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January 2011 Archives

Bearcats Breakfast 1.31.11

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This blog is a work of honesty and integrity (I think), so I can tell the truth. Unfortunately (or fortunately after re-watching the game on DVR) I was not in Cincinnati this weekend. A previous committment in Orlando had me enjoying a nice reprieve from winter.

I won't bore you with the weather details, it will only make you angry.

Since I wasn't able to be at the postgame interview for the WVU loss, I'll only touch on a few points from the game and move forward -- in much the same fashion the Bearcats will.

--- Though there isn't a ton of positive to talk about, I have to start with the play of Cashmere Wright. While his play is clouded by what went wrong, he played the aggressiveness and assertive offensive attitude Mick Cronin has been preaching all season.

Cronin constantly pushed Wright to play free, loose and look to score more. As he's said many times, for this team to reach its goals, Wright needs to become one of the better point guards in the Big East. He sure looked like it vs WVU. With a little help from his friends and a win it would have been called Cash's breakout game. Here's hoping the Bearcats still will.

--- Dan Hoard makes a great point, again. Sometimes, good teams play bad. Take a look around the conference. No matter the opponent, if you play bad, you will lose. Syracuse is falling faster than Charlie Sheen's career. Villanova has lost three of four. UConn couldn't hold off U of L at home.

UC didn't play well. They lost. It hurts. That's what happens. The luxury of the 6-3 cushion evaporated. It places more pressure on some difficult games on the back half of the season. At some point, UC will need to win one of those. The great news is they have plenty of opportunities to do so.   

--- UC reached the halfway point of the Big East season. Upon reflection of the first nine games, the Bearcats have put themselves in position to acheive the goal of making the tournament. As Bill Koch points out, the road doesn't get any easier

In fact, the second half looks to be a little tougher than the first, of course, in the Big East it's sort of like saying being waterboarded is worse than being flogged. 

--- Let's take a look at the rest of the schedule with the current KenPom ratings:

CINCINNATI (27) 

@Pitt (6)

@DePaul (209)

vs St. John's (51)

vs Louisville (17)

@Providence (73)

@Georgetown (15)

vs UConn (14)

@Marquette (25)

vs Georgetown (15) 

Six of nine against the Top 25. Only one game not in against the Top 75. Ken is still projecting UC out to finish 10-8, but there will have to be some tough wins in there. They'll certainly have to earn it.

--- Scott Springer tackles the subject of grumbling on the way to the parking garage and sheds a bright light on the dark loss.  

--- Chad Brendel talks about a loss of focus in the WVU loss.

--- Georgetown turning their season around is not a great development for the Bearcats. Huge win at Villanova for them. That makes four in a row. Their play by play guy is super excited about it.  

--- That was not the same St. John's team we saw against UC last Saturday.

--- Sorry about the relatively short blog today, obviuosly plenty more this week. Remember, National Signing Day is Wendesday. There will be a lot of action coming from the Lindner Center.

--- On to some randomness...

--- "I pity the fool who don't eat bonelss sirloin steaks."

--- I just want some of these Sports Pickle stories to be true.

--- One time I hit a layup to win a junior high CYO game. Not quite this 55-footer from Manhattan. Pretty sure I wouldn't be this calm.

HOLDING SERVE

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piranha-lake-havasu.jpg
(Courtesy thenewsoftoday.com)

  You'll really go crazy doing so, but just play a long with me for the heck of it. Sure, the Bearcats lost at home to West Virginia and many of you have steam coming out of your ears having to walk back to your car with "Let's go, Mountaineers!" piercing through your brain (on YOUR floor at that).
  I understand.
  I often sit as a fan with my family at Fifth Third Arena and there's three UC degrees alone in my household (hopefully, more to come). Rest assured, I don't like being taunted at the home venue and I grumbled back to the parking garage with the rest of you.
  However. let's go back to last year when UC came close to beating WVU in the Big East tournament.  We all know the Mountaineers and Coach Huggins made the Final Four, so you have to realize your talent level is not that far off.
  Two years ago, UC and Coach Cronin beat Huggs and the Mountaineers after honoring him before the game.
 Three years ago, a not very good UC team went to Morgantown and blew WVU out of THEIR home gym (the night Huggins wore the infamous "Colonel Mustard" suit).
  In essence, the lesson here is an old one.  It's not comforting, but it is truthful. One game is rarely an indication of a how a season plays out. The evidence is there.
  For example, as you may sit stewing over the 66-55 loss to WVU, keep in mind that they just lost to Louisville. If you ever watched any of the Bob Huggins UC teams, you know that back-to-back losses didn't occur all that often and usually there was a strong performance after a defeat.
  Then if you really want to aggravate yourself, you can look at the rest of the league over that weekend.
  Louisville knocks off Connecticut in double overtime 79-78.  UConn's supposed to be pretty decent, and Louisville is Louisville.
  Georgetown beats Villanova 69-66.  No shocker for Big East aficionados, but 'Nova was ranked higher.
  Marquette continues to be a thorn in the side of good teams by downing Syracuse 76-70. I'll let Mick Cronin sum that one up for you:
  "Syracuse hasn't won since they beat us; welcome to the Big East."
  During UC's defeat to WVU, Rutgers was giving Pitt fits until the Panthers prevailed 65-62.  Pitt's supposed to be an upper echelon team (and UC beat Rutgers handily).
  Providence has caused some teams some headaches, but Seton Hall beat them 81-71. Seton Hall also thumped Syracuse by 22 in the Carrier Dome.  Oh yeah, UC beat Seton Hall.
  Then the one that really makes you pull your hair out--St. John's takes Duke to the woodshed at Madison Square Garden 93-78.
  Yep, your "little ol' Bearcats" beat St. John's in New York and they're coming to Fifth Third Arena Feb. 13.
  The league has a very cannibalistic nature to it. A Big East road game is about as refreshing as a swim in the Amazon among the piranhas.
  The second you think a team has "tanked", they're knocking off a Top 10 squad.  Or, the second a team appears at its peak, they go down to someone at the bottom of the pack in the league.
  Truth is, the bottom of the pack teams would probably be contenders in a lot of leagues.
  As for the Bearcats, the WVU loss was the first at home this season.  You may recall past teams have often lost a game or two in the home gym.
  Even the guy that coached some teams that rarely lost at "The Shoe" was complementary of the team he just defeated..
  "I really like Mick's team," said Coach Huggins. "I think they are very talented and I think we did a great job guarding them. You have to stop Yancy (Gates) inside. They have so many guys. Larry Davis has shot terrific for them. Sean (Kilpatrick) has come in and shot well, and I think (Dion) Dixon is a really good player. (Rashad) Bishop does everything for them. He's a terrific defender and can shoot the three. They are a very good basketball team."
  The toughest thing about the loss to the Mountaineers is it was a home loss and the home games become crucial.
  The reason they are is the Big East schedule makers aren't always kind to some teams. I noticed this doing some investigation after looking at UC's schedule and noticing large gaps in home games.
  For instance, the Bearcats don't return to Fifth Third Arena until Feb. 13 against St. John's.
That's a 15-day lay-off in between home dates.  In January, after the USF game on the 12th, the Bearcats weren't back until two weeks later against Rutgers Jan. 26.
  After Louisville's here Feb. 16, UC isn't back until Feb. 28 against Connecticut.  Then, they get a week in between the Huskies and Georgetown on March 5.
  What that amounts to is an incredibly long time to be away from familiar rims and fans.
  Playing any Big East game can be treacherous, but when you're spending a lot of time on the road trying to eek out wins, it can wear on your team.
  From my unscientific research, the only teams that have it worse than UC in terms of long road stretches are:  Providence, Syracuse and Notre Dame.
  UC will have had three gaps since the first of the year of 14, 15 and 12 days in between home dates.  Notre Dame will have breaks of 11, 15 and 17 days; Providence 18, 15 and 11; and Syracuse 14, 15 and 15.
  Of those teams (as of Jan. 30) the Irish are 6-3, UC and Syracuse 5-4 and Providence 2-7.
  Meantime, Pitt at the top of the league has just a couple of 12-day stretches and second-place Louisville goes no more than 10 days in between dates at the KFC Yum! Center.
  Is there anything to all this?
  Well, if you enjoy taking bumpy, side roads with pot-holes and an extra day to get to a destination, maybe not.  If you like the convenient, brisk interstate and the comfort of your home pillow, maybe so.
  If I ever figure out the key to winning in this league, I'll be a rich man. Until then, when you hear some of the so-called "mid-major" leagues belly-aching about a Big East or an ACC, SEC, etc. getting so many teams in the tournament, there's more than ample evidence to shut them up.





Not Enough Clawing From 'Cats

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That one really hurt. 

 

Not because Bob Huggins was on the opposing bench.  And not because Fifth Third Arena was sold out for only the second time this year.

 

It hurt because it was a home game against a wounded opponent in a league with a razor-thin margin for error.

 

But let's be fair - it wasn't the upset of the century.  Even without leading scorer Casey Mitchell, West Virginia should have also won at Louisville three nights earlier.  If Truck Bryant - a 79% free throw shooter - didn't miss four straight foul shots in the final 2:48, the Mountaineers would have almost certainly knocked off Rick Pitino's Cardinals on their home floor.  Louisville matched Cincinnati's scoring total of 55 points and allowed WVU to grab 17 offensive rebounds.  I suspect that West Virginia's players had a little something to do with that.

 

But Louisville managed to pull out a 55-54 win, and the Bearcats needed to find a way to scratch out a victory on their home floor too.

 

"It's almost like our guys expected that we were just going to come out and win and thought that we were better than West Virginia," head coach Mick Cronin said.  "Three Top 10 teams in our league lost today.  In every Big East game, whoever plays better that night is going to win.  Did we expect to just come in here and win or did we expect to come in here and grind it out?  When we struggled, it was almost like it was a shock for us." 

 

I attended practice on Thursday and watched Coach Cronin tell his team exactly what to expect from the Mountaineers.  He warned them it would be an all-out war.  But when the 'Cats started to fall behind in the second half on Saturday night, they self-destructed by taking some bad shots and failing to dig down and get stops on defense. 

 

"We missed a lot of open shots and we let that affect us," Cronin said.  "We let the pressure of the game affect us.  You can never let your offense affect your defense, because offense comes and goes.  As bad as our shot-making was, we still have a chance to win if we keep Joe Mazzulla (16 points, 8 assists) out of the lane.  The reason why we were fouling is because they got into the paint.  And when they ran pick-and-rolls, we didn't execute our defense to get the ball stopped.  Those are areas that we've been excellent in all year.  We were so concerned with our offense that we were not locked in defensively.  It's the ultimate challenge as a team to do that but you have to do it.  In our league every game is a bloodbath.  We couldn't make a shot and couldn't make a free throw, so how do you win - you've got to hold them down.  We have to learn from it.  I'm disappointed in our response when we got down." 

 

I have maintained since the start of Big East play that a 10-8 league record will get UC to the NCAA Tournament, and at the halfway point of the conference schedule, the 'Cats are on pace at 5-4.  The schedule in the second half looks tougher, but there are no guaranteed wins - or losses - in the Big East.

 

The Bearcats fate remains in their hands.  Unfortunately, for the first time this year, they let a game that they should have won slip through their fingers.

 

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

 

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

 

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Huskies Hustle Cincinnati

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Cincinnati kept the contest manageable against No. 2 Connecticut for 20 minutes before digging too deep of a hole Saturday.

 

UConn (20-1, 8-0 Big East) defeated the Bearcats 80-46 at Fifth Third Arena in front of 3,422 fans. 

 

The Huskies went on a 13-0 run out of the halftime break to put away UC nearly doubling their 16-point lead.

 

"I thought in the first half we put forward a tremendous effort, head coach Jamelle Elliott said. "We played hard. We dove on loose balls. Every 50-50 ball we basically came up with. The second half we came out a little sluggish."

 

Cincinnati didn't score their first points of the second half until the 12:11 mark. Freshman Lashay Banks hit two free throws in UC's first trip to the charity stripe. 

 

UConn senior forward Maya Moore came into the game second in the nation in scoring with just more than 24 a game, netted 23 including 19 opening-half points. 

 

"[Moore] is what everybody says what she says she is," junior guard Bjonee Reaves said.

 

Freshman guard Kayla Cook led the team with 13 points--10 in the first half on 4-6 shooting. Senior Shareese Ulis added 12 points and knocked down a 3-pointer for the 22nd straight game.

 

"[Cooks' scoring] was obviously encouraging it took a little bit of pressure off Ulis," Elliott said. "I always worry when [Ulis] isn't having a good game. It's good to know you can have some others step up. In the past I didn't know who that would be."

 

For Reaves the opponent didn't faze her, she came off the bench and scored UC's first seven points. 

 

"We looked at it as going against another team," Reaves said. "We try to not to look at the name of team on the front of the jersey. It's like going against another team in the Big East. I was just trying to give us a spark. Come in and help us out."

 

The Bearcats started three first-year players for the third game in a row as they gain valuable minutes in the nation's least forgiving conference. 

 

"I think it's huge for them to get experience as freshman, Elliott said. "Hopefully we can win some more games this season, but it's going to give those guys an idea of what they are going to have to compete against next year. They had a real awakening of what the Big East is all about."

 

UC dropped their sixth-consecutive contest with four of those coming against ranked opponents.

 

The Huskies dominated the paint with a 42-10 scoring margin. UC settled for 29 shots from behind the arc as they found it difficult to penetrate UConn's zone.

 

"Just like [Auriemma] told me, 'We've got to drive to the basket more,' Elliott said." 

 

Elliott, who spent 16 years with UConn, tries to use the benchmark that they set with their blue-collar approach and apply it to her current squad according to leading scorer Ulis.

 

"[Elliott's] main focus is [UConn's] effort," Ulis said. "They compete and play hard for 40 minutes. That's what she tries to instill in us. Everyday she tries to put us in situations where we're uncomfortable to make us better in situations we may encounter in the game." 

 

UConn's full-court press disreputed Cincinnati's flow in the first five minutes as Connecticut built a 13-3 lead while burying their first three 3-pointers.

 

The Huskies are 6-0 all-time against the Cats and captured their 59-straight win in Big East action including postseason play.

 

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma still has a sense of nostalgia when facing her former assistant and player.

 

"It'll always be different, Auriemma said. "It's very difficult to [play her]. I hope one day I'm still coaching when the tables are turned. When we come in here and they have expectations to win."

 

Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh Tuesday for a 7 p.m. tip.

 

 

Remember December 27, 1997

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West Virginia is missing its leading scorer and only has eight scholarship players available.

 

Cincinnati has nine players who have appeared in every game, and the Bearcats are playing at home where they have won 13 straight.

 

On paper, it's a game that UC should win and Cincinnati is listed as a 3-point favorite.

 

But do you know why I'm nervous about the outcome? 

 

December 27, 1997.

 

All you need to know about Bob Huggins' ability to coach a team that has no business winning to victory can be found on that date when he led UC to a 74-66 overtime win over UMass in the Rock 'n Roll Shootout in Cleveland.

 

It might be the most unlikely win in Bearcat history.

 

Cincinnati went into the game with three suspended starters:  Kenyon Martin, Ruben Patterson, and D'Juan Baker.  One of best available Bearcats - Melvin Levett - went 1-for-13 from the floor that night and didn't make a field goal until overtime.

 

For UC to win under those circumstances, Bobby Brannen needed to have a huge game and he did, scoring a career-high 32 points.  But the remarkable thing about the victory was how Huggs managed to get big contributions from players who did not have great careers.

 

Seldom-used guard Shawn Myrick had 17 points and 8 rebounds.  Football players Brent Petrus and Brad Jackson traveled cross-country from the Humanitarian Bowl to join the fight and played key roles.  Petrus played 34 minutes and had 6 points and 5 rebounds, and Jackson managed to play 13 minutes while only committing one foul. 

 

Cincinnati won an overtime game with seven available players and two were on football scholarships.

 

I'm not saying that Coach Huggins will do it again tonight - in fact, I think the Bearcats are going to pull out a tough, physical, low-scoring game.

 

But as Rick Pitino put it after Louisville rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit at home to beat a short-handed West Virginia team 55-54 on Wednesday:

 

"Bob Huggins can coach seven guys named Harry and be competitive."

 

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

 

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

 

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Elliott builds on wisdom gained at UConn

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CINCINNATI --From winning six women's college basketball championships to a 35-0 season to finishing as the No. 2 rebounder in school history, Jamelle Elliott's 16-year stint as a coach and player at Connecticut was unprecedented.

 

However, Elliott says there's another feat the she is most proud of.

 

In her four-year playing career at UConn, Elliott appeared in 135-straight games and had perfect attendance at practice.

 

"I don't know if it's something that people really talk about," Elliott notes. "Even scoring 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, [never missing a game or practice] is what I'm most proud of."

 

On Saturday Elliott, the second-year UC women's basketball coach will host her former team, No. 2 UConn (19-1, 7-0 Big East) for the first time.

 

This will be round two for Elliott, who lost at UConn last year in her inaugural return to her alma mater.

 

Despite being a season removed from the Huskie program, Elliott still regards her time in Hartford, Conn., as surreal.       

 

"I'm going to be honest with you, being part of the Connecticut team is like a fairytale," Elliott says. "Everything goes right, you got 10,000 people cheering for you, a national championship is expected, you're not expected to lose a game and I was a part of that for a long time."

 

As a player, Elliott was 117-18, earned four NCAA berths, two Final Fours and a national championship. The UConn alumna sparked the program's dynasty by capturing their first national title in 1995.

 

"[Those were] probably the best years of my life up until this point," Elliott reminisces. "Learning from [Geno Auriemma] one of the best, if not the best college coach in the country."

 

As a part of the Hall of Famer's staff, Elliott helped UConn claim five national crowns and make nine Final Four appearances. This year Connecticut stretched their active winning streak to 90 games - the most ever by a men's or women's college basketball team - before losing to Stanford. 

 

Elliott speaks humbly about transforming UConn into a perennial power.

 

"I was fortunate to be apart of the rebuilding process," Elliott says.     

 

Elliott's former boss has the highest winning percentage (.859) among active coaches and seven national championships. While the two remain tightly knit friends off the court, the switch flips when their respective teams step onto the hardwood. 

 

"Once the game starts, obviously [Auriemma] is going to want to kick our butt," Elliott points out. "I wouldn't expect anything other than that from him."

 

Elliott was anxious to gain all the knowledge she could from her former coach when she was hired as an assistant in 1998. She absorbed everything her mentor told her like a sponge.

 

By her eighth year as an assistant, Elliott says she felt capable of taking on an even bigger responsibility. Her number wasn't called until 2009 on the heels of her 12th campaign at Connecticut.

 

When Elliott parted ways with UConn on May 5, 2009 after being named the head coach at Cincinnati, the Hall of Fame coach gave her pertinent advice.

 

"He told me, 'Your going to want to do things right everyday,' " Elliott recalls. 'You're not going to be able to get everything right [everyday]. Even though you're not going to be able to do everything right, just do one thing right everyday.' "

Elliott was indebted with the rigors of turning around a Cincinnati program in arguably the nation's most competitive and demanding conference. One factor that Auriemma says could potentially trip up Elliott is an immense amount of pressure on her shoulders.   

"The only thing that I think would make her struggle is if it becomes too much of a burden to handle because she just takes it so seriously," Auriemma says. "There are a lot of people who went out on a limb to hire her and she feels incredibly responsible and indebted to those people. She's not used to anything other than winning so it's difficult."

National player of the year candidate Maya Moore says she sees the same fire in the current players coached by Elliott that her teammates had her first two years under Elliott. 

 

"The mindset, I think more than anything, is what she instills in the players," Moore says. "You can see it in her players. They play hard, they're aggressive, and they don't hang their heads."

 

While Elliott has a long road ahead in making UC nationally relevant, one thing she has in her arsenal is her proven track record of winning.  

 

"They will," Auriemma says. "There's no doubt in my mind they will. Just right now she's got a very difficult task. Maybe there will be a time when we come in here and they have the expectation of winning. I think until that time, it'll be very, very difficult."

Bearcats Breakfast 1.28.11

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We had an interesting media availability yesterday. One of the rewarding aspects of press conferences with Mick Cronin is he almost always says something interesting or revealing that makes you think. That may be less so for somebody who has been around the program longer than the two seasons I have, but I doubt it.

With Bob Huggins coming to town, all the old questions creep up about what he did here and following in his footsteps. I didn't know Mick Cronin's history of addressing Huggins legacy, but thought now that the program is more safely established than it had ever been he might be more open to embracing all the controversy which came before his arrival.

He mentioned it being a very fine line between embracing what was done here in the past as apposed to promoting the future.

He said his approach is just to state the facts:

"The facts of the case are Cincinnati athletics resurgence in the modern athletics is all due to the winning that coach Huggins brought to the table here. We would not be in the Big East. Our football team would never have had the winnings they had because they never would have been able to recruit to a Big East conference. We would have never gotten into a BCS conference if it wasn't for our men's basketball program and their national status and that is due to Bob Huggins. That is a fact. It would be delusional to think that we would be even in the Big East without what he has done here."

But how much does any of that resonate as far as recruiting kids to Cincinnati, outside of being in the Big East conference? Not much, Cronin said.

"You'd be amazed kids now, their aunts, uncles, fathers, they know, hey Cincinnati has always been a basketball tradition-rich school. What happened to our program being stripped to the bone and having to go through the losing due to lack of personnel hurt us because today's kid only knows what happened the last three or four years. The lunchroom mentality prevails. There is a reason kids pay $200 for gym shoes and $100 for certain kind of t-shirts, because that is what is cool in the lunch room. When you can win and get on television and announcers talk about you kids actually believe that certain coaches put players in the NBA. Where certain guys they could go to Northen Kentucky, with all due respect, and still be the first pick in the draft. Today's kid thinks that. So, for us, winning is important. Making sure we show continued progress and getting on television because recruiting is everything. You are only going to be as good as your players. You have to develop them, but development is relative to the talent you bring in. Winning is everything. So, the winning of the past, it helps, but it's not what you would think."

And one final anecdote on the topic:

"Kids this day and age, kids we recruit now it is because we are in the Big East. It's not because Oscar Robertson played here. They don't know who Nick Van Exel was as a player and how awesome he was and what kind of pro career he had. Today's kid doesn't even know. They even ask who the guy is on the statue." 

Maybe not earth-shattering stuff, but an interesting look into the world of recruiting and another side of the business of rebuilding a program. 

Even in Huggins final years here he could sell Nick Van Exel, Corie Blount and Danny Fortson to recruits. There was a reason strong, physical forward like Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks continued to show up on campus.

In Cronin's case, no 17-year-old wanted to hear about those guys. He had to recruit to a hope of the future, to a belief in progress. That's one of the reasons the get of Lance Stephenson was so impressive. That's one of the reasons Cronin hopes to be on the brink of cycling through his own tradition. Being able to walk into the gym as the guy who recruited Lance to Cincinnati suddenly earns the respect of top NY players like Jermaine Sanders and Shaquille Thomas.

All that said, playing Bob Huggins every year, the novelty wears off and Cronin admitted it to being "just another game" for his crew, but it will be fantastic to again see Bob Huggins on the Fifth Third sideline. Huggins arrival adds extra intrigue pretty much for the fans only.  

Let's eat....

--- Bill Koch spoke with Huggins and the guy is as appreciative of UC and the fan base as anybody could be. It's not hard to figure out why he's so beloved here.

--- Dan Hoard wrote yesterday about beating WVU at home two years ago feeling like a turning point for Cronin and the program. It didn't quite turn out that way. Saturday feels like it could be as well.   

--- If you want to see the entire Mick Cronin Thursday availability, you can check it out here. Or if you want to see Dion Dixon and Rashad Bishoip, you can check it out here.

--- Dixon had a funny moment. It was hardly a secret among the reporters that Dixon was requested for Thursday's session to discuss the turnover at the end of the West Virginia game in the Big East tournament. In particular, to discuss how it affected him as a guy that was incredibly motivated this offseason and improved as much as anyone on the team.

Sometimes the guys don't see our motivations. Dixon was not among them.

Dixon closed talking about the topic saying, "I really don't think about that stuff."

Bill Koch followed with stating we (the media) like to think about it.

Dixon said, "I know," with a face that just screamed of a desire for people to stop asking him about that game. "And I knew that was why they brought me in here!"

--- It's hard to argue with the improvement in Dixon's game, however. He's averaging 12.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 26.6 minutes a game. 

Last season, he averaged 15.8 minutes per game. His scoring average was 4.9 points and 2.0 rebounds.

If you paced those numbers out over 40 minutes, he would have averaged 18 points this year compared to 12.4 last year.

"(The turnover) affected me majorly," he said. "I just wanted to go work hard. It showed me you got to work if you want to get better."

--- Huggins confirmed leading scorer Casey Mitchell will not play on Saturday and has not made the trip. Of course, when Cronin was asked if he thought Mitchell would play, he only responded with, "yes."

Remember, Notre Dame's Carleton Scott was supposed to be out until early February with his injury and returned against UC to spark the Irish's early surge.

Regardless, there's no denying WVU could have used Mitchell in their loss to Louisville on Wednesday. They were 4 of 22 from the floor in the second half and blew an 11-point halftime lead.

They believe their backs are against the wall in this story from the Daily Mail.   

--- Joe Mazzulla is the secret weapon in the absence of Mitchell, according to the Charleston Gazette.

--- WVU will be forced to have a 10 a.m. shootaround for the 8 p.m. game on Saturday. That's because UC needs to clear the gym for the women's game against UConn that afternoon.

I'm sure that news went over well in the Huggins camp.

--- Want to know more about the state of WVU hoops right now? Here you go

--- Did you see Bearcats Sports Weekly last night? If you didn't, I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed. You can make it up by watching it here.

--- Great story and extremely relevant to the Bearcats from Brendan Prunty of the Newark Star-Ledger. He wrote about the strength of the Big East affecting seeding (or being left out) in the NCAA tournament.

Of course, some people think the Big East as the top conference is a matter of size over substance.

--- Speaking of great stories, here is one on UC's Shelly Bellman and all the injuries she has overcome.   

--- If Tom Izzo turns this mess around and takes MSU to the Final 4 again, we should just name the trophy after him.

--- Ivan Maisel writes about the nightmare that a relationship between boosters and ADs can be in the wake of the UConn debate.  

--- Some randomness...

--- Brian Wilson is cuckoo for Cocoa Pufffs.

--- It has officially been too long since Indiana had a big win if this is how they react.

--- The Internet went down in Egypt. Yes, the Internet.  

--- Not much, but some more snow last night. I've about had it with winter. I'm over it.

This collection of Winter fails makes me feel slightly better.

Turning The Page...Again

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The last time that Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers came to town, I thought that Bearcat fans were ready to turn the page and fully get behind Mick Cronin.

 

If you think back to that night, it could not have gone more perfectly from the UC perspective.  Huggs was moved to tears by a pre-game video tribute and lengthy standing ovation, and every fan in attendance was given a sign that said, "Thanks Huggs."  Best of all, Cincinnati won the game 65-61, to improve to 18-10 overall and 8-7 in the Big East.  With five wins at that point over RPI Top 50 opponents, the Bearcats appeared to be in solid shape for making it to the NCAA tourney in Coach Cronin's third season.

