer who has wasted countless hours of his life sitting in boring, sometimes vomit-inducing press conferences can understand. But it makes me laugh, so I'm posting it.

That's enough, let's eat

 --- UC hosts St. Francis (Pa) tonight. It's the final cupcake of the year. For those of you complaining about all the weak opponents, you might be yearning to see St. Francis walk into the gym 45 days from now because, as the kids like to say, it's about to get real.

--- TV will be FoxSportsOhio and radio on 700WLW.

--- The radio call will as always be with Dan Hoard and Chuck Machock. Dan posted a post-Miami column yesterday about the giant chip on the shoulder of the UC team right now. Mick Cronin admitted to Dan in the postgame Monday that this team is playing hungry. The disrespect really has them playing with anger.

I loved this quote from Cronin in regards to the lack of respect his team has received: 

"Do me a favor and don't tell my guys they're any good because they're irritated and I like them that way," Mick told me after Tuesday's 64-48 win at Miami. "Keep us out of the polls and don't pat 'em on the back because right now they're hungry. We have a saying in our locker room that, 'The hungry dog gets the bone.' That's the law of the alley."

--- Dayton won at Seton Hall on Wednesday night. They overcame a 14-point halftime deficit to do so.

The win was positive for the Bearcats. The better UD plays, the better UC's domination of them looks. As long as UC can handle business against Seton Hall on NYE, it looks even better.

UD doens't have any more big-time non-conference games left, but they are still 10-3  and that's good for the most wins in the A-10 right now. They should be in the top three or four of that conference. By the time the resume is analyzed come March, UC's win against Dayton will likely earn them points with the committee.

--- Even better news to come out of that game: Seton Hall has issues right now. They are really struggling to find consistent play without Jeremy Hazell.

As  Brendan Prunty, of NJ.com points out, they need to get their act together. UC might be catching them at the perfect time.

--- Back to the hometown team, the other news to come out of the win at Miami was the ticket fiasco that occurred at the gate.

Mick Cronin was none too happy with the policy.

I have no problem with selling ticket packages -- Miami made you buy a ticket to either the Ball State or Western Michigan game with a UC purchase. However, sell them in advance. When it comes to walk-up sales day of the game, you can't still be charging people double the price at the door. It was a clear scam to screw UC fans and it's understandable why Cronin was upset.

--- Bill Koch writes about the emergence of Dion Dixon. Dixon pointed out on his Twitter last night that he enjoys reading the negative stories about himself rather than the good ones, to keep him working harder. If he keeps playing like he is, he may want to find a new form of motivation.   

---  A total of 19 teams from Big-Six conferences lost on Tuesday and Wednesday combined. That includes South Carolina losing by 16 to Furman and LSU losing by 20 to North Texas. Virginia lost at home to 4-10 Seattle.

But, yeah, UC deserves no credit for reeling off 11 in a row. (I will continue to do this until the Bearcats land in the Top 25, lose a game or major teams stop losing to cupcakes, whichever comes first)

--- How about some randomness...

--- Since I gave an ode to Charlie's presser at the top, I will give you this dandy from the other side of the coin. Frank Martin is pissed. I particularly enjoyed the final 20 seconds.  

--- The Daily Dose of Dana: Dana O'Neil with a fantastic story about the Presbyterian basketball program.  

--- It's all happening. The Jersey Shore spin-offs are beginning. Before you know it, we'll be watching "Grenades of Love."    

--- I'm a big fan of Jeff Pearlman's blog -- and his books for that matter. He posted a random memory that is one of my favorite and earliest sports moments of all time. Tyson v. Spinks.  

12 'CATS FOR CHRISTMAS

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   Out of sheer boredom while I have a break in between another project (yes, Scotty found full-time work covering prep sports for The Community Press/Enquirer/cincinnati.com) I give you some sheer silliness that I scribbled while watching the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl (and wishing Butch Jones and company were there).
   It's the holiday season, so crank this up on your Christmas karaoke (as always, try to remain in tune so as not to disturb the neighbors).

On the first day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
A triple-double for Yancy.

On the second day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy.

On the third day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
A three-ball for Wright,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy.

On the fourth day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
Four top recruits,
A three-ball for Wright,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy.

On the fifth day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
FIVE FIRST TEAM STUDS!
Four top recruits,
Three-ball for Wright,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy.

On the sixth day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
Six Seans a shooting,
FIVE FIRST TEAM STUDS!
Four top recruits,
Three-ball for Wright,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy.

On the seventh day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
Seven boards for Biggy,
Six Seans a shooting,
FIVE FIRST TEAM STUDS!
Four top recruits,
Three-ball for Wright,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy.

On the eighth day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
Eight blocks for Thomas,
Seven boards for Biggy,
Six Seans a shooting,
FIVE FIRST TEAM STUDS!
Four top recruits,
Three-ball for Wright,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy.

On the ninth day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
Nine Jacksons hustling,
Eight blocks for Thomas,
Seven boards for Biggy,
Six Seans a shooting,
FIVE FIRST TEAM STUDS!
Four top recruits,
Three-ball for Wright,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy.

On the tenth day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
Ten Dixons driving,
Nine Jacksons hustling,
Eight blocks for Thomas,
Seven boards for Biggy,
Six Seans a shooting,
FIVE FIRST TEAM STUDS!
Four top recruits,
Three-ball for Wright,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
Eleven Parkers popping,
Ten Dixons driving,
Nine Jacksons hustling,
Eight blocks for Thomas,
Seven boards for Biggy,
Six Seans a shooting,
FIVE FIRST TEAM STUDS!
Four top recruits,
Three-ball for Wright,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy.

On the twelth day of Christmas, Mick Cronin gave to me,
Twelve wins in March,
Eleven Parkers popping,
Ten Dixons driving,
Nine Jacksons hustling,
Eight blocks for Thomas,
Seven boards for Biggy,
Six Seans a shooting,
FIVE FIRST TEAM STUDS!
Four top recruits,
Three-ball for Wright,
Two Wilks dunks,
And a triple-double for Yancy!!!!


If that version doesn't suit you, there's always this.


11 Reasons To Come Back Home

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So many of us have convinced ourselves that UC basketball is a thing of the past and after this year's disappointing football season we have started wishing on a star. Well while your head was skyward, UC basketball has reeled off 11 wins in a row including a always scary Miami of Ohio and Coach Charlie Coles.

Now I know, like you the majority of these teams were scheduled to win and beef up the record but they are beating them like they're supposed to and some teams who scheduled the "cupcakes" ended up losing to them so give respect to the process. Duke does the exact same thing for those ready to offer elite team comparisons. The bottom line is they're undefeated and they deserve some support from students and alumni.

We will find out how much fools gold we have but I have a feeling this team is pretty good; notice I didn't say great, which is THE most overused word in the sports dictionary as it now relates to one play or one season versus a lifetime of work. But when you are 11-0 and have beaten who you are supposed to by the margin you're supposed to I have to acknowledge that. Maybe you can acknowledge them by going to a game when time permits. I mean for what one Bengal ticket cost, you can have a family affair at a UC basketball game and be indoors where it's warm.

I can't make you go to a game and I can't make UC's schedule for them, but if I did I would leave it the way it is until they're ready to have a schedule like Kentucky's whose comes equipped with NBA in waiting players touring and passing time.

So check out a game, get to know some names and faces on this team and when they turn the corner you can say I know; I've been coming for a minute. And that's better than not at all. I always say these kids want to believe you care about them like you did when they were hot shot recruits. Where you faking then when you said we got your back? I wasn't and that's why I'm writing you with 11 reasons to come back home...to the shoe.

Now if they can just change the name to the Big O-Rena in honor of Oscar Robertson...that's for another day

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

"The Hungry Dog Gets The Bone"

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After Northwestern's loss to St. John's on Tuesday night, there are only eight undefeated teams left in Division 1.

Six of those teams (Duke, Ohio St, Kansas, Connecticut, Syracuse, San Diego State) are ranked among the AP's Top 7 and Central Florida is #24.

Cincinnati is the only team with a perfect record that is not ranked in the Top 25.

Mick Cronin is not complaining.

"Do me a favor and don't tell my guys they're any good because they're irritated and I like them that way," Mick told me after Tuesday's 64-48 win at Miami. "Keep us out of the polls and don't pat 'em on the back because right now they're hungry. We have a saying in our locker room that, 'The hungry dog gets the bone.' That's the law of the alley."

While the Bearcats strength of schedule to date is ranked #334 out of #345 D-I teams (according to RealTimeRPI.com), it's worth noting that they've won their three toughest games by an average of 20 points, beating Dayton by 34, Oklahoma by 10, and Miami by 16.

"The constant for this team has been our tremendous effort - especially on the defensive end," Cronin said. "We are still getting better and we have to continue to improve on offense. That's the big thing because we play great teams in our conference."

Miami is not a great team, but the RedHawks have an 11-point win over Xavier to their credit and had the Bearcats down 27-20 with 6:22 left in the first half.

"We fell behind on the road and the guys didn't panic at all," Cronin said. "The guys looked at each other and said, 'We just have to get stops.' It was good to play this game as we get prepared to play in the Big East because you're going to have to play good teams in some tough road environments. It was good to get down early and have to respond and show some poise. I didn't have to calm anybody down. They all believed in themselves the whole time. Once we brought the fight to Miami and started getting rebounds and loose balls the game changed."

The standouts were Dion Dixon and Ibrahima Thomas.

Dixon finished with a career-high 23 points, along with 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 0 turnovers. After shooting 3 of his first 5 shots from outside the 3-point arc, Dion relentlessly attacked the basket for the remainder of the game.

"We had maybe the greatest player of all-time play at Cincinnati," Coach Cronin said. "I've only seen him on film, but Oscar Robertson was a great big guard that used his body. Dion has great size and when he uses his body and gets into the lane, and is not relying on the outside shot, he is very effective."

Thomas tied his career-high with 13 rebounds and added 11 points for his second double-double of the season.

"Thomas has brought a lot to our program," Cronin said. "He's brought stability to his position and he's a guy who is really focused on winning. He gives us a great voice defensively and understands how to play the game. He is still searching on offense because he hasn't played as much basketball as the rest of the guys, but his shot-blocking, rebounding, and defense are things that he can be among the best in the Big East at. He's got great size, really runs the floor, and he is a guy that brings other people together in a positive way."

Ibrahima's defensive versatility is one of the reasons why Cincinnati is #2 in the country in fewest points allowed at 53.6. But Coach Cronin seems especially pleased with another stat: UC is #14 in the country in fewest turnovers per game at 11.1.

"We said in the off-season that we would score more points if we took care of the basketball," Mick told me. "Tonight we didn't shoot the ball very well but we still won by 16 because we took care of the ball. If we continue to take care of the ball and know what we're good at on offense and know how to make other teams break down defensively, we'll score points because we'll get open shots."

In other words, if they continue to play stingy defense and take care of the ball, the Top 25 will take care of itself.

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

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

* * * * *

Don't forget to sign up and compete against Chuck, Mo, and me at struggleforthesteak.com.  It's fun, free, and easy.

All you have to do is predict how many points the Bearcats will score before their Big East games.  Points are awarded based on how close you come, and the person with the most points at the end of the regular season receives great prizes from the official auditing firm for the contest Plante & Moran

The prizes include an invitation to the annual Struggle for the Steak dinner where you'll be served a tasty feast by the member of the radio crew who finishes last. 

The online version of the contest begins with next week's DePaul game, so sign up today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bearcats Breakfast 12.22.10

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11-0.

Another double-digit win.

This time on the road at a tough place to play.

Dion Dixon with 23. Ibrahima Thomas with a double-double.

UC earning any credit for it? Probably not.

The Bearcats continued their winning ways on Tuesday night. After falling behind by seven last in the first half, UC responded to lead by seven at the break and eventually win 64-48. It provided the latest test for the Bearcats this season. For the first time they were down to an opponent and feeling the pressure late in the half.

They responded with a 15-1 run and never looked back. Check that off the list of another situation they proved they know how to deal with.   

"If I could have drawn it up, I would have drawn it up the way we won," Mick Cronin said, "to get down and then come back and win, just to have that experience on the road. The thing I was most proud of is when they hit five of their first six threes our guys never panicked."

At the end of the day it's another win that's probably more impressive than UC will earn credit for. Although, they did earn some highlights on Sportscenter for the first time that I can remember. But on a night filled with the Beef O'Brady's Bowl and women's basketball, they were more a product of circumstance.

All right, let's eat...

--- Will Frasure was elevated to Mega-Intern status as he traveled up to Oxford to cover the game. Here was his excellent take on Dion Dixon's intensity and offense lifting the Bearcats out of the doldrums.

One quote I particularly liked from the story was Cronin talking about Dixon's big game:

"One thing I can count on, when somebody gets 20 on this team the media wants to anoint the guy," Cronin said. "Now it's Dixon."

Yeah, that's sort of what we do. This team has taken some adjusting for us even. The bottom line is there are four or five guys who, when enjoying a hot night, can easily drop 20. People are so used to watching basketball where the ball runs through THE GUY. It's the NBA model that filtered down through all levels. UC's bucking that trend and they're hoping it will be the biggest reason they buck the trend of missing the NCAA tournament as well.

--- Most importantly, as reader Christian would say, one step closer to the mythical Miami Valley Crown!

--- Chad Brendel posted some extra insight from the game at BearcatLair.

--- UC shot poorly from 3-point range again, going 4 of 16 for the game. They are now 7 of 33 (21 percent) the last two games.

However, they overcame the off night by taking care of the basketball and owning the offensive boards.

"We were plus-7 in turnovers and plus-11 on the offensive glass," Cronin said. "That's 18 possessions and 18 extra shots. You're going to win the game when you do that."

--- First technical of the year for Cronin last night. And it played a significant role in sparking the comeback.   

"It really got us fired up," Ibrahima Thomas said. "If you remember he got a technical against Miami last year at US Bank. I think it's kind of like a ritual every year."

 I always enjoy a good T, especially on the road early in the game. Though, I would be so interested in getting my monies worth out of it, I'd have to have some assistant coaches with cat-like reflexes. I'd be the first coach to make an assistant do a shuttle run during an interview.

--- Of course, the game was only the opening act for the Charlie Coles press conference. While this wasn't the stuff of YouTube legend, it was standard hilarious Coles.

Here are some of the golden nuggets he dropped on the press room.

On the caliber of UC compared to other undefeated teams:

 

"Oh yeah, oh yeah. I think so. I think they gotta be, if they're in control like I think they can, oh yeah. Because their point guard is pretty good. I think he's pretty good. When I say pretty good, I mean team good. He's not gonna foul them up. I think they trust him. I think if you're talking about the other 3 teams, I think Duke would be 1. Ohio State would be 2, but they'd be closer to San Diego State and Cincinnati. I think that'd be it."


Coles pauses for a second

 

"Cincinnati is awful big. That Thomas kid is big. Woo. We had Winbush on him (pauses and laughs). We were up there yelling at Winbush, 'REBOUND WINBUSH REBOUND WINBUSH REBOUND.' First of all, Nick's an average rebounder at best, and it would be like talking somebody into fighting a bear. (laughter). You know what I mean? Maybe if we had some alcohol or something and I could have snuck him a drink or two, 'Hey you can handle him (while acting like he's bumping Winbush).' Now I thought Nick should have done a better job, but that kid's tall.

 

"Gates, boy I think he's awful good, but you never know. I don't think he loafs at all, I just think he's smooth. But I think sometimes smooth for him might get him in a little trouble. I don't know the kid well besides saying 'Hi' and he's always pleasant, but you want him to be a little bit more 'Erggh' but I think he's got some of that in him. I'm not calling him out, and I think he's unselfish.

 

"I think they're close. I think they're close. I think they are a top 25 team now. If there's 24 teams at this point better than them, I'd like to see them. I think they are a tournament team. Sorry Mick, putting Mick on the hot seat again."

 

Coles on the mixed play of his freshman Quintin Rollins:

 

"I thought our guy, Quintin Rollins, played his best ball of the season the first 16 minutes of the game. But then Q became Q, which is a freshman. He forgot what jersey he was wearing. (Coles imitates a pass) 'Boom, ahhh, I thought we were wearing black tonight?' No, Q, I thought I told you before the game we were wearing white."

Later in the press conference the Miami SID called for Coles to wrap it up and he then answered a question about the job Mick Cronin

"Mick? Mick's such a good guy, we love him so much. Mick entertains us in the summers, our assistant coaches. That guy is one of the funniest guys in the world. And I don't want to put Mick on the spot, but I will say this. I think he feels like this is his best team he's had. And I do, too. But, God, you're in the Big East, though. Oh God, that's worse than having this coaching job. (Laughter). With the schedule we play, you know, we're 5-7 now. A guy comes in the other day..."

Coles looks at SID that told him to wrap up

 

"Hey, who is this guy? Does he work for us? I thought he did. Because I didn't recognize him at first when he said to wrap it up. We ain't wrapping this up until I wrap this up! I'm running this, I'm running this thing, you know that! Naw, I'm joking you know that."

 

Coles loses train of thought

 

"What was I going to say? I had a good point. You don't remember do you? (Someone reminds him about Big East) Oh! Yeah! The Big East, I thought they'd be down this year, oh God! This might be their best year. I haven't even seen Huggins. I've seen Villanova, UConn, Syracuse, Georgetown, Notre  Dame, Louisville, and Pitt. Oh! If I was the president of Cincinnati, I extend Mick's contract 20 years and I tell him this: You don't have to bring me home one championship. Because in that league, I don't know how they do it. They just love to shoot at each other. They might as well get some guns and start shooting at each other because that league right now is the best league in the country, and it wasn't supposed to be."

 

Coles pauses

 

"Okay let's wrap it up (Laughter  as Coles looks at SID) OK, haha, got you. Thank you so much, Merry Christmas guys."

 

No, Charlie, thank you.

 

--- The Bearcats are now one of only eight undefeated teams in the country. John Shurna's Northwestern team lost at St. John's last night. Nice win for the Johnnies. They needed it after some ugly results earlier in the season against the like of Fordham and St. Bonaventure.

--- College basketball is crazy. You just never know when you can go from the top of the world to the gutter. Tennessee has last three in a row since dominating Pitt in PIttsburgh.

--- Congrats go out to Louisville on winning the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. Beating Southern Miss with a Cajun Burger and fries on the line doesn't make a great season, but you have to give Charlie Strong some credit for what he did in one season with the Cards.

--- Mardy Gilyard hasn't caught a pass or returned a kick since Week 6 and was inactive last week. But, according to the Daytona Beach News Journal, he's still living the dream.

--- On to some randomness....

--- In her defensefinding the bathrooms in a grocery store can be like searching a cornfield maze.

--- I went to see Second City show Pride and Porkopolis last night at Playhouse in the Park. Great, great show. I've seen Second City in Chicago a few times and to see them breaking out joke after joke about his absurd city we live in was beyond a treat. The show was extended through the middle of January, so I highly recommend you check it out if you haven't.

--- The Denver Nuggets send out a holiday Christmas video where they provide their take on Christmas in Hollis -- a classic. The Nuggets version is not. (W/ cameo from Kenyon Martin)

--- Lindsay Lohan. Trainwreck.  

Dion Dixon took his turn as the offensive spark and did it with ferocity during the Bearcats 64-48 victory against Miami.  


Will Frasure

Special to GoBearcats.com

 

OXFORD, Ohio -- When Dion Dixon was knocked over while draining a 3-pointer, he let out a powerful scream. When he drove hard to the basket, drew contact and sank an aggressive layup, he yelled even louder.

 

The distinctive voice inflections let Miami know he would do anything to keep his Bearcats in the game.

 

Behind his career-high 23 points, Dixon pumped life into the Bearcats in a physical game with Miami. While the RedHawks harassed Yancy Gates down low and pressured other Bearcats shooters into missed shots in the first half, Dixon kept the team's heart beating.

 

Down by a rare seven points midway through the first period, Cincinnati needed to change. First, the referees called Mick Cronin for a technical, which usually serves as an alarm clock for a dozing team. From there, the Bearcats shook the sleep out of their eyes.

 

"We came out a little sluggish," Dixon said. "We just picked up the intensity, especially defensively. Offense is always going to be there."

 

The change was felt as he lofted up a 3-pointer while being tossed to the ground by Allen Roberts. Even with a RedHawk flying at him, Dixon threw up a perfect shot that sunk through the net. Although he missed the free throw, the pendulum had swung.

           

From there, Dixon continued to pour on points. Cashmere Wright came to his side, while Ibrahima Thomas found life in the post as Gates struggled.

 

And those RedHawks 3s that sank with ease in the middle of the first half? They weren't coming so easy. Dixon, Wright and Rashad Bishop buckled down and didn't allow another 3-pointer until deep in the second half.

 

"The scouting report was that they were young and they'd wear out if we went after them," Dixon said. "That's exactly what happened."

 

Miami held a 27-20 lead at one point in the first half. When the buzzer sounded to end the first 20 minutes, they were down 35-28. When it was all done, Cincinnati headed to the Millett locker rooms with a dominating 64-48 performance.

 

The defense as a whole stepped up, but Dixon was still there when the Bearcats needed support offensively. It could be seen when Wright mishandled a ball and Dixon picked it up and made an acrobatic layup. Or when he fought hard for an offensive rebound and put it back in.

 

And when he needed to do it himself, he did, as he showed with a lightening fast spin move passed a Miami defender before he gracefully finger-rolled two more points.

 

Despite his 23-point performance, Cronin downplayed the notion that the guard is the Bearcats' main scorer, even if they hopped on his back against the RedHawks.

           

"One thing I can count on, when somebody gets 20 on this team, the media wants to anoint the guy," Cronin said. "Now it's Dixon.

           

"We did ride him. It was a good matchup for us and I called a lot of things to get him open."

 

At one point, he even called for Dixon to take over at point guard. That type of confidence shows the constant progress he's shown since the start of the year. But not since the Dayton game had the shooting guard looked so comfortable and confident finding his shot.

 

It was evident in how he drove and how he reacted to a score, which usually came in the form of a roar.

 

"I have that confidence now," Dixon said about scoring almost at will. "Hopefully now I can just do it."

Bearcats Breakfast 12.21.10

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I have to start by thanking all the readers who sent in emails yesterday for the ticket contest. The response was phenomenal and thorough.

The winner of the contest was an '09 UC Law Grad, Antonio. He'll be enjoying the game tonight with one of his UC classmates who is also a Miami grad. On behalf of the Bearcats fans who read this, I hope you strap a muzzle on your buddy.

Antonio was happy with the direction of the basketball program and actually optimistic about the football program as well, at least with what has occured since the year ended on the recruiting trail.

As for his concern, he expressed disapointment with the lack of attendance at 5/3. He was far from alone. That was one of the common themes that ran through all the emails. People were also concerned about the athletics budget while many of you gave Butch Jones the benefit of the doubt from Year 1. Plus a load of other info.   

I feel like yesterday we combed the desert of the UC fan base to see what we found.

And we found sh#@

Here are a few exerpts of what I thought were the more insightful reasons for optimism:

You have to start with the winner, right?

Antonio:

"It's the right mix of upperclassmen and younger players, with actual four-year program guys leading the way from Mick's first real recruiting class. While the non-conference schedule isn't doing the battle testing some would like, this team is battle tested from previous seasons. They should even do well in the Big East where they can and certainly should clean up against some of the bottom feeders, split with the middling teams, and steal a win or two from the top teams to finish with a winning record and thus lock up an NCAA berth. I think Bearcat Hoops fans have every right to be excited about this team's future. Bleacher seats at the top of the Shoe smelling like stale beer and burnt popcorn excited? I think so."

--- If you look at some of the struggles among those in the bottom of the Big East, there are some very winnable games on the Big East schedule -- particularly with the struggles of St. John's, DePaul, USF, Seton Hall (w/out Hazell) and Rutgers on the road (they're at UC this year). The Bearcats host all five of those. Now, with five teams in the top 10 right now, it's easy to see the flip side, but these are all games the Cats should be favored to win. After that, it's about winning the close ones.   

This from Christian:  

"The football program, while their season was not where we would want them to be, but Coach Jones will have them ready next year, just like he did with the Central Michigan teams after BK left.  The academic scores just came out for the football program and they are at a high point."