 

That night on the radio post-game show, I asked Mick if he thought the game brought closure to the entire Huggins vs. Zimpher saga.

 

"No I don't, and I don't worry about it," Mick said that night.  "I think the answer to the whole situation is to just keep building our program.  The story will gradually be focused more and more around our team if we continue to recruit better players and become a better team."

 

I still think that night was a potential turning point, but we'll never know because of what transpired over the next two weeks.  With Mike Williams out with a knee injury, the Bearcats lost at Syracuse before blowing a five point halftime lead in a loss at USF.  Then with Williams back in the lineup for the regular season finale, UC squandered a 14-point lead at home and lost in overtime to Seton Hall.

 

It got worse.  With their confidence reeling, the Bearcats then lost in the Big East Tournament to a DePaul team that had gone 0-18 in league play during the regular season.

 

In just 12 days, Cincinnati had gone from the excitement generated from the West Virginia win to the lowest point of the Cronin era.

 

It was terrible four game stretch for his program, but Mick has done exactly what he said he would do that night:  Recruit better players and become a better team.

 

Wednesday's win over Rutgers lifted Cincinnati's record to 18-3 with a minimum of 11 games to go.  The Bearcats have climbed to 36th in the RPI ratings, 17th in the Sagarin ratings, and are currently projected to go to the NCAA tournament by every credible bracketologist including Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, and Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner.

 

Seven of their remaining 10 regular season games are against RPI Top 35 teams, so nothing can be taken for granted, but the Bearcats have put themselves in a solid position to be dancing again in March.

 

A win over West Virginia (RPI #19) on Saturday would enhance UC's tournament resume, put the 'Cats a game-and-a-half ahead of the Mountaineers in the Big East standings, and Fifth Third Arena is officially sold out for the game.  I think a Cincinnati victory would have Bearcat fans feeling even more excited about the state of the program than they did the last time Huggs and the Mountaineers came to town.

 

This time, I hope that feeling will last.

 

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

 

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

 

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad. 

 

Speaking of young Sam, he'll be in attendance on Saturday night.  Enjoy this week's photo.

Sam with sled.jpg

The No. 1 thing I was looking for last night was some improvements made in the offense. For the most part, we saw that.

The Bearcats did a much better job than they had been of making the extra pass and locating the open shooter. Even a few times when somebody penetrated the lane and could have forced up a contested layup, they kicked out to a wide open 3-point shooter on the perimeter.

At the end of the day, they shot 46.8 percent from the field. That was their highest total since hitting 47.1 percent in a win against Seton Hall. And it could have been better, UC hit 6 of 18 3-pointers, but not for lack of good looks. Outside of a few shots at the end of the shot clock, most of the 3-pointers were uncontested, they just missed them.

The Cats finished with 16 assists on 22 baskets.

I thought one of the most telling quotes of the season came from Mick Cronin when discussing the progress of the offense over the last couple days. He took on responsibility for the offensive problems over the last two weeks.

"You got to look in the mirror. As a coach it is embarrassing when you watch the film of your team that's just too disorganized at times," he said. "It's easy to blame kids, then you got to go back and watch it again and say, 'OK, my job is to get him to do what I am telling him to do. How do I make is simpler for him? Make it easier for him?' That's really what I tried to do."

Cronin said the the team spent the last two days simplifying the offense. They ran about five things and made sure they ran them well.

"Sometimes you try to do too much and your guys get confused," Cronin said.

Rutgers assistants were calling out the Bearcats offense whenever Cronin would yell it from the bench. Obviously the Knights knew what was coming, but judging by the numbers and open looks created, that didn't much matter.

Now, scoring against the bottom half of the league hasn't been an issue this year. Finding a way to score consistently against the more athletic teams continues to be the difference between UC and the upper crust of the BE.

We'll see how the simplification works against Bob Huggins and the West Virginia defense.

--- For last night's column I wrote about how the toughness the Bearcats showed last night is a good sign for the final month finish this team is about to endure. I think this was a much more impressive win than the Bearcats will ever get credit for.

Cashmere Wright's slide on the floor, steal and assist for a dunk was one of the great plays of the season.

--- Speaking of great plays, Darnell Wilksx2. He was put into the starting lineup to finish better in the lane than Ibrahima Thomas was. Yeah, I'd say he's doing that.

--- If you'd like to watch Mick Cronin's postgame press conference click here or Yancy Gates/Rashad Bishop presser.    

--- How about Rashad Bishop?

He needed that game badly. His struggles of late were well documented, but Bishop did a much better job Wednesday of attacking the bucket and not settling for jump shots. He still hoisted up a fair share of 3-pointers (2 for 6) but also made it to the FT line for eight shots (two were for a tech on Mike Rice).

Not surprisingly, the guy whose now shooting 91 percent (34 of 37) from the line didn't miss. 

Cronin stressed with Bishop attacking the basket instead of settling for jumpers and he responded. Those were the most free throws he's had in a game since he went 6 for 6 in each of the first two games of the season.

All his free throws came during the normal flow of the game, he didn't shoot any foul shots when Rutgers started hacking.

"He's been telling me it doesn't make any sense shooting 96 percent if you never get there," Bishop said. "Tonight I just tried to be aggressive and to the lane."

Cronin went off on a tangent when I asked him about Bishop's attacking offense. It was an interesting take which overflowed into the Sean Kilpatrick-Bishop dilemma Cronin deals with in his rotation almost nightly.

"We are a different team when he plays well offensively. He's our best defender. He and Dion lead us in scoring, obviously, there's people who don' think either one of them should start. There's a reason Sean Kilpatrick doesn't start. I got a senior and junior that are good players, very good players. Sean Kilpatrick is a freshman and he plays like a freshman. But Rashad's defense, you watch him play one-on-one defense, he's as good as anyone in America."

 

Cronin went on to talk about how confident he was at St. John's after Yancy Gates made his free throw because he knew STJ would go 1-4 flat with Dwight Hardy and Hardy wouldn't score with Bishop on him one-on-one. The he continued back on the Kilpatrick topic... 

"When Rashad is scoring we do go to another level as a team. Whenever you get your best defensive lineup to play well on offense and vice versa. When your best defender struggles to score, what do you do? You got to put a freshman in and he's got to guard somebody he really can't and he's not ready to guard. It's not realistic to think Sean Kilpatrick is going to stop Dane Miller one on one. It's not going to happen. He didn't stop him one time tonight."

 

--- Kilpatrick did play 20 minutes with seven points including a big 3-pointer as Rutgers was pulling the game close.

--- Another game and more quality minutes from Biggie McClain. Against St. John's it came in the first half and sparked a 15-1 run. He didn't play in the second half. On Wednesday, he didn't play until entering with 4:59 left. And what happened?

He put in a nice lefty layup on a dish from Ibrahima Thomas, soaked up the middle on defense and even threw an perfect long outlet pass for a dunk off a rebound.

When he entered UC led 52-48. A minute and a half later, the Cats led 60-48. It wasn't all Biggie, but he gave the team a nice lift.

"Biggie, he's always ready to play no matter how long he sits," Gates said. "He's always on the bench ready to come in. You could tell. He came in right away and got a tough bucket. A big bucket at that."

At one point I tweeted "Biggie=Instant offense" -- and it wasn't sarcastic. So many things about this season have been hard to believe. That's near the top of the list.

--- The conversation turned to West Virginia after the game and Gates didn't deny that this team has what happened last year in the Big East tournament in the back of its mind.

"The coaches haven't brought it to our attention," he said. "We haven't done any team things, film or preparation. Us as players, we thought about it. I am not going to lie, we talk about it a little bit, but not to the point it took away the focus from tonight."

--- It was announced last night the WVU game is officially a sell out, though there are a limited number of student tickets available.

--- Brandon Phillips, Drew Stubbs and Todd Frazier of the Reds were in the house last night. Phillips was sporting shades indoors and a Heman shirt. You don't get much cooler than that.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, somebody was running around in a full-body green spandex suit which was less than appealing.   

--- Stat of the night: The Bearcats grabbed 35 percent of their offensive rebound opportunities (10 of 29) while Rutgers only grabbed 17 percent (5 for 29).

--- Quote of the night: Mick Cronin talking about the improved passing of Larry Davis, who had three assists -- his highest total in conference play this year.

"For people that follow us, his passing improvement is unbelievable, the plays he's making for other people is just tremendous. We used to say don't ever go duck hunting with Larry. He'll kill you. He literally used to take out spectators in practice. High school kids, early season, he'd take people out with some of the passes he threw."      

Toughness a sign of success

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The Bearcats 72-56 win against Rutgers displayed a toughness they will need to surive the decisive final month of the regular season.

 

CINCINNATI - The Big East grind claims victims every day. This week its claimed more than its fair share.

 

No. 2 Pitt, No. 10 Syracuse, No. 7 Villanova - all left in the wake of an 18-game assembly line of mental and physical tests.

 

The glamour and pizzazz didn't come to town Wednesday night with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, but all the intensity of Big East basketball sure did.

 

Intensity and toughness oozed from their bodies to their jerseys and eventually onto the scoreboard. Midway through the first half it morphed into swagger. Robert Lumpkins talked trash to Rashad Bishop up and down Fifth Third Arena. James Beatty jumped in the air and pounded his chest as the lead swelled to six points.

 

Every pass, every dribble, every screen was contested. For a team like Rutgers, low on the Big East talent scale, they live pushing the energy needle.

 

Anybody following the Bearcats this season can attest, the Bearcats utilize the same formula.

 

At halftime, Mick Cronin scanned the eyes of a team being beat at its own game.

 

"I didn't' lose it at halftime on them, but I got after (Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon)," Cronin said. "If there is a loose ball you have to go after it like its gold. We are playing for our lives. It's what we trained all summer for, what are we here for."

 

The response he received in both leadership and effort, served as the latest example of why UC appears as prepared to handle the Big East as in any season during Cronin's tenure.

 

"That's the best second half we have played all year," Cronin said to open his postgame press conference. "We went after loose balls the way we are supposed to go after loose balls. Our effort in the second half was off the charts it was as good as its been in a long time."

 

Wright slid across the floor for a steal that led to a Bishop dunk. Dixon scrambled to swipe and intercept passes and his way to three steals.

 

"They both met the challenge," Cronin said.  

 

The waves of UC pressure forced the Knights into nine second-half turnovers.

 

On the way to the 72-56 victory, the Bearcats outhustled the hustlers. They outlasted the grinders. They outscrapped the scrappers.

 

Anybody skimming box scores Thursday morning won't recognize what that means. UC won a game it was favored to win by double digits.

 

Yet, stepping back from Wednesday night and viewing the conference picture through a long view, finding itself in a midseason brawl and surfacing battered, bruised but victorious speaks volumes about the potential to survive the grind.

 

"They make you beat them," Cronin said. "They will not give you the game. I knew we weren't going to be able to press them and they weren't going to just fold up the tent. We were going to have to grind out a win tonight. We played extremely hard in the second half on both ends of the floor."

 

It also helps the Bearcats hit a few big shots. Rashad Bishop's final field goal of the night, a 3-pointer from the wing, put the exclamation point on what Cronin called "one of the best games of his career," and enough space to put down Rutgers.

 

Bishop finished with 20 points, four assists, two blocks and zero turnovers. As will be the case with the Bearcats all season, more than any of his made shots, Bishop's relentless defense provided the truest impact on the final score.

 

"He may be the best on-the-ball defender in America," Cronin said.

 

Combined with the depth of defensive pressure applied all night, Rutgers couldn't keep pace. With each steal, trap and deflection, the it grinded down.

 

Of course, that's always the plan with this group.

 

"We knew if we try to speed the game up and make them do more dribbling, not necessarily try to turn them over, just the extra dribbles and unnecessary spins and stuff to try to wear them down," said Yancy Gates, who finished with a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds. "When we started getting on the stretches on the breaks, Dion got a couple passes off steals just on fatigue passes from their guards. I think that is when it really started to show their legs were started to go on them."

 

The overall effect of the Bearcats depth and energy level wasn't lost on Rutgers coach Mike Rice. 

 

"Every coach probably says no," Rice said when asked if his team was worn down. "But yeah, they always came in waves. I would say that was a factor."

 

Rice said the Bearcats hit them with a right hook and sent to their knees in the second half. In so many ways, the prizefight analogy sums enduring  games one through 18 in this conference. It will be a battle of attrition.

 

Even the strongest fighters in the league are dropping up and down the coast.

 

Cincinnati took the best shot of a Rutgers team and were bounced back onto the ropes. They responded with passion, toughness and urgency.

 

Over the next month and a half, this team will stumble back onto the ropes again, but if they continue to respond as they did in the second half Wednesday night, they will end up surviving the toughest fight in college basketball.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.26.11

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Earlier this season Mick Cronin talked about how teams struggle so much to win on the road in the Big East, particularly early in the conference season. Then, as the season progresses, teams begin to figure it out and the numbers aren't quite so lopsided in favor of home teams.

It appears the worm is turning in the conference.

After the top 10 teams in the league opened the year 29-2 on their home court, over the last four days there have been five wins by road teams against the top 10. Those numbers include three in a row after Tuesday night's surprising scores.

Seton Hall dropped 90 points in the Dome to beat Syracuse and UConn only got 14 points from Kemba Walker but won at Marquette. (Sidenote: UConn's Jeremy Lamb -- 24 points last night -- becoming a player is the scariest thought for Big East teams right now)

Teams are figuring it out.  

This should raise an eyebrow with a Rutgers team coming to Fifth Third playing with a ton of confidence and coming off a road win of their own at Seton Hall.

The last midweek sandwich game between hostile contests was USF. UC won that one, but it was hardly a display of effort and beauty.

The Bearcats should win tonight. They will be favored. They have more talent. But Rutgers has all the ability in the world to pull off the upset if the Bearcats snooze. I'm not predicting defeat in the least, I'm only saying this game is much more dangerous than anyone thought it would be even a few weeks ago.

Let's eat....

--- Here's my story on Biggie McClain that posted yesterday afternoon. Of couse, I'll have a postgame column tonight and you can always follow me for constant UC updates, especially during the game, on Twitter. (@pauldehnerjr) Feel free to send any UC questions, comments or just point out my grammatical errors at pauldehnerjr@gmail.com.

--- One of the great aspects of journalism is how two people can write the same story, but tell two completely different ones. Bill Koch also had a Biggie story in today's Enquirer and took a different angle. Good stuff.

--- Bill also mentions in his blog that this will be the first game for new assistant Darren Savino against the Rutgers squad he left. Although, with the coaching change it isn't as big an advantage as you would hope.

--- Not surprisingly, Cronin has been very complementary of Rutgers this week. He said he goes back to watching them play at Villanova to see when the Scarlet Knights first appeared dangerous. They led 37-33 at halftime. They would eventually be outscored by 20 after the break, but Rutgers showed then they can compete with the best. And their win against Jeremy Hazell and the Hall sure looks better after the Pirates just slammed Syracuse.

"Probably if you were to ask me what team have I seen that is the most committed to details, little things, hustle, defensive position, screening, scrapping, everything a team with no ego at all would do, it is Rutgers," Cronin said. "After watching them all day today and this morning, they play with absolutely no ego. They may not have the most talent in the league, but of the teams I have seen they play with as big of heart as anybody in the league."

--- The No. 1 improvment Cronin and the fan base would like to see is from the offense. The numbers over the past five games are concerning. UC topped 61 points only once (scoring 74 vs. USF). Granted, the competition has been the most difficult of the season in that stretch, but the Cats need to learn how to create open looks against defenses geared to take them out of what they want to do.

Just running the offense won't cut it anymore. People know what UC wants to do and are planning accordingly. (See St. John's ball pressure in the passing lanes leading to 17 turnovers) Cronin believes his team needs to start creating more open shots for teammates by attacking off the dribble.

"Offensively, we have to improve and improve in a hurry," Cronin said. "You get away with certain things against lesser competition. You got to prepare to beat the best team on your schedule. Some of that stuff you don't figure out until you play a great team on the road like a Villanova or a Syracuse or Notre Dame."  

For Cashmere Wright, learning to run this offense against the best team on the schedule reverts back to confidence.

"If you can shoot, shoot the ball," Wright said. "Believe that you can hit the shot, don't question yourself on offense."

 

--- Look for Justin Jackson to soak up more of the minutes Ibrahima Thomas has left behind. Cronin praised Jackson's ability to finish in the lane, a trait the Bearcats have sorely needed and the reason Thomas moved to the bench at the start against St. John's.

--- Chad Brendel with an outlook of the Bearcats return home.

--- Brendan Prunty, a must-follow on Twitter for Big East hoops fans, has a UC-Rutgers outlook from the Bon Jovi perspective.

--- The media conglomerate that is The Daily Targum finds the parallels between Rutgers and what UC coach Mick Cronin took over in 2006. I think Cronin would probably debate a few of the comparisons. Namely, the presence of scholarship players.

--- Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel broaches the possiblity USF might be keeping UCF from the Big East.

--- North Carolina and Michigan State are finalizing a deal to play on an aircraft carrier, outdoors in the San Diego Harbor next Veterans Day. Can we do more things like this, please?

--- Ohio State is pretty clearly the best team in college basketball. What a show last night. (Dana O'Neil alert)    

--- If you don't know the story of Kansas' Thomas Robinson, in particular his younger sister Jayla, you should read Gary Parrish's story. Heartbreaking.  

How about some randomness...

--- It's never an easy moment to handle when your stack of buttermilk pancakes arrive without syrup.

--- Fellow Seinfeld junkies: Enjoy this Jerry the Great mock movie trailer.  

--- Back when I was doing Ink of the Week, I think my ideal scenario would have been for one of the players to unveil a Back to the Future tattoo. Personally, I probably would have gone with 1.21 jigawatts.

--- If famous presidential quotes were about sports, from Sports Pickle. I think Teddy Roosevelt said it best. "Walk softly and carry a big stick. If that doesn't work, talking trash and taking steroids is a good option, too."

--- In honor of Rutgers coming to Fifth Third, The Boss, ladies and gentlemen:     

Blue Demons Overpower Bearcats

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DePaul guard Sam Quigley foreshadowed her lights-out shooting in Tuesday's contest when drilled a 3-pointer 23 seconds into the game.

 

The No. 12/ 17 Blue Demons handed the Cincinnati women's basketball team their fifth-straight defeat 67-48 at Fifth Third Arena.  

 

Quigley matched a season-best 23 points while knocking down seven triples on 12 attempts. 

 

The biggest one came at the first period buzzer, a backbreaking halfcourt heave. It was her fifth triple of the half and capped a 13-2 run from the Blue Demons to stretch their lead to 18.

 

"That last [second] shot was crazy," UC guard Shareese Ulis said.

 

Cincinnati (8-11, 1-6) took away DePaul's interior presence with double teams but succumbed to the senior's hot shooting from behind the arc. 

 

"We as coaches going into the game decided that we wanted to take away the inside game," head coach Jamelle Elliott said. "[To] try to disrupt the low post as much as possible and try to get out on the shooters as quickly as we can. But obviously [Quigley] is first team all-Big East for a reason. We picked our poison, unfortunately Quigley was able to knock down threes on a consistent basis."

 

A 10-3 run from UC at the 3:36 mark had trimmed a 14-point deficient to seven before Quigley sparked DePaul's three-minute blitz by nailing another 3-ball.

 

UC could not cut the lead below 15 in the final 20 minutes. 

 

The Bearcats shot nearly 47 percent in the closing half.

 

"I'm always happy when [we're] able to shoot the ball and make it, because we have been shooting so inconsistent recently," Elliott said.

 

Ulis cashed in 18 points to pace the Bearcats in 35 minutes of action. The guard found her comfort zone going off for nine-straight points over a two-minute period with under 10 minutes remaining.

 

"I need to do everything I can do to give my team a chance to win," Ulis said. "We ended the [first] half not scoring so I wanted to make sure we didn't do the same thing in the second half."

 

The Cats were outsized but gained a 40-39 edge on the glass. They held DePaul's forwards in check with just one player hitting double figures in points. Elliott said she was pleased with the team's fight in the paint despite their lack of height.


DePaul capitalized on the Bearcats 19 turnovers with 12 fast break points.

 

"They looked to get into the passing lanes and they were switching screens," Elliott said. "They were able to switch and get into the passing lanes, which led to them getting some transition baskets."

 

Cincinnati faced an early up-hill climb trailing by 13 due to cold shooting until guard Bjonee Reaves ended a seven-minute drought without a field goal at the 11:23 mark.

 

Elliott and the Bearcats will face her former team No. 2 UConn Saturday at 2 p.m. in Fifth Third Arena.

Next up, the defending champs

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Saturday's UC women's basketball game against the University of Connecticut has been circled on a lot of calendars for a long time.

Too bad the timing wasn't better for the Bearcats.

Not that there's ever a great time to face UConn, but the injury bug has bitten the Cats so hard, and so often, that Coach Jamelle Elliott may need to check the record books to see whether she has any leftover eligibility stashed somewhere.

A thin bench has gotten downright gaunt, with the loss last week of Chanel Chisholm, at least for a handful of games, with a sprained ankle. That leaves seven, count 'em, seven, Bearcats able to dress and get out on the floor.

And get them out, Coach Elliott does. While she rotates her starters with a couple of minutes rest during the games, there's only so much of a break they can get, with only two coming off the bench. During Tuesday night's game against Depaul, four freshmen were on the floor for UC for a signifcant amount of time in the second half.

That kind of experience is good down the road, but right now, it's on-the-job training. And their next job is going up against the number two team in the nation. Don't let the UC coaching staff fool you with 'this is just another game.' This game means a lot to Coach Elliott, facing her old coach and old team. They just wish they had a healthier team to take the court.

I know a lot of you will be coming to the game for the chance to see one of the storied programs in women's college basketball in action. Coach Geno Auriemma does a magnificent job in keeping his players hungry for the ball and fighting for every point. But while you're admiring the UConn program, keep an eye on the UC women. They may have half a roster, but they have a full measure of pride in their play, and in their program.

Anthony "Biggie" McClain has always been a fan favorite, but this season he's become a coach's favorite as well off the bench for the Bearcats.

 

CINCINNATI -- Nobody struggles to figure out when Anthony "Biggie" McClain checks into the game. No, not because he nearly eclipses the court at 7-foot-1 and 290 pounds. Rather, every time he saunters the sideline to the scorer's table, the Fifth Third Arena crowd lifts to an excited stir.

 

"Biggie!" comes from almost every corner of the stands.

 

He's only cracked double-digit minutes in a game four times the last two seasons. He only scored a grand total of 13 points all last year.

 

Yet, every time he checks in, the fans love to love him.

 

Only, last season, Biggie didn't always want to hear it.

 

"Coach Cronin would ask me if I wanted to play, I'd tell him, 'I'm tight, Coach,'" McClain remembered. "I would just come up with any type of excuse so I wouldn't have to go in."

 

McClain recalls being unsure of himself and pushed around on the interior. However, along with nearly 25 pounds of muscle, McClain added confidence this offseason. While his minutes have been limited, he's made the most of them, usually spelling Yancy Gates.

 

He's played more minutes already this Big East season (27) than all of last year's conference slate (26). Most importantly, he wants to play those minutes.

 

"I think my whole mental state all year has been better," McClain said. "Now, I am more cool, calm, collected -- just anxiously waiting. Call my name and I will do what I got to do and give Yancy a break."

 

McClain did more than give Gates a break on Saturday at St. John's. He broke out himself.

 

"He changed the game completely," Gates said. "St. John's is best when they are going to the basket and he was big in the middle and he really swallowed up a bunch of shots and made it tough for them."

 

His stat line was four points, six rebounds, one assist and one block in eight minutes. When he entered, the Bearcats trailed. With himself and Justin Jackson filling in for Gates and Ibrahima Thomas in foul trouble, UC closed the half on a 15-1 run.

 

McClain scored on the interior, dished off an assist as time expired in the first half and even pulled up from 15 feet at the elbow and buried a jumper with the shot clock running down.

 

Many Bearcats fans may have been shocked to see that type of production out of the reserve center, but don't count the head coach among them.   

 

"I've said this all year, Biggie is a way better player," Cronin said. "Two things, you get older you learn how to play harder. You learn little things on defensive end of how not to be out of position, how not to be exploited. And then, the physical strength. His first three years he wasn't physically strong enough to do what he can do around the rim. He's a brick wall down there around the basket."

 

Cronin and McClain shared a long journey for Biggie to reach the point he's at now where he consistently contributes quality minutes. When McClain first arrived on campus he only weighed 228 pounds. Cronin needed McClain to add size and the big man wasn't going to play a major role until he did. Prior to this season, McClain considered a transfer but after some long talks with Cronin decided to stick with the Bearcats.

 

His return and the investment he gave to the team in the process created the role player Cronin desired and a role McClain thrives in.

 

As a space-eater in the middle that's no longer a defensive liability, he's provided depth. He strengthened his positioning through long practice bouts battling on the block with Gates.

 

"With me and him," McClain said, "it will be like wrestling down there."

 

Offensively, McClain's there to grab rebounds and score when he's under the rim. Of course, when situations like his 15-footer from the elbow come about, don't think he's incapable of sinking the shot.

 

The affable 7-footer will gladly tell stories of the contrary. 

 

"One day somebody from the news came and watched me practice and I was shooting 3's from out there," he said. "I made about eight straight before I missed. The camera guy started laughing, he starting videotaping me doing it, I was talking trash to him.

 

"People don't really know I can shoot."

 

Little by little, they're starting to learn. And even though McClain probably won't be firing off many more jump shots, he will always be the fan favorite at Fifth Third Arena.

 

Only spending a few minutes laughing with the kid who received the nickname "Biggie Talls," while riding around rapping with his high school coach, quickly reminds you why he became a fan favorite in the first place.

 

"The thing I am most proud of is his attitude," Cronin said. "He has given us great leadership all year. The fact he's ready to go in there and play, plays well, doesn't even get in the game in the second half (against St. John's) and he's the happiest guy in the locker room after the game. It says a lot about our team this year. It says a lot about him and his character. He's just a great kid. He's a tremendous person."

Bearcats Breakfast 1.25.11

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Media availability yesterday was with coach, Cashmere Wright and Yancy Gates. (You can watch the full video of Mick Cronin here and the players here) Of course, Gates' phone has been blowing up since his big shot against St. John's. It's great to see him reap some of the rewards of all the hard work (and junk he's had to put up) over the past few years.

Gates dunked the game-winner last year against Notre Dame, but that was more a Deonta Vaughn creation. This was all Gates. He openly embraced being handed the rock in that situation, which is good because it's highly likely to occur again.

I would say how much I enjoy Yancy Gates -- and I do -- but there really isn't anybody on this team that isn't extremely likable. I think Mick Cronin feels the same way and that's part of why he enjoys coaching this bunch as much as he does.

--- Speaking of likable kids, there are few more fun to chat with than Biggie McClain. I have a story that will run this afternoon on Biggie, so we chatted for about 10 minutes yesterday. Some of the fun details weren't able to fit into the story, but I don't want them to stay buried on my notebook, so I'll allow some Biggie speak as a teaser to today's story.