--- Great point about the academic scores, this last quarter was one of the best UC has had. The football team had 37 players over 3.5 GPA and 73 over a 2.5.  

This from Scott:

"And the most important reason is that with a win Tuesday night UC and the upcoming game vs. Xavier, UC will again hold the mythical Miami Valley Crown having already beaten Dayton and Wright State."

--- You can talk all you want about the NCAA tournament and Big East titles. There's nothing quite like the pride that stems from the mythical Miami Valley Crown.

The optimism outweighed the concerns in most of the emails I received, which isn't normally the case for a reporter's inbox. People love to complain to us. It's part of what makes us the miserable bastards we are -- or at least Geno Auriemma says we are.

Particularly after a 4-8 season, you would anticipate plenty of complaining, but those keeping tabs on the recruiting verbals (which I can't do here) have been very encouraged.

Of course, there are plenty of concerns.

Here are a few excerpts:

Back to Antonio:

"The Big East is ridiculous. Much more ridiculous than what the football team will face in the fall. Try to find a road win in these games: @Nova, @ND, @PITT, @GTOWN, @SYRACUSE. If all 5 of those are losses, and roadies @PROV and @MARQ are a split, that's already 6 losses. Then keep in mind they entertain LOU, GTOwN, WVU, and UCONN. It's not hard to envision 9 losses pretty quickly in the Big East."

--- It's part of the reason UC must win those home games mentioned earlier, but yes, the Big East is the most brutal grind in college basketball. It's why most everyone plays easy non-conference schedules this time of year. Seven teams in the Top 25 right now.  

From Christian:

"The reason to be concerned is money. How is UC going to continue to compete with programs like TCU and other Big East programs when we continue to spend fewer dollars on the program?  How will the University work to fill the gap in funds, and how will they continue to to fulfill the demand of the fans?"

--- The numbers spent on football by UC is near the bottom of the Big East and the bottom of all the BCS schools. It's a battle this athletic department will face. The budgets across the sports board are tighter here than many other schools across the country. They'll rely on being smarter than everyone else because it would be unrealistic to think they will win by outspending a school like TCU on football.

From Ryan:

"Fan Support..... Plain and simple, its awful. I sat through the Huggins years and I know how great it is to be a part of a sold-out Shoemaker Center. We now have a winning team on the floor and we are averaging 4-5k per game??? Granted Cincinnati is a fair-weather town, but to sit in the lower level and still see empty seats makes me realize how far we have fallen."

Similar sentiments from Mark

"The thing that concerns me the most is that football fans seemed to have fallen off the bandwagon after two years as Big East champs and the basketball die hards that have carried the university for years, have not returned 5 years after Huggins has left.  If you want to be considered a powerhouse and be not be taken lightly, you must have a following."    

--- This conundrum is one of the more frustrating elements of the program right now for everybody involved -- and outside the program judgin by the emails. It's been a hot topic of conversation here and across the other sports mediums in town. At the bottom line of wondering what it will take to bring the fans back is winning. And UC is doing that right now. They appear to be on the right track. If UC goes out and wins enough Big East games to make the NCAA tournament and become a player in the toughest conference in the country, the fans will return. A few years of consistent winning and it will be back to the Huggins era. The answer to this problem goes into deeper and more copmlicated corners than that, but it's unfortunately where the program is at right now.

--- I want to thank everybody for their responses and I only wish I had more tickets to give away to tonight's game at Millett Hall.  

--- Those of you who didn't win the free tickets should look into the UC ticket deal they have going on between now and midnight Christmas Eve. This is as good a deal as you will find across the Big East. They are selling tickets to every game on the rest of the schedule except Xavier and West Virginia for $15.

Here's the link on how to acquire them. Just type SANTA as the password.

--- As another reminder, tonight's game is on SportstimeOhio at 7 p.m. Here's a link to their channel depending on where you live. (h/t TommyG)

--- This will be UC's first trip to Millett Hall since 1993. The reason they are going to Oxford is this is part of a two-for-one series. Mick Cronin talked yesterday about how he wouldn't play these types of series if he didn't have to, but it's an unfortunate part of the budget right now.

UC pays Miami for both its trips to UC, but cancels out one of those payments with the return trip. Those with expansive budgets in hoops rarely do these. Specifically because it's a losing proposition to go into another team's gym and pull out a win, particularly one with any talent.

Take a look at what Miami has done at home compared to on the road this year.

Road: @ DUKE, @OSU, @Dayton, @Wright St. -- all double-digit losses.

Home: Towson (W), IUPUI (W), Green Bay (L), SDiego St. (L), Xavier (W), Savannah St. (W), Troy (W).

They've won three in a row at home and almost looked like a different team in Millett Hall. Tonight will hardly be a pushover, rarely is with Charlie Coles teams.

Bill Koch writes about that very fact in today's Enquirer.

--- UC still couldn't break into the Top 25. Actually, in the Coaches Poll they went from three votes to just one.

In the AP poll they moved up from 5 to 14 votes.

I still hold my prediction that if they continue to win, they will crack the first Top 25 poll of 2011.

There are nine undefeated teams in the country right now, seven are ranked. UC and Northwestern are not.  

--- Tommy G was told here are some of the stores that have the UC Throwbacks right now: Cardboard Heroes, DuBois, Koch's, Team Town, & Kuhl's Hot Sport Spot.

--- Coles is one of the gems of college basketball. I've expressed how much I love listening to Coles pressers on a daily basis. Mick Cronin said he wishes he could be as colorful as Coles, but sometimes humor and sarcasm are misconstrued by the media and lost in translation to fans. Then it backfires.

"Charlie doesn't have to be politically correct," Cronin said.

That's what makes him fun to watch. Here was his glorious response after the Miami-UK game last season where John Wall hit a buzzer-beater on him. One of many. We'll have the complete Charlie Coles comedy hour on the blog tomorrow.

--- Coles says he's just hoping to put on a good show with the Bearcats in town.

--- Chad Brendel writes about the challenge Miami presents.

--- Memphis nearly lost to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last night. Florida lost to the Jacksonville U. Dolphins at home.

Anybody want to bury those teams or continue to give UC no credit for beating up on inferior opponents?

--- Andy Glockner wins the prize of first person this season to publish a look at the NCAA bracket. He has UC in the mix, but calls them this year's Virginia Tech.

--- UC beat Bradley in seven overtimes on this day in 1981.

--- On to some randomness...

--- For new WXIX meteorologist Katy Morgan, she should know there's no better way to be welcomed to town. 

--- Eli Manning was pretty lonely for his postgame press conference after the Giants loss to the Eagles. Four TD passes doesn't get you what it used to.

--- If you are with a women and this is revealed, do you walk out? It should at least worth debating.

--- Thank goodness Blake Griffin doesn't still play for Oklahoma. I could watch him all day.

A Special Year for the Bearcats

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While the school year continues, the calendar year is coming to a close--and it's time to look back at the year in the women's Bearcat programs. It's been a successful, building year, with more to come.  Some highlights include:

  • In volleyball, the Bearcats won the BIG EAST regular season title, were nationally ranked and racked up a 30-win season. Senior Stephanie Niemer was conference Player of the Year and was named to the Division 1 All America second team by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Niemer is the first player in Cincinnati history to earn a selection on the All-America Second Team after finishing the season ranked fourth in the NCAA in kills per set (5.12) and third in points per set (5.93). Another senior, Annie Fesl and sophomore Jordanne Scott were honorable mentions.  
  •  

    The women's soccer team started out its season 5-0-1, including a win on the road over ranked Wisconsin. The team didn't make the BIG EAST tournament, but the young team got some valuable experience. The team also earned the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Team Academic Award.

    The lacrosse team will soon be moving into a new home at the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex, and coach Lellie Swords has 10 top high school players coming in for the fall season. It's a growing program, and a new field will give the Cats terrific home field advantage.

    Golf, led by coaching legend Janet Carl, and tennis have wrapped up fall seasons and are getting ready for spring, and it seems as if the track and swimming seasons never have a break. Women's basketball is tuning up for the BIG EAST season, facing some of the toughest competition in the country. All student-athletes represent the University with honor and pride, and it's a lot of fun to see them compete week after week.

    So as we look back on the year in women's sports at UC, there is a lot to be proud of, and a lot to look forward to in 2011 and beyond. Congratulations of everything you've accomplished, and best of luck for a successful 2011.

     

    Bearcats Breakfast 12.20.10

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    The Christmas spirit has officially overtaken the Breakfast. No, I won't be showing be sliding down your chimney and eating up all your cookies -- unless you want me to. No, I won't be singing Bed Intruder Christmas Carols through your neighborhood.

    Actually, I have two Gen Admission tickets to the UC-Miami game Tuesday at Millett Hall I want to give away. I truly appreciate all you guys. Without your readership, emails and comments, well, I wouldn't be buying many Christmas gifts for anybody.

    So, here's how I'll pick the winner of the tickets. Just send me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) with the top reason you are excited for UC sports in 2011 and the top reason you are concerned about UC sports in 2011. Football, basketball, baseball, anything.

    Please include an explanation of your choices and I'll randomly choose a winner. Just get your email to me by 6 p.m. today (Monday) and I'll send a confirmation email to the winner tonight and we'll arrange a way to get you those tickets.

    I'll feature your emails in the Breakfast over the next few days and we'll discuss your optimism/concern. Again, thanks to all of you who started reading the blog when I took over this year, I hope it's been as enjoyable for you as it has been for me to this point.

    All right, enough charity, let's eat...

    --- Only one place to start and that's with the Bearcats win at Oklahoma to become 10-0.

    UC didn't play particularly well. They bricked 3-pointers, got into foul trouble and struggled early from the line.

    But on the road, against a team from a major conference (subpar or not), they found a way to win -- by 10.

    How many times could we say that over the past four years? Many people would come away disappointed with the game, saying the mistakes they were making were reminiscent of the last few years. In fact, a few of you took out your frustration on your keyboard and emailed me. But this was different. I viewed through a different lens. You know this team can play much better and they still walked away with a victory.

    Good teams win games when they don't play well. They are far from perfect and I am not placing them among the elite of the Big East just yet, but it's about time they stopped getting crushed for not playing anybody and earn some respect for being 10-0.

    --- Bill Koch traveled to Oklahoma and writes about UC not panicking in OKC. Defense and rebounding shut the Sooners down. Here's a quote he had from Cronin:

    "Our defense has been pretty constant all year," said UC coach Mick Cronin. "It has to be. You're going to have nights, especially on the road, when the ball doesn't go in the basket and you've got to make sure you defend your way to a win." 

    --- Jeff Capel, on the other hand, didn't think what happened was as much good defense as it was bad offense, as he told the Tulsa World.

    --- Oklahoma came away slightly encouraged, from the Oklahoman. 

    --- Tom Groeschen spoke with Mick Cronin's father, Hep, who won more than 400 games as a high school hoops coach and was a scout with the Atlanta Braves. He talks about hearing criticism from fans and the difficulty of staying in the background.

    Great stuff.

    --- Dion Dixon made the nastiest move of his career on Saturday night. He went all Jordan on Patrick Ewing with the fake retreat off the baseline then charged the hoop with a huge one-handed jam.  

    --- Even more jersey talk after the black throwbacks hit the mainstream on Saturday. Those really are nice. Hopefully they bring them back later in the year.

    As I pointed out last week, the throwbacks were shipped out on Friday and should be in stores soon. I don't have a direct link to where to buy them, but any of your local sporting goods store would be your best bet.

    --- Tuesday night's game at Miami is on SportstimeOhio, which is channel 662 for Directv --  and, of course, on 700WLW.

    --- Miami has been up and down this year. They beat Xavier at home, but were owned by Wright State this weekend.

    Of course, strong Moeller product Troy Tabler chipped in 16.

    --- Syracuse moved to 11-0 but only beat Iona by six at home. Anybody want to bash them?

    --- Two big plays from UC grads in the NFL on Sunday.

    --- Tyjuan Hagler returned an onside kick 41 yards for a touchdown to put away a huge win for Indianapolis against Jacksonville.

    --- Also, Brent Celek pulled in a 65-yard TD reception as part of the Eagles amazing comeback in New York. Of course, the game will be remembered for DeSean Jackson's incredible walk-off punt return, but Celek's TD changed the momentum of the game.

    --- How about some randomness....

    --- I hope Little Jerry Seinfeld wasn't among this group. Jerry Seinfeld, big or small, takes a fall for nobody.

    --- There's this....and in related news, the Progressive lady leaves viewers eardrums irritated.

    --- Sadly for my Ohio Bobcats, the most memorable aspect of their bowl game against Troy was the opposing punter's beard.

    --- My likeness to Trent Dilfer has been much talked about here, including the inability to get a photo with him at Fresno State as my biggest disappointment of 2010.

    Well, my good buddy Jim, we discovered this weekend looks frighteningly similar to Colts C Jeff Saturday.

    RealSaturday.jpg Saturday.jpg

    So, we've got a QB and center. If you know anybody that looks like a WR and RB we may be able to put together an all-bizarro offense. If you know anybody, pass along a photo. And yes, we are nerds, we're aware. No need to remind us.

    --- Don't forget, send me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) if you want those UC-Miami tickets.  

    Bearcats Breakfast 12.20.10

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    The Christmas spirit has officially overtaken the Breakfast. No, I won't be showing be sliding down your chimney and eating up all your cookies -- unless you want me to. No, I won't be singing Bed Intruder Christmas Carols through your neighborhood.

    Actually, I have two Gen Admission tickets to the UC-Miami game Tuesday at Millett Hall I want to give away. I truly appreciate all you guys. Without your readership, emails and comments, well, I wouldn't be buying many Christmas gifts for anybody.

    So, here's how I'll pick the winner of the tickets. Just send me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) with the top reason you are excited for UC sports in 2011 and the top reason you are concerned about UC sports in 2011. Football, basketball, baseball, anything.

    Please include an explanation of your choices and I'll randomly choose a winner. Just get your email to me by 6 p.m. today (Monday) and I'll send a confirmation email to the winner tonight and we'll arrange a way to get you those tickets.

    I'll feature your emails in the Breakfast over the next few days and we'll discuss your optimism/concern. Again, thanks to all of you who started reading the blog when I took over this year, I hope it's been as enjoyable for you as it has been for me to this point.

    All right, enough charity, let's eat...

    --- Only one place to start and that's with the Bearcats win at Oklahoma to become 10-0.

    UC didn't play particularly well. They bricked 3-pointers, got into foul trouble and struggled early from the line.

    But on the road, against a team from a major conference (subpar or not), they found a way to win -- by 10.

    How many times could we say that over the past four years? Many people would come away disappointed with the game, saying the mistakes they were making were reminiscent of the last few years. In fact, a few of you took out your frustration on your keyboard and emailed me. But this was different. I viewed through a different lens. You know this team can play much better and they still walked away with a victory.

    Good teams win games when they don't play well. They are far from perfect and I am not placing them among the elite of the Big East just yet, but it's about time they stopped getting crushed for not playing anybody and earn some respect for being 10-0.

    --- Bill Koch traveled to Oklahoma and writes about UC not panicking in OKC. Defense and rebounding shut the Sooners down. Here's a quote he had from Cronin:

    "Our defense has been pretty constant all year," said UC coach Mick Cronin. "It has to be. You're going to have nights, especially on the road, when the ball doesn't go in the basket and you've got to make sure you defend your way to a win." 

    --- Jeff Capel, on the other hand, didn't think what happened was as much good defense as it was bad offense, as he told the Tulsa World.

    --- Oklahoma came away slightly encouraged, from the Oklahoman. 

    --- Tom Groeschen spoke with Mick Cronin's father, Hep, who won more than 400 games as a high school hoops coach and was a scout with the Atlanta Braves. He talks about hearing criticism from fans and the difficulty of staying in the background.

    Great stuff.

    --- Dion Dixon made the nastiest move of his career on Saturday night. He went all Jordan on Patrick Ewing with the fake retreat off the baseline then charged the hoop with a huge one-handed jam.  

    --- Even more jersey talk after the black throwbacks hit the mainstream on Saturday. Those really are nice. Hopefully they bring them back later in the year.

    As I pointed out last week, the throwbacks were shipped out on Friday and should be in stores soon. I don't have a direct link to where to buy them, but any of your local sporting goods store would be your best bet.

    --- Tuesday night's game at Miami is on SportstimeOhio, which is channel 662 for Directv --  and, of course, on 700WLW.

    --- Miami has been up and down this year. They beat Xavier at home, but were owned by Wright State this weekend.

    Of course, strong Moeller product Troy Tabler chipped in 16.

    --- Syracuse moved to 11-0 but only beat Iona by six at home. Anybody want to bash them?

    --- Two big plays from UC grads in the NFL on Sunday.

    --- Tyjuan Hagler returned an onside kick 41 yards for a touchdown to put away a huge win for Indianapolis against Jacksonville.

    --- Also, Brent Celek pulled in a 65-yard TD reception as part of the Eagles amazing comeback in New York. Of course, the game will be remembered for DeSean Jackson's incredible walk-off punt return, but Celek's TD changed the momentum of the game.

    --- How about some randomness....

    --- I hope Little Jerry Seinfeld wasn't among this group. Jerry Seinfeld, big or small, takes a fall for nobody.

    --- There's this....and in related news, the Progressive lady leaves viewers eardrums irritated.

    --- Sadly for my Ohio Bobcats, the most memorable aspect of their bowl game against Troy was the opposing punter's beard.

    --- My likeness to Trent Dilfer has been much talked about here, including the inability to get a photo with him at Fresno State as my biggest disappointment of 2010.

    Well, my good buddy Jim, we discovered this weekend looks frighteningly similar to Colts C Jeff Saturday.

    RealSaturday.jpg Saturday.jpg

    So, we've got a QB and center. If you know anybody that looks like a WR and RB we may be able to put together an all-bizarro offense. If you know anybody, pass along a photo. And yes, we are nerds, we're aware. No need to remind us.

    --- Don't forget, send me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) if you want those UC-Miami tickets.  

    Bearcats Breakfast 12.17.10

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    UC-Oklahoma will be Saturday night at 9 p.m. on ESPNU and 700WLW for those of you hoping to watch.

    I won't be making the trip, but as soon as the team returns to town I'll be sure to have all the reaction from whatever happens. As long as Blake Griffin doens't find a game of eligibility, I like the Bearcats chances.

    Let's eat... 

    --- Jeff Goodman writes that the SEC/Big East challenge will become an annual event with 12 Big East teams taking on all 12 SEC teams.

    Hopefully UC will land a spot in this event. I love all these conference face-offs. It delivers fun early-season basketball and this will be another opportunity for UC to avoid some of the problems of this year's schedule with a TV exposure event against what would likely be an equal opponent.

    --- Tommy G tweeted yesterday that Duke was originally on the Bearcats schedule this season. They were going to play them in New Jersey. However, when Butler ended up against them in the championship game, the Bearcats were bumped for the Bulldogs.

    Sometimes, you can't really blame anybody for these scheduling issues.

    --- UC athletic director Mike Thomas weighed in on the state of the basketball team, the earlier schedule and a attendance with Bill Koch this week.

    Thomas defended Cronin and pointed out UC doeesn't have a history of playing weak schedules. He mentioned that they are ranked sixth in the Big East since Cronin has been here for strength of schedule.

    --- Scott Springer discussed UC's 9-0 start.

    --- The other OU's web site posted a wide-ranging preview of the Saturday night's game. If you like to know your opponent, this would be the spot for you.

    --- In case you didn't notice -- and I'm ashamed of you if you didn't -- I wrote a feature on Cashmere Wright yesterday. He has 21 assists to 5 turnovers in the last five games. Say what you will about Dion Dixon, Yancy Gates and Sean Kilpatrick, Wright improved play is the biggest reason for UC's offensive success this season.

    --- Chad Brendel has a hoops notebook from Thursday's media session.

    --- The dagger gave a Christmas gift to each BCS conference school. Here's his list. Unfortunately, I think his gift to the Bearcats is like asking for the garage full of power wheels when you were a kid. Probably not gonna happen.

    --- KenPom had an interesting post on the head-to-head fallacy. He breaks down the numbers and finds that just because you beat a team once in no way says you will win the second time. In fact, if you won by single digits at home, last year you lost 67 percent of the time in the road rematch.

    If you won by 1 or 2 points at home, you only on 23 percent of the time in the road rematch.

    I don't know what any of that will prove, but it's interesting to think about.

    --- The Bearcats needed help in the defensive backfield. That is no secret. Butch Jones dipped into the JuCo ranks to help fix it for the first time this offseason. He said there would be a few of these and Malcolm Murray is the first.

    I can't say I've seen a ton of Murray, but as a sophomore this year his JuCo team did go 13-0 and win the national title. In two seasons he played in 27 games with 10 interceptions.

    He's 6-5 205 so he even adds some height to the backfield. He'll be enrolled in January so we'll receive our first look at him in spring practice.

    Signing Day for HS players will be Feb. 2.

    --- The hiring of Mike Haywood has some Pitt fans uninspired, and not necessarily for Haywood, but how the Panthers went about it.  

    --- It's crazy to think about, but UConn is going to lose a ton of money on this trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

    --- On to some randomness...

    --- Going to the movies is a losing proposition these days. The tickets are $10, the small popcorn is almost $5 and they don't serve a drink in less than 32 ounces. Oh, and sometimes you get stabbed with a meat thermometer.

    --- I once lived with a roommate who had a parrot. It would imitate the sound of the phone ringing endlessly. Including at 7 in the morning. Well, I guess it could have been worse. It could have been possessed by Drowning Pool.

    --- And a very important PSA from women everywhere.         

    --- I want the Hulk Hogan Rent-a-Center commerical taken off the air immediately. That is all.  

    --- Awful Announcing posted their list of the 10 biggest announcer gaffes of the year. This was one of them that I'd never seen before. The clueless reaction is priceless.  

      

    ALSO RECEIVING VOTES....

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    D_Dixon.jpg
    (Courtesy downthedrive.com)

          Are they any good?

          UC men's basketball is now 9-0. That's something that hasn't been done since 2005 when interim coach Andy Kennedy took an unblemished mark into January before losing at Connecticut on a night Armein Kirkland tore an ACL.

          Prior to that, Bob Huggins had such marks in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2003 and 2004 thanks to such names as Danny Fortson, Kenyon Martin and Jason Maxiell. One might note, those players all went onto NBA careers.

          Your Final Four and Elite Eight teams of '91-'92 and '92-'93 DID NOT have the start that Mick Cronin's squad has thus far. Yet, those players are considered UC legends now along with the Oscar Robertson semi-final teams and (obviously) the back-to-back National Champions from '61 and '62.

          THIS team is undefeated and yet is not ranked as many Bearcat teams were instantaneously in the 90s and at the beginning of this decade.

          So, what's it all mean and what does it matter?

          "I have no clue, me personally," said starting point guard Cashmere Wright. "People think maybe we haven't played (any) teams yet. We're not ranked so we're going to keep playing hard, keep playing these games. Eventually, if you win enough, you will be."

          For Head Coach Mick Cronin though, a ranking is sometimes not a blessing, but a curse. (UC was ranked briefly last year after a successful Maui Invitational, only to struggle later.)

          "Doesn't help you win games," said Cronin. "It probably helps you lose games to be honest with you."

          While last year's team beat national programs like Vanderbilt and Maryland in Maui (before losing to Gonzaga in the final) this year's group has had a considerably easier schedule.

          The closest game has been a six-point win over IPFW (who took Xavier to OT at Cintas Center) and the most notable teams on the docket have been Wright State, Dayton and Toledo. The Bearcats beat the Raiders by eight, and the Flyers and Rockets by 34 each.

    In an odd way, Mick Cronin feels the Bearcats are suffering some in credibility BECAUSE they blew out last year's NIT champion Dayton Flyers (who eliminated the Bearcats last March in that tournament at Fifth Third Arena).

          "We played Dayton and unfortunately, we won too easily," said Cronin. "If we had played a close game, we would've gotten more credit for it. I know they lost at the buzzer to Old Dominion who won the Virgin Islands tournament. The problem was we beat them too easily. If we'd have won that game in a close game, we probably would've gotten a lot more respect for it. I don't think we get a lot of credit for that game."

          To senior Rashad Bishop (and most astute basketball observers) the Bearcats are flying under the radar for obvious reasons.