I had heard Biggie partially recieved his nickname from a likeness to deceased rapper the Notorious BIG, also known as Biggie Smalls. When I asked him about that, he gave a pretty funny anecdote.

McClain, a New Jersey native, took a visit to Rutgers during his recruitment and some people associated with the Scarlet Knights put together a a photo with Biggie's face with a crown on it, ala a CD cover featuring the rapper.  

Settling once and for all exactly how the Biggie nickname came about, he said:  

"Actually, Biggie came from -- I had a real chubby face. My high school coach, we were driving one day and we were listening to Biggie Smalls, so I was rapping and doing all that, he said I'm going to start calling you Biggie Talls. Then they started calling me Biggie. It just stuck with me. Ever since I was 15 that is what everybody has been calling me."

 

McClain went on to add he cannot rap. Or at least he wasn't willing to bust a freestyle for me.

Also, when I asked how much he gets noticed at 7-foot-1, 290 pounds walking around campus he claims people don't really know who everyone is if they aren't together.  

"It's funny how, they see one of us I feel like they don't really know us because one day I will be walking around and get called Thomas or Yancy."

 

Finally, when I asked Cronin if he was going to start drawing up some plays to get Biggie some open 15 footers like the one he surprisingly buried against St. John's, he offered this response :

"He'll brag to you, if you get him in here," Cronin said. "Our shooting drills, he does great. We have one drill where he doesn't have to move. If he can just stand and shoot from 15 feet he can shoot with anybody. Don't play him in HORSE. He can just stand there at 15 feet. He'll beat you. Obviously, for him its hard to get his feet set. That is his biggest challenge. If you have to move him into the shot his percentage drops a bit to say the least."

 

Again, look for the full Biggie story this afternoon.

 

--- I also asked Cronin about the offensive struggles lately of Rashad Bishop. Earlier in the season, Bishop went on runs where he couldn't miss. It appared his offense would be the difference between last year and this season.

Unfortunately, his percentages have dipped lately -- as have most everyone else's, in his defense.

Since the Miami game, Bishop is 20 of 74 from the floor for 27.7 percent.

Prior to the Miami game, Bishop was 32 of 60, good for 51 percent from the floor.

In seven conference games, Bishop is hitting 20 percent from 3-point range and 26 percent on field goals. The 26 percent is the lowest number on the team over the span.  

Obviously, the significant rise in competition deserves much of the blame, but Cronin also believes Bishop needs to stop settling for so many pull-up jumpers.

"With me, I just worry about shot selection. He had a couple questionable ones. The other thing with Rashad, a couple times inside the line he had a chance to try to get fouled, instead he was shooting over the defense or contorting his shot. For a guy who has missed three free throws the entire season, he's got to do a better job when he is on the attack of getting fouled. He is not the only one, but we have to drive and create when we are guarded. That is what great players do.

 

"I think a product of him not making shots, if you look all our shooting percentages have gone down is because we are not getting as open of shots as we were early in the season. Now, the competition has changed so its harder to get those open shots so we got to do a better job of execution and decision making. Basically creating for each other off the dribble.You got to have guys break the defense down and get each other shots. Rashad's field goal percentage going down is a byproduct of that."

 

--- UC dropped out of the AP Top 25. They fell one spot to No. 26. They sit one spot behind Michigan State, who have lost 3 of 5. Granted, all their losses have come against Top 25 opponents and Penn State, but how long do you vote on past history instead of recent history?

--- Scott Springer talks about life on the road in the Big East. UC's numbers are pretty consistent with the rest of the league away from home. Very few teams win, however.....

--- No. 14 Notre Dame's 56-51 win at No. 2 Pitt may be the most surprising score I've seen all season. Going to the The Peterson Events Center is not a winning proposition. The Panthers captured 20 in a row there. And I'll say it again, they are 9-0 there against Top 5 teams, including 2-0 this season.

They just stuck it to Syracuse and Notre Dame has been undeniably horrid away from South Bend. Yet, the Irish and Ben Hansbrough handed the Panthers their first Big East loss. And they didn't even need 60 points to do it. Remarkable.

--- You can draw some serious parallels to UC in this debate over how Tom Crean is performing in the rebuilding project at Indiana. 

--- Bad news for West Virginia, great news for the Bearcats. Bob Huggins indefinitely suspended the Mountaineers' leading scorer, Casey MItchell (16.6 ppg).

WVU comes to Fifth Third on Saturday with eight healthy scholarship players.   

--- Bearcats Blog looks into the crystal ball at the rest of the season.   

--- On to some randomness...

--- Does AAA have a blowtorch division?

--- This should really help our international image.

--- Fugitive monkey crisis averted!

--- Interviews with Patton Oswalt always receive two thumbs up from The Breakfast. If you haven't seen the documentary Comedians of Comedy, I highly recommend renting it.

A won & A Two

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That's what UC finished on this first real test of the Big East road wars, ending with a gutsy win over St. John; and some people still aren't happy. Good thing the players don't care, coaches either. If people would take a minute and look a the home record combined of all the Big East teams, you would find this is not that much out of line with the norm. It is just hard to win on the road in the Big Beast; especially if you start slow. Look at the New York Jets when they played the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday; slow start, impressive second half and the results are to watch the Super Bowl at home.

As this teams continues to (hopefully) buy in to the coaching staff and toughen up their start of game mentality there is a real chance they could steal another road game. But more important, they have to hold serve at home. Any team who will have any measure of success in this league will have to hold serve and "steal" on the road. This is the only time stealing is condoned. The other challenge is not to let down because you're back at home because Rutgers and West Virginia are trying to steal wins as well, and with Huggy Bear, Bob Huggins returning the incentive to win has more layers than a normal game regardless of what anyone tells you.

UC's salad and appetizers portion of the schedule have been served; the main course is ready and its a heavy dose of meat and potatoes banging in the Big East. If this team can continue to improve and a clear cut leader can lead by example on both ends of the court, this team can get better. Say what you want about Mick, UC and/or the program itself but progress is real; getting in the NCAA tournament is realistic. Knowing everyone won't believe in them is reality.

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

This Monday could have been filled with some dreary predictions about a steep uphill climb for the Bearcats. It could have been filled with agitated accounts of ways in which the Bearcats saw another opportunity squandered. It could have been another jumping off point for fan base frustration.

Thank you, Yancy Gates.

The discussion could have turned to the 17 turnovers. It could have turned to losing four consecutive games against quality opponents. It could have pointed out another slow start.

Thank you, Yancy Gates.

Mick Cronin called it probably the biggest shot of Gates' Cincinnati career and on this morning it feels hard to argue.

With one patient, turnaround bank, Gates revitilized the energy created during the first half of the season and temporarily replaced memories of so many brutal blows delivered in close losses last season. Namely, one against that same Red Storm.

Thank you, Yancy Gates.

To give Gates all the credit would be unfair. The collective defensive performance in holding St. John's to 51 points deserves some recognition. The offensive aggression of Cashmere Wright during a lull in the second half reminded everyone why he's leading this team. And if not for the incredible bench minutes provided by Justin Jackson and Biggie McClain in the first half, well, my inbox would be pumped full of some venom.

Yet, when provided one final opportunity, Gates showed a maturity those who've followed his career since he was 14 years old long desired. He didn't rush. He didn't force a prayer. He took his time and when presented with solid defense used his size to put up a shot with contact.

Much like this win, it wasn't pretty. But much like this win, it was darn effective. And much like this win, at the end of the day nobody cares how it looked.

Thank you, Yancy Gates.

Let's eat....

--- Cronin spoke in the postgame about how hard he has been pushing Wright lately. He said on radio they "had a rough couple days of practice." Cronin wants his point guard to be the aggresor and a playmaker.

Many times Wright becomes preoccupied with running the offense and forgets he should be a major part of that. He didn't during the second half stretch where Wright's personal eight-point spurt put UC ahead 44-37.

Bill Koch talked about Cashmere Wright's evolution.

--- As if St. John's 12 of 26 mark from the free throw line didn't drop your jaw enough, through the seven previous conference games, the Red Storm shot 81 percent from the line. That stat is as unbelievable today as it was Saturday.

ESPN New York talked about the foul loss.

--- This win, like many this year, had depth written all over it. UC used 11 players, 10 of which played at least eight minutes. Eight players scored points -- shockingly, one of the three that didn't was leading scorer Dion Dixon.

UC finished with 25 bench points.

--- When the Bearcats look back during the early afternoon of Selection Sunday, that win at St. John's could be the difference between feeling confident and sweating bullets. There will be plenty more opportuntities to say that as the season progresses, but this was the first one.

--- I thought there was some very honest, revealing conversation from Cronin about Sean Kilpatrick on Saturday.

Kilpatrick struggled mightily on Saturday, being held without a field goal in his return to New York. It continued his feast or famine trend of the season. And Cronin had this to say as far as why he hasn't started Kilpatrick to this point:

"Sean Kilpatrick is a freshman," Cronin said on 700WLW. "As you know everybody has all the answers but the people who get paid to do this. People say play Sean Kilpatrick 30 minutes, like he's Carmelo Anthony. He's a freshman, I redshirted him last year. He's a good player.

 

"He's a guy that puts too much pressure on himself. That's part of the reason I bring him off the bench."

 

--- For the record, right now every single major Bracketology predictor has UC in the tournament. They average out to a No. 8 seed. (H/t BearcatsNews message poster for the site).

--- At this point in the season, the RPI is barely worth the paper it's printed on. UC is ranked No. 38 and Xavier somehow is slotted at 27. Whose No. 1 you ask? No, not undefeated Ohio State. Not defending champ with one loss Duke.

BYU. The fighting Jimmers. And as excited as I am to see the result of BYU and SD State on Wednesday, nobody can convince myself that BYU is the No. 1 team in the country.  

Can we stop talking about the RPI until we are within a week of Selection Sunday please. It takes so long for that system to flesh itself out it's absurd.

--- Interesting weekend across the Big East, to be sure. Road teams finally had their day. UC, Villanova and Rutgers were all road underdogs and all pulled out wins.

Also, Providence pulled out the shocker of the weekend with an upset of No. 19 Louisville for their first BE win of the season.

I'm still very far from sold on the Cards.

--- Rutgers will be feeling good about itself when they arrive in Cincinnati on Wednesday. They just pulled off a 66-60 road upset at Seton Hall. That's two in a row. Don't look now, but the Rut is only one game back of the Bearcats in the Big East standings.    

--- WVU comes to Fifth Third on Saturday. They will be with one extra open seat on their bench since reserve forward Danny Jennings apparently walked out on the team during the middle of their game against USF on Sunday.

That's barely a story, Huggins reaction to it is such vintage Huggs, however, I wanted to link it up for you.   

"I understand you have to report it and that's fine, but can we talk about the guys who play?" Huggins said. "Because he didn't play anyway. And hasn't played.

"The truth of the matter is he's been a non-entity. You know, we started him to try to get some other guys motivated and things, and he did work hard in practice for a while, but he hasn't -- I mean, look at his career stats. We didn't just lose Kevin Jones. You know what I'm saying? It's a sidebar."

--- Quick break from basketball. The East-West Shrine Game was this weekend. Armon Binns played and had one catch for 11 yards.

Unfortunately, the review from Todd McShay wasn't gleaming of his performance.

--- NFL Draft analyst Chad Reuter had better things to say about UC's Jason Kelce. Here's the Twitter post:

"ChadReuter Cincy C Jason Kelce is one of my favorite linemen in this draft. Attitude, quickness...not much girth, but plays strong."

 Kelce, along with Jake Rogers, are the only two Bearcats who will be at the Scouting Combine in Indy.      

--- Former UC assistant Mike Tomlin will make his second Super Bowl appearance as a head coach. There will be some more Bearcats flair across Jerry's World with UC's Brandon Underwood playing for the Packers.

Underwood made two solo tackles in Green Bay's win against Chicago in the NFC championship.

--- How about some randomness....

--- Go ahead, you laugh at the McRib. McDonald's will be busy swimming through its money pit like Scrooge McDuck.

--- Blog favorite Alfonso Ribiero performed The Carlton Dance at the Orlando Magic game on Friday. Not shockingly, it was awesome.

--- One man is suing, but really, this should be the new slogan for the city of Las Vegas.  

--- Thad Matta knows how to work up a sweat.

Cardinals Soar Past Cats

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Louisville's full-court press overwhelmed the Cincinnati women's basketball squad putting the game out of reach in the first half on Saturday.

 

The Bearcats lost 83-47 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky in front of 10,556 spectators.

 

"Once we crossed half-court we broke the pressure, but we only had about 10 seconds to get in to the offense," head coach Jamelle Elliott said. "[Guard] Shareese Ulis had to really jack up [3-pointers] with the shot clock running down."

 

The Cardinals executed their game plan forcing UC into poor looks at the basket en route to 14.8 percent shooting in the opening period and 12 turnovers. At the first half buzzer the contest was all but over with Cincinnati trailing 39-13 after a 31-2 Louisville streak. 

 

Cincinnati (8-10, 1-5 Big East) went 2-15 from long range and put up three more shots from distance than from inside the arc in the opening stanza. 

 

The high-ball pressure UL sustained for the entirety of the game took its toll on UC's bench. Seven players took the court for Cincinnati, meanwhile 12 suited up for Louisville with 10 playing double-figure minutes.

 

"We can't go through a lot of possessions without scoring because obviously were not deep enough and big enough to stop people defensively every time they come down and have a possession," Elliott said. 

 

Freshman guard Kayla Cook led all scorers with a career-high 17 points, while Ulis netted 14 and guard Bjonee Reaves contributed 10. This was the first time in six conference games that the Bearcats had three players in double figures.

 

Cook looked to get on the board early and found holes in the Cards defense allowing her to score at the rim. This opened up 3-point shots for her as she went 3-7.

 

"[Cook] was aggressive," Elliott said. "She was one of the only players on my team that was able to take the ball around the basket and get some easy shots in the lane. That gave her confidence. She was also able to step outside and knock down shots."

 

UC showed vast resolve in the closing half shooting 46.4 percent and with six giveaways. One thing Elliott can take away from this blowout loss is her team is learning from its miscues.  

 

"In the second half we really improved our shot selection," Elliott said. "We had some success making shots. We played better in the second half, obviously it was a little too late, but again I'm at the point where I want us to get better."

 

The emergence of junior college transfer Reaves, who hit double figures in points for the first time in league play, is crucial for the Bearcats offense as defenses key on leading scorer Ulis. 

 

"We definitely need Bjonee to step up and help [Ulis] with the scoring early in the game," Elliott said. "She is capable she was third or fourth last year in junior college scoring in the nation. That's the main reason why I brought her on board last season. She has been having trouble scoring this season, but I think that is a mindset."

 

Louisville's win made it a clean sweep against their old-time rivals this year. Both games exposed UC's lack of size on the interior. 

 

"The big advantage they have is they start three guys in the front court that are 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3," Elliott said. "Our biggest player on our team is 6-foot-1. We're outmatched from a height standpoint."

 

Cincinnati returns home to face No. 13/18 DePaul Tuesday, at 7 p.m. at Fifth Third Arena.

 

"We will need to do everything right to not only have success against Louisville, but pretty much every team we face in the Big East," Elliott said. 

ROAD RAGE

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   Perhaps Mick Cronin should have one of the guys measure the foul line and the rim at some Big East venues, much like Coach Norman Dale did with Hickory High when they made to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in "Hoosiers".

hinkle.jpg
(Courtesy "Hoosiers"/cleveland.com)


  Or, maybe he should come up with a "picket fence" play that worked so well for Dennis Hopper's character in the movie.

  Or, maybe he should keep some of his players in the locker room until halftime and let them out after that (as they seem to have more "giddy-up" after intermission).

  Rest assured, if I had the answers I'd be phoning Coach Cronin directly.

  What this season shows (as have other seasons) is the reason you need to "pad" your schedule with wins by New Year's Eve.  Big East road games are brutal and the likelihood of winning them is less than UC's shooting percentage on a bad night.

  As of this writing, the Bearcats historically have won just 10 of the 48 Big East road games they've played. (Andy Kennedy won two in his one year, with Mick's men taking the other eight).

  The most successful road seasons were '07-'08 and '08-'09 when the Bearcats were victorious in three of their nine each time.

  To no one's surprise, the road wins are tough to come by, just as the games after Jan. 1 get more intense.  Last year's team finished 19-16, but recorded just two Big East road wins (at Rutgers and at UConn).

  This year's squad (again, as this is written) is just three wins away from last year's total, but has had a rough 0-3 start in the league. The reasons are simple, and complex.

  "It's hard to beat these teams," said Cronin after the Notre Dame loss in South Bend. "When you get the ball within two feet, you've got to get the basket. At the end of the day, you've got to get some points if you're going to win in this game."

  Translation?

  The big guys aren't delivering on the road.

  Yancy Gates can have awesome, all-world games at times but still doesn't "power up" like a Big East big man typically does. At 6-9, 260, you shouldn't "fade away" from anything.

  On the bright side, I did see a glimmer of a hook shot the other night. Not that anyone will ever ask, but the hook shot is a lost art. I suppose it's too "old school" to be in vogue, but even for smaller players it can be effective because it's much tougher to block. (Heck, the late Pete Maravich even used it as a guard and he finished his college career with over 3600 points.)

  Then there's Ibrahima Thomas. Yet another would-be shooting guard trapped in a 6-11 frame. Plus, he collects fouls faster than Jim Burr (or your despised referee of choice) can tweet them up.

  Perhaps the future solution is Kelvin Gaines (who I'm told has the quick-twitch muscles much like Kenyon Martin used to have). At any rate, it's tough for the Bearcats to score if they're not more forceful in the paint.

  That area was not meant for finesse.

  "We've got to get to the foul line," said Cronin. "We have guys that are better players at times than what they're showing."

  I couldn't agree more.

  This team prided itself early on by sharing the ball and playing a lot of guys. However, not all of those guys are now pulling their weight and some tough decisions need to be made on who plays and who observes.

  From an offensive point of view, as I've stated in a previous column, Sean Kilpatrick tends to produce more often than not. Points per minute, it's tough to keep him on the bench. Not only can he get hot from the outside, he WILL take it to the hole and draw fouls.

  Rashad Bishop needs to assert himself as a senior. Sure, it might not be his personality, but he has just a handful of more times out of the gate in this rodeo. He's another guy that can draw fouls if he doesn't overthink the offense by passing up shots, or underthink it by chucking up random threes.

  Justin Jackson might as well play. If you're afraid of him fouling out, check the Ibrahima Thomas line the last few games. I think the others feed off Jackson's intensity too as he'd probably be "in your shorts" in a simple game of "HORSE".

  For Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon and Larry Davis, I wish for short memories.  They all can hit shots and carry a team, but they often pull back after a few misses.  A conscience is a good thing, but not in basketball. The law of averages says the more shots on goal you have, the better chance you have of scoring.

  Finally, and Paul Dehner Jr. and Dan Hoard have covered this in their blogs, but it IS NOT a Big East road requirement that you get down 15 points before you realize, "Hey, these guys ain't bad here!"

  Mick used the quote and it applies to anything in life that you do.  "Cruise control" can kill you. Ask any highway patrolman. You push that button and you let down your guard and don't pay attention as much until you're about to crash.

  Ditto on the basketball floor.

  Although it was the first time this year that they didn't respond, putting on the '61 throwbacks does NOT make them a championship team.  And, there are no trophies for "First Half Of The Season Champions".

  Road games remain at St. John's, Pittsburgh, DePaul, Providence, Georgetown and Marquette. Based on empirical evidence you may say there's a couple of road wins in that mix. Based on realistic evidence, if they take any of those games for granted, they'll get another "L" hung on the record.

  "These are top 20 teams and we're on the road," said Cronin of UC's predicament. "They're hard games to win. You're going to have to play 40 minutes of great basketball."

  That's 20 minutes and then another 20 minutes. There's a 20 minute rest at halftime, not on periodic offensive sets and defensive lapses.

  There's not time for that. Those that aren't aware of their surroundings and aren't alert wind up roadkill.

  Ask that raccoon that darted out in the road. Timing is everything.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.21.11

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Here's hoping those of you who decided to drive to work this morning aren't reading this on your phone at the body shop...or side of the road. Sounds like it was a pretty nasty communte this morning.

I can assure you the track from my bedroom to the living room office was treacherous as well due to some shoes left in the walkway, but I survived. Working from home definitely has its advantages on days like this.

Let's eat...

--- Some honest talk about these slow starts occurred at Thursday's media availability. Mick Cronin sounded even closer to a lineup change than we've seen all season. Obviously, missed shots rest at the foundation of the conversation. He mentioned the playing time for Ibrahima Thomas -- "the biggest culprit," as Cronin said -- being cut back. That would open the door, especially against a smaller St. John's team, for a smaller lineup that moves Rashad Bishop to the 4 and starts smoking-hot Sean Kilpatrick at the 3.

That's more speculation as Cronin again didn't address any specific changes.

Bill Koch had the breakdown for the Enquirer.

--- Containing St. John's this weekend will begin with containing Dwight Hardy, their electric point guard.

Bill Raftery gave the "Lingerie!" call because of the game-winning move he put on Georgetown and kid can flat out attack the tin.

With some of the on-the-ball inconsistencies we've seen from Cash Wright this year, you would think that could be an issue, but Cash really stepped up when challenged by Tu Holloway . The two have similiar games, though Holloway gets to the FT line more.

If Wright and the defense can bottle Hardy as they did Holloway it will be a huge step toward a huge win for UC.

--- For those of you who tried to wash this from your memories, Hardy gave UC fits last year. He matched his then career high of 19 points and hit the tying and winning free throws for an improbable 52-50 win against UC.

I still look back at the STJ game as one of the turning points of last year's season. It was one of the many games UC had won but couldn't close out in Big East play. But it seemed the most brutal because of the fashion in which the game unraveled in the final seconds.

A win in Queens this year could have the opposite rallying effect this season.

--- Justin Brownlee, the other key player for the Johnnies, has been as consistent as any player in the Big East his year. He's scored in double figures in nine consecutive games and all but two this season.

When Brownlee is at his best, the Red Storm are as well. He had 15 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and only 1 turnover in the win against Georgetown.

--- Some KenPom fun. His winning percentage predictions for the rest of the season have some more likely than others for the Bearcats. For instance, his statistical analysis gives UC a 15 percent chance of winning at Pitt but an 88 percent chance of winning at DePaul.

Actually, all but two games have the winning percentage greater than a 60-40 split in either direction the rest of the way. Those two? Saturday at St. John's (50-50) and home against Louisville Feb. 16 (UC 53 percent).

These stats mean little more than fodder around the nerdery at the next binary code convention, but do serve as a complicated way of saying Saturday will be one of the two most up-for-grabs games on the schedule. When you are talking about the difference between making the tournament or not being as slight as 10-8/9-9, well, that pretty much sums up the importance of those two games.

--- Coaches love to play one game at a time. The media doesn't. I can't help but look at the possibilities of what a win against St. John's would mean for this team.

A win would move UC to 4-3 in the BE, then a home game against Rutgers should be a win before they host West Virginia. The Mountaineers own a nice win at Georgetown, but outside of that -- like most in the Big East -- have struggled away from home. They nearly lost at DePaul, 67-65, fell to Marquette and just lost on a neutral floor to Marshall. Plus, Mick Cronin has traditionally seen this team play Bob Huggins team's well since Huggs returned to the Big East.

In theory, that could leave UC at 6-3 through the first half of the Big East schedule. An accomplishment to be sure. These are not daunting tasks. This is not asking the Cats to win in the Carrier Dome. A few small wins and this team will be sitting in the driver's seat with only a few more exits till Tourneytown.

Of course, that all hinges on Saturday at St. John's.

--- How about some randomness...

--- I really wish stories about people saying the world is going to end in 2012 would stop popping up.  

--- 2011: Year of the Homeless. Who knew?

--- Greatest wedding cake. Ever.

For the rest of their life, these two will be like cats and dogs, living together, mass hysteria.   

--- You know that scholarship we gave you and how you have dedicated so much of your valuable time to here, well, we are cutting the program. And if anybody from the media should want to talk to you about us ripping your livlihood away, we'd prefer you let our staff handle that.

Great blog by Jeff Pearlman about Delaware Cross Country and Track.    

--- I know it may not be for everyone, but I still say Community is the funniest show on TV right now. It returned from break last night as strong as ever.

--- Seventeen facts you didn't know about Seinfeld. "The second button is really the key button. It makes or breaks the shirt." 


 

Women's Hoops Update

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--- The women's basketball team dropped their third consecutive contest Tuesday at St. John's. Here is a recap from the News Record, the independent student newspaper at UC.

--- Head coach Jamelle Elliott said that the No. 23 Red Storm would be out for blood after Cincinnati upset St. John's last year and that's exactly what happened.

--- Last season's result against the Red Storm was her inaugural Big East win as a coach.

--- The Bearcats are just beyond the half way point of the regular season at 8-9 and are into the swing of the always challenging Big East conference with a 1-4 mark.

--- Senior guard Shareese Ulis is the team's leading scorer with 15 a game, while no other Bearcat is averaging double figures. Here is a feature on Ulis, emphasizing how valuable she is to the squad.
 
--- Ulis failed to reach 10 points in her last game for just the third time this season.

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In addition to the senior, the starting line up consists of two freshman, Tiffany Turner and Kayla Cook, junior Division-1 transfer from Vanderbilt, Chanel Chisholm and a sixth-year senior Shelly Bellman.

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Turner leads the team in rebounding with nearly seven per game.

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This is Elliott's second season with Cincinnati. She has the distinction of being the only current coach who also played in the league.

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Despite poor shooting from the field, the Cats have been consistent from the charity stripe. They shot a combined 77 percent in seven games prior to the Rutgers game on Saturday. 

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The schedule does not get any easier for Cincinnati who travel to Louisville Saturday for a 2 p.m. tip in a rematch with their longtime rival. The Cardinals handed them a lopsided loss on Dec. 15.

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The Bearcats then host DePaul and No. 2 UConn in next week's slate of games. The two squads are a combined 11-0 in conference and currently hold the top two spots in the league standings.   

"You Don't Win A Race In Cruise Control"

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One of the most frequent criticisms of the Bearcats over the last few years is that they shoot too many three-pointers.  But after watching the Syracuse and Notre Dame games, I'm starting to think that UC should shoot more of them.

 

What's the point of feeding the post, if you can't convert?

 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the 'Cats should pass the ball around the perimeter and ignore the paint, but with this team a wide-open three is probably a higher-percentage shot than a contested two.

 

Against Syracuse, Cincinnati was 7-for-31 (23%) inside the 3-point line (3-for-25 with 4:00 to go).  In the Notre Dame game, the Bearcats were 16-for-44 (36%) inside the arc.  That's a combined 23-for-75 (31%).  In the same two games, UC nailed 18-of-44 three-pointers (41%).

 

In other words, if the Bearcats are going to continue to attack the rim, they had better start doing it with more strength.

 

"When you get the ball to within two feet of the basket, you have to put it in," Mick Cronin said after the 66-58 loss at Notre Dame.  "If you don't make layups you're not going to win.  Pitt beat Syracuse the other night because when they got the ball inside against the zone they scored.  Nasir Robinson had 21 points.  Very few people know who Nasir Robinson is.  They know Pitt's basketball team, but they don't know him.  He's a tough kid that can make layups. 

 

"We're working hard to get better shots.  Notre Dame played man-to-man for the entire game and we only shot eight free throws.  That's unacceptable - we've got to get to the foul line.  Our shot selection is better, but we have to finish better.  In the first half, we were 9-for-27 inside the three-point stripe.  Somebody has got to put the ball in the basket from point-blank range."

 

At least Yancy Gates was aggressive offensively on Wednesday as he tied a career high with 16 field goal attempts, but he needs to take the ball toward the basket instead of falling away from it.  For a guy his size, Yancy attempts a shockingly-low number of free throws.  Consider this:  Notre Dame power forward Tyrone Nash, who is an inch shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Yancy, has attempted 108 free throws this year, while Gates has attempted 58.

 

Then there's Ibrahima Thomas who has been in a dreadful slump since scoring 12 points in the win over Seton Hall.  In the five games since, Thomas is 5-for-20 (25%) from the floor with at least two missed dunks and has scored a total of 10 points.

 

The Bearcats are trying to play "inside-out" on offense, but their recent inability to finish in the lane is a major reason why UC has been getting off to atrocious starts.  A change in the starting lineup for more offense could be in the works, but a change in mindset is just as important.

 

"Our intensity wasn't what it needed to be for the first 25 minutes of the game," Coach Cronin said.  "We're not dogging it, but I'm talking about beating a Top 25 team on the road.  Part of our inability to put the ball in the basket is intensity.  That's part of being locked in.

 

"We're a different team when we're down.  It can't be the way.  You can't drive on cruise control.  You don't win a road race that way.  That's the safe way to drive home, but that's not the way to win the Indianapolis 500.  Whoever goes the fastest wins.  We have to go full-speed all of the time.  I love my team and they're fun to coach, but you see our intensity level change after we fall behind.  If we're going to get over the hump and be able to win these kinds of games on the road, we have to play that way for 40 minutes."

 

* * * * *

 

When I arrived at the airport for the team flight to South Bend on Tuesday, I was stunned to see Larry Davis walk in on crutches.  The Bearcat senior had to be helped off of the floor that afternoon after his surgically-repaired left knee buckled at practice.

 

"Larry took a hard fall and we were scared," Coach Cronin said.  "He is the fastest healer of all-time as he has self-proclaimed.  Even when he was writhing in pain, he was declaring that he would play.  I thought there was no possible way until he was dunking the ball in the shoot-around on Wednesday morning.  He is officially the fastest healer in history."

 

Davis played 16 minutes against the Irish and hit 1 of 2 treys.  For the season, Larry is 23-of-49 (47%) from outside the arc to rank third in the Big East behind Louisville's Chris Smith and Georgetown's Austin Freeman.

 

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

 

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

 

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

 

Enjoy this week's photo of young Sam, proudly displaying a LEGO masterpiece.

 

Sam with LEGO masterpiece.jpg

Can't help but feel the Bearcats missed an opportunity Wednesday night. I started counting the missed bunnies midway through the first half and eventually accounted for about 8-10 points.

In Mick Cronin's postgame show on 700WLW he estimated UC missed seven shots inside two feet and four layups.

There's nothing wrong with falling behind on the road at No. 16 Notre Dame. Many will do it. Check that, most will do it. Keeping within striking distance is the key. UC moved the ball well. They created some of the shots they wanted and weren't settling for contested 3-pointer. They weren't turning the ball over.

They missed easy shots.

If they make three of the four open layups, Dion Dixon's 3-pointer with 1:20 left gives UC a 1-point lead and they aren't forced to place Ben Hansbrough on the line.

Other reasons exist for the loss, but despite the struggles with off the ball defense and as sluggish as the offense was in the first half, if you look at just converting 75 percent of missed layups and you would have had the lead at ND in the final minute -- it's tough to swallow.

"(Ibrahima) Thomas was 0 for 2, Rashad (Bishop) had a layup and for some reason went up and under," Cronin said on radio. "He never does that. Cash (Wright) had an easy two-footer and charged, which you could see (Notre Dame's) Scott Martin standing to take the charge a mile away. It's hard to beat these teams. When you get the ball within two feet you've got to get the basket. They are not a shot-blocking team."

--- Cronin spoke extensively after the loss about intensity. The difference in UC's defensive pressure and urgency was evident the final 15 minutes of the game. When you have an offense that has a tendency for droughts, defense can never relent -- particularly on the road against top 20 teams.

That was his point. And it's hard to argue. Had UC's defense grinded as it did the final 15 minutes for the full 40, UC wins that game 66-58.

 "My general thing for us is that we're a different team all of a sudden with great intensity and everybody's locked in when we're down," Cronin said. "That can't be that way. It's like I said after the South Florida win, `We should've beaten them by 20.' The problem is that you can't drive on cruise control. You don't win a road race that way. That's the safe way to drive home tonight, but that's not the way to win the Indianapolis 500. Whoever goes the fastest wins. We've got to go full speed all the time.

"When we get down, we've got kids that want to win. I love my team and they're fun to coach, but you see our intensity level change. We've got to get to a point, if we're going to get over the hump and be able to win these type of games on the road, where play that way for 40 minutes where everything matters. A big part of it is that you've got to play with your heart. It's not easy to win these games."

--- Carleton Scott's surprise return sparked Notre Dame. The residual effect it had on Tyrone Nash was the most influential aspect. Nash played extremely well and called them "Batman and Robin" after the game. (Bengals fans cringe)

Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune talks about what their connection meant and includes a quote from Cronin calling his offense "inept."

--- Cronin evaluated a possible starting lineup change this week, but stuck with the standard five that have started all but two games this year.

Fan favorite Sean Kilpatrick didn't step on the floor until 12:59 in the first half. It should be noted he had the third most minutes by the time the game was over. UC was down 11-6 when he entered.

Bill Koch broached the SK topic in his game story.  

--- Ibrahima Thomas and Rashad Bishop struggled on offense of late.

Over his last nine games Bishop is 18 of 63 from the field (28.5 percent). He's gone 6 for 30 from 3-point range (20 percent) and 12 for 33 from 2-point range (36 percent). 

Thomas is averaging two points a game during the last five games with two scoreless games. He's 2 for his last 13 from the floor.

--- UC did a nice job of attacking the basket and creating contact in the second half. Unfortunately, after reaching the bonus with 11 minutes left in the game they never once went to the line for a 1 and 1.

In fact, they only took three trips to the line the rest of the game, all on shooting fouls.  

"And our whole offense at that point changed to where we tried to spread them out and drive the ball to take advantage of our quickness," said Cronin, whose team shot 16 less free throws than ND. "You've got to get more free throws. You can't let them double up on foul shots. Our shot selection was better, but we've got to finish better."

--- Quiet very nice game from Cashmere Wright last night. Nothing flashy, just strong decision-making. Seven points, six assists, three rebounds, just one turnover.

His charge on Scott Martin wasn't the best play and put him in foul trouble but he kept the team in positive shot selection situations all night.

--- Matt Norlander talks about UC still being the toughest team to rank nationally or in any conference because of the few games against "like competition." He rightly points out, Saturday at St. John's will be just that.

--- Speaking of St. John's, they followed the Jekyll and Hyde Big East trend of laying an egg on the road as Louisville pounded them from opening tip to final horn, 88-63.

--- Dan Hoard pointed out a great tweet by MSG and CBS college basketball insider John Rothstein last night: "Game between St. John's and Cincinnati on Saturday will be an all out war. Huge 40 minutes for both teams."

No doubt about it. STJ and UC are among the three or four teams fighting for one or two spots at this point in the Big East schedule. How they do against each other will ultimately determine their fate. And having lost three of these big road games, winning the STJ game would be a huge lift returning home for two against Rutgers and WVU.

STJ (11-6, 4-3) has also lost three of four games and needs a win with games @ Georgetown and vs Duke up next.

--- I sort of ended up in the Lion's Den and didn't realize I would when I agreed to go on 1160 AM with Andy Furman this morning. The backlash against Mick Cronin which came from the Twitteratti last night after the game certainly is the default mode I saw from Furman and those associated with the show.

I spent the hour defending UC and pointing out how far this program has come in the last five years. By the end, I even turned them into understanding the reality much better.

I know everyone wants to point me out as a company man spinning the message, but facts are facts. This team -- despite the loss last night -- is better than last year and in the national conversation. (In fact, looking at the fight this team put up last night in comparison to the listless game at ND last season should be all you need to know as far as improvement) Cronin has pushed many of the right buttons this season. Don't let a few losses in hostile enviornments change that. Don't knee-jerk. Understand the Big East slate needs to be judged as a body of work not instant analysis.

People who are calling this team frauds right now know very little about what constitutes success in college basketball.

--- Media availability at UC today at 3 p.m. I will do my best to make it down there, though, I think I will be at the hands of an angry Mother Nature and the Deer Park snow removal crews. Not a great combo.        

Bearcats Breakfast 1.19.11

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When I had some trouble sleeping last night, I started to think a little bit more about this Notre Dame game tonight.

First off, yes, I am aware of how depressing it is my thoughts turn to college basketball when I can't sleep, but hey, at least it wasn't to the Bengals (that causes severe nightmares).

Second, the more I thought about it, the bigger the game became. No, not from a record standpoint, rather from a confidence and momentum standpoint.

Mick Cronin knew confidence and momentum would be such a significant factor in the success of this year's team he took it easier than in the past with the non-conference schedule. This team's confidence has been a major factor in its success.

I still believe the confidence exists, but certainly doubt begins to creep in with back to back double-digit road losses at Villanova and Syracuse. Notre Dame, though an incredibly difficult team to beat at home, is more beatable than Cuse and Nova right now.  

Cronin said in an earlier press conference it will probably just take winning one of these bigtime types of games to really make this team believe and play with incredible confidence. I'd concur with that thought. This team knows it can do it. And there's no reason to beleive it can't. But for this group of 19,20,21-year olds, nothing quite inspires like the unity of pulling off the win.

The symptomatic confidence would be invaluable with so many hostile enviornments the rest of the way.     

This team has not reached the breaking point. Not in the least. Win or loss, we will still be discussing a bright future on Thursday. In the grand scheme, this represents just another game in the Big East grind.

But in a sport where momentum can carry you to win streaks, conference championships, improbable tournament runs and factor in more than any other major sport, flipping Uncle Mo in the Bearcats direction tonight could be worth much more than one mark in the win column.

Let's eat...

--- The Irish have suffered from the loss of 6-foot-8 Carleton Scott. They hoped he could be back tonight, but now are anticipating early February. Brian Hamilton of The Chicago Tribune talks about the deficiencies he leaves behind on the floor.

Notre Dame already lacks size, without Scott a serious advantage flips to the Cats. They absolutely MUST punish the Irish on the boards.

--- On that note, Dan Hoard with a great look inside Mick Cronin's return to defense and rebounding this week.

Love the opening quote: "Winning made you guys soft." If the Bearcats plays with a chip on their shoulder, I like their chances.

--- Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune writes about Notre Dame's search for the winning formula. He points out ND is ranked 15th in scoring in BE play. Their goal will be to slow the tempo down and play methodical halfcourt ball. The more this game flows up and down rapidly, the better off for the Cats.  

--- As I noted earlier in the week, the proposed changes to the starting lineup would be more conducive to better defense than an offensive spark, according to Mick Cronin. Bill Koch expounds on the concept.

--- Chad Brendel with a scouting report for the game.

--- Joe Lunardi still has UC as 9 seed in his bracketology. Maybe UC should rest the starters the next two months.

--- Some randomness...

--- I only hope his swearing in speech would come in the form of a dirty nursery rhyme.

--- Not sure if I'd take Al Davis over Mike Brown. The creepiness of The Tales from Crypt host running my football team would be too disturbing.

--- Cameron Crowe is releasing a Pearl Jam documentary. He's sold at least one ticket.

--- The best postgame interviews. Great list.

--- Animal prosthetics! 

Bearcats Breakfast 1.19.11

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When I had some trouble sleeping last night, I started to think a little bit more about this Notre Dame game tonight.

First off, yes, I am aware of how depressing it is my thoughts turn to college basketball when I can't sleep, but hey, at least it wasn't to the Bengals (that causes severe nightmares).

Second, the more I thought about it, the bigger the game became. No, not from a record standpoint, rather from a confidence and momentum standpoint.

Mick Cronin knew confidence and momentum would be such a significant factor in the success of this year's team he took it easier than in the past with the non-conference schedule. This team's confidence has been a major factor in its success.

I still believe the confidence exists, but certainly doubt begins to creep in with back to back double-digit road losses at Villanova and Syracuse. Notre Dame, though an incredibly difficult team to beat at home, is more beatable than Cuse and Nova right now.  

Cronin said in an earlier press conference it will probably just take winning one of these bigtime types of games to really make this team believe and play with incredible confidence. I'd concur with that thought. This team knows it can do it. And there's no reason to beleive it can't. But for this group of 19,20,21-year olds, nothing quite inspires like the unity of pulling off the win.

The symptomatic confidence would be invaluable with so many hostile enviornments the rest of the way.     

This team has not reached the breaking point. Not in the least. Win or loss, we will still be discussing a bright future on Thursday. In the grand scheme, this represents just another game in the Big East grind.

But in a sport where momentum can carry you to win streaks, conference championships, improbable tournament runs and factor in more than any other major sport, flipping Uncle Mo in the Bearcats direction tonight could be worth much more than one mark in the win column.

Let's eat...

--- The Irish have suffered from the loss of 6-foot-8 Carleton Scott. They hoped he could be back tonight, but now are anticipating early February. Brian Hamilton of The Chicago Tribune talks about the deficiencies he leaves behind on the floor.

Notre Dame already lacks size, without Scott a serious advantage flips to the Cats. They absolutely MUST punish the Irish on the boards.

--- On that note, Dan Hoard with a great look inside Mick Cronin's return to defense and rebounding this week.

Love the opening quote: "Winning made you guys soft." If the Bearcats plays with a chip on their shoulder, I like their chances.

--- Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune writes about Notre Dame's search for the winning formula. He points out ND is ranked 15th in scoring in BE play. Their goal will be to slow the tempo down and play methodical halfcourt ball. The more this game flows up and down rapidly, the better off for the Cats.  

--- As I noted earlier in the week, the proposed changes to the starting lineup would be more conducive to better defense than an offensive spark, according to Mick Cronin. Bill Koch expounds on the concept.

--- Chad Brendel with a scouting report for the game.

--- Joe Lunardi still has UC as 9 seed in his bracketology. Maybe UC should rest the starters the next two months.

--- Some randomness...

--- I only hope his swearing in speech would come in the form of a dirty nursery rhyme.

--- Not sure if I'd take Al Davis over Mike Brown. The creepiness of The Tales from Crypt host running my football team would be too disturbing.

--- Cameron Crowe is releasing a Pearl Jam documentary. He's sold at least one ticket.

--- The best postgame interviews. Great list.

--- Animal prosthetics! 

A Tough Night For The Bearcats? That's The Plan

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"Winning has made us soft," Mick Cronin told his players at the start of their first practice following Sunday's loss at Syracuse.  "So I'm warning you:  We are going to work hard or we are going to run.  I'm not going to yell one time.  But work hard or run."

 

That gives you an idea of Cincinnati's mindset going into Wednesday night's game at #16 Notre Dame.  After being outrebounded in three straight games, including by an embarrassing 41-28 margin at Syracuse - the Bearcats are determined to get back to what made them successful during their 16-0 start including quality wins over Dayton and Xavier.

 

"My message to the guys was, 'You have to get back to being who you were and hungry,' Coach Cronin said.  "Our defense and rebounding have not been what they needed to be.  Most of my disappointment from the Syracuse loss was the fact that they shot 56% and outrebounded us.  We were not able to make it hard enough for them to score." 

 

But defending Notre Dame is difficult too -- especially in South Bend where the Irish are 11-0 with wins over Gonzaga, Georgetown, UConn, and St. John's.  Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis both rank among the Top 10 in the Big East in 3-pointers made, and Notre Dame takes care of the ball by only averaging 11.5 turnovers per game.

 

"They are a totally different basketball team at home," Coach Cronin said.  "If we give Abromaitis and Hansbrough open looks, they are going to make it.  We have to do a tremendous job with our defensive pressure.  There will be no change in our style of play.  We are who we are, and we try to get after teams defensively.  Hopefully, if we can get after Notre Dame without giving up wide-open three point shots, then our pressure will be effective."

 

The Irish are looking to bounce back from a rough week as they got blown out on the road by Marquette (22 points) and St. John's (18 points).  Notre Dame is missing a key player as 6'8" Carleton Scott, who averages 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds, who will miss his 5th straight game with a hamstring injury.

 

"Oh, it's a loss, no doubt because they don't have the depth that we have," Cronin said.  "He's their longest guy.  Their biggest problem with their starting lineup is that they lack size.  The problem that they pose for us is at the power forward position with Scott Martin, the transfer from Purdue.  He's a face-up player who shoots the three and can put the ball on the floor and he's a match-up problem for Ibrahima Thomas.  They really spread you out and can shoot the ball at different positions."

 

While he has not been specific, Coach Cronin has strongly suggested that there will be a change in his starting lineup tonight.  Regardless of who starts, the guys who are going to play are the ones that give him the toughness and maximum effort that he's looking for.

 

"One thing you have to do in coaching is know what your players are capable of," Cronin said.  "If they don't do what they're capable of, then they don't get to play.  Whether it's playing with size around the rim and fortifying the paint, or diving for a loose ball - whatever the case may be.  We have some guys who can do some things that they haven't been doing on defense and rebounding-wise."

 

Winning at Notre Dame will require the Bearcats to play one of their best games of the year.  The Top 10 teams in the Big East standings are an astounding 27-2 at home. 

 

"There's a difference between good and great," Coach Cronin said.  "You have to be great to win at Villanova, Syracuse, and Notre Dame.  You can't just be a good team - good teams don't win those games.  Heck, great teams lose on the road - Duke lost at Florida State.  The road is tough, and it's doubly tough when you're playing highly-ranked teams on the road.  What is the difference between good and great?  It's competitive toughness.  Getting your job done under adverse situations.  If the other team has big, strong guys, you still have to rebound the ball.  You have to be able to guard the best teams in the country in their own gym.  In the conference that we're in, you can't fake it.  There are no fakes in our league.  If you're going to be at the top of our league, you're for real."

 

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

 

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

 

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

 

Knights Slice Cats

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Cincinnati refused to go away against Rutgers Saturday but came up short in a 55-44 loss at Fifth Third Arena.

 

The Scarlet Knights stretched their lead to as many as 18 in the second half before UC cut the deficient to nine with 5:31 remaining, after guard Shareese Ulis knocked down a deep 3-pointer.

 

UC would get no closer the rest of the way.

 

"We're undersized, we're not as quick, not as athletic, but we're going to fight no matter what," said head coach Jamelle Elliott. "I don't care if we're playing Rutgers or the [Los Angles] Lakers. At the end of the day we got heart. But heart only takes you so far if you're not executing what the game plan is [or] taking advantage of the open shots you have around the basket."

 

The Bearcats (8-8, Big East 1-3) dug themselves a hole early shooting 3-12 from the floor and trailed 20-9  with 8:34 left in the opening half.

 

UC went  0-8 from the field before freshman forward Tiffany Turner ended Cincinnati's scoring drought.

 

Ulis led all scorers with 20; no other Bearcat hit double figures.

 

"Coach has been talking about having an offensive mindset," said freshman guard Kayla Cook. "We got to help [Ulis] out. Rutgers had three players with [at least] 15 points and they came out with the win. We got to have the same balance in the score sheet."

 

The three active leading scorers behind Ulis, Chanel Chisholm, Shelly Bellman and Cook, combined for seven points. Freshman forward Tiffany Turner nearly tallied a double-double with nine points and eight rebounds.

 

"The problem is Tiffany [Turner] hasn't been playing well," Elliott said. "She plays great today. Chanel [Chisholm] who has been playing great for six games in a row, now all of the sudden doesn't play [well]. I want all of us to play well."

 

Elliott attributed Turner's strong performance to being more active on the offensive glass.  

 

"Tiffany [Turner] gave us some second chance points because she was a little more aggressive today," Elliott said. "She had three offensive rebounds, so she was little more active than she has been in the last six or seven games."

 

Rutgers guard Khadijah Rushdan and forward Monique Oliver posted 16 points apiece. 

 

The Scarlet Knights had a distinct size advantage over the Cats and outscored UC by 20 in the paint. 

 

"The game plan going in, was whenever somebody caught the ball in the post, our guards were supposed to get in there and make them pass the ball outside," Elliott said. "Sometimes we did it, sometimes we didn't."

 

Cincinnati trailed 30-20 at halftime.  

 

The Bearcats committed just six turnovers in both halves. 

 

10-3 run from the Scarlet Knights to open the closing half nearly put the game out of reach before UC went on a 8-2 run.

 

 

Bearcats Breakfast 1.18.11

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Despite the loss at Syracuse on Saturday, the Bearcats stayed in the AP Top 25 poll at No. 25. They dropped back to No. 29 in the Coach's poll.

I'm a little surprised they didn't drop further, but it further shows the either the respect people have for Syracuse or lack of attention they pay. (Just ask Gary Parrish)

Regardless, that placed a record nine teams from the Big East in the Top 25.

Let's eat...

--- The Irish turned the ball over 20 times in their 18-point loss at St. John's. They've struggled against deep, pressing teams. Bill Koch says that should play right into UC's hands.

--- Mick Cronin said on Monday he is considering lineup changes for Wednesday's game at Notre Dame. I blogged about his thoughts and possible options right here yesterday.

On his radio show last night at Montgomery Inn, Cronin said there's a chance Sean Kilpatrick could start Wednesday to add some offense to that first group.

I can't imagine Dion Dixon coming out of the starting lineup if you are searching for offense, so Rashad Bishop would be the most likely candidate to move back with the Goon Squad.

That move could work as Bishop brings a defensive mentality much like Larry Davis, Darnell Wilks and Justin Jackson. And against Notre Dame it makes even more sense because of their lack of size, you don't lose much with the smaller Kilpatrick at the 3.

--- Cronin calculated six times UC missed what he called "zero-footers" against Syracuse. Three from Ibrahima Thomas and one apiece from Yancy Gates, Darnell Wilks and Biggie McClain.

"You are not going to spring an upset on an undefeated team in front of 30,000 people doing that," he said.   

--- Chicagosports has a story on Notre Dame finding confidence in returning home. I mentioned their home/away extremes yesterday, but if you look at it, Purcell Pavillion may be the toughest place to play in the Big East.

They were 7-2 at home last year and 3-0 this year. Last season, they were 3-6 on the road and are 0-3 on the road this year. How different they are in the Joyce Center is remarkable.

"Notre Dame right now they are bi-polar, they have the dual personality, home and road," Cronin said. "I told the staff yesterday to light a match to the Notre Dame DVD. Talking about a team a week earlier was beating St. John's by 25-30 most of the game. That's how much different they are at home. Before that they beat two top 10 teams."   

As for why the Irish are so much better at home, Cronin could only conclude it reverts to shooting.

"They make shots at home. If you look at the numbers right now, they average 76 points at home in six Big East games, and 57 on the road. They are making shots at a higher clip in their home gym."

--- Cronin said Yancy Gates ankle is still sore, but he'll be fine. It was inferred during the radio show that Gates would play Wednesday.

---  Wild day in college basketball yesterday, starting with the two Big East showdowns. Kemba Walker continues to make me shake my head. I loved the headline from RTC.

Walker was clutch, but I give my gameball to Jeremy Lamb. When the Huskies have a third scoring option, they are as tough to beat as anyone in the country.  

When talking with Chad from 247 before media availabliity, he filled me into something I wasn't aware of. Apparently, Kemba Walker should have been a Bearcat.

He was as close to committing to UC as you can be, but then Brandon Jennings backed out of his committment to UConn which left them a scholarship open. They lured Walker.  

Think about that. You would have had Walker and Lance Stephenson together last season and then add a top scorer like Walker to this year's mix. Wow.

Recruiting is a crazy business.

--- Pitt opened the game with a 19-0 run on Syracuse. Then Cuse fought back with a 17-0 run. In the end, PItt buried too many big shots. The Panthers are now 9-0 at The Pete against Top 5 teams. Silly.   

--- Cincinnati247 has a picture of the new red football helmets. I'm on the fence. Hard to tell without seeing them on the field in action.

Randomness...

--- My buddy and I concluded a long time ago one of the scariest words in the English language is estranged.

--- Not that I would need another reason to watch the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but here's HBO's new ad.

--- And let's not forget the nice lady who paid us in advance, before she turned into a dog.

--- Ricky Gervais was banned from the Golden Globes. I'm pretty sure that's what he was going for.

--- I can only assume he refused to flip his chair around and sit the wrong way on it at the end of the table.

--- Oh, science! 

--- I'm guessing by his willingness to dance across the arena this was a set up, but who cares. Fast forward to the 1:35 mark to see some smooth Michael Jackson moves.  

Mick Cronin hinted in the postgame radio show at Syracuse and spoke more openly at his media availability on Monday about possible changes in the starting lineup.

Last season, Cronin was notorious for swapping the starting lineup game by game, but this year has been consistent. Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, Rashad Bishop, Yancy Gates and Ibrahima Thomas have been the starters for all but two games.

Three games in a row where the Bearcats saw slow starts not only at the top of the game, but to open the second half. Syracuse opened the second half with a 16-0 run that buried the Bearcats.

Cronin and his staff spent the weekend evaluating options in the lineup.

"We as a staff spent time looking at lineup changes, things we could do to start the game off a little bit better," Cronin said. "But when you evaluate the film, we got great shots. My concern is our defense. Our defense and rebounding are things we can control and the reason we were undefeated was our defense. We had to get back to keeping our focus totally on defense and being a great defensive team."

Reading between the lines of Cronin's initial broach of the subject made it seem the results were inconclusive for why the starters struggled to score to open the game and the half -- outside of missing open shots. Any moves would be to accentuate his re-emphasis on defense.

In purely speculative nature, that could mean Dion Dixon moving to point and Larry Davis starting at the two. Davis is a tenacious defender. Against Notre Dame, who likes to spread you out and move the ball around, it might also be logical for Darnell Wilks to start over Yancy Gates, who is nursing a sore ankle.

(Cronin said Gates ankle was still sore on Monday, "but he's fine.") 

Cronin went on to state the changes this Wednesday would be more strategic than disciplinary.

"You always got to try to get better," Cronin said. "Also, you got matchups at times. (Notre Dame coach Mike Brey) could elect to start (G Eric) Atkins as an extra ballhandler. They could also start Joey Brooks instead of Atkins, so it could depend on what they do. They've started small or started bigger guys.

"Yeah, it's about matchup purposes to matchup with their motion offenses. Obviously, we have some concerns."

 

Many fans are calling for Sean Kilpatrick to move into the starting lineup as he develops into one of the most consistent scorers on the team. He's averaging 10.1 points, knocked down 6 of his last 8 3-pointers and owns the best offensive rating on the team.

Kilpatrick logged at least 19 minutes in each of the last three games.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.17.11

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Happy MLK Day. This is one of the great days of the year, not only because of celebrating one of the great men in our country's history, but there's always some fantastic college basketball to fill the day.