          "Because we haven't played anybody that's been ranked," explained Bishop.

          That's why several of the Bearcats are looking ahead to Oklahoma. Even though the Sooners aren't ranked, they bring more national notoriety than your run-of-the-mill, pre-conference, hyphenated directional schools.

          "I'm ready to go to Oklahoma, personally," said Cashmere Wright. "Then I'm ready to play Xavier. We've got to beat Xavier, that's just how I feel. We've got to go to Oklahoma and take care of business and then everything will take care of itself."

          There again, a ranking isn't necessarily the key to a successful season. Many will recall the Final Four team of '92 didn't receive a ranking until mid-January.

          "It would be cool," said Wright of a possible ranking. "As long as we play in the tournament. That's the goal this year. We were ranked last year and didn't make the tournament. The big thing is to make the tournament."

          Naturally, those sentiments are echoed by Coach Cronin, who has made a CBI and a NIT, but hasn't coached in the NCAA since he headed up the Murray State Racers.

          "Winning in January is a lot harder than winning in November and December," said Cronin. "I don't care if you play in the Maui Invitational in November. It doesn't matter, it's different. You can see teams that are great in November and they can't win a game in February. You've got to make sure you improve."

          There's no denying the teamwork, the defense and the passing has improved with this team, not to mention the all-important word, "chemistry". The next step is to do it in meaningful games--like Oklahoma and the two Big East games that wrap up the end of the year (DePaul and Seton Hall).

          "When the talent level goes up, the mistakes you make--you have to minimize them," said Wright. "I can't wait for that time to come so we can show them what we learned over the summer."

          "We're not really fully there yet, but we're close," added Bishop.

          It might not be a definitive answer, but we should have a clue on this team's progress Saturday in Norman.

          A win against Oklahoma might not necessarily guarantee future success, but it could mean that it's coming "Sooner" rather than later.



    Wright seeing all the angles

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    Cashmere Wright is quietly becoming one of the top point guards in the Big East and has the numbers to prove it. (Photo special to GoBearcats.com/Patrick Strang)

      PAS_3547PD.jpg

    CINCINNATI -- A blur of bodies peeled off screens and sprinted across the baseline on Tuesday night. Cashmere Wright dribbled at the top of the key, paused and pulled back.

     

    Instead of moving the ball around the perimeter, Wright held on for one last second. With the extra moment he snapped a pass behind two Eagles defenders not paying attention and into the outstretched arms of Justin Jackson under the hoop. Jackson turned and finished an easy layup.

     

    To the average viewer, nothing was open and it was time to swing the ball. Heck, to 2009 Cashmere Wright, nothing was open and it was time to swing the ball.

     

    But the floor looks different know for the redshirt sophomore point guard. He anticipates angles and lines up lanes few others see.

     

    In the year of sharing the basketball and the sum of the parts being greater than the whole at UC, Wright is the poster child.  

     

    For that reason, the scores look different now for the Cincinnati Bearcats: 99, 92, 81, 77.

     

    "I really think Cashmere Wright is a big, big difference in our team," Mick Cronin said. "Right now he's playing like a high-level point guard. He's starting to read defenses and understand offense. He's doing a great job of keeping his dribble alive and picking his spots. He's evolving and as he evolves into one of the better guards in the Big East it is going to give us a chance to beat  anybody."

     

    By the numbers, he's already among the better guards in the Big East. In his last five games, he distributed 21 assists to five turnovers.

     

    Wright is currently tied for fifth in the conference in assist to turnover ratio (2.5). Upon closer inspection, if you take away the opener against Mount St. Mary's where Wright struggled mightily in his season debut with five turnovers, he's the conference leader at 3.2.

     

    The victory over Georgia Southern served as the latest example. Wright used bounce passes through crowded areas in the lane, picked his spots to score with nine points and helped all four other starters to double figures.

     

    His stat line of 9 points and 7 assists doesn't do justice to the effect on the game. Consider he only played 19 minutes and at least two of his assists culminated in missed layups.

     

    Gates enjoyed the benefits of Wright's court vision on many occasions this year and holds his theories on the secret to Wright's success.

     

    "It's all part of us getting used to playing with each other," Gates said. "I think he is just getting more comfortable with where everybody is going to be on the court and he is able to make the pass with more confidence and a lot easier instead of maybe seeing him late he already knows he's there."

     

    Wright overcame a small stumbling block early in the season when he spent too much time trying to involve teammates and couldn't find a balance in looking for his own shot. Without the threat to score his threat to pass lacked real bite.

     

    He's currently averaging 10 points and 4.4 assists per game. He also knocked down 16 of his last 17 free throws.

     

    He reached double figures in five of the last seven games. Wright only managed double figures five times all of last season.

     

    The comparisons to last season are difficult to make, though. Wright was lost in the shuffle of Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn needing touches all the while trying to play point guard on the college level for the first time.

     

    Wright never found a rhythm. He never found his place.

     

    "It was probably unrealistic to envision him playing like this (last year)," Cronin said. "He didn't play point guard in high school. He had great quickness, he could shoot, but he didn't' run a team his whole life. Teaching him how to run a team has been a process."

     

    Perhaps the fact Wright's still enduring the process should be the biggest reason for optimism in Clifton. He's just now starting to figure it out.

     

    Every game provides film of passes he made or should have made and lessons to take into the next week.

     

    "In the game you can see one thing from one point of view," Wright said. "When you watch tape you see what you missed. When you see it, it's more likely to be the same thing next game.

     

    "When I come off the picks my first option is the wrong option most times, I have to wait, dribble the ball some more and then the second option comes open. That's just how it's been working out for me."

     

    It's been working out great. Wright said he was "on a high," after the latest win against Georgia Southern. The confidence and smile are as undeniably different as his stats.

     

    What Wright is learning, both in set plays and in life, is the importance of patience. Cronin views it as a maturation that only comes with time. Learning the intricacies of the point guard position entails long hours and rough games, but Wright emerged this year a product of his own persistence.

     

    "He is growing up as a person," Cronin said. "That's one thing Oscar Robertson always talks about since I've met him. When guys grow up off the floor it translates into maturity on the floor and affects their play in a positive way.

     

    "You see that with a lot of our guys, but Cash is a great example."

    Bearcats Breakfast 12.16.10

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    It's a winter wonderland, so I'm typically running behind.

    Let's get right to the Breakfast...

    --- The schedule continues to be a hot topic as UC runs through the weak competition. Dan Hoard took to the Big East schedules to see how many tough games other teams in the conference are playing.

    As I pointed out before, 11 of the 16 teams in the Big East have SOS ranks outside the top 150 right now. Dan does a nice job of looking at the quality opponents teams are playing. The bottom line of his findings is UC isn't that far off. They weren't in an early-season tournament and that's the only real difference. Instead, they played Dayton -- who has been further down than anybody could have anticipated.

    Dan also points out how the fact UC dominated UD has turned most opinions toward the Flyers being terrible and UC not being that good. Also, an excellent observation I agree with.

    Most importantly, from this point forward the schedule toughens off and all of this is just filler until the real season begins. This team needed confidence and cohesion on offense. It established both. That makes it ready for Big East play.

    And the fact that all this team has on its mind this month is playing that Big East schedule sure makes a letdown in effort, energy a slim possibility once it arrives.

    --- Do you love Dan's musings? Did you know he was on The Simpsons? Well, if you wanted to more about The Voice, Jeff Gentil put this story on him together for GoBearcats.com.

    Personally, I think Dan is one of the great broadcasters in this business as well as one of the great people. He's always been great to me, even when I was some new kid covering UC for an upstart web site. Plus, he allows me be comfortable with my bald sketch face next to his at GoBearcats.

    --- A few of you were asking about those throwback uniforms UC wore against the Flyers and if they can be purchased. Well, they ship on Friday and will be available in stores soon after. Personally, the last time I wore a basketball jersey that wasn't for an absurd Halloween costume was when Nick Van Exel left the Lakers. Hoops jerseys are just tough to pull off when you're a 30-year-old with golfers tan lines. But don't let that stop you.

    --- Yahoo's Jason King not buying the Bearcats or Cards. 

    --- Oklahoma had to overcome a 13-point first half deficit to beat a now 4-5 Oral Roberts team.

    --- The other OU hasn't established the manpower it would like this year with key pieces bolting for the NBA and top 100 recruit T.J. Taylor unable to get on the floor. Taylor suffered a concussion preseason, never touched the floor and now is transferring to a JuCo.

    --- The Sooners are 5-0 at home and 0-5 away from their home court. They will be playing on a neutral floor Saturday night. 

    The five opponents they played away from home are probably a bigger reason for the disparity, at least Jeff Capel thinks so. Still, UC fits into the category of a quality team away from Norman, so it's hard to call UC anything but a heavy favorite Saturday.   

    --- Chad Brendel talks about the way UC has been sharing the ball. They had 26 assists on 35 baskets Tuesday.

    --- Rick Pitino, not thrilled after his loss to Drexel.  

    --- Congrats are in order for Stephanie Niemer, who was named to the AVCA All-America Team on Wednesday. She made the second team and was the first UC Bearcats player to do so.

    She moves on with the program record for service aces and second all time in kills and kills per set.

    --- Miami's Mike Haywood is taking the job at Pitt. It seems like a pretty big jump, but considering the job Haywood did with the RedHawks, it's not undeserved.

    --- The Dana Holgorsen move to WVU I discussed on Monday is official. Only, Bill Stewart will serve as coach for one more year with Holgorsen as coach-in-waiting. Not sure I get this. Doesn't Holgorsen's presence undermine Stewart's authority almost as much as his lame-duck status?

    Stewart's a class guy and he deserves everything he gets, but these coach-in-waiting schemes leave me scratching my head.  

    --- How about some randomness... 

    --- This inmate received much more help from Seinfeld than Babu Baat did. But I wouldn't want to see the feats of strength in the prison yard. Could get ugly.  

    --- I mentioned my affinity for Community the other day, here's a conversation with Danny Pudi, aka Abed.

    --- American Mustache Institute held it's annual Stache Bash. Predictably, genius ensued.  

    --- All this snow puts me in the Christmas Spirit. Thanks to my friend Jenn, I have the perfect rendition of what it would sound like if I went carolling around the neighborhood (Which, obviously, would never happen anyway).

    I've seen a few of these and this is by far the best, make sure you watch to the end.

    I've been reluctant to completely buy in that this Bearcats team was legitimate. I've been reluctant to concede they are this good and not their competition being this bad. I've been reluctant to believe they are an upper-echelon Big East team.

     

    Not any more.

     

    What we saw Tuesday against Georgia Southern was great basketball. The Eagles are a bad basketball team - don't doubt that. However, this was as solid a fundamental offensive and defensive effort as we've seen at Fifth Third arena in some time.

     

    The Bearcats did everything right.

     

    They doled out 26 assists to 9 turnovers. Six players scored in double figures. For the second straight game all five starters scored at least nine points.

     

    They knocked down 50 percent from 3-point range (6 of 12). They owned the glass, 42-28. Heck, they even hit 77 percent from the free throw line.

     

    In the end, they scored more points than in any game during the Mick Cronin era.

     

    The Bearcats are untested. They haven't played anybody anywhere near Big East quality. Their SOS is in the 300s.

     

    But, a lot of teams are playing poor opponents. They aren't owning them from the opening tip until the final horn, night in and night out. They aren't challenging scoring and margin of victory records on a weekly basis.

     

    Notre Dame played Ga. Southern. They won by 37. USF won by 13.

     

    It would be hard to believe there are a lot of teams in the country that would have beat UC Tuesday night. That's my eyes speaking, not any statistical construction put together by KenPom or computer RPI.

     

    "Probably the best game we have played for 40 minutes," Cronin said. "The guys did a great job. They couldn't have played any better. I am a happy coach tonight."

     

    We really don't know if it will translate into more Big East wins and they don't deserve to be ranked in the Top 25 yet. But there is no arguing this team is better.

     

    I distinctly remember half efforts last year in games at UAB and St. John's. I remember epic fails at Notre Dame and USF.

     

    Yet, this team brings relentless energy and intensity for 40 minutes in a December game against Georgia Southern. To me, that means something. Means a lot, actually.

     

    What we think really doesn't matter, either. That's the beauty of the setup from Cronin's perspective.

     

    "There are other teams that haven't played the greatest schedule, haven't played a game outside their building and they're ranked," Cronin said. "But they have a different name. They maybe have a different coach. But, that's the great thing about it, we'll have our chance. We just have to worry about getting better every day in practice."

     

    --- Here is the full press conference from Mick Cronin and here are highlights of the game in case you missed out.

     

    --- Tuesday was quite a show to witness. Unfortunately, not many did. The attendance was listed at 4,523.

     

    The line of questioning postgame turned to the dreaded attendance topic at one point and I thought Yancy Gates allowed some telling thoughts.

     

    He opened by saying he didn't care if people are taking notice of what this team is doing.

     

    "I don't care, not really," he said talking about the small numbers in the stands. "In a way, yeah, because you like to play in front of a lot of fans, but we know what we are doing and we are trying to do, so, I mean, if they do it's a great thing if they don't we try not to let it bother us or worry about it. We just worry about trying to play."

     

    It's impossible not to notice the empty seats missing out on some of the fireworks this team is putting up. While the wind chill dips to single digits outside and the game is on FoxSportsOhio, I can't say I blame anybody for staying home.

     

    But it certainly doesn't go unnoticed by the players.

     

    "You don't have a choice but to look in the crowd and see the crowd, but we try not to let it affect our energy and how we play even though when you have a better crowd it is easier to have a high energy level, because you kind of feed off the crowd," Gates said. "The fans that come out we appreciate it, because those are loyal fans and we try to play hard for them."

     

    Cronin has taken on the attendance issue in the past, but clearly wasn't interested in touching that topic on Tuesday.

     

    "In all seriousness, for me and our team we stay focused on winning games and getting better, make sure we continue to improve," he said. "Worry about stuff that matters. I choose to focus on people that come to games and we appreciate the people that come to our games, we will just continue trying to give them a great show."

     

    --- Rashad Bishop still can't miss. After going 7 of 7 from the floor and 3 for 3 from 3-point range against Utah Valley, Bishop provided an encore Tuesday.

     

    He went 4 for 4 from the floor, dropping back to back 3-pointers to open the game.

     

    Gates was asked what is going on with Rashad Bishop who hasn't missed a shot since early in the second half against Toledo.

     

    "I don't know," Gates said. "He don't know. We see him open we just going with it right now. He's hot. If he's open you have to get it to him right now."

     

    Or just send him to line. There have been a laundry list of crazy numbers the Bearcats racked up during their 9-0 start. None is more ridiculous than Rashad Bishop being 17 of 17 from the FT line.

     

    He shot 57 percent from the line last year.

     

    "I will say this, I'm glad he got to the foul line," Cronin said. "It doesn't do any good to have a great free throw shooter if he never gets fouled. He's giving us great leadership right now, as well as all our seniors. Their attitudes are tremendous."

     

    --- JaQuon Parker enjoyed extended minutes and contributed 6 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. He played some off the ball and also ran the point the majority of the second half with Cash Wright resting on the bench.

     

    "This was by far (Parker's) best game," Cronin said. "It was really good to see him have a good game. He's been frustrated; he's been working hard every day in practice. I was really happy to see him play well."

     

    --- Cronin talked about the improved chemistry among the team that has made such a huge difference in the Bearcats sharing of the basketball and general team attitude.

     

    It's been a topic before. Cronin has told anybody who would listen that this team's chemistry will positively affect their performance.

     

    However, he took an extra step to debunk a thought floating around right now.

     

    Usually, people talk about the loss of Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson as addition by subtraction when looking at this group. While pieces of that argument are true defensively and with sharing of the basketball, it's not true in team chemistry or overall improvement.

     

    "A lot of that is unfair to Deonta and Lance," Cronin said. "A lot of that has to do with guys in the locker room now taking ownership with why we lost some close games last year. Because of what they went through together and the tough losses have made them better. Now, they are easier to coach because they understand the things they did wrong that maybe cost us some games and cost us the NCAA tournament.

     

    "It's not Deonta and Lance being gone, it's what we all went through as a group. It's all part of building a program."

     

    Considering how much was learned from losing last year, BearcatReport's Andrew Force asked if this team is missing out on some of that learning by opening 9-0.

     

    "We learned enough last year," Cronin said with a smile.

        

    How Soft Is The Schedule And What Does It Mean?

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    Let's talk about that schedule shall we?

     

    No one is going to suggest that the Bearcats face a brutal non-conference slate this year.  But is it really drastically different from the rest of the Big East?  And more importantly, what does it mean?

     

    Here's a highly unscientific look at every team in the Big East and what I consider to be their tough* non-league games.

     

    (By tough, I'm going with opponents from major conferences or teams that are traditionally good.  Some of them are probably not so good this year, and I'm sure I've left out a few small conference schools that have solid teams.  I have included mid-majors like Cleveland State, Oakland, Drexel, and St. Mary's that appear to be strong.)

     

    UConn (5):  Wichita State, Michigan State, Kentucky (all three in Maui), at Texas (Jan 8), Tennessee (Jan 22)

     

    DePaul (2):  Oklahoma State, Stanford (both in Anaheim)

     

    Georgetown (6):  at Old Dominion, NC State, Missouri (in KC), Utah State, at Temple, at Memphis

     

    Louisville (4):  Butler, UNLV, Drexel, Kentucky

     

    Marquette (4):  Duke, Gonzaga (both in Kansas City), Wisconsin, at Vanderbilt

     

    Notre Dame (5):  Georgia, Cal, Wisconsin (Old Spice Classic), Kentucky, Gonzaga

     

    Pittsburgh (4):  Rhode Island, Maryland, Texas (2K Sports Classic), Tennessee

     

    Providence (3):  Rhode Island, at Boston College, Alabama

     

    Rutgers (5):  at Princeton, Miami, St. Joseph's, Auburn, North Carolina

     

    St. John's (4):  at St. Mary's, Arizona St (in Alaska), possibly Northwestern (MSG Holiday Festival), Duke (Jan 30)

     

    Seton Hall (8):  Alabama, Xavier, Clemson (all in Paradise Jam), at Temple, Arkansas, at UMass, Dayton, Richmond 

     

    USF (5):  BYU, Texas Tech (both on S. Padre Island), VCU, Auburn, at Cleveland State

     

    Syracuse (5):  Michigan, Georgia Tech (both in Atlantic City), NC State, Michigan State, Drexel.

     

    Villanova (5):  UCLA, Tennessee (both NIT), St. Joe's, Temple, Maryland (Jan 15)

     

    West Virginia (6):  Vanderbilt, Minnesota (both in Puerto Rico), Oakland, at Miami, Cleveland State, Purdue (Jan 16)

     

    That's an average of 4.7 "tough games" per school and many of the toughest games have come in early season tournaments.

     

    So what about UC?  I would put four games in the "tough" category:  Dayton (US Bank Arena), at Oklahoma (OK City), at Miami, and Xavier (Jan 6).  Admittedly, they are not as tough as many of the games listed above, but I still consider them to be good tests.

     

    Dayton is obviously not off to a great start, but in a weird way, I think UC is actually getting less credit for hammering the Flyers by 34 points than if the game had been close.  It was such a rout that many people concluded that Dayton must be awful instead of UC might be really good.

     

    Similarly, it will be interesting to see how much credit the Bearcats will receive if they are able to win at Oklahoma on Saturday.  When the game was scheduled, the Sooners appeared to be loaded . . . then sophomore Willie Warren and freshmen Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin all left school early to turn pro.  As a result, Oklahoma is 5-5 including a loss to Chaminade in Hawaii.  Still, it's a virtual road game against a Big 12 opponent.

     

    The bigger question is "What does it mean?"

     

    We know the Big East is going to brutal.  Based on the current AP rankings, Cincinnati will play eight games against Top 25 teams (five on the road), and that does not include matchups against West Virginia or Marquette.  In other words, the Bearcats will have plenty of opportunities to impress the NCAA Tournament committee. 

     

    Playing a less-challenging schedule before facing that gauntlet has benefits beyond piling up wins. 

     

    "I think it allows us to stay in a good frame of mind," Coach Cronin told me.  "If you're winning, guys are receptive to coaching.  We're trying to build a style of play with our pressure defense, and we're trying to share the ball on the offensive end.  It's given us some time to really work on those things."

     

    But will this schedule prepare the Bearcats for the start of Big East play in two weeks?

     

    "We play against Big East players every day in practice," Coach Cronin said.  "As (Syracuse coach) Jim Boeheim says, 'It's not who you play; it's how you play.'  I don't know how you could have played better on a neutral court against Dayton than we did.  We just have to keep getting better.  It's doesn't matter who you play, you just have to make sure that you improve." 

     

    It's hard to argue that they haven't been improving. 

     

    * * * * *

     

    At this point of the season, is anyone in college basketball shooting the ball better than Rashad Bishop?

     

    Bishop.jpg 

    In his last two games, Bishop has made all 11 of his field goal attempts (including five 3-pointers), and for the season he's a perfect 17-for-17 from the line.  The senior is shooting 58% overall and 58% (14-for-24) from outside the arc.

     

    "He's been great in practice and his mind is in a great place," Coach Cronin said.  "He's given us great leadership just by the way that he's playing.  He's got the senior sense of urgency and I'm proud of him because it's taken me three years to get him to assert himself and put in the extra time.  Darren Savino has done a great job with Rashad.  Being from New Jersey, he's been able to bond with him and get him to spend extra time shooting the ball.  I think some of our off-season talks probably helped where I questioned his commitment.  I told him that we needed him to be more than just a guy who didn't make mistakes; we needed him to be a good player.  In our league, you can't just be OK, you've got to have guys that are a threat to put the ball in the basket and make plays."

     

    * * * * *

     

    Thursday night's Mick Cronin Radio Show at the Original Montgomery Inn will be preceded by the annual "Struggle for the Steak" dinner.  Chuck and Mo tied for the top spot last year meaning I have to don the Montgomery Inn apron (with the "Loser" name tag) and serve up the feast.

     

    Loser.jpg 

     

    We'll be joined by the winner of the online version of the contest - Larry Crawford.  If you would like to compete for great prizes including a seat at the dinner table next year, don't forget to sign up and play at struggleforthesteak.com.  The online version starts with the beginning of Big East play in two weeks. 

     

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

     

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

     

    Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad.

     

    Sunglasses Sam.jpg 

            

    Yancy Gates stayed in the paint instead of floating to the perimeter as he did against Utah Valley and it sparked the Bearcats blowout of Georgia Southern.

     

    By Will Frasure

    Special to GoBearcats.com

     

    CINCINNATI -- Against Utah Valley, Yancy Gates stood in stand-by mode throughout the contest as he fired up low-percentage jump shots, didn't fight for rebounds and lacked intensity in a dreary 92-72 win.

     

    But after the night of fun, Gates went back to doing what he does best: enforcing his will over post defenders en route to high percentage layups.

     

    The junior forward returned to his roots in a 12-point, 6-rebound performance in just 18 minutes. He fought for rebounds and threw his weight around in the post. Gates treated Georgia Southern like a Big East matchup, a welcome sign as conference play quickly approaches.

     

    His focus was evident. As Gates blocked an early shot, he hustled down court and caught an unexpected pass from Cashmere Wright. With a wide-open court in front of him, the forward glided in for powerful slam, one of many on the night.

     

    Gates attributed it to trying to find easier shots. Although he possesses a credible jump shot, he looked uncomfortable firing from near the 3-point arc Saturday night. After the misses of last game, Gates bodied up and earned his easy layups against the Eagles.

     

    "I took a lot of tough shots and I missed a lot of them," Gates said. "Watching film lets you see what's going on and see what you missed. I saw what I did wrong and tried to get easier shots."

     

    The intensity inside was contagious. Ibrahima Thomas tossed up unsuccessful jumpers early in the game, but buckled down after seeing Gates establish his presence inside on his way to 12 points.

     

    Everyone else seemed to energetically react, too. Cashmere Wright looked like NBA star Chris Paul with his wrap-around passes and quick bouncers. Justin Jackson came alive offensively after mostly contributing on the defensive end all season.

     

    The way the Bearcats played, the night played out like a dress rehearsal for the tougher games on the horizon. The intensity and focus caused Mick Cronin to offer high praise for his players.