Today, No. 7 Villanova travels to No. 10 UConn at 3:30 p.m. and No. 4 Syracuse plays at No. 5 Pitt at 7 p.m.

I like Nova over the fighting Kembas and Pitt because they never lose at home. They are now 8-0 at the Oakland Zoo against Top 5 teams.

Let's eat...

--- The Bearcats search for answers following Saturday's loss to Syracuse continues on Wednesday this week. They'll play at Notre Dame on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.

The Irish have been two different teams at home and on the road.

The latest example came with an 18-point drubbing at St. John's on Saturday. This was the same Irish team that beat the Johnnies at home by 15 points eight days earlier.

In thier conference home games they beat Georgetown by 14, UConn by 3 and St. John's by 15.

In conference road games they lost to Syracuse by 12, Marquette by 22 and STJ by 18.

Hard to figure. Except to know UC will get the best shot from a team thrilled to return to campus.

--- UC's largest problems right now aren't their opponents, but rather themselves. The Bearcats have struggled to make shots against the top opponents the lack of offense should be a concern.

The Bearcats made one 2-point field goal in the first half on Saturday. One. Pretty sure I have never seen that happen. At then end of the day, they only made seven.

They have dropped to 141st in the country in 2-pt FG percentage.

The length of Syracuse's zone and frustration it can cause shares some of the blame, but the Cats need to find a way to finish at a much higher rate.

Plenty other teams will be taken out of their offensive rhythm by the Orange, so this isn't reason to raise the terror alert, but should become a point of emphasis this week.

--- Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician writes about UC living and dying by the 3-point shot.  

--- Another point of emphasis will be rebounding, which Bill Koch talked about in today's Enquirer.

UC has been outrebounded each of the last three games, and pretty handily against Syracuse. The Cats were able to grab a respectable 35 percent of the offensive rebounds, but allowed the Orange to snare 45 percent of their possible offensive boards.

This team's identity has been defense and rebounding all year, so to see this type of struggle on the boards cuts to the core of what they do best.

Mick Cronin has talked before about stressing boxing out and rebounding during the week is the only way improve in that area because it's strictly a result of effort. I'd expect the Cats to rebound on Wednesday.

--- Chad Brendel takes an interesting look at the numbers behind the Bearcats slow starts. There's no denying the starters haven't performed as well lately. Perhaps a lineup change should be made. We'll probably learn more at today's media availability about that.

--- Jeff Goodman still has Notre Dame at No. 13 despite two ugly road losses this week.   

--- How about Louisville coming back from 18 points down in the final 5:45 to beat Marquette. 

--- Two more reasons the Big East is the best conference in basketball. WVU tops No. 8 Purdue in Morgantown and Villanova holds on to beat Maryland in Philly.

--- Dan Hoard stepped outside of the Cincinnati box to write a piece about Big Monday, the Big East stage and the superb three-man booth of Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery.

Onions!

--- Fun fact: Both AFC Championship game coaches, Rex Ryan and Mike Tomlin, spent time at UC as assistants.

--- On to some randomness...

--- Anytime a Hollywood Award Show is on, I keep waiting for Scarsdale Surprise to be announced as a winner.

--- Wow, Ricky Gervais tore people up last night in his monolouge.

--- Bart Scott was more than happy to discuss the Patriots.

--- When texting and walking in the mall, you may want to avoid all fountains.

--- There's no better way to start your Martin Luther King Jr. Day than by spending 17 minutes listening to one of the great speeches in our history.

See you at Fifth Third

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OK, so what's your excuse?

As Jamelle Elliott and the University of Cincinnati women's basketball team dive into the BIG EAST schedule, we're seeing some of the best teams in the country coming through Clifton.

So where are you?

I know there were several games scheduled on Bengals Sundays and, love them or hate them, the Bengals draw big TV crowds in this market. Well, the Bengals season is over.

Maybe you were saying, I'll wait until they get into conference play. Well, that's where they are now. Louisville's already been here, Rutgers was here this past weekend.

So where are you?

You must be a UC fan, or you wouldn't be reading this. So how about showing your fan support by coming to a game?

A former colleague of mine at ESPN, Nell Fortner, now coach at Auburn, once said that she always had mixed feelings when friends asked her for free tickets to college or WNBA games she was coaching. "Sure, I can get them all kinds of free tickets, but how about buying a ticket and supporting these young women and their program?"

Good point: It's one thing to say you support what they do--it's another thing to show up and cheer them on in person. The tickets are affordable, the game times are family friendly and the team could not be more appreciative when you attend. There's always an autograph signing session after the game (find that at a pro game!) and these players are glad to have you there.

The Bearcats will be back home next on Tuesday, January 25 against DePaul. Make a point to mark that on your calendar. And come out to support the Cats.

What's your excuse?

Life Without Lance

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As UC's play-by-play announcer, I'm often asked to be a guest on sports radio shows in other Big East markets.

This year, one of the most frequent questions I've been getting goes something like this: "The Bearcats appear to be a better team this year without Lance Stephenson. Is it addition by subtraction?"

There's no question that the Bearcats are better this year -- especially on offense -- but I hate that Lance is being viewed in a negative way as a result.

Last week while doing some homework before the Villanova game, I came upon a quote from Wildcats' coach Jay Wright that I found interesting for how it relates to UC. Wright was asked if he thought his team was better this year despite losing the school's #2 all-time scorer in Scotty Reynolds.

"When you have a kid that talented you want to use him, but sometimes it's easier to stop one guy," Wright said. "Take him out of the mix and everybody takes advantage of the opportunity."

Last year, Notre Dame was in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament when it lost Luke Harangody for several games in mid-February with a knee injury. During his absence, the Fighting Irish reeled off consecutive wins over Pitt, Georgetown, and Connecticut and made the Big Dance. This year, Notre Dame is ranked 9th in the country after losing its 3-time All-American.

"We had to play without Luke Harangody at the end of the year and had some success while he was hurt, so our nucleus had some confidence going into the season," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "Kids are competitors. They all have chips on their shoulders or they wouldn't be on college basketball scholorships. They love to show, 'Hey, we're pretty good too. We can play alright even though we lost that guy.' I just think that it's a competitor trait."

But it's more than that on the offensive end. Former Notre Dame player Zach Hillesland did a blog for the New York Times during the Big East tournament last year, and described why his his former teammates were thriving without their star.

"When Harangody was in the lineup, the offense was structured to get him the ball on the low block as much as possible," Hillesland wrote. "A negative side effect of that style was that it encouraged players to stand around and watch Harangody make his move instead of continually moving, cutting and setting screens."

"When you have a great player, other guys have to sacrifice," Jay Wright said. "When that great player leaves, the other guys don't have to sacrifice as much -- they get to do a little bit more. Sometimes that's better."

Villanova fans don't think negatively of Scotty Reynolds, Notre Dame fans will always love Luke Harangody, and UC fans should not impugn Lance Stephenson.

It's not "addition by subtraction" but it is basic math: 5 is greater than 1.

* * * * *

As many of you know, I am a Syracuse grad and always look forward to returning to my Alma mater when the Bearcats face the Orange.

In case you're wondering if I am conflicted in any way when the two schools meet, the answer is no -- I am definitely rooting for the Bearcats.

The last time UC traveled to the Carrier Dome, the result was a disaster. Cincinnati went 1-for-15 from outside the arc in the first half and trailed 40-17 at halftime. The final score was 87-63.

At 17-0, Syracuse appears to be even better than it was two years ago, but the Bearcats are too.

"Syracuse is arguably one of the best teams in the country -- especially now that Kyrie Irving of Duke is out," Mick Cronin told me. "You can argue that Syracuse is just as good as Kansas, Ohio State, or Duke. The teams that have played Syracuse would probably make that argument. It's going to be a great challenge for us. I'm excited about the game, and it's nice to play them where physically we can compete. I don't know if we've ever had a team where we could physcially compete with Syracuse. The key is going to be execution of our zone offense, but our defense is also going to be big. If we can defend the way we defend without fouling and get some easy baskets because of our pressure -- then you don't have to attack the zone all of the time. Obviously, I don't like playing in that dome at noon with the sun and snow shining though, but we're going to go up there on Friday morning and practice in the Carrier Dome. Hopefully, that helps our guys adjust."

It obviously helps to have a "zone-buster" against Syracuse's 2-3 zone, and Sean Kilpatrick will certainly get an opportunity after drilling 4 of 5 three pointers on Wednesday vs. USF.

"He could be a big key for us on Saturday because of his ability to make shots against the Syracuse zone," Coach Cronin said. "He's a huge weapon for us and he's getting better every game. I've said this all along about him - he's the future captain of our team and the face of the program because his love for basketball is second to none. He eats, sleeps, and drinks basketball. And he's rubbed off on his teammates. On Tuesday, I came to practice and said, 'Where are Sean Kilpatrick and Rashad Bishop?' They were in the practice gym with Coach Savino an hour before practice. That's when you know that you have guys whose minds are in the right place."

It should be quite a test for the 16-1 Bearcats. Our pre-game coverage on Saturday from the Carrier Dome will start at 11:30 in the morning on 700 WLW and 700wlw.com.

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

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

And I have finally joined Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.14.10

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Happy Friday -- big three-day weekend Friday, at that. Makes me feel like telling a story. (Audible moan heard from the crowd) Those of you who would rather be in charge of pulling up Rashad Bishop's shorts all game than listen to me weave a yarn, feel free to scroll down to the first link.

Almost every MLK weekend from the time I was in junior high until I left for college, we used to head to Perfect North Slopes. Come to find out Perfect North wouldn't be characterized as the Mecca of skiing, but it we enjoyed it. My first time there was my first time ever skiing. 

I nearly got kicked out for being terrible at it.

It wasn't completely for lack of training. I went through the beginner's program. They take you over to the toe rope, they work with you going down the bunny hills. I was never worried about going down, like most, my concerns were in the area of stopping. More specifically, the lack of an ability to do so.

The answer given by the staff was to use the snowplow method and twist both skis inward like you were pigeon-toed. That would slow you down.

Going down the bunny hill, that seemed to work. So, I sloshed from side to side, snow-plow. Done.

Thinking I had this kicked, my more advanced friends were ready to head up the mountain so we did. There is a run called Center Stage. It's called that for a reason. Everyone in the cabin. Everyone going up the lifts. Everyone who just wants to see somebody bite it, is watching intently. By the way, said cabin is right at the bottom of the hill between two lines of people getting on both the lifts. This was a particularly crowded day on MLK weekend so, the lines jutted out perpendicular to the direction the skiers came down the hill.

Now, I didn't go all the way to the top of Center Stage, but midway up. No need to push the limits right? So, I start swooshing down the hill. Swoosh. Swoosh.Swoosh-Swoosh. Swoosh-Swoosh-Swoosh-Swoosh-Swoosh.

Only 20 seconds in, I am no longer swooshing side to side, with too much Isaac Newton behind me, I am flying directly down the hill like that guy on the Agony of Defeat open for Wide World of Sports. Not good. 

Then I realize, oh yeah, SNOWPLOW!

So, I snowplow. Yeah, your damned snowplow doesn't work. All methods of survival have abandoned me and it's officially difficult decision time.

I am barrelling like Clark Griswold down the mountain and I can either A) split the two lines of people waiting for the lifts and head directly toward the cabin, which will certainly stop my momentum -- when I plow into it. B) Use these nice paying customers of Perfect North as safety net of sorts and run right into them. Or C) Purposely fall early, roll that way with skis flying God knows where and hope nobody is impaled.

Well, in the 2.3 seconds I had to make the choice, a combination of B-C prevailed. I swerve and start to fall (politely yelling look out the whole way) at the line of about 40 people waiting for the lift. Just before my head was ripped toward the ground, I looked up and caught a glance at their eyes. It was the first time in my life I saw what shear terror looked like.

So, I pummel into the back of the line, screams, skis and curses fly all over. Because everyone was locked into the line, they were very close and couldn't move. Once I took down the back end, everyone went to the ground, one by one, like a frightened, life-sized game of Domino Rally. All until the final person fell onto the actual lift and the thing was shut down.

I slowly curled up, surveyed the natural disaster I caused and uttered all I could think. "My bad."

Turns out, my bad wasn't quite good enough. One of the employees, who actually was among those instructers for my lesson, swishes over and sprays snow on me stopping. Asks me questions, I relay the story. She whips out this flourescnet orange tag that goes over top of my tag that says in big black letters, "RECKLESS SKIER."

It was the Scarlet Letter of Perfect North. She goes on to tell me if I have any more problems, they are kicking me out.

Demoralized, I stood there as she walked away and feeling I needed to save my reputation, needed to yell out something.

"Yeah, well, your snowplow method sucks!"

Luckily, neither myself nor anyone else was hurt that day or the rest of my skiing career. But I'm pretty sure somewhere in that cabin there is a picture of me under a Wanted heading.

OK, everyone who didn't want to hear Storytime can pick back up here. 

Let's talk Syracuse....

---  Rick Jackson is a beast. The Cuse 4/5 is 6-9, 245 and averaging about 13 points and 12 rebounds a game for the Orange. Watching the way he attacks the glass couldn't help remind me of what the Bearcats need to see more of from Yancy Gates.

With that line of thought, this exchange emerged from yesterday's media availability.

What makes Rick Jackson such a great rebounder?

Mick Cronin: All great rebounders love contact. People say to be a great rebounder you got to get position, well, translation of getting position means seal the guy physically. Seal somebody ont eh inside so you can get a rebound. On the other side box somebody out. It goes hand and hand. Love of contact and rebounding go hand and hand. That being said, he has great hands and he's enormous. He's got himself in tremendous condition, he's a totally different person.

Q: Do you see enough of that love of contact in guys like Yancy or Thomas?

 

MC: No.

 

Q: Is that an issue or something you need to work on?

 

MC: I don't know if you can work on that. I'm not a scientist, I'm just a coach. I think that's illegal in the United States. 

    

--- A Charlie Colesian response from Mick and fair enough. The bottom line is Gates, and Thomas as well, they aren't going to change. They will probably never be 13-12 guys. Some nights, Gates will grab three rebounds in 30 minutes, like he did against USF. That's part of the challenges of his development and the development of this program. That's not to say Yancy can't be a physical player, it's difficult not to be at 6-9, 260. But emphasizing some of his other strengths can make him as effective as Jackson. He only needs to be more consistent.

A knock on Gates over this first two seasons was not being able to put up the big numbers enough against those of the physical equivalent of him.

Saturday will be a great test to see how he fares with Jackson loving contact and the zone swiping at the basketball.

--- Cronin talked about the message he sent to Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon after they struggled in the Villanova game. I found it interesting. When you are winning so handily, it's easy to sluff aside what was a dropoff in performance for the two. I know I did.

"Both guys have just been in a little bit of a funk. When you have the record that we do sometimes you can be a little misled on how well you're playing. Playing well has nothing to do with winning and losing. We just had to break some things down for those guys and get them to realize that although we might have been playing well up until Sunday we had been trying to explain to them that they had not been playing well recently. They were on cruise control even though we had been winning games. All those games we won by an average of 18 points per game, just I didn't think they were playing well.

 

"The statistics showed they weren't playing well and I didn't think they had been practicing hard. I thought they had lost their edge. I didn't want to bench them but I had to do something to wake them up. Show the some film show them some statistics from previous games. You coach guys on your team in different ways. Those guys are great kids but they're two guys I have to stay after from an intensity standpoint to make sure they're working hard at all times. Obviously I had to whisper to them a little bit and tell them how much I loved them in a nice way. But they needed to play better for us to win."

 

--- Here was Jim Boeheim's take on the Bearcats from the Big East teleconference:

"Cincinnati is a very physical team and is off to a great start. They've played great basketball all year and it will be a great challenge for us. They've always been physical and they are more mature. Those guys aren't young guys any more they're veteran guys. And they're much more experience and that's why they're playing so well. They're playing great. They've always been good players and now they've got that experience that you need to have in this league to be successful. They've been pretty successful but now that extra year has been tremendous and you can see in the way they play. They've always been physical, they're still physical but now they're much more mature."

 

--- One of the reasons Syracuse's zone has been so successful is the length of their back line. Even when you manage to penetrate into the lane, you're awaited by 6-9, 6-10 or even 7-foot when freshman Fab Melo plays.

 

The Cuse are ranked in the top 10 in the country in blocks per game with 6.2. UConn leads the nation with 7.1.

 

--- If you missed Bearcats Sports Weekly with our man Tommy G, here you go.

--- Message Boards have become the epicenter for hate on the Internet. I've seen parents, kid, coaches and even myself bashed on them.

Finally, somebody on a message board takes a stand and for all the right reasons. Great post and good luck, Bret.  

--- More stories on the difficulty of playing in the Big East. This time from FoxSports.  

--- Luke Winn's Power Rankings are insightful. They have quite a few different Syracuse tidbits in there that you might find interesting. He also ranks UC 27th.

On to some randomness...

--- The NY Post hits a home run with their cover. I'd say the Boston Metro earned a ground-rule double.  

--- Joe Theisman with some unintentional bathroom humor sends Deion Sanders into a fit.

--- I wish all BMX races started like this.  

--- There are few things more gratifying than watching somebody accidentally play a practical joke on themself.        

HEAT AND SERVE

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microwave.jpg
(Like this microwave, Sean Kilpatrick is "Sharp")

  Thanks to the genius that is Paul Daugherty, we now know all about "The Microwave" Sean Kilpatrick and why Mick Cronin should play him more.
  Like Paul, I'm a big believer in Kilpatrick and have been since he first hit town. He plays the game on and off the court, meaning he can "ball" and he can "bring it" in an interview afterward.
  I've written before how he gave my youngest kids his Deveroes Summer League shirt (yes, we washed it) and I had them take it back and get it signed.
  In time, I still believe that shirt will be worth something (even though I've never sold any of the items I have).
  It's not PC to say around some UC circles, but I believe Kilpatrick's far better for UC's "chemistry" than Lance Stephenson was.
  Don't get me wrong, Lance Stephenson could be phenomenal. However, the first thing I noticed when he suited up for the Deveroes Summer League title game in 2009 (for the team that Kilpatrick had been carrying) was that the guys didn't seem to know how to play WITH Lance. 
  And, Lance didn't seem to know how to play WITH them.
  Defenders of "Born Ready" will say he opened some recruiting doors. Well, I hope that's true. I'm just here to say the other New Yorker (Kilpatrick) might be the one that opens doors wider someday.
  You can look at Stephenson's 12.3 scoring average last year and compare it Kilpatrick's 10 (at this writing) and say I don't know what I'm talking about. You wouldn't be the first.
   I look at some other numbers though. Right away I notice Stephenson shot a putrid (at the college distance) 22% from the three-point line.
 Kilpatrick's close to 42%.
   I also look at their numbers by comparison through 17 games. Sure. Stephenson scored 210 in his first 17 to Kilpatrick's 170, but Lance played 500 minutes to Sean's 339.
   Which leads me to my somewhat saber-metric stat of the day (as my math teachers chuckle uncontrollably) POINTS PER MINUTE.
   No, not points per game. POINTS PER MINUTE.
   Based on their first 17 games as college freshmen and my rudimentary arithmetic, Sean Kilpatrick is the more proficient/efficient scorer.  Kilpatrick averages a rounded off .50 to Stephenson's .42.
   Extended out,Kilpatrick would average 20 a game if he were allowed to go beginning to end, where Stephenson would fall in at 16.8.
   Through the first 17 games, Stephenson had two 20-plus games. Kilpatrick has had three and was a bucket away against South Florida of making it four.
   Your honor, the defense rests.
   However, that may be the reason Kilpatrick doesn't get the minutes. It could be the defense. (I don't know as Mick usually doesn't phone ahead to clear his starting five with me).
   Then you have the case this season where the Bearcats are deeper and it's rare for a player to get 30 minutes of playing time, let alone 40.
   There's no question that Mick will continue to substitute freely on this team.
   "Everyone has 13 scholarships and you have to play them," said Cronin after the recent USF win. "You try and develop your bench. It's a long season, especially this year with our style of play."
   Kilpatrick himself appears OK with the formula. He's fine with being a role player.
   "That's my job especially with coach having me off the bench," said Kilpatrick."That's all I try to do is lift my team up."
   May the young man keep lifting (his points and his minutes).
  
  

Wednesday went about as close to the expected script as possible. USF did what it does, plays just bad enough to lose. UC did what it does, forced turnovers and beat the teams it should.

Yet another single-digit loss for the Bulls. Their run of all 12 losses except for Villanova coming by double digits is shifting from coincidence to remarkable. That has to be the most frustrating season you could imagine for the Bulls fan base (whoever that is, anyway, can't imagine spending many nights attending Bulls games with all the other options in Tampa/St. Pete). Of course, I would go just to watch Augustus Gilchrist and Jawanza Poland.

UC did a nice job on Gilchrist, but it's clear why Mick Cronin called him the "best NBA prospect in our league." His post moves are polished and he can do it all on the court at 6-10, 245. Oh, and Poland only delivered the No. 6 play of the night on Sportscenter. Nasty baseline dunk on Gates.

--- Theme of the postgame was find a way to win, get the win, move on. Wednesday wasn't pretty, but it really doesn't  matter at this point. Worry about aesthetics in practice.

That's what I wrote about in my postgame column. You can read it here.

--- Stan Heath came away sold on the Bearcats -- his own team, well, not so much.

Heath looked like a man beaten down and resigned to the fact his team won't be figuring it out anytime soon.

"I don't' think we played particularly great, not that we played great all year long, but we had some miscues with the turnovers. Some, I understand, some were a little bit baffling to me, we just gave the ball away."

 

These jobs in the bottom of the Big East are so tough. Trying to work your way up in this conference you are constantly spinning your wheels. Heath must still be smarting over Dominique Jones bolting for the NBA. Cronin said he thought USF would be a top 25 team with Jones. I wouldn't disagree there. They are one guard away.

Seeing Heath attempt to build up the Bulls should give a greater appreciation for the distance Cronin has brought this program already. Regardless of what happens this year, even moving from the bottom of the league to the middle of the pack is one of the most difficult journeys in college hoops.

Which brings me back to what Heath said about the Bearcats. He went ahead and answered the national perception question without being prompted.

"Boy, they are better. They are better than what we faced the last few years. Mick has done a nice job. They got better chemistry, they defend a lot better. They also are very phsycial and with size they have it creates problems for you.

 

"Cincinnati is going to be a formidable opponent throughout the league the rest of the year. I think they are for real. I really do." 

 

--- I wrote a little about Sean Kilpatrick in the post column, obviously, I wasn't alone. He was the star of the show. Joe Kay said it well in his AP story.

The 12-2 UC run where Kilpatrick accounted for every hoop was something special. He seems to be asserting his offense in that manner more often. He's starting to feel the flow of the games better and understanding when the team needs him. He did against Nova and vs. USF. No other player on on the team can take it over the way he does.

UC was shooting 3-pointer after 3-pointer early on. They were 1 for 8 through the first 12 minutes of the game from deep. Then Kilpatrick started to attack.  

"I took it upon myself and coach was telling us we were settling too much. When you are settling too much you let the team ease into games."

KenPom has him with the third-best offensive rating on the team. Dion Dixon and Rashad Bishop are better. Dixon can take over a game the way Kilpatrick does, but SK is more consistent from the field (46%-43%).

--- Paul Daugherty wrote that Kilpatrick needs to play more minutes. Doc makes good points. I think everyone would like to see SK in the 23-28 minute range every game. His talent/potential dictate that. But until he shows more consistency offensively, his minutes won't be as consistent. The trend with him is pretty clear. He's either hitting shots and attacking offensively, or he's completely absent.

Sure, he scored 21, 14, 11 and 18 points in four of the last seven games. What happened the other three? 0, 2, 0.

When Kilpatrick is affecting the game positively and hitting shots, he typically gets his minutes. He probably could have played more against Seton Hall, but outside of that, he played 23 last night, 25 when he was hot against St. Francis, 28 when he dropped a season-high in points against Wright State and 24 minutes in the opener against Mount St. Mary's.

I think Doc's right, Kilpatrick does need more minutes. I also think if he can avoid a few more disappearing acts, those will come.   

--- Kilpatrick wasn't alone, Darnell Wilks saved the Bearcats down the stretch by attacking the basket and dropping free throws. He finished with 12 points and a perfect 8 of 8 from the FT line.

Cronin called it "Wilks best game of the year." 

Outscoring an opponent 39-27 off the bench doesn't hurt.

"I have a theory on that, everyone has got (a bench)," Cronin said. "You have 13 scholarships. You got to play them. I get asked a lot of questions early in the season why you play this guy, why you play that guy. Trying to develop your style of play and devleop your bench so you reap the benefits of it down the road. It's a long season."   

--- Dixon played well in the first half. He had nine points and six rebounds. He admitted to being under the weather on Twitter before and after the game.

I have to apologize, because I heard midday yesterday that Davis could start over top of him. I don't know how close that was to actually happening but I put it out there and I shouldn't have. I'm not perfect, but should have been better than that. 

That said, pretty gutty showing by Dixon.

--- Rashad Bishop collected a technical foul midway through the first half. The crowd didn't know what happened, the media didn't know what happened. After the game, Cronin still had no idea what happened.

"Nobody knows what happened," Cronin said. "I'm confused." 

--- Justin Jackson with his second straight strong game. He played 22 minutes against Villanova and a nice 10 minutes Wednesday. He contributed two steals, a block and an assist. More importantly, only one foul. He caused Cronin headaches earlier this season with silly fouls that put UC in trouble.

"It's real simple, he's been listening," Cronin said. "He's been very coachable. He fouled agaisnt Xavier, he got to play a whopping one minute. I took him out trying to teach him a lesson. If you keep reaching in at halfcourt fouling people putting them in the bonus I am not going to play you. He wants to play, that kid. One thing about him, he loves to play some basketball now. I tried to take that away from him to maybe get his attention. Since then he's been great." 

UC pretty badly needed his help. If Thomas continues to get into foul trouble, they need guys like Jackson and Wilks to be able to consistently fill quality minutes from the four spot.

--- The Bearcats forced 18 turnovers and allowed 8 assists. They have forced more turnovers than assists allowed in every game this season. No other team in the country has that long of a streak. 

--- UC moves on to Syracuse on Saturday. How good are they? You know that St. John's team that was rolling with wins against Notre Dame, Providence and Georgetown?

Cuse just ran them over by 17 at Madison Square Garden. And it wasn't that close.

--- Unlike Villanova, the Cuse (17-0) are susceptible to losing at home. They, obviously, are perfect there this season, but last year they lost to both Pitt and Louisville there when both were unranked.

They also have a huge game against Pitt coming up on Monday, so they could be looking ahead.

Of course, they beat then No. 8 Michigan State and then No. 15 Notre Dame by double digits there already this season -- so take it all with a grain of salt.

--- UC still has two games against Georgetown which looked daunting at one time, that is, until they turned into a dumpster fire.

Par for the course

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The Bearcats didn't play perfect basketball on Wednesday night, but they didn't need to. They only needed to win. And in the Big East, that's always good enough.  

 

CINCINNATI -- Maybe the wishful thinking of plodding through piles of snow for the past two days moves the brain to thinking in golf metaphors, but leaving Fifth Third Arena on Wednesday night they seemed to fit.