    "That's probably the best game we've played for 40 minutes," Cronin said. "Tonight we played offense and defense for 40 minutes and that's something we talked about in preparing for Saturday and as we move toward the Big East."

     

    The tune-up was needed. Oklahoma may be down this season, but still offer a tougher test than the Utah Valleys and Savannah States the Bearcats have faced. Big East play also looms in the distance with Cincinnati taking on DePaul Dec. 28.

     

    "The Big East play has been our focus since day one," Gates said. "We knew our schedule wasn't as strong, but we knew we had a lot of things to work on."

     

    After letting up during Saturday's second half, Gates and his teammates kept the intensity going after coming back from the locker room. The forward proved his focus (and padded his own stats) by outworking the Eagles for two offensive rebounds on his own shots before finally banking one home.

     

    "I just think, during second halves at the beginning of the year, we came out less aggressive," Wright said. "We just made it a point to come out hard every second half and not settle for jump shots and go to the basket."

     

    While Gates had his fun against Utah Valley, his hard work translated into leisure. With the game out of the Eagles' reach, the forward and the other starters laughed and cheered as reserve guard Eddie Tyree was fouled while sinking the 99th point of the game and missed the free throw, leaving Cincinnati one point short of the century mark.

     

    When asked how much fun the team's having in the last couple of wins, Gates and Wright both reacted with some quick laughs. Their tireless play early in the night earned them the right to kick back and relax while basking in the win.

     

    "We're having a lot of fun right now," a smiling Gates said. "It's fun to win, especially the ways we've been doing it."

    It's On To The Orange

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    Well the football season didn't pan out the way we wanted but we have next year and with so many returning players how can you not be optomistic about the future of UC football?

    And with an 8-0 start how can you not have optimism about the future of UC basketball? Now i'm not proclaiming they're going to run the Big East table or even make the tournament but give them credit for beating the teams they scheduled by the margins you would expect. Yes their first true test witll be Oklahoma because it will be a team in a major conference who has major players and a major advantage with the home crowd; but it will also allow us to see how players who have had little trouble getting their shots, work to get them against like minded competition. Will Yancy Gates continue to rebound and deliver double doubles? Will Dion Dixon still contribute and keep his composure? Will Cashmere Wright run the point effectively? These answers will start to reveal themselves in the very near future.

    I am not opposed to scheduling wins for two reasons; One, to get in the NCAA, it appears 20 something is the key regardless of other factors. When you look at teams who haven't had much success still get in the tournament, typically its because they've won 20plus games. So the 'Cats have 8 down and I'd estimate 15 to go to be a lock. Secondly, whatever isn't working or needs tweaking, you can fix with these games because it will show itself to the coaching staff. Now either the coaches fix the problem or replace the parts, and I don't think UC still has the depth to replace players with the same talent level so they can focus on the task at hand.

    This is one of the most anticipated seasons in Bearcat basketball history because it will most certainly decide whether Mick Cronin is successful or not. I think they just have to win the games they're supposed to win like the first 8 and the rest will take care of itself. The bigger question is: Which games are they supposed to win in the Big East? The answer will come well after the question.

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

    Bearcats Breakfast 12.14.10

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    UC hosts Georgia Southern tonight at 7 p.m. Yes, THE Georgia Southern.

    OK, they are only 3-7 and beating up on these teams is getting a little old, but hey, it's college basketball and the Bearcats are shooting for 9-0. It could be worse.

    What else are you going to do? You know if you watch the season finale of Biggest Loser instead of going to the game, that info is going to leak out. Your reputation would never be the same.

    Let's eat...

    --- The negative trend of first-year head coaches struggling took UC victim this season, but may play to their benefit next year.

    Not only has the Wannstache left, but rumors are now circulating WVU's Bill Stewart may announce he will step down as coach of the Mountaineers. Neither would be a surprise, but both are serious blows to the continuity of the programs.

    Apparently Okie State OC Dana Holgorsen would take over.

    If the Stewart move occured, with all the changeover last season and these two moves this year you have Randy Edsall (who nearly left for Miami) and Greg Schiano as the only coaches in the league with more than two years experience here.

    --- Dr. Saturday has maybe the best coaching carousel graphic out there. RichRod as John Cusak from Say Anything makes my day.

    --- Brian Bennett mentions Isaiah Pead and Derek Wolfe among the Big East underclassmen who may look into their NFL draft possibilities. It would be wise for both to return to school since neither had the type of jaw-dropping year that warrants such a jump. But somebody late would probably take a flier on both.

    A huge senior season, especially for Pead, could put him into the top half of the draft.

    --- BearcatLair tweeted these photos of the stealth black UC helmets . I have to admit, I love all the stealth black helmets I saw this year and these are no different.

    Personally, I would like to see the C-paw be red on there, but that would be picky. Either way, they are tough.

    --- More uniform news! Tommy G said UC will break out the black version of the 1960 throwbacks on Saturday against Oklahoma.

    --- Tonight's game will be shown on FoxSports Ohio, ESPN3.com and SNY.  

    --- UC received one less vote in the AP poll (5) this week and still only three votes in the coaches poll. I've gone over the numbers of the strength of schedule the last few Breakfasts.

    The Bearcats don't have enough quality wins to deserve the Top 25 right now. By my estimation, if they keep winning, I think you would see them crack the first poll of 2011.

    That would require wins over Miami, Oklahoma, DePaul and Seton Hall and UC would be 14-0. At that point, it would be pretty close to impossbile to keep them buried in also receiving votes.

    It certainly helps keep UC humble for now. Bill Koch wrote about Cats v. pollsters in today's Enquirer.

    I particularly enjoyed Cashmere Wright's quote about knowing this team is ready for Big East play and their new offense can score on a Big East defense.

    "I know how good this team is," Wright said. "We play against a Big East team every day. We press against them so we know we can run our offense against a Big East defense. We know we can play defense just as hard against a Big East offense, so we feel like we're ready, but we've just got to wait for the right time to show everybody when we play them."

    --- Scott Springer took a look at the state of the Cats right now as they approach Thunder Road. (I'm always glad to include a Boss reference for Mr. Springer)

    --- A nice post over at Bearcat Banter where a poster calculated the +/- point ratio the NBA uses now. College teams don't, but he added them up for the first six games, not including Toledo.

    --- I continue to see a connection between Louisville and Cincinnati this season. It's no wonder Cronin is a Pitino disciple. Here's this from Seth Davis' Hoop Thoughts.

    "Lots of teams have depth, but few have as much depth and balance as Louisville. Ten players are averaging at least 11 minutes per game (with no one playing more than 26), and six players are averaging between eight and 13 points (with no one scoring more than that). It's almost like the Cards aren't sure game-to-game where their points are coming from. In their impressive home win over UNLV on Saturday, their reserves actually scored more points (42) than their starters (35). How often do you see that?"

    You could pretty much switch the team names and you would have the exact same argument for UC. Seth also mentioned UC, but didn't really say much you don't already know. He just points out how excited he would be for the Crosstown Shootout should UC still be undefeated when they play.  

    --- The SB Nation Big East blogs put out their latest power rankings (they were almost as heavily anticipated as the Cliff Lee sweepstakes). Regardless, they place UC at No. 8 right now, a few spots ahead of WVU.

    --- How about some randomness....

    --- Cam Newton's Top 10 list on Lettermen is pretty good and even includes my favorite punchline. #BieberFever

    --- When keepin it real goes wrong.   

    --- Emily Nussbaum ranks the Top 10 TV shows of 2010. We could definitely share a remote. I'd concur Community is the best show on television right now.

    --- Donald Sterling may be the only owner in sports more universally despised than Mike Brown. Now he's heckling his player, Baron Davis, from his courtside seat during games. My favorite part was this quote from an anonymous source about Sterling's relationship with Davis, who he is paying $13 million this year.

    "He hates him. He wants his money back." 

    --- Even with Sterling, Brown's a close second. Here's Ryan Parker's latest and greatest that really sums up the depressing state of the fan base.

    ALL 'CATS ARE CREATED EQUAL

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    cronin-dixon.jpg

     (Mick Cronin and Dion Dixon/life.com)


        As of this writing, Mick Cronin's 2010-11 Bearcats have four players averaging in double figures. Junior Dion Dixon leads the pack at 12.4, fellow junior Yancy Gates is at 11, redshirt freshman Sean Kilpatrick averages 10.8 off the bench and redshirt sophomore Cashmere Wright is now at 10.1.

          While balanced attacks like that don't often receive the headlines a team with a 20-30 point scorer does, they often win more games.

          UC's recent win over Utah Valley State is another example of that as ALL five starters in that one hit for double figures including two players who DO NOT currently average double digits (Rashad Bishop had 17, Ibrahima Thomas 11).

          What's it all mean?

          Well, to hear them talk it's any Bearcat at any time can make the shot or lead the team. 

          At a recent press gathering, I asked UC starters Wright and Bishop who would take the "open three" if the 'Cats came down to needing that one shot.

          "The open guy," said Bishop and Wright simultaneously.

          "SK, Rashad, Dion, me,Larry (Davis) all of us are shooting good percentage from three I think," added Wright.

          What can be noted on this team is a lack of selfishness. While no one will come out and point fingers from last year out of loyalty, the evidence shows that last year was a battle for the "alpha male" role on the team between Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn.

          Both were talented players who had their moments, but it was a chemistry issue that some of us could see happening the summer of Lance's arrival. Since their departure, a number of pundits who only study statistics have doubted UC's firepower without them.

          The current Bearcats have taken notice.

          "I think right now the whole attitude of the team is, 'We want to win,'" said Wright. "We feel like we've got a chip on our shoulder from losing last year. This year they say they're expecting us to lose because the talent level's down because we lost Lance (Stephenson) and Deonta (Vaughn). We just want to show everybody there's a team and our team is stronger than one or two people."

          The early undefeated returns show that might be the case. Naturally, the final product is judged in about three months, but there is a sense of "sharing the limelight" that wasn't always there a year ago.

          Again, no one will use the term, "addition by subtraction" out of respect for the departed, but since I'm allowed to have an opinion, I will.

          Mick Cronin would never discount the contributions of Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson to his program, but he's been telling fans and others for months that the TEAM might actually be better.

          "I've been telling people we're going to have a better team since last April and nobody's listened," said Cronin. "I told everybody when we got back from Canada. At the end of the day, we play in the Big East. It's all going to shake out in our conference."

          Naturally, the Big East will a tough test as it always is. However, Cashmere Wright is ready for the banging and bruising it brings and thinks his teammates will be too (with the emphasis on TEAM).

          "I think we're a team," said Wright. "There's not one, two or three players. You never know who may score. One day SK (Sean Kilpatrick) might be the leading scorer. One day Dion (Dixon) might do it. One day Yancy (Gates) might do it. You never know!"

          And that's the way it's gone early on.

          10 guys seeing regular minutes with no plans to change that formula once Big East play begins.

          "It will help wear their guards down when we're pressing," said Bishop. "A lot of teams don't have a lot of depth. It'll wear them down and pay off in the second half."

          Believing it is half the battle. Thus far, there's no indication of unhappiness over playing time or of guys refusing to accept roles.

          "We've got guys right now that come off the bench for us that are seniors," said Cronin. "Not many guys practice against seniors. They may not be our best players, but they play Big East basketball. They're tough, they know how to defend you, they're physical. We just to need to make sure we play in games like we do in practice because our practices are highly competitive."

          Perhaps the old coaches cliché, "You play the way you practice," is true?



    Bearcats Breakfast 12.13.10

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    All of this snow has me procrastinating shoveling the driveway, which could be a big win for you guys as I may put some extra time into the Breakfast instead.

    My garage is stationed in my backyard and wouldn't be considered the strongest structure ever built. I have a bad feeling that if we receive another day of snow like Sunday, it will implode like the Metrodome.

    Which, by the way, if you haven't seen the video of the roof caving in at the Metrodome, you must watch this now. Wild.

    Anyway, let's eat...

    --- Rashad Bishop stole the show in the first half on Saturday night. He knocked down 7 of 7 7 shots from the field, including 3 of 3 from 3-point range.

    It provided a great opportunity to look more into Bishop, who is quietly playing as consistently well as anybody on the Bearcats. Mick Cronin pointed out as much by saying he's probably playing as well as any small forward in the Big East right now.

    Most all of it stems back to Cronin's suspension of the senior. As he said, it's sad this is what it took to bring this type of everyday effort out of Bishop, but the Bearcats are reaping the rewards.

    Bishop deserves the praise for how well he's playing, but a large assist goes to the head coach on this one.

    --- I also wrote a morning after blog talking more about what we learned from the Utah Valley game and why Cronin was laughing at Cashmere Wright.  

    --- It's pretty clear this team is sick of beating up on nobodys. Every postgame press conference now includes a comment about how ready they are to prove they belong in the conversation of the Big East.

    The respect card has been the opposite of last year when everybody pronounced them contenders after Maui, but a bit of overconfidence and complacency did them in.

    --- The attendance has been up over 5,000 each of the last two home games. That shows the community has taken some notice to the hot start considering it was drawing around 4,000 early in the season.

    It's still hard to believe we are talking about those numbers compared to what used to happen in that building.

    Those sitting at home are missing some exciting basketball from a team that is 8-0 and passing the eye test right now. Unfortunatley, there's no other measuring stick to judge them by. But from my chair, this team is more equipped to win than last year's based on their passing, consistency in scoring every night and consistency in effort on defense.

    Those can easily disappear when Big East play starts grinding away at this team, but for now they appear to have taken major steps forward in those areas.

    --- For those people talking about schedule strength, yes, the Bearcats schedule is, by the numbers, the easiest in the Big East to this point. However, there aren't that many people in this conference exactly taking on all-comers. The BE is just too difficult to do that to yourself.

    In fact, 11 of the 16 teams have schedule strengths that are outside the top 160 in the country right now by the Sagarin ratings.    

    --- Did the Wannstache take over the Pitt basketball team for a game? (Sorry, I don't know how long I'll be able to get these jokes in) Still trying to figure out what happened to Pitt on Saturday when Tennessee dismantled them.

    Maybe the Vols are just that good, but it certainly exposed Pitt's offensive concerns.

    Louisville is soaring in the opposite direction. Many thought the Cards would be down this year, but they are playing well in the early going with a big win against No. 19 UNLV.

    West Virginia is having some leadership problems after barely beating Duquense. (Dana O'Neil excellence alert) 

    St. John's is having some, welll, everything problems with back to back losses to St. Bonnies and (gasp) Fordham. They even blew a 21-point lead against the Rams. Wow.

    Villanova almost lost to LaSalle.  

    Meanwhile, people love to be picky about the schedule right now, but UC isn't losing to these teams or even being pushed to any type of drama. Many other teams in the conference are. Appreciate 8-0, people.

    --- Former UC coach Rick Minter is getting the heck out of Indiana State. Can't imagine he's the first person to be excited about that move.

    He's headed to UK as an asssistant.

    Joker Phillips was actually on Minter's staff at UC as the WRs coach in 1997.  

    --- Graduation was this weekend. Congrats to the four Cats football players (Ben Guidugli, Jason Kelce, Colin McCafferty and Jake Rogers) who walked and the rest who all appear to be on pace to graduate within a year.

    Here's the list from Butch Jones' blog.  

    --- On to some randomness... 

    --- Paste listed the top 20 live acts of 2010. It included a few favorites of my buddy C. Trent Rosecrans in The Hold Steady and The National as well as a few of mine in Arcade Fire, The Roots and The Boss.

    Somehow, my epic karaoke performance of Regulators by Warren G and Nate Dogg was left off the list.

    --- 2010 in faceplants.

    --- In case you didn't know what Bush League means, here's a video of the Jets strength and conditioning coach tripping a Miami player on the sidelines.

    --- I'm obviously a big fan of viral videos and Gawker put together the top 100 videos of the year compiled into 170 seconds. Here it is

    --- I hope Tashard Choice's 3-year old nephew appreciates that Uncle T embarrassed himself on national television for that gift.  

    The tone of Mick Cronin's postgame press conference Saturday night wasn't as optimistic as you'd expect.

     

    The concern stemmed directly from a substandard defensive effort. Actually, substandard would probably be an understatement in Cronin's estimation.

     

    "This is probably our worst defensive game of the year," Cronin said.

     

    By the numbers, he's right.

     

    The 72 points were a season high. The previous high was 69 against Wright State.

     

    For the second time in three games the Bearcats allowed at least 47 percent shooting from the field. Wright State hit 50 percent of its shots while Utah Valley hit 47 percent.

     

    It's odd to see those types of numbers against the Bearcats who are still ranked in the top 10 in the country in points allowed per possession (0.82). Part of the defensive letdown Saturday had to do with the quick 17-2 lead taking the fire out of some of the play.

     

    "Some people just relaxed," Cashmere Wright said. "You had some people playing hard all the time and some people relaxed on their job."

     

    Whatever it was, it caught the attention of Cronin.

     

    "I've got some concerns about our rebounding and halfcourt defense," he said. "Those are some areas we need to get better."

     

    --- Speaking of rebounding, Yancy Gates only managed three rebounds in his 22 minutes. It was far from ideal for Gates, who has made it clear his desire to reach double-digit rebounds every game.


    Outside of Ibrahima Thomas, who picked up a double-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds, Gates was one of many to fail in that department.

     

    "I wasn't happy with the defensive rebounding by Yancy or anybody," Cronin said. "I was upset at halftime, I thought once we got a 15-point lead we stopped focusing on the things we need to be worried about, defense, rebounding and loose balls."

     

    --- The Bearcats did manage 16 offensive rebounds on 35 missed shots for a 45 percent offensive rebounding efficiency. (For all my KenPom fans, enjoy the number nerdism here)

     

    UC ranks in the top 25 in the country in the offensive rebound percentage statistic. They have been grabbing 38 percent of their missed field goals to this point in the season.

     

    Unfortunately, they don't rate so well in some other KenPom specialties. Here's the link to his offensive advanced calculus.

     

    --- Seven different players hit at least one 3-pointer and all five starters were in double figures.

     

    Those early-season concerns about this team's ability to shoot from the outside and score enough to win has since quieted.

     

    UC averaged 83 points a game over the last three contests.

     

    They are shooting 37 percent from 3-point range on the season, which is good for 69th in the country. That might not sound all that encouraging, but considering UC hit 28 percent on the season last year and was among the worst in college basketball, it should be a major point of pride.

     

    --- The Bearcats are 8-0 for the first time under Mick Cronin. Though, they still all the way back at 85th in the RPI with a weak strength of schedule.

     

    Their SOS is 324 out of 345 Division I teams.

     

    However, it should be noted their projected SOS rank by the time the season ends is 65th.

     

    Rashad Bishop reiterated again after the game how anxious this team is to jump into Big East play and finally receive a legitimate challenge.

     

    "We do want to get into Big East play and show people that we can compete," he said.

     

    UC is one of four teams in the conference still undefeated. Syracuse, UConn and Louisville are the other three.

     

    "The misnomer about our team is that we were far off," Cronin said. "We had West Virginia, who was in the Final 4, down 13 in their gym shooting two. Then 12 consecutive whistles go against you after that. You lose to them on a bank shot, 40-foot fallaway bank shot. So how far off were we? Not far off. We just needed to grow up a little bit and play a lot smarter."

     

    --- Yancy Gates shot a high number of outside jumpers against Utah Valley. In total, finished 5 of 13 from the floor for 14 points. That includes the second 3-pointer of his career.

     

    Cashmere Wright had an interesting take of Gates' outside shooting.

     

    "We let Yancy go out there and do his thing," he said. "Like we tell him, we are going to be behind you whatever you do, so if you want to take jump shots, take jump shots. He know when the big game come he can't be doing that, but Yancy is going to be Yancy."

     

    --- Quote of the night: Cashmere Wright on if coach Mick Cronin said anything to him after his missed dunk against Utah Valley:  

     

    "He laughed at me. I think that was more hurtful than him saying something."

    Mick Cronin said Rashad Bishop is playing like the best small forward in the Big East conference right now. Watching the senior post 17 points on perfect shooting Saturday, it's hard to argue.  

     

    CINCINNATI - Mick Cronin always knew Rashad Bishop could be an offensive force. He saw him post 38 points in high school against a St. Benedict's team with Samardo Samuels and a host of other Division I prospects.

     

    He knew had it in him.

     

    For the past three years, he's shown glimpses.  

     

    Bishop cracked double figures in three of his first five games as a freshman. The expectations grew exponentially from there. Only, consistency rarely followed.

     

    For every scoring binge came an inevitable purge.

     

    In Bishop's first three seasons he reached double-figure points 17 times. He followed that with a second double-figure game only three times and never more than once a season.

     

    Bishop has scored double figures three of the last four games and tallied at least eight points in all but one game.

     

    In the first half Saturday night, he broke out.

     

    All seven of his shots went down, including three from 3-point range. He owned a season-high 17 points at the break. His outburst fueled the highest scoring half of the season for UC and a 92-72 victory against Utah Valley.

     

    Yes, Bishop's long sought after consistency may have finally arrived. Consequently, the undefeated Bearcats may have as well.

     

    "He's in a good place," Cronin said. "Right now, he's playing probably as good as any small forward in our conference. Ther'es no trick to winning, guys. You got to have some of the better players in your conference if you are going to win your conference."

     

    Bishop's ascension to the top of his game comes as a direct result of being forced to rock bottom.

     

    There's no denying the correlation between Bishop's suspension and renewed commitment to the game. Consistency comes from working every day, caring about improving and never taking a game off.

     

    Bishop took games off over the first three years of his career. He was content with his offensive skills sporadically flashing on and off.

     

    Once Cronin took the game away from Bishop prior to the Big East tournament and throughout the offseason, it slapped Bishop in the face.

     

    "It really gave him a chance to look in the mirror," Cronin said. "I have been asking him for three years to just want to be a better player. He always wanted to win, he was always a willing defender, he's always a smart player but I want him to be a better offensive player and put the time in and take ownership in his game. It's unfortunate I had to suspend him to get that across."

     

    Bishop worked tirelessly over the offseason to return to the good graces of his head coach and his program. In the process, his game polished - specifically on offense.

     

    "It just comes from hard work over the summer and the offseason,"  Bishop said. "Working on my jump shot and it paid off."

     

    It paid off in a rise of assist numbers for Cashmere Wright, who sees a noticeable difference in Bishop's offensive confidence.

     

    "I think he's relaxed," Wright said. "Now he's focused. He takes his time on each shot. He's not rushing. He just knows that he's going to make the shot. When you got in your mind you are going to make the shot it's easy to take it."

     

    Bishop's certainly taking it. He's never experienced a run of productivity like the one to open this season in his career. He would have more double-digit scoring games if it weren't for the blowout victories. Cronin pulled Bishop at times to allow other players minutes to prepare them for Big East play. He's not concerned about Bishop being ready for the 18-game grinder.

     

    "I know he's ready," Cronin said. "He's been ready every day and given us great leadership by the way he is approaching every day in practice. He's in a great place right now."

     

    Funny how the journey can be so unpredictable. Cronin always knew Bishop could be in this place since that 38-point night against St. Benedict's put him over the top on signing him. Little did he know the wild roller coaster he'd have to ride to make it happen.

     

    As seems to be the case with so many players on this team, Cronin doesn't worry about coaching effort anymore with Bishop. At the rate we saw Saturday, he may not have to worry about coaching shooting, either.  

     

    "I always knew he had it in him," Cronin said, "it was just trying to get it out of him."

    THE GHOST OF BANQUETS PAST

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    Charles-Dickens-006.jpg

          "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."


          Rarely do I quote Charles Dickens, in fact never. However, the quote above pretty much sums up UC's football banquet from LAST YEAR at the Westin.

          A 12-0 team was going to a BCS bowl, but was losing it's coach. A man that could've had his face carved in any of the seven hills around town and reaped the rewards of being leader of a small kingdom, opted to head for riches and great expectations elsewhere.

          A team that could've spun quite a tale, instead spun out of control, out of contention and out of mind. Black became white and "Next Man In" became "every man for himself".

          The team coached by the Notre Dame chief was handed to Buffalo's new coach, while assistants in negotiations with both schools were distracted away from the business at hand. Obviously, recruiting then became a literal three-ring circus.