 

Faced with a the latest obstacle, the Bearcats shot par. On this night, shooting par was good enough to beat the competition -- even if their home course is in Tampa, Fla. On most nights, UC will need more grace and pizzazz to beat the bad guys.

 

Not on this night. They needed only to avoid the hazards and fend off disaster.

 

Mission accomplished: 74-66.

 

It didn't have to be pretty. And it wasn't.

 

Ibrahima Thomas continued to find himself in foul trouble. Yancy Gates continued to battle inconsistency. Outside of some late foul shooting, the entire starting five took the night off for the most part.

 

The Bearcats still managed par. They still avoided the disaster hole. In the 18-game round of the brutal Big East, that's half the battle.

 

Make no mistake, a loss to USF on Wednesday would have been a disaster.

 

"You got to win at home," Mick Cronin said. "We need to go undefeated at home. I think every Big East coach would be sitting there thinking you have to win every home game."

 

Like an old man who slugs every drive down the middle of the fairway, the Bearcats are built to avoid the disaster hole. They weren't before.

 

With 10 players who can play the role of star on any given night, somebody is bound to save the day. Sean Kilpatrick and the Goon Squad did the scrambling Wednesday 

 

During the 12-2 first-half run that provided a lead the Bearcats wouldn't relinquish, Kilpatrick figured in on every point. He scored seven points while assisting on a Yancy Gates dunk and Cashmere Wright 3-pointer.

 

"That's my job," Kilpatrick said. "Especially with coach having me coming off the bench is to come off with a spark. I try to lift my team up." 

 

Kilpatrick still suffers from a feast-or-famine production trend. He's scored at least his Wednesday night total of 18 points four times. However, in six games this season, Kilpatrick couldn't total more than four points.

 

Despite the up and down, with games like Wednesday, he's beginning to build a case to follow in his buddy Lance Stephenson's footsteps as Big East Rookie of the Year.

 

Though, that discussion is for another day. This day was about finding a way to win. Cronin felt this one wouldn't easy. Sandwiching a team with six consecutive losses between trips to No. 7 Villanova and No. 4 Syracuse challenges the human nature of even the toughest-minded teams. Add in the fact USF hasn't lost a game by double digits this season and the possibility existed some of those four-letter words so commonly uttered on the links would be coming out of Cronin's mouth as he tried to sleep Wednesday. 

 

He may still when thinking about Gates managing only three rebounds in 30 minutes. He almost certainly will when thinking about Thomas fouling out for the second consecutive game, this time in only 12 minutes while contributing no points and two assists.

 

"This was probably (Thomas') worst game of the year tonight," Cronin said. "He will tell you that. He has to stop fouling. Maybe the nicest kid I've ever coached, but he maybe needs therapy. He has an addiction of reaching in with his hands. The last step is denial, he's still in denial. I need to get him to recovery stage."

 

Those shortcomings and frustrations will be ironed out in practice the next two days. Then the trip to the Carrier Dome will serve as the latest test for this team to learn if they can show poise under pressure and compete with the best in the country.

 

Thanks to Wednesday's par, the Bearcats can take the Big Bertha driver out of the bag Saturday. You know, the one with the oversized tiger headcover you have the tendency to duck hook into the woods.

 

When you win the ones you're supposed to, a game like Saturday is a win-win. The Cats have nothing to lose.  

Bearcats Breakfast 1.12.11

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OK, so this is sort of a no-Breakfast Breakfast. Unfortunately, we had some technical difficulties on the site and I wasn't able to post anything until now. With a load of other stuff going on before tonight's game, that makes it impossible to deliver the goods.

No worries, the postgame column will be up as always after as we are now back in harmony with the interwebbings.

Sorry about the inconvienience. Grief counselors available upon request.

Anytime there are technical difficulties, I always think about this classic from SNL. Enjoy.

 

Cashmere Wright is battling a shoulder injury, knee swelling and critical decision to take a break to allow his body to heal as the Bearcats grind through Big East play.

 

CINCINNATI -- Cashmere Wright needs extra time to prepare for practice these days. A quick wrap of the ankles and tightening of the shoelaces doesn't apply.

 

First there's a wrap on his knees, where he experiences swelling from time to time and has had to have drained. Then there's the wrap for his left shoulder, which popped out three weeks ago in a game against St. Francis. The wrap stretches around his shoulder, across the chest, under the right arm and back across. Then that must be secured as well.

 

Every day is more like preparing for battle than a practice. The battle wounds have started to mount all too quickly.

 

"There's too much going on," Wright said.

 

None of his injuries are severe enough to keep him out of a game. In fact, as of Tuesday's media availability, Wright was fully expected to play Wednesday against South Florida. But the combination of the shoulder and the knee are gradually creating a cumulative frustration for the sophomore.

 

Mick Cronin assessed on Monday that at some point Wright probably needs to take a week off, rest and let his body return to order. When and if that break happens, however, is up to the sophomore.

 

"I just don't think anybody is capable of playing well if you don't practice well," Cronin said. "We got two choices there, practice hard, practice well, get ready to play well or sit out. So, that's his call. That's not my call, that's his call.

 

"He doesn't have injuries that would preclude him from playing, but if he's so sore it's going to stop him from being able to practice well, you can't expect to play well. It puts him in a bad predicament, therefore it puts our team in a bad predicament."

 

For a kid who missed his entire freshman season with a torn ACL, he's not about to concede any time, yet.

 

"That's the thing I am thinking right now, I don't want to," Wright said. "They keep telling me  before something worse ends up happening you might have to get yourself together. But, right now, I just feel like I just can't sit out."

 

There's no denying his offensive performance regressed since the shoulder injury against St. Francis began this painful trend.

 

He averaged 10.4 points through the first 11 games. He knocked down 15 of 33 3-pointers at a 45-percent clip.

 

Since the injury, he's 0 for 8 from deep and 4 for 22 from the field. He's averaging 6.8 points over the four-game span.

 

For now, every day, his mind says play. The only problem is, arriving at practice, he never knows what his body will be saying.

 

The Saturday before the Villanova game, it said to shut down and Wright didn't practice.

 

"When I get to the point where I feel like I am hurting my team, I am going to have to (sit down)," Wright said. "Right now, I feel like I don't want to let my team down by sitting out a week or whatever. But at some point it seems like that is what's going to happen. My body is day by day feeling worse and worse, I got to get back healthy. Ever since the St. Francis game it seems like it's been going downhill."

 

Should Wright sit down Dion Dixon will see more action slipping from shooting guard to point guard, along with extended minutes for backup JaQuon Parker.

 

Dixon never played point guard before, but Cronin admits Dixon thrived when asked to do so to this point. Still, Cronin hopes he doesn't have to worry much about realignment at the guard spots. For now, he's allowing Wright to battle through the pain. Sometimes, the battle needs a little prodding.

 

"Some guys you just have to challenge," Cronin said. "And then sometimes you have to challenge them a little harder. We challenged them a little harder (Monday)."

 

It worked.

 

"Cash had a great practice," Cronin said.

 

Wright knows he can have a great practice. The problem is knowing how he'll feel the for the next practice. For now, it's a battle he fights every day. And one he believes to be worth every brace, piece of tape and strand of wrap strapped to his body.

 

"You just got to fight," Wright said. "End of the day, I am out here doing what I love to do, so I can't really complain. But at the same time my body, day to day, it feels different. Some days feel better than another. You just got to keep pushing."

My Brilliant Conclusion

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Do you know what brilliant conclusion should be drawn from the Villanova game?

 

That Cincinnati isn't going to go undefeated.

 

Anybody who is pointing toward that loss as proof that the Bearcats are "pretenders" is either:

 

A)    Not paying close enough attention, or

B)     Trying to get under the skin of a UC fan.

 

Here's the deal.  It's perfectly legitimate to question if Cincinnati is a Top 25 or NCAA Tournament team, but a mediocre team doesn't beat Xavier by 20 and Dayton by 34.

 

By the way, I find it amusing that a bunch of people said that the Xavier game would be Cincinnati's first legitimate test before UC dominated - then many of the same folks said that the Villanova game was the true test.  If the Bearcats had pulled off the big upset at 'Nova, somebody probably would have written, "Nice win...but let's see how they do at Syracuse."

 

In all seriousness, I did draw a significant conclusion from Sunday's loss:  The Bearcats have to get better guard play to beat the elite teams in the Big East.

 

Villanova has two McDonald's All-American point guards who play at the same time in Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns.  Against Cincinnati, they combined for 36 points and 8 assists (7-for-16 shooting, 4-for-8 outside the arc).  UC's starting backcourt of Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon combined for15 points and 0 assists (3-for-17 shooting, 0-for-6 outside arc).  Villanova puts as much defensive pressure on the ball as any team in the country and the Bearcats guards struggled to handle it.

 

"They do an unbelievable job - and TV doesn't do it justice - of taking you out of what you want to do on offense," Coach Cronin told me.  "They speed your guards up and we never could get settled on offense.  When we were tough enough to do it, we got the shots we wanted.  But initially, when they took us out of our first option, Dion and Cashmere put their heads down and took off dribbling.  That's when we got in trouble.  You can't take the bait when you're being pressured.  We have to be able to stay in our offense and make them guard us.

 

"In fairness to Cashmere, he's had issues with his shoulder and knee and has been pretty banged up.  He really hasn't been himself since the St. Francis game (12/23) to be honest with you.  It's at a point where he either needs to practice full-go or take a week off.  He elected to practice on Monday and he's been trying to fight through it.  He didn't really practice the day before the Villanova game because his knee was really sore and I think it affected his performance."

 

The stats back that up.  Since leaving the St. Francis game early with a shoulder injury, Wright has gone 4-for-22 (18%) from the floor and 0-for-8 from 3-point range.

 

Another huge factor in the Villanova game was fouls . . . and please note that I didn't say bad officiating.  Sure there were a few lousy calls, but the Bearcats took too long to adjust to the way the game was being officiated.

 

One of the biggest reasons why Cincinnati is holding teams to 54.9 points a game is that the Bearcats have played aggressive defense without fouling.  The 'Cats are fourth in the Big East and tied for 31st in the country in fewest fouls per game at 16.2.  Against Villanova, UC was whistled for 24 fouls (including two technicals) and sent the Wildcats to the line 33 times. 

 

"You can't commit the fouls that we committed," Coach Cronin said.  "We have our own stat sheet and keep track of 'bad fouls.'  We average about four a game, but we had 10 against Villanova.  We fouled two 3-point shooters which is the worst foul in basketball, and the second-worst is fouling a guy without the basketball.  You can talk about officials all you want but we committed some dumb fouls."

 

The Bearcats did some good things against Villanova.  They forced a team with one of the best backcourts in the country to commit 19 turnovers, won the rebound battle 35-33, and scored 36 points in the paint.  If they didn't go 2-for-20 from 3-point range, the 'Cats might have even won (FYI, after reviewing the tape, Coach Cronin determined that 7 of the 20 3-point attempts were bad shots).

 

I obviously disagree with skeptics who dismiss anything that the Bearcats have accomplished this season, but there is one thing that we can all agree on:

 

They have to beat USF at home.

 

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

 

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

 

Bearcats Breakfast 1.11.11

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We have media availability today with Mick Cronin and some players at 3 p.m. I'll remind you of the standing request, if you have any questions you'd like me to ask a player or coach, just shoot me an email (pauldehnerjr@gmail.com) or a message on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr).

If my follower numbers grow, maybe I'll be like Big Tweet.

Anyway, because we've been so inundated with basketball info lately, I've forgotten a few football tidbits. I wanted to relay while we have a quick hoops breather. Plus, on the heels of watching Oregon and Auburn play for the All the Tostitos, it reminded me that there's plenty of football to be discussed.

And Monday was the first workout of the 2011 season.

--- Armon Binns will be playing in the East-West Shrine Game. Hopefully he can make a splash and work his way up draft boards.

His 1,100 yards on 75 catches with 10 touchdowns is nothing to sneeze at. Also, many of Binns' receptions came in big moments of big games. The Louisville win is the first that comes to mind.

Despite a lot of Bearcats players' stock taking a slight hit because of the lack of success this year, Binns wasn't among them.

A general consensus entering the year was he would be a late-round draft pick. Some of the latest updates like this one and this one still have him there, but consider it a possiblity he could move up with strong pre-draft workout -- particularly in the 40.

--- Maybe the biggest mystery in the back end of the draft will be Vidal Hazelton. He has top player athleticism and size but almost zero tape to prove it.

At the very least, he's in somebody's camp next year given a chance to prove he can play at the next level. Brian Bennett wrote this

--- One of the top programs in the Big East hires a coach who enjoyed success at Tulsa. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

For UC's sake, here's to Todd Graham working out as well as Steve Kragthorpe at U of L.

At the very least, he won't have RB Dion Lewis and WR Jonathan Baldwin to help him win. As they declared for the draft.     

--- UC will hold a Signing Day dinner on Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Kingsgate Marriot. Cash bar, full meal, meet Butch Jones and see all the highlight packages of every member of the 2011 class.

I've covered events similar to these before and they're pretty nice, as well as a great way to learn firsthand information about all the players and hear some of the specific stories of why they ended up a Bearcat.

--- OK, back to basketball. Some more recap of Sunday's game against Villanova as Bill Koch wrote about the need for poise. With this mature team, we were supposed to be beyond this issue, but with the first big-game adversity of the season, I give the Cats a pass. But that will be the last time before concern starts to enter in.  

--- Pretty soon, I'll be done with this topic, but as people who've clearly watched significantly little continue to make broad brush analysis of the Bearcats, I'll continue to talk about it. UC didn't do much Sunday to convince anybody they are "for real," the hot button topic around this team right now.

But to walk away and say they looked overmatched by Villanova would be absolutely false. They looked like a team that shot poorly and lost in a gym where everyone losses.

So, Ballin is a Habit -- one of the great college hoops blogs out there and I typically agree with them -- decides to give the Cincinnati is mediocre tag after watching, undeniably their first game of the year.

As I've said before, BIAH isn't alone and many others who hold weight in the way important people view your team -- which very much matters come Selection Sunday -- make these bold claims without watching but one or two games.

I know there is no way to watch all the college basketball teams, but try to base analysis off of more than one game and some box scores and use the eye test every once in while.  

All right, enough soap box. If UC beats Cuse, everyone will crown the Cats. Then they'll lose a game and knee-jerk them back to the bottom of the pack. The key is in consistency, not one game.

--- UC hung on to its Top 25 AP ranking, but dropped to No. 27 in the Coaches poll. Wins against South Florida and Syracuse this week would certainly make some believers and push the Cats into the teens. As will be the case with them the rest of the year, they hold their national perception in their hands. Nobody has to speculate anymore. 

--- No. 11 Notre Dame has been fantastic at home, but pretty average on the road this season. They were hammered at Marquette last night. This fact unfortunately means bad news for UC. They're at ND next week.

--- David Steele asks at AOL Fanhouse asks the yearly Big East question -- is the league devouring itself with its own brutal schedule?

After last year's NCAA tournament performance, the concept holds some water.

--- Some randomness....

--- I don't watch Hoarders and I have zero plans on tuning into this season finale, but the recap and quote from Glen, owner of 2,500(!!!) rats cracks me up in its simplicity.

"I can readily admit that I have way too many rats." 

--- While we're in the rodent milieu, I was just thinking about how there weren't enough famous, cross-eyed opposums.

--- I'd concur.

--- Coolio's hairline has taken a fantastic voyage to comedytown.

-- As I mentioned at the top, send me your questions if you have any you'd like answered by Mick or players. Of course, every time I walk into a presser I always turn my phone off. When you have a unique or particularly funny ringtone, this is the last thing you want happening.

That said, can't help but laugh. Also, buddy, you can tap the silent button, you don't need to pick it up and tell them you'll call them back.

15 and Won

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Well go ahead and say I told you so; UC loses to Villanova yesterday and have left the ranks of the unbeaten. So many people kept waiting for them to lose, to point to that loss as proof they're not for real. Well UC is victim number 45 for Villanova at their home gym meaning all the powerhouses of the Big East have succumb to the Wildcat confines. UC played hard and while they can play better, they should be given respect until further notice. They are 15 and one overall and 2-1 in the Big East. With another successful run in the Big East tournament and a solid league performance, the NCAA tournament is within reach this year.

I know you're now thinking now they're heading into the meat of their schedule, the losses will come like the previous set of wins. Here's an idea; judge them game by game and wish them well. Be optimistic and not pessimistic; celebrate the return of respectable UC basketball after the near death experience when Huggins then Kennedy left, as well as future players. 

UC basketball has people talking and watching again and its been a long time coming. You can't deny improvement and increased energy. You can't dismiss the effort being displayed on the court and you can't ignore they have one other thing in place that was lacking before; and that's depth and they'll need that when fouls stack up on the road in the league.

While you're wishing bad on UC, please don't break an ankle jumping on the bandwagon when they finally get over the hump and head toward the big dance. I think they'll make it this year but they have already won with they way they're playing. Losing because of a lack of effort is the only way this season takes a turn for the worse and would be considered a failure. But looking in the eyes of these kids, I don't believe for a minute they think they can't win. I don't believe they feel otherwise either. 

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

A bit of a rude awakening on Sunday for the Bearcats. They lost in a place where every team in the Big East has lost for the past three years. They lost in place where Villanova has won 45 times in a row.

They were within seven points late in the second half of a game where they shot 2 of 20 from 3-point range and 15 of 25 from the free throw line.

It could have been worse. But those are the types of scenarios you need to overcome to win against the upcoming level of competition. 

As Mick Cronin admitted after the game, this team wasn't ready for what it found itself in on Sunday afternoon. There was no game even close to it in intensity on the team's schedule to this point.

"We just weren't in this type of dogfight before," Cronin said on postgame radio. "And by the time we adjusted to the dogfight, we were down."

Cronin blamed himself for a pre-conference schedule that didn't include enough (any) games that pushed the Bearcats from tip to horn. Dayton, Xavier and Oklahoma were supposed to, but they didn't.

He talked pretty in-depth about that to Bill Koch. The lone non-radio team media member to make the trip to Philly, as far as I can tell.

--- A few stats of note. The Bearcats weren't making 3-pointers, but just kept hoisting them up in the first half. The poor shot selection was reminiscent of last season chucking up a 3-point shot was default mode for an offensive possession 

In particular, Rashad Bishop finished 1 of 7 from 3-point range.

UC shot nine 3-pointers in the first 15 minutes of the game.

When UC settled down and attacked the bucket in the second half, they started drawing fouls and scoring at a higher percentage. UC was far too passive before halftime, maybe that is a product of Cronin's "dogfight" theory, but it was painfully obvious.

--- Tough game for Dion Dixon. The Bearcats most consistent offensive weapon to this point, unfortunately, endured an off night. He was 3 of 14 from the floor and 0 for 5 from 3.

--- Yancy Gates had one shot in the first half. Can't happen. UC is significantly better when the ball runs consistently through him.  

--- In case you missed it, here is the game recap and some video highlights

--- The best writer covering college basketball, blog favorite Dana O'Neil, was on hand at Nova and had a video interview with Mick and some postgame analysis.

She focused on UC's need to contain its composure when things are going wrong. This team hadn't seen much in the way of adversity and needed to do a better job dealing with it in the first half. Of course, they did so in the second half.

--- The technical on Ibrahima Thomas was the largest part of O'Neil's argument. Thomas needs to keep his reactions to himself and losing him down the stretch was brutal. Nova extended multiple late possessions with offensive rebounds, including a couple of tip ins. UC certainly could have used its leading rebounder there.

It forced Justin Jackson to play 22 minutes. Those were his most minutes since the season opener against Mount St. Mary's. He played eight minutes or less in five of the last six games.

He performend relatively well, all things considered. His box score line doesn't display his effect (as it often doesn't with Jackson) but he had three points, three boards, two steals and an assist.

"Justin Jackson (22 minutes) was probably the biggest bright spot of the day," Cronin said. "He pressed very effectively." 

--- While there is no right time to play at Villanova these days, UC catches USF at the perfect time. The Bulls have now lost six in a row after falling against Louisville on Sunday.

--- Bill Koch touches on Ibrahima Thomas' reaction the team accentuating the positive in his notebook.

--- Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger says we were supposed to learn if UC was legit on Sunday. And came away inconclusive. As I stated on Friday, this will be much better judged as the five-game body of work. So far, 0-1. USF, SU, ND and STJ await.    

--- UC may have had a beef with some of the foul calls, but by the end of the game, Nova had all five starters with four fouls. This from Joe Juliano of the Philly Inquirer.

--- Tommy G has this feature on GoBearcats.com of Cashmere Wright. Great stuff, per usual.

--- Thanks to the Bearcats Twitterverse for passing along KenPom's UC Bearcats page with all the statistical analysis you could want on the team. Most interesting -- Yancy Gates isn't even ranked in offensive efficiency. Cashmere Wright is ranked 17th in the country in steal percentage.

--- Six ranked teams lost to unranked teams on the road this weekend. I doubt anybody is getting down on UK or Mizzou.

UC lost on the road to the No. 7 team in the country. No shame in it. .

---  RPI rankings are still pretty scandalous at this time of year (see Georgetown ranked 3rd and Pitt 10th?!?) but, here is a look Lance McAlister put together of UC's opponents and their rankings.

Ahead for UC
Record: 15-1/Big East: 2-1.........15 games remaining: 8 road/7home
If UC goes 8-7 the rest of the way they would have a winning Big East record (10-8) and be 23-8 heading into the Big East tournament.
RPI....record...opponent
127.....(6-11) South Florida
4.... ...(16-0) @ Syracuse
9...... .(14-2) @ Notre Dame
12.... .(10-4) @ St. John's
112....(10-5) Rutgers
10..... (15-1) @ Pittsburgh
239... (6-9) @ DePaul
12.... (10-4) St. John's
42.... (13-2) Louisville
95.... (11-6) @ Providence
3...... (12-4) @ Georgetown
15.... (10-4) West Virginia
6...... (12-2) Connecticut
86.....(11-5) @ Marquette
3...... (12-4) Georgetown

--- The good folks at Fox19, including Brian Giesenschlag put together this fantastic piece on Josh Schneider, who is quietly becoming one of the best swimmers in the world. He recently broke an American record for anybody who hadn't heard. 

London 2012 can't arrive soon enough for him.

--- How about some randomness...

--- I find it hilarious Ron Franklin says he's "taking the high road" considering he arrived here by taking Sweet Baby Highway to A-hole Avenue. 

--- I guess there is some kind of football game tonight. Pat Forde writes about how Oregon turned cool into a national power.  

--- Marshawn Lynch with one of the nastiest runs you'll ever see. Big Lead gave it the Tecmo Bowl treatment.    

TURN THE PAGE

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crosstown-bishop.jpg
(Rashad Bishop in UC's 66-46 win over
Xavier/Courtesy AP/Al Behrman)

 Certainly after dropping three straight Shootouts, everyone in and around UC basketball is grateful for a win over their nemesis from Victory Parkway.  You can say it's not important, but to the guys on the court and the geeks in the office that know nothing other than that one game each year, it's important.

  However, that important feeling is over and the Bearcats best close the book on the Muskies and move onto walk across hot coals known as the Big East. Even Yancy Gates, with a career game against Xavier, knows it's in the rearview mirror.

  "It means a lot to get the win," said Gates. "They're a real good team but we're not overwhelmed about the win."

  For Larry Davis, it might've been a little sweeter as he didn't want to leave UC with a goose-egg against X, but even he realizes the brutal schedule ahead and the importance of focus.  As a senior, Davis has been one of the Bearcats playing under control and not getting all hyped up in games where emotion can get the best of one.

  "Just keep working," said Davis on UC's plans from here after holding Xavier to a mere 46 points. "We're going to still do defensive drills in practice."

  And they will need them.  Four of UC's next five games are on the road. After the Jan.12 game at home against USF, the Bearcats won't be back in Fifth Third Arena for a game until Jan. 26. Meantime, visits to Syracuse, Notre Dame and St. John's in a week's time are far from a picnic.

  Gates hopes the lessons learned from their early Big East wins and the Xavier win will help them as they roll into the meat of the league over these next two months.

  "We know what can happen if you come out for a game too antsy," said Gates. "We want to play hyper with a lot of energy, but not overdo it to the point where we're not playing basketball and just jacking up a lot of shots."

  That's where the Shootout win can help, if that plan is followed.  On the other hand, a Crosstown Shootout win for either team hasn't always guaranteed future success.

  In 1996, #3 UC beat Xavier 99-90, then dropped a two-point game at UAB four days later. Nine years later, #21 UC won the game 65-54, then proceeded to get whipped at DePaul 85-66. 2006 saw Mick Cronin's new team beat the Muskies 67-57, only to get pummeled by 4th-ranked Ohio State three days later 72-50.

  It's been proven time and time again; winning the local rivalry doesn't define the season one way or another. The game has had an impact in a variety of ways.

  You can even go back to last season when UC was ranked in December after an impressive Maui Classic, but then fell to Xavier 83-79 in double overtime at Cintas Center and then were blown out of Bartow Arena (and the Top 25) by UAB.

  An early Bob Huggins team won the game at the (then) Shoemaker Center, but then was only .500 (6-6) from there on out and fell short of an NCAA bid.  They eventually lost in the second round of the NIT.

  In contrast, Xavier twice beat the Bearcats when they were ranked #1.  The '96-'97 team went 25-7 from that point and still won the Conference USA championship.  In '99-'00, the Bearcats regained the #1 ranking twice more in that season and were 21-3 beyond that game.

  Unfortunately, that season also featured Kenyon Martin's broken leg in the CUSA tournament which was far more painful than losing to Xavier at Cincinnati Gardens a few months before.

   What's it mean?

   It's just one game.  The NCAA Selection Committee factors in a lot of things, but I'm guessing they don't issue the "golden ticket" solely on a team winning the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout.

  "We know it's the Crosstown Shootout, but it's still just a game on your schedule that you have to go and play," said Gates. "We feel in the past couple years we probably put too much into this game and it probably overwhelmed us."

  Hearing those words from a junior forward is proof that student-athletes mature.  Not only did Gates have one of the more memorable Shootouts, he also had  memorable postgame remarks.

  "We need to worry about ourselves," said Gates when asked of UC's unblemished record. "We're really not worried about what those other teams are doing. We're just trying to stay focused and take our season one game at a time."

  As clich├ęd as it is, that's the way it works.

  The biggest thing UC took from the Xavier win was that the crowd was memorable and helpful.

   "I think we need more of that," said Davis. "The fans need to come out and give us motivation. Me, on defense, when I hear the fans like that, it makes me not want to let the opponent score. I think we need more of that."

  "I loved it," echoed Cashmere Wright. "It's one of the best things since I've been here. To have the crowd behind you every play you make, every situation that happens they make noise, it kind of helped us out and gave us the extra push."

  Also giving that extra push is the undeniable effect of UC's "throwback" uniforms that they've worn several times this season in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1961 NCAA Championship team.  Count the current 'Cats as fans of the "old school" look.

  "They've got a skinny strap," said Gates of the way the uni's hang on his shoulder. "The other ones you're always tugging on. These feel like basketball jerseys instead of that new stuff they always come out with."