          This is what Butch Jones had to inherit and watch from the Superdome last year as the "Coach-elect" and this was the atmosphere that began at the aforementioned "celebration banquet" downtown in December 2009.

          Fast forward a year and this season's subdued ceremony was held at the Tangeman Center (significantly cheaper than the Westin). There was no Cincinnati Police escort for the head coach as Butch Jones entered an elevator near me with one of his sons and some assistants.

          Unlike last year, when the coach I thought I knew blew past me without eye contact and several "Secret Service wanna-bes", Coach Jones greeted me kindly.

          A year ago, players were being texted or were hearing various reports of their coach leaving with many reacting angrily before and after the "show". On this night, players leisurely walked from their surrounding residences unimpeded free and open to speak to anyone.

          While not part of the official list, I was allowed this year to walk in and speak to most any player I wanted to along with several of the guests who know me from my past associations with the program. Heck, I was even offered a hors devour, even though I wasn't wearing a recognized name tag (I politely declined).

          Last December, as Brian Kelly told his players he was leaving for Notre Dame (something they knew by modern technology anyway) in one room, I was denied access to a public ballroom as the Irishman walked across the hall to pretend like nothing was going on during ESPN's Home Depot Award Show.

          Thus, a strange banquet led to a strange year. 10-3, 11-3 and 12-1 begat 4-8. While a powerful offense appeared at times, it was minus key returners on the line and minus receivers counted on in the preseason.

          Defensively, seniors were lost and not replaced with like talent. Recruiting-wise, a fair assumption would be that it came to a grinding halt at some time during the previous administration. Those are the realities, not the excuses.

          In all reality though, no one really expected a losing season and that's what the entire program has had to come to grips with as they close out the 2010 chapter of Bearcat football, anticipating a move on to a more promising phase.

          "It's been kind of a bizarre year but we're happy to know our coaches are coming back next year," said quarterback Zach Collaros upon entering the Great Hall area of TUC. Despite an off year by his standards, Collaros was named All Big East first team.

          Collaros is part of a very eager group of soon-to-be seniors ready to "right the ship". The sooner, the better.

          "We've already had guys in the weight room a day after the game," noted Collaros. "People can't stop talking about next year. The seniors, myself and the other guys are very anxious to get this team and have it be our team."

          Coach Butch Jones echoed those sentiments shortly afterward to a much smaller group of media than was gathered a year ago for Kelly's "exit stage left".

          "The future's extremely bright for this football program," said Jones.

          As Collaros mentioned, and as Jones implied in his Pitt post-game press conference, the work on 2011 began immediately. Though actual supervised physical work is restricted, the groundwork is being laid and the process is taking shape for a determined group of returning Bearcats.

          "Very determined," added Jones. "This week we were off for finals but my office was full everyday. Our kids are very hungry and we're excited to get back after it January 2nd."

          Making things a little easier will be the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex that now greets you as you enter campus for winter athletic gatherings. While it unfortunately won't get used for bowl preparation, it will become a busy venue in a few weeks.

          "That's going to pay big dividends for us," said Jones. "Last year, because of the weather and the elements, we weren't able to get outside. I thought that really slowed our progress down. Now, we can go inside and practice everything and work on skills. It's all about your skill-set and refining your craft."

          Also recognizing the difference in banquets and putting it all into perspective was departing senior John Goebel. Like fellow senior Ben Guidugli, this is his first December NOT in bowl practice.

          "Last year we came in here ranked #3 in the country, this year we're not going to a bowl game," said Goebel. "At the same time, it's still great to see all of my teammates."

          "Last year's banquet was real hectic," added fellow running back Isaiah Pead.

          Both players did add though that things should be on the upswing for UC fans.

          "He (Jones) knows what to expect next year and he knows the players better," said Goebel. "I think the team will have a great season next year, the Big East better watch out for the Bearcats."

          "The season's gone, we'll never get that season back," said Pead. "We're looking forward to next year--start working to get back where we were, not where we're at. Guys leave, guys come in, that's part of football. It goes on all around the country. The young guys have got to step up and the guys that are coming back need to step up too...immediately! We need to roll our sleeves up and play football like we know how to."

          A lot of that comes in correcting mental errors which then lead to physical errors. Many of those errors led to points by the opposition this season and contributed directly to the losing record.

          Much of that was the problem during UC's month-long run without a win from mid-October to almost late November. That span included two home losses to USF and Syracuse and the turnover-prone defeat at West Virginia.

          Turnovers make "winnable" games "winnable" for the other team. Looking at the season, you could make an argument that UC could've been no worse than 6-6 and possibly 8-4 had certain errors not occurred or led to tremendous momentum swings in the game.

          At any rate, the corrections are known and the framework is in place to produce better results next year and in seasons beyond. While recruiting never stops, you can bet many cell minutes have been burned up since the Pitt game ended on December 4th.

          "I'm not allowed to comment publicly until signing day but I think we're in the midst of a putting together a good class," said Coach Jones. "Recruiting's a foundation. We're recruiting for our second and third years down the road, that's when your recruits really materialize. We're also looking at some junior college players."

          At the very least, there's one solid message being sold to UC recruits this December as opposed to the complicated, non-unified efforts that last December's turn of events brought about. At best, Jones can completely change the mindset of those on board and can enhance them with players that match his intensity and drive.

          That all can only result in better records, better bowls and bigger and better banquets.

        

           (For video interviews from my handheld Blackberry with Coach Jones, John Goebel and Isaiah Pead feel free to click here.   Sure, it's not the best camera work, but it gives you a taste of Thursday night's event.)

    Bearcats Breakfast 12.10.10

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    When I was younger, we used to hold our award banquets at Pizza Tower. We would get all hopped up on Mountain Dew, eat too much pizza and pretty much be quarantined off from the rest of the restaraunt.

    I still have a few of those trophies. I can pretty much guarantee none of those are as nice as the trophies handed out at UC's banquet. Or if this were an SAT analogy, it would probably go something like this -- SAY Soccer trophies: UC football trophies as Pizza Tower: The Westin.

    Bottom line after that unfortunate view into my pathetic athletic career, is the football team gave out some awards last night.

    Armon Binns won the award for Team MVP.

    He finished with 75 receptions for 1,101 yards and 10 TDs.

    I've been heaping Binns' praises all year -- not that I am somehow alone -- but there's no denying this team's success went right along with his.

    Binns enjoyed huge games against Miami, Louisville and was the leading reciever against Rutgers.

    Every night, he was the one matchup the opposing defense didn't have an answer for.

    Well deserved.

    --- Travis Kelce won the scout team award on offense. I've heard a lot of good things about the development of Kelce this year and there's a thought within the program that he will have a significant affect on the team next season in one capacity or another.

    --- Derek Wolfe won for best defensive lineman. Dan Giordano could have made a case for the award if you look at the numbers. Wolfe finished with 48 tackles and 6.5 for a loss of 36 yards, 4 sacks, 2 QB hurries. Giordano finished with 36 tackles, led the team in TFL's with 8 for 49 yards, 3 QB hurries and a forced fumble.

    The determining factor was the amount of snaps Wolfe labored through, particularly early in the season. Wolfe was playing almost every snap during games in the ealry portion of the year. He was a warrior more than any other player on the team this season.

    --- Here is the list of the rest of the awards handed out.

    --- Also Tommy G posted up the highlight video shown during the ceremony. Very well done. Unfortunately, it doesn't have any slow motion replays of me grinding out a postgame column, but still fun to watch.

    --- TG also posted a tribute video to the seniors.     

    --- The basketball team held a media availability yesterday in advance of the Saturday night game against Utah Valley St.

    There was a lot of talk about this weak OOC schedule, as has been the case for a number of weeks.

    Mick Cronin pointed out that the trip to Oklahoma won't be a cakewalk -- FWIW, the Sooners did break their five-game losing streak with a win over Gardner-Webb last night.

    Miami hasn't been great this season, but did stick it to Xavier at Millett Hall. "There's a reason we haven't gone back there since 1993," Cronin said.

    Cronin talked earlier this year about the importance of being tested going into Big East play. I don't know that this team will be. But I also don't think that means they won't be ready. If there is one thing we've learned about this team is maturity is a big part of what makes them who they are. They understand what it takes to win in the Big East. You would have liked to see one big time opponent on the early OOC, but that didn't happen. Any affect will be minimal once BE play begins.

    "You try to strike a balance. For us, some of the team's we've schduled, maybe they aren't having the best seasons. But we're gonna get all that we want from our schedule here with the two road games as we prepare for the Big East."

    --- The players had a team bonding event where they watched the Kentucky-Notre Dame game together. They talked about how they could attack either team. That's as close as they'll get to that type of competition until 2011.

    It's interesting to take a peak into the mind of these players right now. They feel like they are good. They feel like they can compete with anybody in the country. But they just don't know.

    One thing's for sure, they are eager to prove it:

    "I think about it everyday," Yancy Gates said. "I watched Syracuse-Michigan State and I wonder if we're ready for them. It's hard to tell with some of the games we've played so far."

     

    --- Bill Koch writes about Cronin's excitement about new assistant coach Darren Savino. He played a significant role in landing the strong 2011 recruiting class UC has coming in.

    Savino was big in landing Shaq Thomas and Jermaine Sanders in particular with his East Coast ties. Plus, he has been living in Cronin's basement, so he must be pretty clean around the house, as well.

    --- Chad Brendel wrote about the extra work the Bearcats are putting in during the Christmas Break. He also touches some on the OOC discussion.

    --- The Voice took to the blog with a great take on Sean Kilpatrick. He points out that he's already done something that Eric Hicks, Lance Stephenson and DerMarr Johnson never did.

    Plus, the Handsome Lad is wearing a Durham Bulls T-Shirt which scores him extra points.

    --- Seth Davis gives some credit to Pitt, who has tip-toed their way to the No. 3 spot in the country.

    --- Temple upset No. 10 Georgetown. Yes, that's an upset. But winning at Temple when the Owls have a talented team as they do this year is no easy task.

    The Temple students rushed the court after the game. C'mon Temple. You're better than that. You have a storied program, beating Georgetown in a year when you returned one of the best players in the A-10 in Lavoy Allen shouldn't be treated like its a shock.

    --- Luke Winn's power rankings have 5 of the top 14 from the Big East. And features the best mustache in college hoops.  

    --- Reason No. 3,028 why you go to college basketball games even if they don't look like the most appetizing matchup. You never know when a team will come back from down 51-31 in the final 8:17 to win on a buzzer-beater.   

    --- On to some randomness...

    --- No matter where I travel -- Florida, California or anywhere else -- I never go anywhere without my dried hedgehog. Wait - what?

    --- Comedy Central has a new logo in 2011 and is debuting a new sports show run by The Onion folks. That new doesn't make my day, but it gets it off to a nice start.   

    --- You know how much you have to love women for a man to show up unannounced and disturb the nails on a chalkboard routine of The View? As much as Prince loves women.  

    --- CNN unbelievably aired a scene from Dumb and Dumber during one of its news shows. Unfortunately, for them it wasn't this...

    He Shoots, He Scores

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    Sean Kilpatrick scored 26 points in his 6th college game.

     

    Did you know that no other current member of the team has had a 26 point game?  Either did Lance Stephenson.  Or Eric Hicks.  Or DerMarr Johnson.

     

    Kenyon Martin did, but not until his 96th game in a Bearcat uniform.

     

    Kilpatrick.jpg 

    Kilpatrick reminds me of the Big East's all-time leader scorer Lawrence Moten, whom I covered as a TV guy in Syracuse in the early 90's.  He's not the best athlete on the floor and doesn't have the prettiest shot, but he has a knack for scoring. 

     

    "I've said this from day one - when he makes 3-point shots, he is a devastating player," Mick Cronin told me.  "He has confidence and that's a big factor.  He believes in himself."

     

    "I say to myself that if I have an open jump shot, I'm not going to miss it," Kilpatrick said.  "Coach teaches us to play with that kind of confidence.  When you shoot the ball, you shoot with a purpose."

     

    The 6'4" redshirt freshman is averaging 11.7 points in only 20.7 minutes per game.  He is the Big East's second-leading freshman scorer behind DePaul's Brandon Young (14.9 points in 30.8 minutes), and he leads the league in scoring among non-starters.

     

    But early success hasn't gone to Sean's head.

     

    "You have to stay humble and just come to practice and work hard," Kilpatrick said.  "Coach preaches every day that if you play defense and rebound, the game will come to you.  I don't try to force anything - I try to get everyone else involved." 

     

    "His effort is great every day," Coach Cronin said.  "Look at Kemba Walker at UConn, who I recruited extremely hard.  His success doesn't surprise me because I know who he is as a person.  Sean Kilpatrick has that competitive fire in him.  He practices as hard as he can every day.  Does he make every shot every day?  Of course not.  Does he have days where he turns the ball over?  Sure.  But his effort is tremendous."

     

    And his enthusiasm is infectious.  After making a great pass from directly in front of UC's bench in the 'Cats last home game against Wright State, Kilpatrick surprised his coach with an impromptu high five.

     

    "I was shocked because he usually doesn't do stuff like that," Kilpatrick said with a grin.  "He yelled too so it must have been a good thing."

     

    "He's a winner," Coach Cronin said.  "If you watched us closely last year, Sean started the year at the end of the bench and by the Big East Tournament he was sitting next to me in order to be as involved as possible.  He was the first guy charging out on to the court after every time out.  He will eventually be a captain of our team because he was that much character."

     

    And since he sat out last season, Kilpatrick still has 3 ½ years remaining in his Bearcat career.

     

    "I'm happy that I decided to redshirt," Sean said.  "It made me a lot better to have one year to just practice.  Coach told me last year that since I wasn't going to be able to play in the games that I had to treat practices like they were my games.  I still do that to this day.  That's something that I'll take for the rest of my life now.  If you keep working every day it will pay off for you."

     

    "There's not a day where he comes to practice and doesn't want to be there," Coach Cronin said.  "People are addicted to different things in life - he is addicted to basketball."

     

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

     

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

     

    Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad.

     

    Sam in tree.jpg

    Bearcats Breakfast 12.09.10

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    A busy day today and we have the only basketball media availability of the week, so hopefully some fodder will come from that. So, let's get right to it.

    --- The All Big East football team was announced with two UC players on the first team and five more represented on the second team.

    Zach Collaros and Armon Binns were first team.

    No argument here. Collaros probably didn't have the season he would have liked, specifically from a turnover point of view where he finished with 14 interceptions, but was still far and away the best QB in the league.

    Binns led the BE in every major receiving category.

    The five on the second team were TE Ben Guidugli, RB Isaiah Pead, LB J.K. Schaffer and WR DJ Woods.

    --- Brian Bennett disagreed with the pick of Collaros for QB.

    --- Bearcats Blog listed the top performances at QB, WR, K and RB for the season. The top QB showings illustrate why coaches gave Collaros the nod over Geno Smith.

    --- Dave Wannstedt went out with the fastest resignation press conference in history

    --- The only person looking to get out the door faster than Wannstedt was Jon Baldwin. And Baldwin was just as happy about. He said it seemed like the Panthers were purposely trying to drop his draft stock.

    Regardless, it will be fantastic not to see him on the opposing sideline next year.   

    --- Bill Koch touched on the fact Mick Cronin is now at .500 for his tenure at UC. Cronin wasn't much concerned with that number.

    None of his fans will care about that number either if it doesn't amount to Big East success. This season has been set up to be 100 percent determined by BE play, which Cronin has mentioned numerous times. With the weak OOC schedule looking weaker by the day with Dayton, Oklahoma and Xavier all struggling, none of these convincing early season wins will mean much without a winning record in conference.

    --- Saturday's game is at 8 p.m. and here is the TV information. TW Cinci-43/309, DirecTV-661, Dish-427, Insight-49/520, CinciBell-37, AT&T-732 (H/t to Tommy G for the info)

    --- This has nothing to do with UC, but college basketball took a serious hit on Wednesday when it was revealed Duke's Kyrie Irving might miss the entire season with a toe injury. Wow. Irving was the real deal according to what we saw early in the season. Duke suddenly goes from a unanimous favorite to repeat back into the middle of a short list of contenders.

    --- Much like the Germans love David Hasselhoff, Glens Falls, NY, loves Jimmer Fredette.

    --- Break up the Bonnies! 

    --- For today's randomness, there may be a Jeep in my barber shop, but goshdarnit you wanted a high fade and I'm going to give you one.

     

    Bearcats Breakfast 12.08.10

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    The Breakfast gets right to the point today. 

    Quick thanks to everybody that sent me emails and comments about yesterday's post about the future of the football program. Feel free to keep them coming.

    Let's eat...

    --- Brian Bennett gives his regular season recap. He calls the USF game the turning point. Hard to argue there. UC could have gone to 2-0 in conference, instead, fell to 1-1, lost Zach Collaros for a game and the concept of not being eligible for a bowl showed up.

    His Offensive MVP is Armon Binns, who established himself as the best WR in the Big East.

    --- Scott Springer caught up with Shoemaker Center opener hero Steve Sanders, who is more than just a one-shot wonder. But, it's hard to ignore what a great moment in UC history it was when he buried No. 20 Minnesota with 8-tenths of a second left.

    --- You can make all the Utah Valley State jokes you would like, but they have actually won four in a row, including a victory at Oregon State. Jordan Swarbrick was named the Big Sky Player of the Week last week.

    UC will still be heavy favorites, but the Wolverines will enter with a ton of confidence.  

    --- So sad to see Dave Wannstedt go. Making Wannstache jokes was one of the perks of this job. Without him now, I feel almost empty.

    It's now official, I can use this line one last time. As a head coach -- Chicago, Miami, Pitt -- the Stache has still not won a damn thing.

    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook thinks this move was a smart one for the Panthers.

    --- John Thornton has been saying for a few months that Marvin Lewis could be the next coach at Pitt. I resepct John's opinion, but I just don't see Marv being too enthusiastic about recruiting 17-year-old kids. Though, some could argue he's been dealing with the equivalent for the last seven years.

    --- Sport Business Journal released the list of gifts the players receive at each bowl game. I am pretty sure the Chick-Fil-A bowl would be my destination of choice. And, no, the $250 Best Buy Gift Card and Fossil watch don't have anything to do with it. 

    I'll have another No.1, please.

    --- Brent Celek had been struggling to find his groove this season, but of late has turned it on for Philiadelphia.

    --- Another flex of Big East muscle last night as Syracuse ran away from No. 8 Michigan State.

    Rick Jackson has become a star. His story and Yancy Gates story are remarkably similar. Jackson lost weight and gained some focus and is helping lift Syracuse beyond its graduated stars. (He had 17 points, 16 boards last night).

    UC has to go to the Carrier Dome this year. That will be a chore, but watching gates and Jackson go at it will be a pleasure.

    --- Mike DeCourcy at The Sporting News isn't buying the Big East depth just yet. He looks at OOC schedules like the one UC is playing and withholds judgment.

    He's got a point. He throws Providence and Rutgers in the mix with UC in that area.

    --- The St. John's reclamation project hit a snag list night. Steve Lavin's new and improved Johnnies lost to St. Bonaventure for the first time since 1960. Yikes.  

    --- SI's Luke Winn wrote about finding freshmen who fit your system is almsot as important as finding freshman with talent.

    For my money, Sean Kilpatrick should be on this list. Maybe when he's more widely known by the end of the season he will be.  

    --- Stephanie Niemer, Annie Fesl and Jordanne Scott earned All-Northeast honors by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. It should just be the beginning of the award season for Niemer, the BE POY, who finished third in the country in points per set.

    --- How about some randomness....

    --- I'm not sure the people planning the parade route didn't think about the difficulty in dragging a 10-story tall Rudolph past a street light, but the disappointed screams of children and adults kind of made the mistake all worth it.  

    --- I've wiped out on a scooter before. It's pretty embarrassing. I can only imagine the embarrassment for Maryland CB Dexter McDougle. At least when I wiped out, it wasn't newsworthy.

    --- A young Christmas mullet gives me hope our future will always be filled with gun racks and Dollar Generals.

    --- While watching the games in the Jimmy V Classic last night, I again watched all 11 minutes of the Jimmy V speech in between. Every time I watch, it gets to me. 

    It's one of the great speeches of our generation.

    I want to use today's Breakfast to address something that has been on my mind over the past few weeks. More importantly, something people should be be talking about from now until the National Title Game on Jan. 10.

    Loyal reader Mr. P sent me an email in reponse to my plea for questions you would like answered. It had 20 questions on it. Strong showing by Mr. P, to say the least.

    Here's the one you asked that I have been meaning to talk about.

    "12. Why in the world would you have hope for next year?"

    If you follow this blog at all, you know I love numbers. I love the matter of fact nature with which you can spot trends and allow the past to inevitably repeat itself.

    There is no greater sign of that then looking at the recent upward trend of second-year head coaches.

    The first-year coaching transition is difficult. This news from the tell-me-something-I-didn't-just-live-through file.

    However, across college football, a rash of success typically occurs from the first season to the second season. The reasons are many: Players used to the new leaders, coaches able to develop their type of guys, coaches better understanding what they will get from their talent.

    Point being -- it is most definitely happening.

    Take a look at the National Championship Game: Auburn vs. Oregon. Two second-year coaches. Remember when Auburn hired Gene Chizik? The program hadn't been relevent for years in the SEC. People were calling for the firing of AD Jeff Jacobs before he even landed at the airport from meeting with Chizik.

    Say what you will about Cam Newton being the entire team, but Chizik's team lost five games last year in his first season. This year, 12-0, possible national title.

    Oregon's Chip Kelly took over for a successful predecessor in Mike Bellotti. Kelly even had Oregon at 10-2 last season before losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

    In his second season, they ascended to a new level and will play for the national title.

    These two cases could be proven to have nothing to do with UC considering how the team dropped to 4-8 last year. You can easily say, Paul, this program obviously has larger problems than those two, they had winning records in Year 1 and both improved from the predecessor.

    True and true. But the point of this post will not be that UC is going to win the national title next year. Rather, the odds point to them being significantly better. Why? Because Oregon and Auburn are far from alone. 

    Let's take a look at all the new coaches from the 2009 season.

    The rise in winning percentage from Year 1 to Year 2 is not coincidence, it's an undeniable trend.

    There are some serious success stories in here folks (B stands for playing in an upcoming bowl game): 

    School         2008 coach       record        2009 coach          2009     2010

    Army            Stan Brock          3-9             Rich Ellerson         5-7       6-5 B

    Auburn        Tommy Tuberville 5-7         Gene Chizik          8-5      12-0 B

    Ball St.         Brady Hoke          12-1           Stan Parrish         2-11      4-8

    B.College      Jeff Jagodzinski    9-5             Frank Spaziani     8-5       7-5 B

    BowlGreen    Gregg Brandon      6-6            Dave Clawson       7-5       2-10

    E. Michigan   Jeff Genyk            3-9            Ron English          0-12     2-10

    Iowa State     Gene Chizik         2-11           Paul Rhoades       7-6       5-7

    Kansas St.    Ron Prince           5-7             Bill Snyder           6-6       7-5 B

    Miami (OH)  S. Montgomery    2-10           Mike Haywood    1-11     9-4 B

    Miss. St.      Sylvester Croom   4-8            Dan Mullen          5-7       8-4 B

    New Mex.      Rocky Long         4-8             Mike Locksley      1-11      1-11

    New Mex. St. Hal Mumme         3-9            DeWayne Walker   3-9       2-10

    Oregon          Mike Bellotti     10-3           Chip Kelly            10-3    12-0 B

    Purdue          Joe Tiller               4-8           Danny Hope            5-7      4-8

    San Diego St. Chuck Long        2-10       Brady Hoke           4-8      8-4 B

    Syracuse       Greg Robinson    3-9         Doug Marrone       4-8      7-5 B

    Toledo           Tom Astutz         3-9          Tim Beckman       5-7      8-4 B

    Utah St.        Brent Guy              3-9            Gary Andersen       4-8     4-8

    Washington Ty Willingham      0-12        Steve Sarkisian      5-7     6-6 B

    Wyoming       Joe Glenn             4-8           Dave Christensen    7-6     3-9

    TOTAL              85-158 (34%)                        87-149 (36%)          117-123 (48%)

    Observations about the data

    --- Among the 21 coaching changes:

    12 improved from year 1 to 2

    11 will be in an upcoming bowl game

    5 got worse

    4 stayed the same

    --- The significant rise in winning percentage should tell all you need to know about the trend. It stays about the same the first season, then rises significantly over the course of the next year. Even more so, if you take away the perenielly awful programs like New Mexico, New Mexico St. and Eastern Michigan their record would be 112-90 for a 55% win total in Year 2.   

    Of course, Chip Kelly has built on Mike Bellotti's success in a way you don't need me to tell you about, but certainly saw marked improvement from Year 1 to 2.

    --- More along the lines of UC's situation would be the coaches that inherited programs with winning records. Of those, the numbers aren't as confidence-inducing. Brady Hoke's strong Ball St. team has been successfully tanked by Stan Parrish. Though, they did win a few more games in Year 2.

    Frank Spaziani has kept BC around the same level it was prior to Jeff Jagodzinski leaving. Kelly is the other.

    ---  The 2009 season isn't the only one to see this trend, take these for example. 

    --- Georgia Tech won the ACC and played in a BCS bowl last season under second-year head coach Paul Johnson.

    --- Alabama went from Mike Shula's drowning of the program to the SEC title game under second-year coach Nick Saban. Obviously, Bama won the national title the next year. What was Bama's record the first year under Saban? 7-6 with four consecutive losses to close the regular season.

    --- In 2006, Florida won a national title under second-year coach Urban Meyer. They were 5-3 in the SEC his first season.

    --- Perhaps the change we should be paying the closest attention to was the changeover from Brian Kelly to Butch Jones at Central Michigan. CBJ went 8-6 in his first year replacing BK. He was 8-5 in the second season with a six-game win streak mid-year.

    --- The difficult first season under new managment has resonated across college football. Of the 23 new coaches last season, only five have winning records. Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, Lane Kiffin at USC, Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech, Skip Holtz at USF and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State (which really wasn't a coaching change at all considering Fisher was essentially running the program).

    Only Fisher and the Lane Train have more than seven wins.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    --- All of these numbers and statistical analysis are nice, but probably still leave you with doubts considering the rapid nature of the Bearcats fall from 12-1 to 4-8. You can't look at it that way. Every year is different in college football and none are more different from one season to the next than when a new coach arrives.  

    BK and CBJ are different coaches. They employ different tactics and win differently. Do you think BK would have been able to turn this defense with eight sophomores and three juniors into a winning one? Maybe, but probably not. 

    --- The bottom line is the numbers prove what people who know football are already aware of, that there is an incredible difference in comfort level from both players to coach and coach to players during the second year. That's particularly so when players were so used to the success of a coach like BK.

    And think about next season -- you have all 11 starters and most contributing backups returning on defense. Sure, the defense was bad this year. But can they get worse? Can you really tell me that these 11 guys won't improve with a year experience under their belt and a season in the strength and conditioning program?

    You return a senior quarterback who -- while didn't live up to some of the lofty expectations -- played pretty well. He has a lot to work on, but the guy lives, eats and breathes football and is a proven winner. It's hard to imagine him not having a monster senior year.

    You return a 1,000-yard rusher (who missed two games), DJ Woods and star transfer WR Kenbrell Thompkins. The offensive line holes will need to be addressed, but that's something a year in strength and conditioning can only help.

    --- This year didn't exactly exude confidence in the direction of the program. But, Mr. P, in the longest way possible to answer your simple question, why in the world would you have hope for next year?

    There you go. 

    Numbers Don't Lie

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    There's an old saying that goes "everyone is number one at something; even if it's number one at not being number one." And so goes the University of Cincinnati football season. No bowl games, no Big East title; no win over top ranked teams and you say Box why are you reminding us of a season we're trying to forget?

    The answer is simple: these numbers don't lie either; 100% of your starting defense was underclassmen. Over 4,000 yards in the form of Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros return. The addition of red shirt freshman and the indication that some JUCO players will be brought in to sure up the apparent holes is a plus and will surely improve a team with 63 players at the sophomore or below level going into 2011. 

    I know fan apathy set in like a Charlie Sheen meltdown and doubt followed you home but there is always next year and in this case, unlike maybe the Bengals, there is hope. When you look at the returning players, the experience and the additions the numbers say wins, bowls and trophies. I know most of us are in the "I'll believe it when I see it" category but I'll step out and say UC will bounce back next year and regain wins and fans. Check any school when it loses top players and lots of seniors, growing pains surface and the key is to build depth at every position; but here's the challenge: When you have depth at every position players to go to other schools to start right away and thus rebuilding at times is unavoidable. I offer you USC, LSU and Florida, who just a few years ago looked like dynasties of the gridiron. The problem was very good players said I can start at Auburn, Alabama and Oregon...(you should be having an ah ha moment now) and now they look like the kings of campuses.

    So lets rebuild, lets regroup and lets prepare for 2011 today. If you're a fan shift your focus to an undefeated and seemingly improved Bearcat basketball team. With the recent attendance figures, if you migrated over to the shoe and filled it up, it could give the hardwood Bearcats and advantage over visiting teams...imagine that!? I imagine you might not because it's win first support second, alumni first athletes second; but that's for another column.

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

    SHOE SHOT

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    shoe.jpg 
      With the football season sadly over and an open week until Saturday's basketball game, I've got some space to fill and I'm going to try to fill it wisely.
         (Translated, that means I have some back-up material that hasn't been used and now's just as good a time as any.)
         While I've written for UC via the now-departed "Bearcat Sports Digest" and here, I've also written UC articles and previews for other publications and sites.   At my last stop, there's one that was submitted but never ran for non-specific reasons.
         I thought it was a good topic and still do.   If you've been a UC basketball fan for a number of years and appreciate pertinent history, perhaps you will too.
        This is from an interview I did with Steve Sanders, who played both football and basketball at UC.  For those that don't recognize him right away, he went from the gridiron to the starting line-up for a certain new coach as the then-Shoemaker Center was christened in 1989.
        Since an important part of Bearcat history should never be ignored, here's a reprint of my article on Steve Sanders with a few updates as the interview was conducted over the summer.


          He is far from a "one-shot wonder" in terms of what he's accomplished in his life, but Steve Sanders is best known in Cincinnati for one shot.

          Over 20 years ago, Sanders christened the then-Shoemaker Center by hitting a three-point shot with eight-tenths of a second left off a pass from Andre Tate to defeat #20 Minnesota in the first game there.

          Prior to that, no games had been played on campus since 1976.

          All of this from a guy who game from East Cleveland to play football at UC and found himself in preseason conditioning for basketball thanks to some intramural "scouting" by Bob Huggins assistant Larry Harrison (who is still with Coach Huggins in West Virginia).

          "It's funny, some people don't even know that I played football," Sanders told me of his basketball fame. "Right after that shot, I was talking to Coach Huggins and I told him everybody would forget about it in two weeks. They're still talking about it--so that's a good thing."

          Actually, many Bearcat fans since then have swore they were in attendance that night, but the truth is, the game was about 4,000 shy of a sell-out.

          "There was probably about 8800 people there, but I know 20,000 people have told me over the years that they were there," said Sanders.

          Sanders is another Bearcat who has stayed in the area and done well for himself, working as a senior program director at the Carl H. Lindner YMCA. He also founded and is president of a girls AAU basketball organization that has turned out some pretty good talent. Namely, Brianna Sanders, Steve's daughter, a redshirt freshman for Ohio State.

          He still gets back for basketball games and the occasional football game though at facilities that are now targeted for repair/renovation. It's further evidence of the speed of time as Sanders played football at Riverfront Stadium while Nippert was pinpointed for renovation (and at one point, condemnation) and he's forever linked with the opening of the current gym.

          "It's amazing to see what they've done with Nippert Stadium, it's absolutely amazing," said the former Bearcat receiver. "Sometimes I have to go back and look at old pictures of me playing because it's amazing to me what they've done at UC. Of course, I wish they could keep Fifth Third Arena, but once they build it--it's no longer modern. I wish they could keep it and rehab it sort of like they did with Nippert, but everybody needs to have their big state-of-the-art building, so I understand."

          Truthfully, more Bearcat backsides need to slip into some plastic chairs to make redoing Fifth Third a viable option. Regardless of the venue, empty seats look bad on TV. However, if early results by Mick Cronin's men are an indication of possible increased attendance, that could be remedied soon.

          Naturally, any demolition of "The Shoe" would have to involve removal of a certain piece of the court where Sanders' famous shot was delivered.

          "If they ever take it apart, I need that block of wood," said Sanders. "I'll put that in the basement, in my 'man cave'."

          No doubt it's a "man cave" that includes the picture of the Minnesota buzzer-beater from 1989, as well as some football artifacts. Sanders, like many former Bearcat gridiron greats has enjoyed the renewed popularity and and notoriety of the UC football program.

          "It's amazing--things go in cycles," said Sanders. "When I played football. We had a heck of a schedule. It was hard to compete with those Top 10 schools. Last year, UC was one of those Top 10 schools. It was just so exciting--the buzz the football team created."

          In Sanders' time, UC played Penn State, the Miami Hurricanes, Auburn and West Virginia (playing seven Top 10 games overall). Now, he watches in mild jealousy (as someone who used to catch the ball) as his alma mater has competed with such ranked opponents.

          Not only do they compete with them, they've done it THROUGH THE AIR!

          "I would have loved it," said Sanders about playing in UC's most recent offensive schemes. "I'm sitting there saying, 'Oh my God, they're just throwing the ball around!' It's a shock when they run the ball. We threw it a little bit, but now it seems like every down they're throwing the ball. I would've loved to have played (in that) absolutely!"

          Sanders now hopes that basketball catches the spark that football had and that both programs thrive. Late last year, both teams were ranked, but the hoopsters were unable to sustain it. If they do, Sanders feels the city will enjoy and embrace it.

          "I think they're close, I think they're extremely close," said Sanders. "They play in the Big East. In the Big East, you just can't show up. I think once they get over the hump--they've got to string together like two or three big wins in a row--and I think they'll take off. I think Mick's doing a great job."

          While supporting the current Bearcat program, you can't fault alumni such as Sanders and their support for their old coach who returned to the Final Four in 2010. It had been 18 years, perhaps longer that some would have imagined, but Bob Huggins returned to college basketball's showcase with a few local fans, including Sanders.

          "Well, you knew it was going to happen," said Sanders. "He's a winner. That's what he does. He wins and that's it. Wherever he goes he's going to win. He did it at Akron, at UC, at Kansas State he was turning that around and you knew it was going to happen at West Virginia."

          Thanks to Bob Huggins liking tough guys and often employing football players on his roster (Brad Jackson, Brent Petrus, Antwan Peek, Jarrett Brown at WVU) Steve Sanders will forever remain a historical name in Bearcat history.

          "He's an aggressive, competitive person and you generally see that in football players," said Sanders. "You have to be that way to be successful in football. I tell people all the time that all the yelling and the screaming and the choice words that he used, it never bothered me one bit."

          To a man, most of that era's players will say that and most will tell you that the Bob Huggins you saw kneeling next to an injured Da'Sean Butler in West Virginia's semi-final against Duke was the other side that many of you never saw.


    Bearcats Breakfast 12.06.10

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    A busy weekend around UC sports will be followed by a dead week for finals. No basketball until Saturday against Utah Valley St. and, of course, the football season is now over.

    Volleyball saw its tournament run cut short as well, after losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Illinois. Still, a nice run for Stephanie Neimer and Co.

    I'll continue to bring you Breakfast every day and some stories from basketball availability, along with whatever else pops into my head (which is unreliable at best).

    But, with some open time, I want to hear from you. The football season heads into a crucial offseason. The basketball team is 7-0, but there are many questions from weak OOC schedule to state of the No. 1 RPI conference in the country to what that forearm banging move Larry Davis does means.

    So, send me your questions. I have a few questions that have been sent to me recently that I am waiting to answer or have done so in blog posts. But what's on your mind right now? Send me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) or give me a follow on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr).

    Remember, I am not allowed to talk about recruiting, so send those to BearcatLair.

    Let's eat....

     --- Well, the season is over. The Bearcats showed glimpses of brillance this year, but never consistently enough to avoid one of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory. Turnovers and bad luck piled up like dirty dishes in the sink. The more there were, the more daunting fixing the problem became.

    I'll have more this week on why there is reason for hope. (Hint: See the two coaches in the National Title game) But, the season saw a round of eulogys this weekend. I wrote about the season of turnover and offseason that awaits.  

    Jason Williams nicely pieced together the final game story of the season for the Enquirer.

    --- Here's a time lapse of the UC-Pitt snow game.

    --- Super-intern Will Frasure tackled the message left behind by the seniors, particularly Armon Binns and Jason Kelce.

    Binns probably has the brightest football future of anybody in this graduating class. Mel Kiper had Binns ranked as the No. 2 returning senior wideout in the country entering the season and he was solid.

    He finished the season with 72 receptions for 1,072 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers certainly didn't hurt his stock.  

    The preliminary rankings I've seen have Binns as a late-round draft pick. This is a deep class for WRs, assuming will see a rash of talented juniors emerge, which isn't ideal for Binns, but it would be hard to imagine a guy of his size and skill not getting a look. 

    --- DJ Woods talked on Twitter about how he was having surgery this week.  He will be among many Bearcats having surgeries to get everything straightened out in time for spring football. Those are almost all minor cleanup surgeries. There was no indication from any of the football staff that DJ was seriously hurt against Pitt.

    If there is a silver lining to the no-bowl cloud, it's that the team can get healthy for spring football earlier.

    --- UConn needed a last-second field goal to beat lowly USF and win the Big East. That's about right. 

    --- Catholics vs. Convicts is back with Notre Dame facing Miami (Fla) in the Sun Bowl.

    --- The Big East bowls were: Louisville vs. Southern Miss @Beef O'Brady's Bowl, Big East champ UConn vs. Oklahoma @ Fiesta Bowl, South Florida vs. Clemson @ Meineke Car Care Bowl, Pitt vs. Kentucky at the BBVA Compas Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., Kansas St. vs. Syracuse @ New Era Pinstripes Bowl in Yankee Stadium, West Virginia vs. NC State @ Champs Sports Bowl.

    I like the Cards, Syracuse and WVU to win. With the way the BE played in non-conference this year, a strong bowl season could go a long way. That said, with the way the BE played in non-conference this year, there's little reason to expect that.  

    --- Here is the complete bowl game schedule, including my Bobcats playing Troy in New Orleans. Let's just say it's a good thing I have a job to keep me in town that week.

    --- Good news for the Big East: The Big Ten is not looking to expand anymore. That means Pitt, Syracuse, Rutgers and others are safe to keep the major fan bases and markets in tact.

    ---  Mick's men now move to 7-0 with a destruction of winless Toledo. Yeah, the Rockets are young and played gawd-awful, but beating any D-I team with that kind of domination deserves some credit.

    I think we're all anxious to see how this team fares against the big boys,but don't worry, January will be here soon enough and fans will be begging to see Utah Valley State on the schedule again.

    --- As for the other major conference school on UC's schedule, times are tough for Oklahoma. They have lost five in a row. Those came against UK, Virginia, Chaminade -- all in Hawaii -- and to Arkansas and Arizona on the road.

    Not exactly a cupcake schedule and the Sooners will be thrilled to be playing within spitting distance of their campus, but UC should be pretty heavily favored in that one on the 18th.

    --- Nice step forward, even in a loss, for the UC women yesterday, hanging with No. 4 Xavier until the final minutes.

    --- I want to give a shout out to Tommy Gelehrter -- or Tommy G as he's typically referred to -- for the work he put in the last month. He called 24 games in 27 days while helping everybody through the busy football/basketball overlap. He's good, too. UC's lucky to have him.  

    --- How about some randomness...

    --- Headline of the day goes to The Big Lead with this one...

    --- And you thought Cash 4 Gold didn't have a sense of humor?

    --- Seeing Ben Roethlisberger's nose snapped sideways makes me feel good inside.

    --- Shay Shine is in the early running for dunk of the year. I don't think he'll win, but it's a nice early bar-setter.    

      

    A Crosstown to Remember

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    So, didja think the game would be anything else but?

    You can toss in any cliche that you want, but we all knew that when UC and Xavier meet, whether it's basketball or tiddly winks, it's going to be a battle.

    So it was on Sunday, when the #4 ranked Xavier Musketeers 47654_10150348673330319_57861050318_16335719_3053585_n[1].jpgvisited the UC Bearcats for the Women's Crosstown Shootout and came away with a 69-61 win.

    First, props to everyone who attended--thanks to all the sponsors and to the youth groups who came, but don't make this your only visit. As Coach Elliott said after the game, it's great to have a big crowd for the Shootout, but make sure you come back for a regular season game.

    Second, congrats to both teams. Xavier's impressive and the Musketeers have their eyes on the prize--to go beyond last year's Elite Eight. Having said that, the Bearcats didn't roll over just because one of the top teams in the country was coming into the gym.

    Coach Elliott made a pretty telling statement after the game. She said, "In those last eight minutes, I wish everyone could have been in those huddles with us. Because I had nine players looking me in the eye saying 'we believe.' We believe we can play with this team. We believe we can win this game."

    And while the payoff didn't come with an upset win, it'll likely come down the road. Just ask Senior Shelly Bellman. "We learned a lot of good lessons in this game," she said. "That'll help us when we get into those games in the BIG EAST."

    So another Women's Crosstown Shootout has come and gone. Xavier knows that no matter who the opponent, they're going to have a fight on their hands. And the Bearcats know that they can give that fight to anyone. Just. Believe.

     

    By Will Frasure

    Special to GoBearcats.com

     

    CINCINNATI -- The dejection could be seen on Shareese Ulis' face as time slowly dwindled off the Fifth Third Arena scoreboard. Xavier's eight-point lead was too much for Cincinnati to gain back in 53 seconds as the Musketeers finally closed out the Bearcats.

     

    But in a game Cincinnati made much closer than expected, much confidence and hope can be taken from the 69-61 loss to their crosstown rivals. Ulis and her teammates played valiantly as they attempted to take down the bigger, more athletic Musketeers, the No. 4 team in the country.

     

    "I had seven players tonight that played with unbelievable heart," coach Jamelle Elliot said. "If you would have told me before this game that we would be down by 5 with 5 or 6 minutes left, I'd say you were crazy."

     

    Last year, Elliot's team was embarrassed at the Cintas Center by basically the same Musketeer team in a 31-point loss. In her second year at the helm, the fiery head coach believes her team has matured and gained significant confidence since last year's Crosstown Shootout.

     

    "The team is completely different than last year," Ulis said. "There's a lot of things we have now than we did then. We play more together and deal with team's runs better as we try to come back."

    If Elliot needs an example of what type of players she wants for her program, Ulis, a senior, is the perfect pick. The guard relentlessly attacked the Musketeer defense as she drove to the basket, even as Amber Harris and Ta'shia Phillips, who stand at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6, stood in front of the basket. She finished with 24 points.

     

    It could be seen on the other end of the ball, too. Ulis hounded Harris and the other Musketeer guards relentlessly throughout the game. Her toughness sparked the rest of the Bearcats as they pestered Xavier throughout the contest.

     

    Plus, she's been doing it while fighting through two bad knees.

     

    "She just goes out and leads us into battle every single night," Elliot said. "As we play more and more, the troops are going to fight harder if she keeps on like she has."

     

    The effort and drive was there for the Bearcats. Their talent and athleticism, however, couldn't hang with the Musketeers. Harris and Phillips stood like the Carew and Great American Towers stand over downtown Cincinnati, and Harris fluidly navigates around the floor despite her long frame.

     

    "Their front line is probably bigger than two of our guys on top of each other," Elliot said.

     

    Harris showed off the tools that make her a top WNBA prospect on the final play of the first half. She dribbled up court, faked right and dribbled the ball behind her back to separate her from Kayla Cook. She proceeded to toss up a perfect 3-pointer the hit nothing but net.

     

    "We pressed them and she looked at Kayla like she was a little ant," Elliot said. "I was thinking she was more of a mid-range, get the ball to the block, spin and dribble baseline player, but that last play says it all for her."

     

    A loss always stings, but for the second-year coach and a team that chosen to finish 15th in the Big East, the Bearcats can take solace in how this one turned out.

     

     It could be the much-needed turning point for the young coach and the previously struggling program.

     

    "I told my guys, when it comes time for January, February, March, when we start to play Big East games, this game is gonna be the game I'll talk to them about," Elliot said. "We hung with the No. 4 team in the country. We should be able to compete and come away with some of those."

    INADVERTENT OMISSION

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         So, I had a "senior moment" on a Senior.  

         In my game preview for the Pitt game, I didn't include John Goebel in my rundown.  Nothing personal with John, I just visually missed him on the roster as (from a mishap at a UC football game years ago vs. TCU) I don't have the best of vision.

         John has always been a terrific interview and citizen and you can find some of my talks with John here and here.

         John is one of a few Bearcats who went to four bowl games.   In his freshman year, he was moved from RB to defense and was a special teams player in the International Bowl coached by Brian Kelly.  (Goebel was recruited by Mark Dantonio).

         Goebel was moved back to RB and redshirted by Kelly for his sophomore year when UC went to the Papajohns.com, then blossomed in his junior year when he shared time with Jacob Ramsey on the Orange Bowl team.

          Last season, Goebel was injured and never regained his spot or his speed but contributed as a great team leader on the team that went to the Sugar Bowl.

          Finally, this season Goebel readily accepted his role as a back-up to Isaiah Pead and did everything possible to motivate his team.    Hopefully, Goebel and his fellow seniors will return to Nippert soon to enjoy the process that they played a major part in.

           From all indications, 2010 was an aberration.  It's unfortunate that several solid players couldn't go out on a better note.

     

    For more, Will Frasure discusses the message left by Armon Binns and the senior class following their bitter final game.

     

    Transition and turnovers define a disappointing start to the Butch Jones era and the coach vows an unrelenting work ethic to turn around a 4-8 season.

     

    CINCINNATI - The season of turnover mercifully came to an end Saturday.

     

    Last year, one last ditch final drive concluded with Armon Binns sliding across the snow in the Heinz Field end zone, lifting the final piece of an undefeated regular season into the air.

     

    A year later, one last ditch final drive concluded with Pitt S Dom DeCicco sliding across the Nippert Stadium turf, tackled down with the 29th and final turnover of the UC season tucked under his right arm.

     

    That's how it ended. From the blazing opening night in Fresno, Calif., to the freezing finale in Cincinnati, that's how it went.

     

    UC finished the season 119th in the country in turnover margin. Only Middle Tennessee State was worse.

     

    The Bearcats beat themselves - eight times.

     

    "There are a lot of things going good; we have a nice rhythm and things get moving and there is a penalty or an interception or a missed block," said Isaiah Pead, whose fumble stalled a first-quarter drive into Pittsburgh territory. "We've been saying it all year, we got to stop beating ourself. We got more losses than we have wins and they are all from us."

     

    They were again on Saturday. Pead's early fumble and an interception of a hit on Zach Collaros that floated to DeCicco left the Bearcats with two long drives and nothing to show for it. Forced to come from behind in a thick snowstorm, the odds stacked against them. As did Dion Lewis 42 carries for 261 yards and 4 TDs.

     

    In the end, three turnovers flipped into 14 points defined the day. Defined the season.

     

    Facing a disruptive Pitt defense, opportunities to score came few and far between. One trip inside Panthers territory ended in an Isaiah Pead fumble, another in a Zach Collaros interception.

     

    But the details of this game were inconsequential. Turnovers, poorly-timed personal fouls and defensive breakdowns melt into the blur of mistakes the 2010 campaign will be defined by. And, for Butch Jones, what the 2011 offseason will be motivated by.

     

    "We are coming back and we are working - Monday at 3 o'clock - as a football team," Jones said. "There will be no off days. This is unacceptable. We are going to get this right."

     

    Correction will begin with change. Thirteen seniors will leave. Depth doomed the Bearcats this season and Jones needs an infusion of his players to fill holes on special teams and possibly in the starting lineup.

     

    Jones said the evaluation will begin with himself and stem down to his assistants and the student-athletes.

     

    "Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting," Jones said of what needs to be done. "Develop our younger players."

     

    It's clear that starts on the defensive side of the ball. Thanks to a two turnovers inside the UC 5-yard line, Pitt couldn't crack 30 points. But in seven Big East games UC gave up an average of 33 points. They never allowed less than 27.