  Then he made one more valid and mature point....

  "They won a championship wearing these," said Gates. "You don't want to come out and dog it, especially on 'Throwback Night' when you wear their jerseys."

  Thus far, there's been no "doggin' around" these 'Cats.  But again, there's plenty of clawing to go to get to where those heroes 50 years ago got.

  The Shootout is over.  In the words of Bob Seger, "Turn the Page".

When the Bearcats signed Yancy Gates out of Withrow, at some point, you felt he would dominate a Crosstown Shootout.

You just didn't expect this is how he would do it.

Ripping away rebounds, slamming in putbacks and blocking shots, yeah, that makes sense.

But 17-foot fadeaways? On repeat?

"In practice we play around; I'll hit a shot and laugh and tell them I'm hot," Gates said. "I think that one was one of those shots where I really was. I just wasn't playing around."

Oh no, Gates wasn't playing around Thursday. In all, a season-high 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Although, as he ran past press row following his jumper that left him almost in the lap of the Hit King, Pete Rose Jr., Nick Lachey and Vanessa Minnillo (I know where I'm landing), he couldn't help but slip a smile and half laugh as he ran back down the court.

I'm not sure when Gates became Michael Jordan, but I expected him to give a shrug with his palms up to Dan Hoard after the last one.

He said he messes around in practice attempting those shots.

"Not in my sight," Mick Cronin said. "He practices those out of my vision."

If Gates can provide that type of consistency on offense -- not necessarily 22 and 14 every night, but the ferocious, not-to-be-denied attitude in the paint -- this team has national legs.

"It's obvious Yancy Gates decided it was time to win a Crosstown Shootout," Cronin said. "When he plays like that, two things got to happen. No. 1, I got to point out to him let's try to do that again on Sunday. No. 2, we got to get the ball when he decides to try to dominate the paint on offense. The more we got him the ball, the more we got seperation."

--- Of course, I'm not the only one to write about Yancy Gates. Mo Egger put together a great blog. Paul Daugherty wrote a column about Gates within the concept of how good this team can be. Joe Kay's AP story centered around the Cincinnati kid.

--- Here's highlights of last night's game and the postgame interview room with Gates, Cash Wright and Larry Davis.  

--- Say what you will about the schedule, against two Big East teams and a top-tier A-10 crosstown rival, UC won every game by at least 16 points.

--- I wrote a story about the lasting power of this defense. UC ranks in the top 20 in three different KenPom defensive stats -- 2-point FG percentage defense (41.1%, 16th), 3-pt FG percentage (28.4%, 18th) and steal percentage (13.2%, 18th).

More fun with KenPom!

UC is also ranked 10th in the country in offensive rebound percentage and 10th in adjusted overall defense. They are 17th in offensive TO percentage at just 16.8%.

--- Dan Hoard wrote about Cronin issuing a challenge to the fans on the postgame radio show.

Without a doubt, Fifth Third Arena was as raucous as it's been since Cronin took over. It made a signifiicant difference for the players.

"I think we need more of that," Larry Davis said. "I think the fans need to come out and support us. It gives us motivation. It helped me on defense. When I hear the fans yelling and everything I get hyper, not want to let the opponent score."

This was the first home game Cashmere Wright experienced as a sell out.

"I love it. That was one of the best things since I have been here and been a part of," Wright said. "To hear the crowd behind you every play you make every situation they make noise. It kind of helped us out and gave us extra push when we were doing things."

The way the Bearcats played at home, they look tough to beat, especially with the extra lift from a home crowd. The way the schedule breaks down with so many of the winnable Big East games at home, you could make an argument that the Bearcats could never win a game away from Fifth Third in Big East play and still make the tournament.

That would make them 22-9, 9-9. Steal one or two on the road and they won't even need a sweat towel on Selection Sunday.

Cronin knows it and his postgame plea for fan support spoke to the difference the fan base could make down the stretch.

"The truth of it is home-court advantage does make a huge difference in college basketball. It's a huge advantage. Our goal, I don't know if you noticed our schedule we play five teams on the road in the Big East ranked in the top 14 in the country. We need to win all our home games, we got 7 left, we need to go 7-0 at home. We need to sell those out and people need to come to the games.

"For years people been talking about us getting better, we've gotten better for four straight years. Now we're even better. We need support. We get that kind of crowd, we sell that place out and get that every night, we got a good chance of going 7-0 at home. It matters. I only look at it for winning purposes. It's nice for our kids, they deserve that, but it matters in college basketball. You would have to play in front of that crowd and you are the road team, it matters. No doubt about it.

"My message to our fans is: You want us to win? Help us. We got an undefeated team, we play another home game next Wednesday night, I know it's not against Xavier, but we need to sell the game out and have the same enthusiasm for our team. That will help us win the game."   

--- Cronin asked and the marketing department responded. You can buy $20 tickets to the USF and Rutgers games now. Just follow this link and use the password TWENTY.  

--- Despite the atmosphere and rivalry, the fact UC treated this like just another game was the biggest reason it ended up just like the previous 14 this season, Chad Brendel writes.

--- Even some of the harshest critics are beginning to rethink their stance after last night: Gary Parrish.

--- Rush The Court gives some credit, but realizes UC still has plenty to prove.

--- Yancy Gates is Jeff Goodman's stud of the night.   

--- FoxSports.com's Rick Bozich talks about the fact UC doesn't feel it has accomplished much yet being a good sign for this team going forward.

--- Matt Norlander writes about the Bearcats and says he's starting to warm up to them. He perfectly proves the point I've been saying since Georgia Southern: critics of this team are only people that haven't watched them play. This team passes the eye test with flying colors. All the Jerry Palm number-crunchers are going to spit out RPIs and SOSs, but anybody who watches how a team plays basketball knows this team plays extremely well no matter the opponent.

This from Norlander: "Not all 14-0 records are created equal and the one belonging to Cincinnati struck me as being decidedly fraudulent.

But then I watched the Bearcats' 66-46 dismantling of Xavier up close and personal and my initial skepticism seemed misplaced.  At least for one night, Cincinnati looked to have all the makings of a contender in the Big East and worthy of its recent placement in the Top 25."

Translation: When I looked at their schedule, I thought they were frauds, when I actually watched a game, I realized they are pretty darn good."

This is not a knock on Norlander, but he represents a significant segment of national media.  

--- 15-0. The first time since 1998-99 and third time in program history.

--- I asked for the white throwbacks in the Shootout Breakfast and received them Thursday night. In the words of Slick Rick, the Bearcats were "fresh, dressed like a million bucks."

Now 3-0 this season in throwbacks, including a 34-point win against Dayton and 20-point win against Xavier. They won't become the common jersey, because the guys still like the current threads, but there's something to be said for the old-school charm.

"They got the skinny straps," Gates said to a laugh. "The other ones you are always tugging on. They feel like basketball jerseys in stead of all this new stuff they come out with."

--- Larry Davis said the jerseys give you extra movement in the shoulders. He was partially joking, but whatever's going on in his shoulders he doesn't need to change.

He dropped 2 of 4 3-pointers on Thursday to move his season total to 19 of 39 from deep. That's good for 48.7 percent.

The UC record for 3-pt FG percentage in a season is 47.6 by Roger McClendon in 1987.

--- Sidenote: I'd like to point out that LaZelle Durden shot 339 3-pointers in the 1994-95 season. The second-most in UC history was 248 by Nick Van Exel in 1992-93. UC's entire team has only shoot 274 3-pointers this season. Incredible.

--- The next five games in a 16-day span:

@ No. 7 Villanova: The Wildcats have won 44 straight at home

vs. USF: UC will be heavily favored, though the Bulls took UConn to OT in Storrs.

@ No. 4 Syracuse: One of seven undefeated teams in the country with wins over Michigan State and Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome.

@ No. 15 Notre Dame: All they've done is beat UConn, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Georgia and Wisconsin to only two losses.

@ St. John's: The Johnnies will be ranked. They are 3-0 in Big East with wins @WVU, @ Providence and vs. Georgetown.

--- Coming away from these five games with two wins would be nice, three wins would be great, any more than that would be reason start looking up Sweet 16/Elite8/Final 4 sites.  

---  Quote of the night: Mick Cronin, joking, on how UC uncharacteristically knocked down 15 of 16 from the free throw line:

"I personally took over free throw shooting duties for this game. It starts at the top." 

Coach Cronin Issues A Challenge

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This year's Crosstown Shootout attracted celebrities like Pete Rose, Nick Lachey, and Vanessa Mannillo.  Former Bearcats Jason Maxiell, Ruben Patterson, Corie Blount, Armein Kirkland, and Lenny Stokes were also in the house.

 

What you couldn't find were empty seats.

 

The atmosphere at Fifth Third Arena was electric as a crowd of 13,176 saw the Bearcats crush Xavier 66-46.  UC head coach Mick Cronin said it is no coincidence that the blowout came in front of a sellout. 

 

"We've got seven more home games.  If we have this type of crowd, we will not lose a home game," Coach Cronin told us on the radio post-game show.  "That's what I'm saying to our fans, and I guess that's my challenge to our fans.  I think the kids deserve it.  I think they've earned it with their hustle and their play and it matters.  Home court advantage in college basketball is huge and we had it tonight.  The guys feed off of the energy."

 

And nobody feasted more than Yancy Gates.  The 6'9" junior finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocked shots as the Bearcats made an effort to put the ball in his hands on nearly every offensive possession.

 

"This game obviously meant a lot to Yancy and he came to play tonight on both ends of the floor," Coach Cronin said.  "When the 'Big Dog' comes to play on the offensive end you have to feed him.  When the big fella decides that he wants to spread out and play with strength around that rim, we have to get him the basketball.  That will encourage Yancy to do that more often.  You've got to feed him when he's doing it."

 

While Yancy arguably had the best game of his Bearcat career, Xavier star Tu Holloway had one of his worst, finishing with 5 points on 2-for-13 shooting.  Holloway wound up with more technical fouls (1) than 3-point buckets (0-for-5).

 

"We have veteran guys who do a great job of taking away other team's strengths," Coach Cronin said.  "One player is not going to beat us.  People were wondering, 'Who is going to guard Terrell Holloway.'  The answer was our whole team.  Our guys did an excellent job of stopping his penetration and you have to give our players all of the credit for that."

 

With the win, the Bearcats are 15-0 for the first time since 1962-63 when they set a school record by winning their first 19 games.  And they extended their current winning streak by snapping a three-year losing streak to the Musketeers. 

 

"I know how big this is for our fans and it's good to get them a victory," Cronin said.  "And for everybody who said, 'Hey, I want to win by 20' - there you go.  People were getting greedy.  I just wanted to win by two."

 

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

The Bearcats frustrated yet another opponent with a myriad of defensive tactics in passing their latest test of the season. If defense travels, how far can it take this team?

 

CINCINNATI - Yancy Gates exited Ed Jucker Court in the final seconds of Cincinnati's victory Thursday night to the sounds of the crowd chanting his name.

 

Gates sunk runners in the lane, leaning jumpers from the top of the key and even drained a fadeaway falling into Nick Lachey. Once the cheers subsided, he finished with a season-high 22 points and 14 rebounds.

 

The final score was 66-46 in the 2011 Crosstown Shootout - or as it will forever be remembered, The Yancy Gates game.

 

That Gates story will be chronicled and should be chronicled. But when this team walks onto the The Pavilion floor to play No. 7 Villanova and challenge the Wildcats' 44-game home win streak Saturday, the play of Gates won't puff their chests.

 

Belief in pulling off an upset that amounts to impossible recently in the Big East stems from a defense that left another opponent in its wake, thinking it made boneheaded mistakes and missed too many shots.

 

At what point, when 15 teams in a row walk away feeling like they had an off shooting night do we connect the common thread? At what point do missed layups become a product of tired legs and relentless pressure? At what point do we realize this defense owns a unique talent to systematically expose every opponent's fatal flaw?

 

"Obviously we are pretty good defensive team," Mick Cronin said. "I was pretty confident we would be able to defend Xavier, but I got to give our guys credit, we couldn't have done much better than that."

 

An easy gameplan against a Musketeers team with as much depth as a Paris Hilton interview would be to run, jump and press them into exhaustion. Cronin didn't bite for the easy solution. He opted to wear the Musketeers out in the half court and force them beat the Bearcats from anywhere but the free throw line.

 

In the end, UC held Xavier to 15 free throw attempts - second fewest of the season, the lowest came in a blowout win against Albany.

 

Terrell Holloway finds his flow and rhythm at the line. He's shot double-digit free throws in half of Xavier's games. Only twice has he shot less than seven.

 

His first free throw Thursday came with 4:39 remaining.

 

"We were just trying to make them try to drive and sit in the lanes," Gates said. "Make them drive to us and take tough shots and not give up fouls."

 

Fake traps, knowledge of the opponent's tendencies and discipline in the lane were the key. Maturity and fresh legs were the answer. Younger teams, less talented teams of the Cronin's past weren't as capable of executing this type of tactful aggression.

 

As many have thought, but most UC fans have been afraid to say: This team is different.

 

"When our defense is set we are a pretty adept defensive team," Cronin said. "If you can disrupt them from their offensive rhythm, without giving up an easy basket or wide open 3-point shot, that's what we try to do. It's a little easier to do that when you have a veteran team, that's the luxury I have this year."

 

Sure, Xavier struggles offensively. Relying on Mark Lyons and Kenny Frease to consistently make shots would not be a winning recipe.

 

Yet, this would be the lowest point total of the season and the lowest point total by a Musketeers team in the Crosstown Shootout since 1949 -- the same year Skyline Chili was founded.

 

The Bearcats played with a palpable poise a year removed from last year's Shootout fracas. When Terrell Holloway earned a technical foul for an elbow, nobody retaliated. When Cashmere Wright was slammed into the hoop support on a layup, he quietly proceeded to the foul line.

 

Cincinnati didn't pack its lunch pale, it packed a briefcase. Defense was played like a board-room negotiation: smart, calculated, relentless. 

 

Chris Mack sat the UC media table and shook his head at 15 turnovers that led to 25 UC points. He sat at the same spot Kevin Willard bemoaned 14 turnovers and only six offensive rebounds. And the same spot Oliver Purnell laughed at his team's 29-5 disadvantage in points off turnovers.

 

Spot a trend?

 

These are not Savannah States and St. Francis'. These are two Big East teams and a top tier Atlantic 10 squad coming off three consecutive Sweet 16s. All concluded with margins larger than 16 points. They scored an average of 53.

 

In the words of George Constanza: It's not you, it's me.

 

"You got to give Cincinnati credit, they are an excellent team," Mack said. "The turnovers driving the ball to the basket, UC's length had a lot to do that. That was our undoing."

 

And has been the undoing of many teams for a win streak that reached 15 games Thursday.

 

The tests increase in difficulty and the Bearcats continue to pass with flying colors. The offensive heroes change. On this night, fittingly, it was Cincinnati's own, Gates. But Sean Kilpatrick, Larry Davis and Dion Dixon have all owned that title at one point or another this season. 

 

Defense is the constant.

 

As the saying goes, defense travels. We'll find out Sunday if it travels well enough to beat Villanova.  

 

Crosstown Shootout. 7 p.m. Tonight. 13,176. Fifth Third Arena. ESPN2.

This is going to be fun.

For one day the Bengals blunderous press conference and Reds offseason silence takes a distant back seat to college hoops.

So, there is only one way to write today's Breakfast, that's all Shootout, all the time.

Let's eat....

--- One matchup stands out to me more than any on the court tonight. PG Cashmere Wright took a major step this season. His offensive game has him on the brink of being one of the top point guards in the conference.

His defensive game, however, have come under criticism from Mick Cronin quite a bit recently. Wright's on the ball defense needs to improve.

You want a test to see where he's at in that development? How about maybe the best scoring point guard in the country, one that toasted the Bearcats for 26 points last year, Tu Holloway.

He's thrown this team on his back at times, averaging 21.3 points and 5.6 assists. He messed around and got a triple-double against Wake Forest. He tossed in 26 points and 6 assists on NYE against Florida.  

Wright must find a way to keep Tu away from the basket where does such a great job creating contact and getting to the free throw line.

He's shot double-digit free throw attempts in 6 of 12 games and less than seven only twice. Tha'ts a nice way to make a living when you knock down 84.2 percent from the stripe.  

"(Cronin) has been yelling at me all week about improving on things, especially my defense," Wright said. "I just got to work hard and go out and show what he told me.

"I like (Holloway's) game, you can tell he's been doing things with his game and has been improving since he's gone to college." 

Maybe the most explosive guard the Bearcats faced this season came on NYE against Seton Hall's Jordan Theodore. He doesn't own the complete game of Holloway, but attacks the rack in the same manner. UC held him to 2 of 10 shooting and just seven points. He had four turnovers and zero assists.

It wasn't as much a product of Wright as the team defense concept. Picking up the slack behind Wright was the key then and will be an even larger one tonight.

"Right now I'm more worried about the team than myself," Wright said. "I am not going to sit here and worry about no one-on-one matchup because at the end of the day the team should win not me. If the team wins, I'm going to look good either way."

--- An area where UC typically owns an advantage, but an even larger one tonight, will be depth. Xavier's depth issues are well-chronicled. They are down to only nine scholarship players.

Dante Jackson, Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons all average at least 36 minutes a game.

All but 30 points and 42 rebounds by the Musketeers this season have come from six players.

UC's rotation of 10/11 players running full court should eventually wear Xavier down. Although, they have been in good enough shape to make late game runs like the one against Florida where it nearly overcame a double-digit deficit in the final four minutes.

Still, an uptempo, pressing game will slant a huge advantage to the red and black.

"When you look at how we play defense right now it should help with all the switching and defensive pressure we bring and the press it should tire them out because they don't have a deep bench where  he can't do certain things like he used to," Wright said.

Chris Mack with similar sentiments:

"They play a lot of really good players, they press, they run, they get the ball up and down the floor, they share the ball really well. We are not playing as many players as they are so we have to be judicious with our substitutions. We have to use a time out if we have to sub in certain players. That is something we have to worry about more than Cincinnati does this year." 

--- Two men at CBSsports with perfect teeth preview tonight's Shootout.

--- ESPN the Magazine allowed UC-Xavier might be the best rivalry in college basketball a few years back. Here''s the piece.

--- I wrote a piece on the evolution of Ibrahima Thomas from his UC debut in last year's Shootout, to now, where he represents one of the most important pieces in the Bearcats puzzle to beat Xavier.

--- Holloway played in an Adidas summer camp with Thomas and the two became decent freinds there. In fact, Holloway made his way over to Fifth Third for a couple games this season.  

--- Shootout nugget: 16 of the last 22 years at least one of the two teams in the Shootout has been nationally ranked.

--- Shootout nugget No. 2: 16 of 22 media types will consume at least three cheese coneys tonight (Note: Facts are completely fictional)

--- Friend fo the blog Bill Koch has three golden matchup nuggets of his own with his keys to victory.  

--- The Enquirer as a whole pulling out all the stops for this one with a fun Shootout Through the Years the best 45 photos from the game. You're going to want to skip No. 19. I think the rivalry is best defined by No. 45.

--- Paul Daugherty talks about how this game really matters. Some of the Shootout reniassance I talked about yesterday I think is reflected in this column. Both programs on the way, both returning to prominence on the national scene. Thats how you create epic rivalry runs like this series saw in the 90s.

--- Any opportunity to talk to Charlie Coles is a good one and he weighs in on tonight's game.

--- We would be remiss without including some words from The Voice on Skyline time.   

--- Sam Elliot at the News-Record talks about the Shootout's intensity. Personally, I'm just excited to be reminded what 13,176 sounds like again.

--- Last year, the intensity bubbled over. Bill Koch touched on Cronin stressing the importance of not being focused on the outside influences.

I know this probably isn't what Cronin wanted to hear, but I loved the quote from Rashad Bishop, who sort of shook his head at the concept of not getting caught up in the emotions of it.

"That's just part of that game," Bishop said. "I don't think it's nothing personal. It's just two teams trying to win, bragging rights for the city. So, tempers are going to flare. I don't think you can really control it sometime because you get so into the game, emotions just fly and people bump heads."  

--- There's intensity, and then there's just old-fashioned, personal, low-blow hate.

--- Not shockingly, Twitter is all aflutter with Shootout smack talk. Recently brought up was Connor Barwin's halftime speech. "If Xavier had a football team, we'd beat their ass!"

--- It should be noted I have zero knowledge of or say about this situation, but I would love to see the Bearcats come out in the white throwbacks tonight.   

--- Before the game, everyone should head over to The Holy Grail where ESPN1530 will set up shop with Mo Egger's live remote show before the game from 3-6 p.m. I will be on with Mo at 3:30 p.m. Enquirer XU reporter and all-around good people Shannon Russell will be there, The Voice, XU broadcaster Joe Sunderman, should be a great time. I'd love to talk to you guys if you're there.

--- Of course you can follow all the up-to-the-second news, courtside trash talk, clever signs and observations on Twitter. @pauldehnerjr 

--- I hope you all will be there when this comes on the big screen tonight.

Ibrahima Thomas made his Cincinnati debut last year in the Crosstown Shootout. He's developed as much since that game as any other player on the Bearcats.

 

CINCINNATI - Don't think Ibrahima Thomas didn't understand rivalries because he hails from Dakar, Senegal.

 

He knows all about intense rivalries.

 

"When I was little I played in one of those," Thomas said. "It was a soccer game. We don't have pro teams, we have street teams. Everybody from our street plays the team from the other street."

 

Despite his lanky frame, now at 6-foot-11, 235 pounds, he didn't play goaltender. He was a midfielder. And for the record, his street came away with the victory.

 

His knowledge of rivalries changed a bit last year when the atmosphere switched from the street soccer matches of Senegal to 10,000 crazed Xavier fans packing the Cintas Center for the Crosstown Shootout. thomas.jpeg

 

"It was way beyond what I was expecting," Thomas said.

 

Not only was this Thomas' first Shootout as a transfer from Oklahoma State, this was his first game with the Bearcats. Word trickled across town to Xavier coach Chris Mack that Thomas would make his debut and he didn't exactly toss out the game plan.

 

"They said, 'Hey Thomas is going to be eligible,'" Mack said. "I remember saying to our staff, he has no chance. He has no chance. You cannot possibly imagine how hard, how physical, how different that game is. Having sat out myself as a player, you can't just walk right in."

 

Mack didn't lie.

 

Thomas played seven minutes, was 1 of 6 from the field with two rebounds. And it didn't even look that pretty.

 

"That was probably the worst situation for a guy to ever come back from a year layoff that you could ever possibly imagine," Cronin said. "That was just a throw out game for him."

 

The same could be said of the two months of his season. Upon turning the corner with a 13-point, 7-rebound performance on Feb. 7 against Syracuse, he finished the year averaging 7.3 rebounds over the final 13 games.

 

Thomas figured out his role. He figured out how he can most be successful in college basketball. Changing the landscape of games didn't stem from shooting 3-pointers or fadeaway jumpers. He would make his mark on the boards.

 

His belief was validated this summer at an Adidas summer camp that including 50 of the best college basketball players in the country. Xavier's Tu Holloway was among those at the camp. While it didn't deliver much more than glorified pick-up games, the reaction of his peers made Thomas believe in himself.

 

"There was one aspect where everybody is going to tell you they notice you on and that is probably rebounding," Thomas said. "It helped a lot going against the top players in the country and being recognized for rebounding was a compliment. We were playing 20 minutes, it happened that a couple games I got like 8 points and 6 rebounds or 6 points and 8 rebounds."

 

Cincinnati coaches reacted to Thomas' confidence by enlisting him to carry over the rebounding strides made at the end of the season and in the Adidas camp to his senior year. Thus far, the results have been outstanding.

 

He's currently averaging 7.9 points and 7.0 rebounds a game. He's scored double-digit points in four of the last seven games and tacked on a double-double in two of those. If his rebounding average pops up but half a rebound per game, he will be the best rebounder in a season at UC since 2000 not named Eric Hicks.

 

Thomas no longer relies on his youth street soccer experience when preparing for the Crosstown Shootout. Little more than year later, he draws from a season of intense environments and a team where everyone's roles are clearly spelled out.

 

For that reason, particularly against Xavier, his team relies heavily back on him.

 

Xavier forward Jamel McLean averages near a double-double with 10.1 points and 9.5 rebounds a game and led Xavier in boards in each of the last three games - grabbing 14 offensive rebounds in the process.

 

Thomas will spend most of his night trying to box McLean off the boards.

 

"His rebounding is going to be key," Cronin said. "That's a big matchup because Jamel McLean has really developed himself and increased his role as a rebounder for Xavier. He's a physical guy and plays much bigger than he is. That is going to be a big challenge for Thomas."

 

Although, not quite as big a challenge as last year.

 

"This won't be like that one," Thomas said.

 

And once again, Mack holds a strong opinion on Cincinnati's center.

 

"I think I saw a quote from Ibrahima that said something to the effect that it's going to be a lot different this year," Mack said. "And he's right...He's going to be who he's been this year -- a really good player we are going to have to really account for."

It's Skyline Time

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As if trying to devise a way to stop Xavier's Tu Holloway isn't tough enough, UC head coach Mick Cronin received another difficult task this week when Pete Rose called his cell phone before the sold-out Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout.

 

"He was looking for tickets," Mick told me with a laugh.  "Other than the fact that he is the greatest hitter of all-time, that makes him like everybody else in Cincinnati."

 

Thanks to John Burns and the folks from CBTS, the Hit King will have a great seat for college basketball's best intracity jihad* - a game that the Bearcats are desperate to win after dropping three straight, six of the last eight, and 10 of the last 14 meetings against the Musketeers.    

 

"I don't like 'em - and I'm pretty sure that they don't like us," Darnell Wilks said.  "When I was a freshman, I really didn't understand it as much.  It's the biggest game in my mind.  This being my senior year, I really want to win." 

 

"It's a big deal," Rashad Bishop said.  "A lot of people around here live for this game and the seniors really want to go out with a win over Xavier." 

 

Emotions are always at a fever pitch in this rivalry and last year it turned ugly.  The Bearcats led 19-12 in the first half when Bishop and XU's Jordan Crawford got into a skirmish that resulted in each player receiving a technical foul.  The Musketeers promptly went on a 12-2 run. 

 

"It's a very emotional game," Wilks said.  "Nobody wants to back down from the other team so that's really what it is."

 

"We have to make sure we don't get caught up in any stupid stuff emotionally," Coach Cronin said.  "I thought that killed us last year."

 

Last year's game was a double-overtime thriller won by the Musketeers 83-79, as Holloway led the way with a then career-high 26 points (including 11-for-11 free throws).  This year, the junior guard has scored 24-or-more points in seven of Xavier's 12 games.

 

"He's playing as well as anybody in the country not named (UConn's) Kemba Walker," Coach Cronin said.  "His assist to turnover ratio is off the charts and he's not only averaging 21 points a game - he's averaging more than 5 assists a game.  You can't play much better than he's playing.  He's as fast with the ball in his hands as Isaiah Pead was on the football field - he reminds me of a running back with the ball in his hands.  He does a great job of getting to the rim and getting fouled." 