     

    "We have all 11 starters coming back," Jones said. "But we have a long way to go."

     

    All eyes turn to 2011 now. The season will hold more significance than could have been imagined when Jones first took over. He needs to cash in on the pattern of marked improvement by coaches in the second seasons. Add in a Zach Collaros in his senior year and the expectations raise as high as they were this year.

     

    Another season of turnovers would turn a poor season into a concerning trend. Jones knows that. As do his players.

     

    "There is no next week," Pead said. "There is nothing else to think about. You have to work hard and expect the same from the rest of the team. There is no more cutting corners. I feel like a few corners were cut. A lot of comfortability with being two-time, back to back champs, you are going to find a few comfortable people, a few comfortable teammates. We have to get that corrected. As a team, as leaders, as seniors, we got to get back in the lab and roll your sleeves."

    Armon Binns and his seniors shift their eyes toward the future, but not before leaving the program they helped build into a power with the motivation to help return.

     

    By Will Frasure

    Special for GoBearcats.com

     

    CINCINNATI -- With the ball sailing his way, Armon Binns had one last chance to make an impact as a Cincinnati Bearcat.

     

    But in a matter of seconds, Pittsburgh's Dom DeCicco cut in front of the Cincinnati receiver and snatched the ball away. It was a bittersweet ending for Binns and the other 12 seniors' careers.

     

    "I've been a part of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows this year," Binns said about his career as a Bearcat. "It's just been a great experience. I've been blessed with my time here."

     

    It was an emotional finish for the team's seniors. After tasting the sweetness of BCS Bowls and the sour of this season, the group offered messages to their younger teammates moving forward.

     

    Offensive lineman Jason Kelce offered the most resounding statement, telling the players that they need to look in the mirror and realize the blame falls on everyone for the lack of success this year.

     

    To the younger players, he talked about not complaining about the hard work of the off-season, because if they slack, they'll feel the pain of this season again.

     

    "His message was he doesn't want to come back here five years from now, 10 years from now and have a season like this again," quarterback Zach Collaros said. "For us to learn from it, to learn from the seniors what they maybe should have done."

     

    The quieter Binns offered a softer message to the team's receivers.

     

    "I'm not a big talker," Binns said. "But I told them to hold themselves to a higher standard and come in everyday with a purpose."

     

    With their collegiate careers over, the seniors will pick up the pieces and move on to another phase of their lives.

     

    Binns leaves Cincinnati as one of the top receivers to come through the program. His 1,979 career yards and signature touchdown catch against Pittsburgh last season will make him unforgettable in Clifton for years.

     

    Now, he will begin training for the NFL as he prepares for April's draft. But the receiver said he hasn't even thought about the future, only the sting of the loss.

     

    The pain could be seen in his face as he sat solemnly alone, head buried in his hands after answering post-game questions.

     

    "I guess I gotta start thinking about that," Binns said. "I've thought about it a little bit, but I've basically just been trying to suck up the last moments here and enjoy the little bit of time I got left."

     

    As Pittsburgh dominated on the ground and ate up clock in the second half, the receiver could do nothing but watch from the sidelines as seconds slipped away during his final game.

     

    It was a painful conclusion, as Cincinnati turned the ball over and squandered chances to get back into the game.

     

    "It hurts a lot," Binns said. "You can't really do anything about it. Those were the cards that got dealt to us. I guess you just gotta take it in the chin and move on."

     

    The torch has been passed from Binns and his fellow seniors onto Collaros, Isaiah Pead and the other future leaders of the program. While the receiver starts preparing for the professional level, Collaros and the others will begin the restoration process after the disappointment of 4-8.

     

    "It can't go anywhere but up," Binns said. "I think the guys will work hard, guys like Zach and Pead. Plus with the work ethic this coaching staff has instilled in us, they'll come back ready to go."

    Bearcats Breakfast 12.03.10

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    Pre-emptive apologies, this will be a particularly brief Breakfast today. I hope anybody who has ever bought an item from Ikea and stayed up into the wee hours of the night trying to put the 184 pieces together can commiserate with my situation.

    Last night inspired me to come up with a spin-off for a show on Bravo: Man vs. Bed Frame.

    Thankfully, man won. Though many hours were sacrificed.

    Fortunately for you, reading material will not be short in supply. The new face at GoBearcats.com and strong Ohio Bobcat Will Frasure put together a feature story on volleyball senior Stephanie Niemer.

    She's a local product out of Kentucky who owned the Big East this year, in case you weren't paying attention. She set the record for most Big East Player of the Week Awards. And, today, she leads the Bearcats into the NCAA tournament for her senior year postseason run.

    UC already beat their opponent, Western Kentucky, earlier this season. Also, in 2008, they beat WKU to move on to the second round of the tournament.

    --- Scott Springer talked with senior Armon Binns about his final game for UC. Here's his story. Binns is a guy that will get a look on an NFL roster somewhere. I can't imagine it not happening. He's been fantastic here and had the physical ability to make plays on the next level.

    And, of course, he'll leave UC owning one of the most famous receptions in school history. (Great photo from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the top of Scott's story) 

    --- We have been doing senior conversations all week, bringing you the thought process of a few seniors leading up to the final game in UC red and black.

    Yesterday we posted Ben Guidugli.

    We also had convos with John Goebel and Jason Kelce.

    --- Here's a few game notes from PIttsburgh Tribune Live. The headline infers the Wannstache isn't giving away his strategy. As more of a stretch in my eyes, it also infers he has one.

    --- Bill Koch blogged about the comments of Wright State coach Billy Donlon. I meant to put some of his words in my morning after column, but it just slipped my mind. He definitely had some kind words for the Bearcats.

    Cronin had some kind words for Donlon who, despite looking like he just got his temps, came off very impressive both in the media room and on the court.

    You really have the feeling the Raiders are in good hands after losing Brad Brownell to Clemson.

    --- Remember, noon kickoff for senior day at Nippert Stadium on Saturday. Also, basketball will be at Toledo tomorrow at 7 p.m.. There is no TV for the game, but you can listen to it on 700WLW.   

    Quick randomness...

    Best sign I saw fromt the depression that was LeBron reminding Cleveland of exactly why they were so pissed last night, came in the opening minutes. Second sign shown of the night read: Who needs LeBron when you have Bieber Fever!

    Oh, Cleveland. That's not helping.

    But how could you not have fever for a kid who can solve a Rubik's Cube in 90 seconds on Telemundo!  

    Stephanie Niemer will go down as one of the greatest volleyball players in UC history. Today, she begins her final chance to driving the program to unprecedented heights as their NCAA tournament begins.

     

    By Will Frasure

    Special to GoBearcats.com

     

    CINCINNATI -- Only moments removed from hearing the placement for her final run at the NCAA tournament, Big East Player of the Year Stephanie Niemer discussed her gut feelings and intuitions on the volleyball court.

     

    "It usually comes out right," she said.

    Indeed, ranking in the top five nationally in kills per set (5.08) and points per set (5.91) while leading UC to a regular season Big East title would support her summation.

     

    With how well she performs each point, it isn't crazy to think the senior can feel what's going to happen on the court before it transpires. 

     

    "I'll have feelings that certain things will happen over passes," she said, "and I'll set myself up for something that may happen in order to help our team."

     

    Her foresight can be seen in the locker room before games as she prepares for upcoming matches. It will return today as the Bearcats open the NCAA tournament against Western Kentucky in Champaign, Ill.

     

    One second, Niemer will want to wear a certain hair band. The next, her gut will tell her to wear something else. If it isn't exactly right, Niemer doesn't feel as confident as possible when she takes the court.

     

    The choice to wear a Brazilian headband in Cincinnati's Big East semifinal match against Notre Dame stuck out to the senior. Her "sixth sense," as she called it, told her that the band she received on a team trip to Brazil would benefit her the most against the Irish.

     

    The result? A dominating 3-0 win over the Irish in which Niemer knocked home a team-high 15 kills.

     

     "I got a good feeling off of (the headband) before the game. Obviously it worked out pretty well," said Niemer, sarcastically while laughing.

     

    But having certain hunches about hair care isn't the only reason for Niemer's success.

     

    Through dedication and some support from home, the senior has developed into one of the country's best players.

     

    Niemer hadn't played outside hitter until the day she arrived in Clifton after finishing her career at St. Henry's in Erlanger, Kentucky. When she first started for the Bearcats, she tried to get by on her pure hitting ability.

     

    "I wasn't necessarily the smartest volleyball player," Niemer said. "I just tried to swing through the block as hard as I could, or just swing as hard as I could anywhere."

     

    With the goal of becoming a smarter and more developed player, Niemer dedicated herself to progress on and off the court. Close friend and teammate Lindsay Upton could see the commitment of Niemer in class and in offseason workouts.

     

    "She's unbelievably dedicated," Upton said. "You don't see her out and about. She's dedicated to volleyball and winning. That's what she's all about."

     

    First came Big East Freshman of the Year after her first season, then a first-team Big East selection her sophomore year. She was honorable mention on the AVCA All-American team. Now, it'd be a travesty if she wasn't a first team All-American after her outstanding play that earned her a record six Big East Player of the Week awards.

     

    Along the way, Niemer's family from across the river supported her and kept her grounded throughout her years at Cincinnati. Upton, also a local product from Mount Notre Dame, said having family so close to home has been a rock in both their lives.

     

    "(My family and I) have gotten closer since I got here," Niemer said. "All of them come to my games most of the time, and someone will always try to be there for away games."

     

    As the team moves on toward the NCAA Tournament, Niemer's humble attitude, gained from her supportive family, has allowed her to take her accolades in stride.

     

    Even after her unprecedented Big East POW run, Niemer pointed toward the recognition the program received rather than basking in her success.

     

    "I didn't try to win the award each week," Niemer said. "I just tried to play the best I could, and if that's what came with it, that's what came with it."

     

    With the team building off their loss to Louisville and moving on the next step of beating Western Kentucky in the first round of the tournament, individual honors are the last thing on the dominant outside hitter's mind.

     

    Her only focus: Propelling the program to its first Sweet 16, the goal of since Day 1.

     

    "That loss against Louisville showed our true colors," Niemer said. "When team's can expose your weaknesses like that, you have to get better. That's what we're focusing on as we move forward."

     

    Next Season Begins Next Week

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    The UC football team plays its final game of the year on Saturday at noon against Pitt.

     

    The 2011 season begins 48 hours later.

     

    butchjones3.jpg 

    "Starting on Monday, I'll review everything we do in our program and it starts with me," head coach Butch Jones said.  "I'm the leader and we're going to get this right and it's going to be a product that everyone can be extremely proud of - I can promise you that.  But we're going to look at everything.  We have some holes that we have to fill, and the way you improve is by developing your talent and recruiting.  The big thing now is to focus on recruiting and to get the best possible student-athletes to come to the University of Cincinnati that fit our beliefs.  But I'm excited - I really am.  I think we have a foundation.  We played a lot of young players and I'm excited about our returning players."

     

    With a junior class that includes Zach Collaros, Isaiah Pead, D.J. Woods, Derek Wolfe, J.K. Schaffer, and Alex Hoffman, the Bearcats have some key building blocks for next season.  But there are obvious question marks - especially on defense where the Bearcats did not put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and struggled in the secondary.

     

    I asked Coach Jones on Thursday if he would address weak areas by having any players switch positions.

     

    "The biggest conversation piece is (tight end) Travis Kelce," Jones told me.  "He's a special football player and we're going to first look at him at defensive end.  He can always play offense - it's like riding a bike.  But we have to improve our third down defense and how do you do that?  With a pass rusher and a shutdown corner.  We have to be able to generate pressure with a four man push so we're going to look at him at defensive end.

     

    "Then there's (freshman) Montrel Church - could he move from wide receiver to safety to give us some help there.  He was offered at Iowa as a safety and we took him here as a receiver.

     

    "The big thing is putting guys in the best places to succeed and to make us a better football team going into next year."

     

    Church is one of 21 true freshman (including walk-ons) who are sitting out this year.  Coach Jones says several of UC's redshirting players could play significant roles next season.

     

    "One of the things that (strength coach) Dave Lawson does is take 'before and after' pictures of these guys to show how they look after a year of training," Jones said.  "The progress that we're making is incredible.  You look at Cameron Beard who's put about 35 pounds on - he's a defensive end who's going to play for us next year.  Another individual is Eric Lefeld on the offensive line, along with Cory Keebler and Kevin Schloemer.  Another individual is Jordan Luallen - the quarterback who transferred from Georgia Tech.  He'll have three years of eligibility left and he is a leader." 

     

    Leadership is one area that Coach Jones considers to be strong for next season.

     

    "I think our junior class has some dynamic leaders when you look at Zach and J.K. Schaffer.  And one of our best leaders is (long snapper) Tommy DeTemple.  We'll have a team meeting on Monday at 3 o'clock and after the Pitt game it's all about 2011.  Before we can be a championship football team, every individual has to be a champion.  What's that mean?  It's doing the right things, it's going to class, it's working as hard as you can in the weight room, it's putting in the extra time, and it's representing this great university."

     

    There are obviously things to play for this weekend.  The Bearcats are trying to sweep all three rivalry trophies (Miami, Louisville, and Pitt) for the third straight year and most importantly, are looking to send their 12 seniors out with a win.

     

    But after having their four year bowl streak come to an end, the 'Cats are already determined to start a new streak next season.

     

    "I'm really excited and I think the future is very, very bright," Coach Jones told me.  "I know that our fans are disappointed, but I want to say, 'Hang in there and keep your loyalty.'  I promise you that we're going to get this thing going the right way and we're going to go bowling next year."

     

    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

     

    Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad.

     

    Sam in Seattle sunglasses.jpg

    When Ben Guidugli arrived at the University of Cincinnati, everybody knew his name. His last name, at least. His older brother, Gino, was the starting quarterback for four years and carved out quite a following among the fan base. His act was tough to follow.

     

    Few can deny the younger brother certainly followed. Guidugli was a three-year starter at tight end and played in two BCS Bowl games.

     

    He has 23 passes for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. Much like the team, this year has been a disappointment for Guidugli, but it doesn't mask his strong career.

     

    Guidugli notched 7 receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns last season against Illinois in one of the best games by a tight end the school has seen. He finished last season with 27 receptions for 364 yards and 3 TDs.

     

    GoBearcats.com's Will Frasure caught up with Guidugli this week to talk about becoming a father, the NFL and his final game with the Bearcats.

     

    Q: With this being your guys definite last week, has it been a bit surreal going out for practice on your last week?

     

    BG: I don't think it's really hit us yet. Once that clock says 00:00 on Saturday afternoon at about 3 or 4 o'clock, then reality will set in for us. We're trying not to think about it right now. It almost feels like we'll just be back out there practicing next week like we always have. Maybe after the game and then Monday or Tuesday the next week, it'll probably start sinking it that it's actually over.

     

    Q: So you'd say it hasn't hit you too much yet?


    BG: No because we're still game-planning, watching film. We're still getting ready for the game. All those things, that's the routine we've been doing for the last four or five years. Right now, it's just the same process we go through every week going into a game.

     

    Q: The last four years, you've gone on to play in a bowl. This year, it's obviously been tough not working toward one. What's that like not working toward one?

     

    BG: It's definitely tough. We're the class that snapped the streak. I mean, we came in '06 and went to the International Bowl. It wasn't a great bowl, but the seniors that year, they didn't go to a bowl the year before and they were so proud to go to it. We didn't know about any BCS games when we came in. We thought the International Bowl was great. It just hurts knowing we're the class that stops that streak of going to bowls. It definitely hurts a lot.

     

    Q: Speaking of bowls, what was it like to be a part of the program during the trips to the two BCS bowls?

     

    BG: Definitely amazing, especially for myself since I got to play key roles in both '08 and '09. I feel like I was a part of that, along with the seniors of those years. Connor (Barwin) and them in '08 and then Tony (Pike), Mardy (Gilyard) and them last year. To be out there with those guys and help to get to those games, I think we're really proud. I can always look back and be proud of what we did those years.

     

    Q: Obviously you haven't gotten time to reflect on it now, but when you look back in the future, you may look back and see you were a part of the rise of the UC program. How do you think you'll look back on being a part of the team during this span?

     

    BG: The future will reveal what goes on here. Right now, I've played during the pinnacle of this program, the highest of the highs, so I'm proud of that fact, definitely.

     

    Q: What would you say is different about yourself from the person you are now and the person that first stepped foot on campus here as a freshman?

     

    BG: My blocking, definitely blocking in terms of what's different on the field. I came in here as a receiver and coach Dantonio moved me to fullback in his offense, so just blocking in general is what I've improved on.

     

    Q: What about off-the-field? What's different with you personally?

     

    BG: I have a family now, so obviously I can't be acting like the 18-year-old kid that came in here with my eyes wide-open as you begin living in the dorms and stuff. I went through all that. Now, I have my son, and that's my life right now. There's a different mindset and a different perspective right now as a fifth-year senior. I'm about to close the book on my chapter here at Cincinnati. It's the end of one part of my life and hopefully a move into another great part of my life.

     

    Q: With Dantonio, you played fullback, and then you switched to coach Kelly. Now, you switched to coach Jones system. How have you dealt with the changing of coaches and systems?

     

    BG: Obviously, it's never easy. The transition and change takes time. I feel like we've adapted well. This senior class that I'm going out with, we've obviously been through a lot together. We've leaned on each other for support and that's what we'll remember the most. The friendship we had with each other, the times we had together, the things like that. How we stuck together through so much change and so much stuff going on in our lives. That's what we'll reflect on the most.

     

    Q: This year's definitely been an adverse one for you guys, how would you say you've guys have dealt with the year not going how you wanted it to go?

     

    BG: Individually, too. I've never been hurt. I got hurt this year for the first time when I sprained my ankle pretty bad. The rehab process, watching the game from the sideline, all that was new for me. More than anything, this year has taught us perseverance and character because when things are going good, you can kick some of the bad under the rug and into a corner and hide stuff, but when things aren't all dandy, real character is revealed. I think that more than anything has come out this year, that we really do have some high character guys on this team. I love the guys I've gone through this process with. I'll never forget them

     

    Q: Going into Saturday, with it being senior day and your last home game, how do you think you'll deal with it emotionally?

     

    BG: Running out of that tunnel, I'm just gonna be ready to play the game to be honest with you. Obviously, we're not going to a bowl game, but for me personally and a team, we want to go out with pride and with a victory. Keep the River City Rivalry trophy here. We've got our other two rivalry trophies here with the Victory Bell and the Keg of Nails, so we want to keep this one in the case too. As a senior, we want to say we kept them all. Individually too. It's another opportunity to impress people from the NFL. Scouts turn on the film and watch this. They have some of the best defensive ends in the country, so I'm going to be getting my 1-on-1 matchups with those guys. There's a lot still at stake with this game. I'll be ready to play to be honest with you. Then maybe after I might get sad or shed a tear or something, but up until the clock says 0:00, I'm ready to beat Pitt. 

    Can I start with anything other than how good Sean Kilpatrick can be?

    There's really nothing else you can be saying to yourself walking out of Fifth Third Arena last night. As soon as he entered the game, the Bearcats surged. After his 5 for 5 night, he's now draining 50 percent of his 3-pointers. He's 13 of 26 on the season. It's been a while since anybody could make that statement.

    I jumped into the topic of how Cronin is figuring out how to best utilize Kilpatrick. When he enters with the high energy group of Larry Davis and Justin Jackson where he has been around the 14-minute mark of the half, that group can brutalize teams that don't play their bench. That's what they did to the Raiders. Wright State was tired and that group took advantage.

    I've always loved the concept of a lift-guy coming off the bench. It re-engergizes a team that may have a sluggish start and adds gas to the fire of a fast start.

    --- If you want to hear all of Mick Cronin's comments, you can watch them here. If you want to hear Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon talk about the win click here.   

    --- Cashmere Wright got bumped in the head in the second half. Cronin took him out with 13:36 remaining in the game and didn't put him back in.

    Wright was experiencing some dizzyness. Cronin didn't have an official word about his condition in the postgame, but didn't make it sound too serious. We'll likely get a better update at the media availability today.

    --- JaQuon Parker was given an opportunity to fill in for Wright and just didn't play very well. Parker finished with 0 points, 2 rebounds and a turnover in seven minutes.

    For UC to be the team they need to be, Parker needs to revert more to the form we saw in the second half of last season.

    Thus far, he only has three assists through six games.  

    Cronin thinks Parker may be pressing.

    "He trying too hard," Cronin said. "He's putting too much pressure on himself."

    --- If this were Boy Scouts, Yancy Gates would earn the "Effing Warrior" patch last night.

    Apparently, Gates was living on his bathroom floor with a sickness on Tuesday, couldn't get out of his apartment and hadn't been able to put any food down for the past two days.

    What did he do?

    He played 33 minutes with 10 points and 7 rebounds.

    For anybody wondering if Gates cares this year, that's all you need to know. You can't tell me an effort like that doesn't rub off onto the rest of his team.

    --- On top of that, Ibrahima Thomas was sick the past two days and miss Monday and Tuesday practice. The combination of those two being sick and the buzz following the Dayton game had Cronin a nervous wreck leading into the Wright State game.

    "I was a wreck for a lot of reasons. Dayton missed some open shots. People telling my guys how great they are. Come to practice Monday Ibrahima Thoams has an infection. He can't practice Monday or Tuesday. Come to practice Tuesday and Yancy Gates can't get out of his apartment on campus. Justin Jackson running down to tell you Yancy is all over bathroom floor, hasn't eaten two days.  

    "We literally have had two bad practices because we hadn't had our main guys in there. It's hard to be comfortable with your preparation. Even with everybody healthy, if we hadn't been sick, I was going to be concerned. Wright State has a great program."

     

    --- Through six games, UC has had four different leading scorers. Sean Kilpatrick (2 solo, 1 shared), Yancy Gates (1 share, 1 solo), Dion Dixon 1, Cashmere Wright 1.

    To me, that's the most encouraging point of this season on offense. The number of people who can lead the way on offense keep the team less susceptible from an off night. At some point, somebody gets hot.

    Last year, if Lance didn't have it and Deonta couldn't hit shots, this team was going to struggle.

    --- Bill Koch asked Cronin last night at what point he would start to be excited about being undefeated. He's now 6-0.

    Cronin's really living day to day right now -- especially with the sitution of the past few days. He tempered his excitement, but then opened up a little bit more about why he's really enjoyed this team (something he's been saying since they returned from Canada).

    "I'm having a lot of fun coaching these guys. It's nice to win games, don't'get me wrong. These guys have been very receptive to coaching. They've been great together, great with each other. Their listening has been great, their attitude has been great."

    For him, it's all part of finally having a mature team where he had his hands on their development for four years. I know fans get a little beaten down into the ground with this stuff, but it is valid and particularly pertinent in explaining why the Bearcats appear to be playing harder, smarter and with more purprose this season.

    "You got enough four-year guys," Cronin said. "Most coaches actually have guys who have played college basketball three and four years. We didn't have that for a long time because there was nobody on the team and there was junior college guys. As soon as those (junior college) guys got to the point they knew what to do, they were gone. It makes a huge difference."

    --- Cronin raved about the effort of Larry Davis last night. He's notw played double-digit minutes in four of the six games. He had a season-high 20 minutes vs. Wright State.

    He was really enjoying himself. Lots of clapping and playing to the crowd. At one point he ran right in front of me and was giving some sort of self congratulations forearm on forearm movement that I'm not familiar with. I'll have to ask him next time I talk to him.  

    Still, the question people most often ask me is why Davis plays so much and I can't say that I've really had much of an answer. He had seven points in five games leading into Wednesday and a 2:5 assist:turnover ratio.

    But Cronin broached the Davis topic at length last night.

    "Larry's improved in one area, he's always been a great defensive player. His energy is off the charts. He's always been a great defensive player. He's playing much smarter, that's the difference. That translates to better defense. Now his energy is focused. Secondly, he's also playing smart on offense. He had three assists, no turnovers. He doesn't come in feeling he has got to make shots to stay in the game. He's coming in playing as hard as he can with good focus on defense.

    "He's given us great leadership. He told me last spring, coach I want to help us win."

     

    "I told him, I said Larry what happens if you don't start, what happens if you don't score. Are you sure you're going to be OK with that? He said, 'Coach I just want to win. I want to graduate, I want to play in the NCAA tournament.' He's had that attitude and it permeates because you have a guy over there whose a senior who started as a younger player at times. He's accepting a role on our team. Not only is he accepting it, he's full steam ahead trying to embrace it. It matters. It rubs off. That has an affect on younger guys in our program."

    Sean Kilpatrick came off the bench for 26 points in 28 minutes against Wright State. Turns out, the timing of his entry into the game was as vital as his production.

     

    CINCINNATI - Sean Kilpatrick admitted it. Not that anybody needed his confirmation. No, 5 of 5 from 3-point range on the stat sheet spoke loud enough.

     

    "I was feeling it," Kilpatrick said.

     

    The Bearcats only managed two points through the first six minutes. Kilpatrick attacked the lane off a pass for a bucket on his first possession. Before Wright State knew what happened, Kilpatrick paced a 16-4 run on his way to 15 first-half points.

     

    Yet, as the Raiders hung within seven points during the first six minutes of the second half, all Kilpatrick felt was the padded fabric of the UC bench.

     

    "Put in Sean!" a fan yelled from the front row.

     

    Mick Cronin thought about it, but didn't budge. The first six-minutes served as basketball rope-a-dope. Let the Raiders punch themselves out. Then drop the hammer, er, Kilpatrick.  

     

    "That's the gameplan," Cronin said. "It's good to know you can get better; your team can improve when you sub and you sub to strength instead of subbing to weakness. Everybody can't do that."

     

    Wright State couldn't.

     

    Kilpatrick provided an encore performance, this time pacing a 17-2 run. The streak featured two Killa assists off steals and two more 3-pointers to stretch the lead to 20.

     

    The Raiders never recovered from the knockout punch. Final score: Bearcats 77, Raiders 69.

     

    Once UC held off a late Wright State surge to go 6-0 for the first time in the Mick Cronin era, Kilpatrick finished with 26 points, 3 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers. He played 28 minutes.

     

    Kilpatrick's been feast or famine all year. From his 21-point debut to three- and two-point clunkers against FAMU and Savannah State, he's been as predictable as Cincinnati weather.

     

    On Wednesday, he made it rain.

     

    Despite the inconsistency in the stat sheet, Cronin knows what to expect. 

     

    "I know I am going to get his best effort every game and every day in practice," Cronin said. "I will say, as bad as our practices were the past few days for different reasons, he was awesome in practice the last few days.

     

    "It doesn't surprise me the game he had because the way he practiced, he was the best he's ever been yesterday. He's always ready to play."

     

    Cronin said a few weeks ago he was still learning what to do with Kilpatrick. He searched for what best suited him.

     

    Pitting him with high-energy defenders Justin Jackson and Larry Davis as the first off the bench at that 14-minute mark appears to be the answer.

     

    It worked to perfection as they did the majority of the damage in pressing Wright State into 15 turnovers the Bearcats flipped into 26 points.

     

    "With that group, that's our plan every time," Kilpatrick said. "We are the defensive group. Everyone plays D, but that's our main focus just to come in with a lot of intensity and get a lot of deflections and try not to let the other team pass the other side of the court."

     

    Wright State entered the game in the top 10 in the country in turnover margin and started three senior guards. They forced guard first-team All Horizon League player Vaughn Duggins into twice as many turnovers as he's committed all year.

     

    "We bring that unit in, they bring great energy to the table," Cronin said. "Larry Davis, his defense is off the charts. He and Justin and SK, what they were doing in the backcourt to Wright State's guards -- they don't turn the ball over. Those guys are seniors. (The group) changed the game with their defensive energy."

     

    Kilpatrick can do that. Or so we're learning; ourselves along with Cronin, one game at a time. What we saw Wednesday was a coach putting one of his best players in the best situation to succeed. We saw a coach and player figuring it out.

     

    The kid who averaged 30 points a game at Notre Dame Prep isn't exactly used to coming off the bench. In fact, he's never been asked to do it before.

     

    "This is new to me, but I am happy that it's coming along the way it is," Kilpatrick said. "It really don't matter. Whatever coach put me at and whenever he puts me in at, I just go in and play as hard as I can when I am out there."

     

    The thought of a promotion to the starting lineup may arise if Kilpatrick continues to put up points like the 26 he did. He may not have started Wednesday, but his 28 minutes were second-most on the team behind Yancy Gates' 33.

     

    His body of work to this point may already deserve to hear his name called during introductions, but his chemistry within the scheme and undefeated record infers he's fine just where he's at.

     

    "Plus, I knew once I put him in," Cronin said, "he probably wasn't coming out."

    When you need the unadulterated truth and to cut to the core of what is happening with the football team, Jason Kelce is your man. He's as confident as he is talented - and that's quite a bit.

     

    Kelce stepped into a leadership role on the offensive line this year and moved to center just before the season started. He handled the calls and kept the rest of the young players in place. He deserves a large amount of the credit for the offensive line's marked improvement over the course of the season.

     

    He's enjoyed one of the more underappreciated seasons of the year, primarily because of the anonymity of his position.

     

    Kelce played in two BCS bowl games and started in both. GoBearcats.com reporter William Frasure caught up with Kelce this week as he leads up to his final game with the Bearcats to talk about what he accomplished and his emotions leading up to Senior Day.

     

    Q: With this week being your last week of practice, how surreal is that going through your last week of practice as a Bearcat?

     

    Jason Kelce: We've kinda seen it coming for a few weeks now. It's just incredible how fast it's gone, that's the biggest thing. I feel like I just got here. The time literally has flown by for us, and the fact that it's all culminating to an end, it's just, what to do now? That's the biggest question.

     

    Q: How have you dealt with this being your final week in a Bearcat uniform? With it going so fast, how have you come to grips with it?

     

    JK: I don't know if I really have yet, you know what I mean. It probably will all hit me at Saturday at noon.

     

    Q: Usually at this time of year, you guys are working toward a bowl game. What's the feeling like not working toward one? Is it weird after working for one every other year you've been here?

     

    JK: It's extremely weird. It's the first time it's happened since I got here that we didn't have a postseason bowl game, and hopefully the last the Bearcat program that doesn't go. We've just been telling all the younger guys to not forget what this feels like and work in the offseason so that this never happens again.

     

    Q: Reflecting on your time as a Bearcat, what do you have to say about the growth of yourself as a Bearcat? What's the difference between the person who came to UC and the person you are now?

     

    JK: I've grown tremendously, especially mentally. I've matured a lot. Came in here young and rambunctious, but now I feel like I'm leaving as a pretty mature guy who's ready to enter the next phase of my life.

     

    Q: It's kind of early, but looking back on your career, what do you have to say about your time as a Bearcat?

     

    JK: Couldn't really have asked for anything better. The guys who I've had a chance to play with, the teammates I've had a chance to be around, the success we've had. Obviously this year we were down, but the past two years we were Big East champions. Really couldn't ask for anything better from my time at UC.

     

    Q: Going along with that, how's it make you feel that you were a part of the team's that rose this program to heights it's never been to with the BCS bowl appearances and Big East Titles.

     

    JK: It makes you feel good that you were a part of turning it around, not only in our eyes but everyone else who watches college football. Unfortunately, we are the senior class that put a stop to the Big East championship streak, but it's an honor and it's a great feeling knowing how much we accomplished here.

     

    Q: With you being a fifth year senior, you dealt with three different offensive schemes under Dantonio, Kelly, and Jones. How have you dealt with learning different offenses so sporadically?

     

    JK: Really just, being coachable and being persistent. I've wanted to be competitive and have had the desire to win, and that was deep down inside all of us. That's why we were able to adjust through coaching changes. Plus, all those coaches were really good. That helped out incredibly too.

     

    Q: With Saturday coming up, how do you think you'll react emotionally to playing your final game?

     

    JK: It's going to be pretty emotional. Actually, it's going to be very emotional. It's going to be at an emotional high around noon, and then immediately following the game. I'm not sure how I'll be, but there will be a lot of emotions going through me before and after the game.

    ONCE MORE AROUND THE BINNS

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    binns td.jpg
    (photo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

    What a difference a year makes.

    Last year, UC was neck and neck with Pitt for the Big East title as they played the "unofficial" championship game at Heinz Field. After getting blown away early, 31-10, the Bearcats eventually came back to tie the game at 44 with :33 left on the clock thanks to Tony Pike finding Armon Binns in the right corner of the endzone with a step on his man.

    Let us rehash it again...it was the BIGGEST catch in UC history. An extra point later, UC had it's first lead and seconds later it's second Big East title.

    "It's gone by so fast," said Binns. "That feels like it was just yesterday."

    That it does. I've seen a few comebacks, but none as dramatic and gutty as that one on Pitt's snowy, gooey natural turf. That Binns highlight will live as long as Ryan Fletcher's inbound pass to Kenyon Martin that K-Mart directed to Melvin Levett for the dunk that beat Duke.

    In recent memory, it's the classic Bearcat highlight of any sport.

    "It's probably one of the greatest feelings I've ever had," recalled Binns.

    "Just to be in a game that tight and go through so much adversity--then for it to come down to that one play and I actually made the play!"

    Sadly, this year's Pitt game won't be as dramatic. Sure, it might well feature some awesome plays and it may come down to the wire, but Pitt's going to a lower tier bowl and UC's going back to the weight room and/or drawing board. Certainly, when ABC/ESPN selected this game they weren't anticipating 6-5 vs. 4-7.

    However, that's the way the Big East has shaken down this year with most teams capable of beating any of the others in the league on any given Saturday/Friday/Thursday.

    "That's just been the way it goes," said Binns. "Life is about seasons. This season's been a rough one. We've had to battle some teams and the ball just hasn't bounced our way."

    Perhaps the understatement of the year.

    Early on, most thought with the addition of Vidal Hazelton, that there wouldn't be enough balls to accommodate Binns, DJ Woods, Marcus Barnett and some of the incoming freshmen. Then Hazelton was injured, a transfer and a freshman that would've contributed were ruled ineligible and suddenly Armon Binns and DJ Woods took turns as the "go to" guy.

    While team results have been far from satisfying. Binns has surpassed his junior numbers by hauling down 72 passes for 1072 yards and 10 TDs. In most games that UC has done well, Armon Binns has made an acrobatic catch or two.

    "God's been good, it's been a real good season," said Binns of his individual efforts. "I've made some plays and I've made some mistakes, but I feel like I've definitely gotten better from last year to this year."

    That's 133 catches for over 2,200 yards and 21 TDs in a two-year span. Apparently, the only person who could stop Armon Binns was former coach Brian Kelly who limited his playing time in his first two years when he had all of two receptions.

    "That's just the way it worked out," shrugged Binns. "I feel it made me better. It made me sit back and be patient."

    Hopefully, that patience is rewarded further Saturday when Binns joins his fellow Seniors in a departing game. The tough thing is, the Panthers fully remember who spoiled their season in '09 and that gentleman wears #80. At 6-3 and over 200 pounds, it's tough for Armon Binns to hide.

    "I'm sure they'll be gunning for me," said a grinning Binns. "They're a great team, it's a great rivalry. I think it's a fitting way to end a Senior year and get a win."

    That win won't come easy as Binns and Coach Butch Jones know. After dominating this series over the years, Pitt has taken it on the chin twice against the Bearcats late in the season. After a year to study videotape, you can bet the Panthers have Binns on their radar.

    "I know the safeties are pretty good," said Binns. "I know Holley (Jarred) is leading the Big East in picks. They've got two new corners but they're a pretty physical group."

    Maybe not physical enough to instigate a fight as you saw when the NFL Titans DB tried to instigate and infuriate Houston's Andre Johnson, but Dave Wannstedt's Panthers will get in your face. Binns is not a confrontational type of guy, so he's not worried about any potential "shady" tactics by the defense.

    "The guy that I'd probably be doing that with is gone right now," said Binns. "I'm sure it'll be a lot of talking, a lot of jawing back and forth and it'll be fun."

    Possibly adding to the fun would be a win. Again, this is pretty much UC's bowl game and this is a chance for the Bearcats to show the world that the team that nearly beat Oklahoma will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Mark this season down as an aberration and get ready for 2011.

    In the meantime, 2010 must be ushered out and Armon Binns will be on hand with his Mom, Dad and brother celebrating the end of a historic Bearcat career. Like many who will walk with their families, Binns has dreams of making the one last big play to "ride off into the sunset".

    Specifically, #80 hopes to break loose from a Pitt Panther again and find the endzone at Nippert one last time.

    "God willing, sounds good to me," said Binns. "Maybe two or three."

    Given the statistical trend of this year's squad, UC might well need that many.

    Dion Dixon's Summer Vocation

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    If you want to know why Dion Dixon appears to be vastly improved this season, don't ask head coach Mick Cronin - talk to the janitors, team managers, and equipment room guys at UC.

     

    They can tell you what Dixon was doing this summer.

     

    "I've got a key card for the Lindner Center and I would go around bugging the managers and everybody else about letting me into the gym," Dixon told me.  "I would come in at 7 o'clock in the morning and then sometimes come back later at night around 11:00 or 12:00.  Sometimes I would be by myself and sometimes (Ibrahima) Thomas or other guys would come with me, but mostly I was by myself.

     

    "I came here all of the time on my own to shoot and do ball handling stuff to try to get better for the upcoming season.  It's paying off right now, so I'm going to keep it up."

     

    Dixon.jpg 

    Dixon scored a career-high 20 points in only 22 minutes of playing time in the Bearcats' 68-34 rout of Dayton on Saturday.  Through five games, the junior guard is averaging 11.2 points to share the team lead with Yancy Gates.

     

    "The only thing with Dion is that I've got to stay on him," Coach Cronin said.  "He's a good kid, but he's almost too nice of a guy.  He's got to stay hungry.  He had his career high vs. Dayton, but my challenge to him is to break that (tonight).  He can't rest on his laurels.  Although he's improved, he still hasn't reached the pinnacle of where his talent can take him."

     

    Although the season is only two weeks old, Dixon appears to be a much-improved outside shooter.  After shooting 35% overall and a dismal 22% from 3-point range last year, his percentages have climbed to 48% overall and 39% from beyond the arc.

     

    "I spent a lot of time shooting this summer because I didn't shoot very well last year," Dixon said.  "I know I'm a better shooter than I showed last year.  I also did a lot of ball handling drills because that turnover kind of got to me."

     

    Dion Dixon anguish re.JPG 

    Ah yes, "that turnover."  I didn't have to bring up Dixon's critical gaffe against West Virginia in the Big East Tournament - it's been on his mind for the last nine months. 

     

    "That was in my head all summer, so I tried to work on it so that if I'm in that position again, I'll know how to handle it," Dixon said.  "That's part of growing up and maturing - you know what your strengths and weaknesses are." 

     

    Mick Cronin met with all of his returning players after last season to discuss what they needed to do to improve.  The rest was up to each individual.

     

    "People don't realize how limited coaches are in what he can actually require guys to do," Mick told me.  "During the season, we get 20 hours a week with our team and that includes on the court, the weight room, eating - that's not a lot of time.  In the off-season, we're relegated to two hours a week on the court during school, and when school is out, you're not allowed in the gym with them period.  Maturity is required of a young player to really develop and be committed to get into the gym and do the things that the coaches have worked with you on during the season.  You're talking about three months out of the year where you're not allowed to work with your players.  Dion showed tremendous commitment this summer and it's been evident since the first day of practice."

     

    * * * * *

     

    It didn't get much attention, but NBA rookie Lance Stephenson and his parents were in attendance at Fifth Third Arena on the night before Thanksgiving when the Bearcats beat Savannah State.

     

    Stephenson.jpg 

    "He is in tremendous shape," Coach Cronin said.  "He does everything with the Indiana Pacers right now but get playing time.  He's young - he just turned 20 years old - and his best basketball is ahead of him.  He's got to stay positive and try to continue to improve.  It's all about what he becomes as a player three or four years from now.  It's a tough experience for him to not get to play in games.  He seemed to be in a good frame of mind and I'm glad that his family is with him in Indianapolis.  They're a great family and they are very, very close.  And his little brother is going to be a great player some day.  He can already handle the ball better than any other 4-year-old in the world."

     

    Stephenson UC.jpg 

    While the Bearcats obviously would have welcomed Stephenson back for his sophomore season, his one-and-done year in Clifton is playing dividends on the recruiting trail.

     

    "When I go into a gym now in Brooklyn since Lance has been with us and is now in the NBA, it's amazing - I feel like a Hall of Fame coach," Coach Cronin told me.  "I walk in and people go, 'There's Lance's coach . . . Mick Cronin is here.'  It has nothing to do with me - it's because I was Lance's coach.  It's hard to understand how big of a star that Lance really was on the playgrounds of Brooklyn, NY unless you're there."

     

    Not a bad place for a college coach to be popular right? 

     

    "It's a very good place to be popular," Mick said.  "Obviously (recently signed recruit) Jermaine Sanders from Far Rockaway, Queens is coming to Cincinnati and he's going to be a tremendous player for us.  As you can imagine, there are still a lot of good young players in Brooklyn that we're recruiting right now for the future."

     

    * * * * *

     

    Several of you have e-mailed to ask what I think about the addition of TCU to the Big East.

     

    It was a no-brainer. 

     

    It instantly quiets critics that say that the league doesn't deserve its BCS status (even though TCU will not be a member until 2012), makes scheduling easier by having 9 football playing members, adds a major television market, and makes the league less-susceptible to being poached by another conference looking to expand.

     

    Now convince Notre Dame to be a football-playing member too.

     

    Yea, I've heard all of the arguments for why it's never going to happen, but I'm convinced that it could be as good for the Fighting Irish as it is for the league in general. 

     

    As I've written before, the key is to do whatever is financially necessary to get Notre Dame to play football - even if it's a ridiculously one-sided deal.

     

    Notre Dame wants to remain an independent in football, but has to have a conference for its other athletic teams.  The Fighting Irish could join the Big 10, but there's no way they would get a sweetheart deal from Ohio State, Michigan, etc.

     

    So do whatever it takes:  Allow the Irish to keep a bigger chunk of the TV and bowl money (they already do anyway) . . . form the Notre Dame/Big East TV network . . . move the league offices to South Bend . . . make Catholicism the official religion of the Big East . . . you get the picture.

     

    Notre Dame's official colors are gold and blue.

     

    But the school has been known to like green too.

     

    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

    Big Weekend for Basketball

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    First, let's get to the news of the day: Coach Jamelle Elliott is building her next recruiting class with Talequia Hamilton from Huntington, West Virginia, and Alyesha Livett from Newark, New Jersey. Hamilton's a 6-2 forward who brings much needed height to the front line. Lovett's led her team to a 93-6 record over her three years.

    Add them to Dayeesha Hollins, who, you remember, transferred from Michigan and is sitting out this year, and this class is rated #32 in the country, the eighth best in the BIG EAST. Nice additions to the foundation building in Clifton.

    Now, to the game this weekend, or should we say THE game this weekend. Xavier and UC, don't have to say anything more in this town. This one should be special, though, because for one thing, it's the first one Coach Elliott will have in her house. And, it'll be her second time around, so she knows the hype and the importance regarding bragging rights in town. Third, we should have a packed house, which always adds to the excitement.

    What does one game mean in the grand scheme of things? Well, both coaches will downplay the whole thing, saying it's just one game in the schedule, we're preparing for the conference, blah, blah, blah. Well, I'll say what they won't--if you can make a good impression for the recruits in the Greater Cincinnati area, just think what that means to your recruiting prospects as you try to keep home grown talent here.

    Add the fact that Xavier, coming off an Elite Eight season, will come in ranked in the top 5 in the country. The Musketeers know that everywhere they go, teams feel that they can make their season if they can knock off a top ranked team. That goes double for UC.

    If you haven't seen UC in the last couple of games, you've missed the transformation of this team from a take-a-shot first, ask questions later, to a patient opportunistic team that will wait for the best shot possible. It's turned the Bearcats into a disciplined, focused team. Which will be what is needed for a shot at XU.

    You gotta come to the Women's Crosstown Shootout on Sunday at 2 p.m. That is, if you can get a ticket....

    Bearcats Breakfast 12.01.10

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    Today is a special day. No, not because UC hosts Wright State for the first time since 2001. And, no, not because Friday Night Lights returns to schedule after a week off. (Though, that is what will get me through this day)

    Today is special because it's Dec. 1, which in my world, is the beginning of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation Month.

    A good friend started me on this theory a few years back and I've lived by it ever since. It would be so easy to watch that movie every day. It's one of the funniest ever made. (That it is Edward, that it is) Instead, to keep it special, I only allow myself to watch it during the month of December. By doing so, it turns today into a de facto Christmas Vacation holiday.

    "Falls down a well, eyes go crossed. Gets kicked in the head by a mule, eyes go uncrossed. I don't know." 

    So, to you and yours, Happy Christmas Vacation Day, Merry Christmas, Sh*#$r was full.

     

    On that note, Breakfast time...

    --- I wrote last night about the UC early wins not overwhelming the team with confidence this year. I honestly went to UC's media availabiltiy expecting to write about how the team had its chest popped out a little more, was really feeling the confidence of the big win against Dayton and like they proved some of the critics wrong.

    I didn't find that at all. I found a team that hasn't changed a bit. Sure, there's a confidence that comes from beating UD by 34, but their eyes are so focused on Big East play, they don't feel like they've done much of anything yet.

    --- Chad Brendel wrote about leadership keying the Bearcats 5-0 start, particularly that of Rashad Bishop and Darnell Wilks.

    Mick Cronin invented a word that Dan Hoard was particularly impressed with during the radio show last night, "cheerleadership."

    Being a leader isn't being rah-rah and waving the towel. It's about always doing the right things and leading by example. Couldn't agree more.

    --- Senior N'Gai Evans is a key to Wright State's attack. He's one of three senior guards. Evans is coming off a sprained knee ligament injury.

    He's just now starting to get back into shape, according to Kyle Nagel of the DDN. 

    --- Cronin's primary concerns about Wright State were those three senior guards and Wright State being top 10 in the country in turnover margin.

    UC should be able to own the boards on the inside. If they can force jumpers as they did against Dayton it should be a long night for Wright State.

    --- Another big win for the Big East last night -- even though Missouri choked up the lead against Georgetown. The Hoyas added to wins at ODU and over NC State by topping the 8th-ranked Tigers in OT.

    I included part of this quote in my story last night (which I unfortunately forgot to mention Pitt winning the preseason NIT), but Cronin talked a little more at length about the conference emerging in what was supposed to be a down year.

    "We got enough older guys that it's not a surprise to them. 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. We just have too many good teams that are committed to basketball. Too many good coaches too many good players. I think where the analysts miss things, they always want to talk about new players and freshman and stars, what they don't' realize is there's guys on the bench in the Big East that when they get their time are going to turn into good players and eventual stars. Whether it is Scoop Jardine at Syracuse or for us like Dion Dixon -- guys that are learning their role and earning their stripes so to speak. There is too many of the returning players in the Big East are underestimated. They were younger and now they are coming into their own."

     

    --- Moving on to football, Pitt is apparently treating this like a must-win game. I am officially tired of that phrase. After hearing the Bengals lose five consecutive must-win games this year, it's officially devalued. They really want to win, we get it.

    --- The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review unearths that the Bearcats are struggling with turnovers. In related news, broccoli isn't always appetizing to children.

    --- The bubble is up at the Jeff. Ave Sports Complex. Unfortunately, the team isn't cleared to use it yet. So, they practiced in a downpour at Nippert yesterday.

    --- Butch Jones stated what we all suspected when Vidal Hazelton made the trip and was cleared to play against UConn -- he will not be receiving his 6th year of eligibility. Bill Koch blogged about it.

    The receiver position still has plenty of depth without him, though. Kenbrell Thompkins is thought to be a special talent and should be a starter. DJ Woods will return. Anthony McClung gained valuable experience. Top recruit Dyjuan Lewis will be eligible. Of course, Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros will be fine taking the pressure off of them.

    --- Brett McMurphy at AOL Fanhouse discusses why geography doesn't mean much in today's college landscape.

    --- As for today's randomness, I think I am going to quit before things get worse. .

    "Worse, how they get any worse. Take a look around you, Ellen, we're at the threshold of hell." (NSFW Language)