 

Holloway is also averaging 39.1 minutes a game and the injury-plagued Musketeers only have six players averaging double-digit minutes.  The Bearcats have 10 such players and will attempt to wear down Xavier's starters with their depth and full-court pressure.

 

"We hope that it wears them down," Bishop said.  "It's not going to have an effect early in the game because the adrenaline is going to be rushing, but we have to keep grinding and hope that it has an effect in the second half."

 

But as Coach Cronin points out, Xavier has been playing shorthanded for nearly two months, and the Musketeers are used to it.  His biggest concern is getting good shots against a Musketeer team that is holding opponents to 41% shooting.

 

"They are extremely well-coached and have veterans who know how to defend," Cronin said.  "They know how to shrink the court on you and make it tough to get the shots that you want.  All teams evolve and they've played enough tough games that they know who they need to be to win.  I think it's pretty clear that in order for Xavier to win, they need to be a great defensive team."

 

That's also true of the Bearcats who are holding foes to 54.4 points per game to rank third in the country.  That's been the biggest key to a 14-0 start, and a spot in the national rankings . . . not to mention a ticket-seeking phone call from "Charlie Hustle."   

 

"It's surreal for a kid who grew up in Cincinnati to get a call from him, and I've gotten to know Pete Rose and Oscar Robertson.," Coach Cronin said.  "I remember one day I was watching football and Oscar lives not too far from me and he stopped by and knocked on the door.  I was on the phone with a friend at the time and I said, 'The greatest player of all-time is on my porch.  The Big O just knocked on the door.'  There are some definite perks to the job when you're the head coach of the Bearcats."

 

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

 

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

 

*I grabbed the term "intracity jihad" from Sports Illustrated's Austin Murphy who recently called the Alabama/Auburn football rivalry a "Skoal-fueled intrastate jihad."

Bearcats Breakfast 1.5.11

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One day until the Shootout. I know for many of you it's the biggest game of the season and you certainliy wouldn't receive any argument here.

If you grew up in the city this was the event of every winter. Some of the luster was lost during UC's post-Huggins dip, but the rebound to prominence has arrived. Last season, the UC-XU game was one of my first assignments after returning home.

Growing up here, my dream job was always to cover Cincinnati sports. I'd watched probably every Shootout since I was 10, eating coneys at seemingly every media timeout. I remember the no-handshake and the Jamal Walker jumper and the Terry Nelson prediction and all the other great moments.

Then I sat at Cintas Center and watched that game and realized, wow, we are about to run off another string of games just like those in the 90s.

Both of these programs appear set up for success. Not that I'm promoting violence, but the scuffle served as evidence of how much last year's game meant to those guys. Add in the drama of double overtime. Last year was one of the classics. It felt like a return to the old days.

Days like tomorrow are exactly why I love my job. There is just no way to truly describe what this game means to this city -- particularly if you are any kind of college hoops fan.

Outside of the postseason, this is most exciting game of the year.

Let's eat...

--- Bill Koch spoke with Yancy Gates about what this game means to him. Being from Cincinnati, he didn't hide the importance.

Considering how thin the Musketeers are in the frontcourt, if Gates can be effective in the post, score and draw fouls he could be the hammer Xavier doesn't have an answer for.

--- Last year's game was the first for Ibrahima Thomas with UC and it was an adventure, to say the least. Check back to the blog later today for my story on Thomas' journey from last year to this year.

--- The Muskies have won three in a row and four of five. For Cincinnati's seniors, not losing four straight games is on the mind.

"Yeah, man, I got to get one," Rashad Bishop said. "It's alwys going to be intense, that game, there's not other way. Everybody out there, Xavier's team, their heart is all in so you have to come out and play."

--- The Bearcats return to the rankings only adds more spice to the Shootout, but even though Mick Cronin and his team were given the respect of a national ranking, they are still playing the no-respect card. Considering how well UC has played with that card, I wouldn't be surprised if Mick keeps pushing it until they are No. 1. Even then, he may say they should have been No. 1 sooner.

Cronin didn't deny his motivation.

"I'm going to use that lack of respect," he said. "We're ranked but we're still not ranked where we probably deserve to be ranked considering the losses that some other people have had ahead of us. I'll keep playing that card as long as I can with the team."

"We're still not ranked where we should be. We should be 25th behind teams with three losses? We still get no respect and our guys are pretty aware of that."

--- Chad Brendel put together a game preview with some focus on the matchup with Tu Holloway.

--- The General, Bobby Knight will be in attendance on Thursday, calling the game for ESPN.

--- Gary Parrish has no interest in coaching in the Big East and doesn't know if UCF should be so excited about the prospect as well.

--- Kemba Walker cannot do this alone, example No. 3. UConn suffered its second conference loss, this time at Notre Dame on Tuesday. Their one win was an overtime home game against USF. The Huskies are falling fast. Depth can absolutely smother UConn, good to know for the Bearcats. 

--- My upset alert didn't hold true, but Providence came pretty darn close. They were up two agianst Pitt with 35 seconds remaining.

--- Ken Pomeroy ran through the Big East season 10,000 times on his computer and it spit out the winner based on all his calculations of statistics.

UC was the champion 223 times..

That means there's a 2.2 percent chance they win the Big East. So you're sayin' there's a chance!

Wildly enough, that's sixth best in the conference. 

I'm still convinced KenPom will construct five basketball-playing robots that win the national championship by 2024.  

--- All apologies to my readers, when I spoke yesterday about the need for Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson to do a games together, I completely forgot about this gem. Raftery-Johnson on Gonzaga-Oklahoma State in the NCAA tournament.

It almost sounds like a mashup it's so amazing.

On to some randomness...

--- Josh Groban sings Kanye West tweets on Jimmy Kimmell. Must watch.

--- This probably shouldn't be in the randomness section, because it's much more important -- at least to me and many other native Cincinnatians who love the Reds. Barry Larkin is up for the Hall of Fame today. Most pundits say he won't get in this year but sometime soon.

I can tell you this, the day he goes in to Cooperstown, I will be there. Jayson Stark has a great synopsis of why he is one of the greatest shortstops of all time.

--- I thnk NBA players should stop playing cards.

--- I wish this list were better, though, it has it's moments. Sad to see how far SNL has fallen.

--- Many of you have probably seen this, but I would be remiss if I didn't show you Ted Williams. And apparently he's received a job offer from the Cleveland Cavs and Quicken Loans Arena. What a crazy story.

And there's this from Darren Rovell. 

  

Bearcats Breakfast 1.4.11

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The Bearcats finally cracked the Top 25 polls...just in time for the most challenging week of the season thus far.

As suspected, UC entered into the bottom of the AP (No. 24) and Coaches (25). At 14-0, they were the only team in Big East history to be undefeated that many games into the season and be unranked.

No more.

Of course, what does this mean?

Absolutely nothing.

Critics are still waiting for the wheels to come off and they'll catapult you up in the same fashion they'll toss you back down. Just ask anybody on last year's Bearcats who were ranked No. 19 when they lost to Xavier. 

I loved Mick Cronin's reaction to the news to Bill Koch:

"We've been doing fine without it," Cronin said. "I lost respect for those polls over the last month, seeing some of the teams that have been ranked with home losses and losses to low-to-mid majors."

--- ESPN's Andy Katz took notice of the Bearcats and wrote this piece on their rise to 14-0. He's slightly more measured and living in reality than Jerry Palm.

Luckily, we are almost at the point where people can stop beating this non-conference schedule storyline to death.

--- Sully's Blog at Boston.com thinks the Bearcats the No. 1 team On The Rise right now. So really, what else is there to accomplish this season?

--- Evan Hilbert at Fanhouse wins the Hater of the Day award as he decides to take shots at the Bearcats during this week preview.

--- Adam Zagoria has a nice story with Lance Stephenson when he returned to the Garden with Indiana. Lance has yet to see the floor this year, staying  inactive for games. Zags talks about the humility Stephenson is learning in his first year in the NBA.

--- Per Lance McAlister and Bearcat Banter, this nugget: UC has 10 games remaining vs the current RPI Top 25. No other non-Big East team in the Top 25 has more than four.    

--- St. John's and Georgetown waged the game of the year to this point in the Big East last night. An incredible finish with St. John's winning on the back of PG Dwight Hardy.

Sidenote: Bill Raftery on the call and gave an "Onions!" and a "Lingerie!" call in the final minute. The guy makes every game better. Just one time I want him to work with Gus, then my head would explode and I would die a happy man.  

The Johnnies are 3-0 in conference with wins @WVU, @Providence and now at home against Georgetown. When STJ was losing to Fordham and St. Bonnies it looked like a blessing for UC to have St. John's on the schedule twice. Not so much anymore.

Rush the Court gushes over the possibility of the Red Storm being relevant again. Of course, as almost per typical in the brutal Big East, STJ now plays SEVEN consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. That includes home vs. UC on Jan. 22. 

--- Around the BE: UConn at ND tonight, as well as Pitt at Providence (upset alert).

--- Matt Norlander talks about Xavier, the multitude of setbacks they have overcome and where they are at heading into the shootout.

If Norlander's new CBS blog still isn't on your bookmarks, it should be.

--- Randy Edsall's move to Maryland only added to what is becoming the predominant problem in the Big East. The inability to keep coaches from moving to "bigger, better jobs" is exactly why they will never be the "biggest, best conference."

Greg Schiano is now the only Big East coach to be at his HC job for more than two full seasons.

Brian Bennett discusses the dominoes.  

--- By the way, for those of you who are curious what is inside that massive white structure on Jefferson Ave., here are shots from inside the bubble.   

--- On to some randomness...

--- Sean Rhiney talks about the 10 things to watch this year in Cincinnati. I, for one, can't wait for the Banks to be operational.

--- Kansas went with an off-the-backboard-alley-oop last night. Not as high of degree of difficulty as it sounds against a non-existent Miami (Ohio) defense of a fast break, but pretty ill nonetheless.

--- I actually lived 10 minutes from where this happened for nine excruciating months, I only assume all these birds were allergic to ignorance and Rotelle.

--- Andrew Luck was the best player on the field last night in the Orange Bowl, but he didn't make the best play. Somebody needs to convince me that Tyrod Taylor can't help an NFL team in some way.

--- Buster Douglas is playing it safe with SafeAuto, but not with this commercial. I'm still trying to figure out what the hell is going on here

--- Muppets with people eyes sends me right into the fetal position.   

Time for the BIG EAST

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The UC women's basketball team has officially closed the door on the non-conference portion of its schedule as the BIG EAST games loom ahead. And although the 'Cats have one conference game under their belt, last month's contest against Louisville, from now on it's all BIG EAST all the time, starting with this week's road trip to University of South Florida and West Virginia.

So what have we learned about this team?

First of all, they don't give up. Fighting Texas until the last shot at the Maggie Dixon classic in San Diego was a good example. Also, the tough Crosstown Shootout match against then-4th ranked Xavier showed that the Cats will be in it, until the end.

Second, a half season has done Jeanise Randolph and Chanel Chisholm a world of good. Jeanise was a beast under the basket in the Miami game against taller opponents, and staffers on the basketball team told me that Chanel gained a lot of confidence during that San Diego swing. Jeanise could have gotten discouraged early in this season, but instead she's come back stronger than ever. To watch her get the bounce pass underneath and muscle up for a basket is a thing of beauty. She'll only get better.

Third, they truly are a team. It is fun to watch them in the huddle, encouraging each other and congratulating each other on a good play. That kind of team support will pay off down the road in tight games.

So the next time the Cats will be at 5/3 will be Saturday, January 15 against another perennial BIG EAST powerhouse, Rutgers. We'll see how the BIG EAST treats the Cats.

Bearcats Breakfast 1.3.11

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Happy New Year, Breakfast folks. Here's hoping you weren't forced to wear any ridiculous hats or 2011 glasses or actually listen to the metrosexual nightmare that was the Backstreet Boys-New Kids on the Block boy band reunion.

Unfortunately, my lack of control of the remote forced my New Year to start off in a less than satisfactory fashion. Not a good omen, to say the least.

So, let's move on to a more optimistic scenario, the undefeated, 14-0 Bearcats basketball team....

--- The Top 25 polls will come out early this afternoon. I fully expect UC to be in both of them. They were knocking on the door last week and with two resounding wins against Big East opponents, this should be more than enough top place them back in the rankings.

Here's last week's rankings. The AP poll is more of a liklihood than the coaches poll. For whatever reason, the coaches have been down on UC all season.

--- I tweeted this, I wrote in my postgame column about the maturity this team showed in the win against Seton Hall and I will say it again now: This is the first time since UC joined the Big East it won back-to-back games in the Big East by double digits.

To me, this isn't some throwaway stat. This team is able to put teams away. It's able to assure none of the Big East craziness that so defined last season happens to them against teams they are suppposed to beat.

You couldn't say that about any other Bearcats basketball team in the Mick Cronin era.

--- Scott Springer wrote about the recruitment of Yancy Gates and some of the backstory behind his high school career.

What Gates hoped to be a breakout season hasn't turned into the statistical spike everyone hoped for (he's averaging 11.5 points, 6.6 rebounds), but he's making much better decisions and a larger impact on the game than he has in either of his first two seasons.

The job he did against Herb Pope defensively Friday was phenomenal. Pope only managed one offensive board.

--- Enough Big East talk for a few days, it's Shootout Week. It's coming later in the year thanks to the Worldwide Leader. But can't agree with Cronin more, the sacrifice needed to be made to put this game on major national television where it belongs.

--- Shannon Russell wrote a general preview on where both teams stand as they enter the game.  

---The two dominating wins to open Big East play didn't fill up the national bandwagon, in fact, it actually had the opposite effect. The haters are coming out in full force with UC one of seven undefeated teams.

Jeff Goodman calls them pretenders (should be noted this was written prior to Seton Hall, but still, hateration nonetheless).

--- Gary Parrish still has UC outside of his Top 25 plus one. Of course, he also still has UConn in the top 7 after being dismantled by Pitt and nearly losing at home to USF.

--- Jerry Palm takes UC's resume behind the woodshed. I almost didn't want to post this because it is standard Palm number-crunching.

The guy is the math wizard who answers the question of how to approach a girl with an algorithm. It's all about the numbers.

He is obviously obsessed with UC's RPI and SOS and hasn't seen a lick of the way this team has played and, I'd be willing to be, not a minute of their games all season.

Palm contends UC needs to win 12 BE games to make the tournament. I can't put into words how crazy the argument would have to be to keep UC out if they were 23-7, 11-7, in the top 8 of the Big East (probably better than that) with at least four wins against Top 25 teams.

That wouldn't be enough, Jerry? You may want to check the batteries on your calculator.

I'm pretty sure Palm will have to follow BuckNasty at the Hater's Ball. Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate! 

--- UPDATE: Our man Dan Hoard did a little research to rail against Palm's calculations.  

--- It's two weeks away, but the matchup in Syracuse will be a fun game. As Beyond the Arc notes, the Orange are good, but not without flaws. Both Nova (Sunday) and Cuse are beatable. There's certainly a better chance going there and winning than going to Pitt.

--- Villanova has won seven consecutive games and 44 consecutive games at home at The Pavillion. Yikes.

--- Some randomness...

--- Wait, so all I have to do is be cooler than Macauley Culkin and I can get Mila Kunis? Maybe 2011 will be a winner after all!  

--- This kid better hope the guy behind him wasn't nursing a headache, because this type of annoyance would not be tolerated.

--- As if Allen Iverson's reputation weren't sullied enough by being relegated to playing in Turkey. It turns out he loves TGIFriday's.

--- Let's see, I'd like to rob this Super 8 motel, but I'd would prefer to do it with the most awkward, antique weaponry available. Zanzabar!!

What A Winning Big East Record Means

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Jerry Palm is one of the original "bracketologists."  The former sax player in the Purdue Marching Band began using his computer skills to track the Ratings Percentage Index back in 1994.  He eventually started his own website - CollegeRPI.com - and that led to his current job writing about college sports for cbssports.com.

 

Palm is generally pretty accurate at projecting the NCAA tournament field, so when he wrote the following on New Year's Day, I'll admit to being a bit stunned:

 

There are still seven undefeated teams in division I-A as we enter 2011, but two of them are considered longshots by most to even make the NCAA tournament.

Cincinnati, which is 14-0 and has two Big East wins already, is way down at 69th in the RPI this morning.  That's a stunning number.  I've been tracking RPI since 1993-94 and could not find a 14-0 team that far down.  The last undefeated team on New Year's Day that far down in the rankings was Texas A&M in 2006 (95th at 10-0).

You have to play a pretty wretched schedule to be 69th at 14-0.  The Bearcats played the 10th worst non-conference schedule, and they played most of those games at home.  So far, they have played only one RPI top 100 team (No. 62 Dayton) and just six that rank better than 250th.

When you play a schedule like that, you are basically saying that you intend to make your case for the tournament in conference.  That means not just muddling through, but doing very well.  Cincinnati probably needs at least 12 wins, and even that may not do it for them.  They cannot afford to be anywhere near the bottom of the at-large pool with a non-conference schedule that bad.

 

Admittedly, Jerry knows more about this stuff than I do, but after doing a little research, I think (and hope) that he's underestimating the significance of finishing with a winning record in the Big East.

 

Since the league expanded to 18 regular season games three years ago, 23 teams have finished with a winning regular season record (10-8 or better).  Do you know how many have made the NCAA tourney?  Twenty-two out of 23 or 96%.  The only exception was Providence in 2008-09 when the Friars went 10-8 in the Big East but lost non-league games to Northeastern, Baylor, St. Mary's, and Boston College.  The Friars finished that season with an RPI of 79.

 

Here's a more detailed look at Big East teams with .500-or-better league records since the league went to an 18-game schedule:

 

16-2:  (1-1 made NCAA tourney)

15-3:  (4-4 made NCAA tourney)

14-4:  (2-2 made NCAA tourney)

13-5:  (5-5 made NCAA tourney)

12-6:  (1-1 made NCAA tourney)

11-7:  (5-5 made NCAA tourney)

10-8:  (4-5 made NCAA tourney)

9-9:  (1-4 made NCAA tourney)

 

In other words, a .500 record in the league probably won't do the trick, but a winning record would put the Bearcats in good shape. 

 

And sorry Jerry, but a team that goes 12-6 in the Big East will not be sweating on Selection Sunday.

 

Having said that, a win over Xavier on Thursday would be helpful for the Bearcats' resume since the Musketeers are currently a very respectable 57th in the RPI.

 

Here's what Coach Cronin had to say about Xavier immediately after Saturday's win over Seton Hall:

 

"I really have not seen them play much, although I saw them against IPFW because they played them right before us," Cronin told me.  "Now Larry Davis - my associate head coach - has been eating, sleeping, and drinking Xavier.  But they're not going to change their system or style, so obviously I'm familiar with the way they play.  I have great respect for how hard they are playing in spite of their injuries.  One thing I know they are going to do is compete.  They may be a little short-handed, but their starting five is really good and they're really, really competitive.  Tu Holloway has emerged as one of the best guards in America and their defensive is excellent.  Chris Mack does a great job with that.  Fortunately, we've got some time to get ready for them.  We'll be back at work on Sunday and back to school on Monday."   

 

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 (he's the one with hair).

Me and Sam at Chautauqua.jpg

 

OPENING GATES

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gates.jpeg

 Though it seems like he's been on the University of Cincinnati campus forever, Yancy Gates still has one more season after this with the Bearcats and has just turned 21 years old.

  While you may not appreciate it as much (because UC hasn't made the NCAA tourney lately) the recruitment of Gates from Withrow to UC was one of the more important signings in school history.  With the Tigers, he was twice the Southwest Ohio Player of the Year and in 2008 he was the Associated Press Division I Player of the Year.

 "Well, when we got Yancy, we had nobody else," said Head Coach Mick Cronin.  "We were starting the program over.  We got Yancy to stay at home and come over from Withrow."

  Actually, Gates was on Cronin's radar from the first time he saw him as a seventh-grader.  You tend to notice 13-year-old kids who have blown away the percentile charts.

  "I think in seventh grade, I was like 6-5," said Gates.

 It was that "man-child" build that led to a friendship with the athletic director at Hughes High School.  Gates started his freshman and sophomore seasons at Hughes where he was paired up with one-time Xavier Musketeer Adrion Graves.

  "In ninth grade, we got to meet him for the first time when he was at Hughes," said Cronin.  "He's always had tremendous size.  It's taken time for his basketball skills and his mind to catch up with his physical size."

  From that point, Cronin was on the "Yancy watch" and that continued when Gates transferred to Withrow for his final two prep seasons.

  "Yancy played on a couple teams that went to the final eight," recalled Cronin. "They lost a couple real tough games, both to St. X I believe, to go to the final four.  He had good teammates on those teams.  Anthony McBride was his point guard; he's a walk-on with us now. They played at the highest level of high school basketball."

  That level included consecutive "double-double" seasons at Withrow playing for Walt McBride (19 points and 10 rebounds as a junior, 21.2 points and 10.5 rebounds as a senior).  Then, despite the fact that his high school coach McBride went to Xavier, the Bearcats landed Gates.

   "He's gotten better each year, he's a great kid," said Cronin. "Sometimes he's a little bit too nice between the lines, but it was a huge 'get' for us when he decided to stay at home."

  Staying home turned out to be as easy a decision as it was to switch from Hughes to Withrow.  Cronin had a relationship with Yancy's father, Tony Dees and family was part of the equation.

  Looking back on his Withrow days (the Tigers won 40 of 50 while he was there) makes Yancy grin.  Where dealing with Big East basketball can wear on some players, high school memories are often pleasant.

  Gates speaks proudly of leading the Tigers against many top notch teams in the area, including tough games in the city and the notorious GCL.

   "Competition in the city was always good," said Gates. "Especially with St.X's Walt Gibler (6-7 forward now at Loyola, Illinois) and all those guys.  Even around the city, Hughes was still good.  I was bigger, but I wasn't the only kid in the city.  It just made the competition a lot better."

     "Cincinnati has great high school basketball," added Cronin. "Especially in coaching--it forced Yancy to learn how to deal with a lot of double and triple teams."

  Since then, Gates has traded his Tiger stripes for Bearcat claws but is still learning "The Circle of Life" in the Big East paint.  You'd think being 6-9 and 260 pounds would be enough, but Gates continues to grow emotionally game by game.

  "Oh yeah, I've learned a WHOLE lot more playing college ball," said Gates.

  With that, he was whisked away by a couple of grad assistants to go learn some more.  The Shootout and a long Big East road await.

  (Mick Cronin video on Yancy Gates--along with cameo of football SID Ryan Koslen toward the end as the rookie videographer neglected to shut the contraption off)



14 Should Get You 25

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After UC's impressive win over Seton Hall and 2 Big East wins, they are now in first place in the hoops mega-conference. And that should now get them in the top 25 and a little more. UC has just won 14 straight games, and, along the way beat Dayton who always plays them tough; beat Oklahoma on the road, DePaul and now Seton Hall at home. Say what you want about them not playing anyone but they are winning by margins that top ranked teams win by and that's double digits.

I know people say they haven't played anybody but now that they're in the Big East and they have held serve, so give them some love; and with Xavier up next this will be the next "real" test. Xaiver and UC's records are irrelevant when they play because the rivalry fuels competition. So this is the final test of nay sayers, when they play the Musketeers, so let the wins fall where they may based on the outcome of effort not the game.

14 should get you 25 and 15 in a row should get you votes for the top 20. Through it all the one saving grace about college basketball is that in the end you play the Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament. We know they'll play in the first one and at this point they're certainly worthy of playing in the second one. You play the teams on your schedule and you beat them the way you're supposed to. The Bearcats have done that and you have to respect that, even if you're a hater.

So up next are Xavier and the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout; and up next should be their position in the polls; regardless of the score, effort notwithstanding.

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

A veteran win

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The manner in which the Bearcats responded to Mick Cronin's focus on defensive rebounding and finishing games illustrated the maturity of this team more than any of the previous 13 wins.

CINCINNATI -- Mick Cronin spent most of 2010 telling us this team listened and responded to him. Not until the final four hours of it did we truly witness the enormity of such a luxury.

Cronin spent three days reminding his team about their poor defensive rebounding effort against Seton Hall. 

What happened?

A litany of Pirates shots -- 66.7 percent of them, to be exact -- caromed off the rim. That alone would be enough to guarantee a win most nights in any conference. Of those 33 missed shots, the Pirates grabbed offensive rebounds on six of them -- most of which came in garbage time of the blowout.

If the 18.1 offensive rebound percentage the Pirates put forth Friday were placed as their season average they would arrive 342 out of 345 Division I teams.

Herb Pope, widely regarded as the best offensive rebounder in the conference last season, only grabbed one. One offensive rebound.

"I told the guys it was my fault," Cronin said. "Boxing out is coaching. Nobody boxes out unless they are made to. You are going to force me to make you, the only way I can do that is you either box out or run. They don't want to run, so they boxed out. A pretty simple trade off." 

Simple, yes. But simple has failed before. Even simple often fails when paired with immaturity.

This team is different. After failing to finish off DePaul in the second half, they responded with a 28-13 run Friday once Seton Hall pulled within four. Cronin warned his team about finishing. The pedal never left the floor until 5,550 rose to their feet and drowned out the final horn.

sean kilpatrick.jpeg"Coach told us if we let them back in this game it is going to be a tough night for us," Sean Kilpatrick said. "If we have someone on the ropes like that we have to keep punching them. We have to keep executing the way that we do."

This team responds to the urgings of its coach. It transfers lessons from practice into production in the game. It does more than listen. It learns. It improves.

Seems easy enough, but those results occur far fewer than most coaches in college basketball would care to admit.

Kilpatrick embodies the maturity of the team to a higher degree than almost anyone, even as a redshirt freshman. He responds in a calculated, intelligent manner in the direction prodded by his coach. And he produces. Friday, it was 14 points, including eight to spark the decisive second-half closeout.   

"I just do exactly what coach tells me to do," Kilpatrick said. "If he tells me to go in or we need a bucket or we need a stop or we need rebounds, I just follow his lead. He's been in tight situations more than anyone on the staff."

So, coach must have pulled Kilpatrick aside and told him to bury 3-pointer, snake the lane for an and-1 then pull up for a dagger jumper with the crowd sensing the win.

"Nah," Kilparick said with a laugh. "That was just second nature. If it's a clean, wide open look, I am going to take it."

Oh yeah, maturity doesn't mean much if you don't have talent. Combine the two, however, and you get, well, 14-0 for now.  

For many fans, the response to adversity when trailing at Miami or the dedication to 40 minutes of offensive execution against Georgia Southern were discarded with a mention of the opponent's RPI.

While Seton Hall stands far from the best team UC will face this season, they were certainly the most athletic to this point. These displays of maturity are becoming harder and harder to disregard. Records are beginning to drop.

Cincinnati is 14-0 for the first time since 1998-'99.

They recorded back-to-back, double-digit wins for the first time since joining the Big East.

Heads are beginning to turn. Or at least they should be. 

The team forgotten in the cluster at the back of the preseason Big East standings, the one built on such forgotten arts in college basketball such as passing, rebounding and defense are listening, learning and improving their way into the national conversation.    

Those elements are as undeniable in this team's identity as the C-paw donning the front of the jersey. 

"Our defense got better as time went on," Cronin said. "That's the sign of a veteran team."